Wednesday, September 10, 2014



Create a series and you’ve got it made. Publishers and readers will be clamouring for the next book. Right? Not always.
Nothing about writing is easy and that includes crafting a series. I’ve written two series: Jeremy and the Enchanted Theater for ages 6 to 8 and the Ellie and Max series for ages 8 to 12. Both had their ups and downs.

It can be hard enough to develop a character engaging enough to carry a reader through one entire book – 4 or 5 or 6 books is a challenge. There’s certainly room in a series for a character to change and develop and perhaps even grow older. My character Ellie is 9 in the first book and 12 in the last book, and along the way she has life changing experiences in the wilderness of Upper Canada in the 1800’s. I grew very attached to Ellie and her brother Max – one of the perks of staying with characters for so long.

As you start each new book, dealing with the backstory can be a problem. You have to get the reader new to the series up to speed. You can’t assume that every reader has read all the previous books. You want to avoid an information dump in the first chapter. Some authors use a brief (hopefully) prologue to fill the reader in. Only tell as much as you absolutely have to and try to feed it into the present story in small bites.

Another thing to think about is how important is it for the reader to read the books in the correct order. My Enchanted Theater books really only work well if you start with Book One and continue through to Book Four. I didn’t realize that until after the books were published and I don’t think I would do that again. Often at book sales I’ve had to discourage a child who has money for only one book from buying the third book in the series because he likes that cover the best!
How many books should you write? You’ll know when the series is over. You’ve run out of steam. You’ve run out of ideas. It just feels done. One author I know said, “I’ve been in that character’s head long enough!”

Are there guarantees that writing a series will help you get contracts from a publisher? Absolutely not. If the books aren’t selling well, a publisher can shut down a series at any time. In both my series, I had to pitch each new book separately.

Kids like series. They are comfortable. They have a certain predictability. If the first book is a mystery, the reader can expect that the next book will be a mystery too. All my Enchanted Theater books include time travel and a riddle. But that doesn’t mean that the writing can be predictable. Series books must be as well written as stand alone books, with plot twists, surprises, suspense and fresh plot ideas.

But the good news is that if you write a successful series you will have readers eagerly awaiting the next one. I’ve had emails and letters from kids enthusiastically suggesting ideas for the next book. One girl sent me eleven possible plots and said I was free to choose the best one! I just may take her up on that!


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