Theme: The Heart of Your Story

"If theme is a story's soul, and plot is its mind,
then character is its heart . . . the life force of story."
                                                    K.M. Weiland

The last big snow storm we had in Albuquerque in mid-February brought bitter Arctic winds. I sat hunkered down in my kitchen watching the birds out my window pecking through the drifts of snow that blanketed their feeder. One tiny bird zoomed down from a twig in the old pine tree next door. It had come from a row of more tiny birds, pygmy nuthatches, who huddled together appearing to use each other’s body heat to stay warm. The branch jiggled up and down. I wondered if that was the ferocious wind—abnormally brutal for our normally temperate New Mexico weather—or the tiny birds shivering. 

My friends had trouble making out the image in the photo. The birds were so well camouflaged, and my zoom lens was a bit fuzzy. But the birds were there, and when you could make them out, made a rather stunning photo.

Theme in story is much like the tiny nuthatches. Theme is unobtrusive, even invisible, and when it is crafted right, it becomes the glue that binds the entire story together.

How to Find the Right Theme: Look Within

In an article on the blog writers write, Amanda Patterson gives examples of the themes in well-known children’s books, such as love and friendship between Fern and Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web, and courage as the prominent theme in the Harry Potter series. She names ten recurring themes in children’s stories:

1. Courage.

2. Friendship.

3. Belonging/Identity.

4. Family.

5. Loss/Grief.

6. Growing Up.

7. Anger.

8. Suffering.

9. Jealousy.

10. Love.

Where to begin, though? Look to your own life. What conflicts have you faced? What themes run through your life? Make a list of them. Choose the conflict and theme that stands out the most and pair it with a captivating setting. Think up viable plot ideas and characters, and you’re good, right? That’s a good start. But there is one thing you need to have: a thorough understanding of what story theme is, why you’ve chosen a particular theme, and what that theme means to you.

Strive for a Good Balance

K.M. Weiland, in her book, Writing Your Story’s Theme: The Writer’s Guide to Plotting Stories that Matter, writes, “powerful themes . . . emerge from the conjunction of strong plots and resonant character arcs.” Theme doesn’t just happen in the story, the author intentionally crafts theme as an equal partner to plot and character. She advises, “Craft powerful messages that are shown via plot and character, rather than told to readers.” When done seamlessly, the results are stories with deep meaning and purpose that resonate with the reader long after the book is finished. 

The “thematic principle,” according to Weiland, is your story’s “unifying idea.” Take a commonly-held belief, such as wars are evil, or try to disprove wars are a necessary evil. Tackle questions about life, such as why are we here? The concrete idea you’ve chosen for theme is shown in the closing scenes and emulated throughout the story.

Weiland’s book explains how creating story theme is accomplished in detail. This book and her other books, such as Creating Character Arcs, Structuring Your Novel, and Outlining Your Novel are terrific tools for writers’ tool kits. She also has a blog:

A Not-So Invisible Theme

The book that brought the meaning of story theme home to me is The Skull of Truth by Bruce Coville. Not only is Coville’s story entertaining, fun, and magical, but it also contains a serious part about a boy, Gilbert, who has had to shave his head due to cancer. Charlie shows solidarity to Gilbert by shaving his head, too. Coville covered a lot of ground in this story, which I think you can tell, is one of my favorites.

But for a theme, Coville couldn’t have been more blatant. The theme is even in the title: Truth. Because Charlie Eggleston has a problem. You wouldn't want to come right out and call him a liar. But he did have a habit of stretching the truth to fit his purposes. We first find this out on page two during a visit to Tucker's Swamp. He's held a frog, loved the smell of the swamp, loved everything about it; well, maybe not the mosquitoes. So, he told a little white fib about Mark Evans's dad and how he planned to drain the swamp. Charlie told the fib to protect the swamp from being destroyed by development. A little later after Charlie forgot Gramma Ethel would be visiting for dinner (he'd already missed dinner and had to eat cold stew), Charlie very proudly told his uncle that he'd like to learn to tell stories. Gramma Ethel scolded, "You don't do anything but tell stories." Two pages earlier Charlie even wondered if his little sister, Mimi, who was in kindergarten, was fibbing when she said Andy Simmons ate a bug today. "He still hadn't figured out how to tell when Mimi was fibbing." Four chapters have the word "truth" in them. Charlie even meets Truth at the end and follows Truth "home;" and at the end, the reader finds out if Charlie was really a liar or not. Perhaps not so subtle, but by the time you are finished with the book, Coville's message is loud and clear: it's always better to tell the truth. Please note how much and how far-fetched, I might add, Coville played around with, or in educational jargon, explored, truth, which can't help but start the young reader's wheels turning about the meaning of Coville's story long after the book is finished.

Coville made good use of symbols for the theme of truth in his story, such as the skull itself—the skull of truth. Author Jane McBride Choate makes the suggestion to use symbols, and having the word for your symbol appear in the title is an extra-added bonus. In Choate's article, "Theme," she writes, "In one of my books, I used a necklace with a rainbow pendant as a symbol for the heroine's independence and integrity. The publisher liked the idea so much that a drawing of the pendant was included on the spine of the book and a . . . rainbow [appeared] on the cover.”

Just as you think through and plan the other elements of your story, such as the setting, plot, and characters, you can also intentionally plan what your main theme will be, and also plan your other less prominent themes. Then during your editing and revising stage, you can do an analysis by highlighting the places where the theme(s) are shown throughout your story.


Introductory Photo: By Linda Wilson

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher, has published over 150 articles for children and adults, several short stories for children, and her first book, Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery, available on Amazon. Publishing credits include biosketches for the library journal, Biography Today, which include Troy Aikman, Stephen King, and William Shatner; Pockets; Hopscotch; and an article for Highlights for Children. Secret in the Mist, the second in the Abi Wunder series, is coming soon. A Packrat Holiday: Thistletoe’s Gift, and Tall Boots, Linda’s picture books, will be published later this year. Follow Linda on

10 Tips for Becoming the Writer You Wish to Be

by Suzanne Lieurance

No matter what kind of writer you wish to become, follow these tips and you'll find the road to success is much shorter, so you'll reach your writing goal(s) faster.

Tip #1. With whatever type of writing you want to do, level up your knowledge and skills so you reach your goal faster.

For example, if you want to write a novel, be sure you understand the structure of novels and all the components needed for a marketable novel.

If you want to write for children, be sure you understand how to write a children's story that people (including editors and agents) will want to read and buy.

Tip #2. It’s easier to stay motivated when you have a clear picture of where you want to be at the end of the process.

For that reason, write down no more than 3 major writing goals and be sure these goals are very specific and clearly defined.

Tip #3. It’s okay to have gigantic goals.

As long as you break those goals into small, achievable steps, they are reachable.

Tip #4. It’s okay to slow down your progress as long as you never stop.

Remember, with writing, slow and steady wins the race.

Some weeks, the writing will go smoothly and you'll get a lot of work done.

Other weeks, the writing will be slow and you will feel that you're not making any progress.

But just keep going.

Even a little progress is better than none, or, worse yet, giving up!

Tip #5. Learn to ignore naysayers.

Once you stop listening to them, your opportunities for growth will skyrocket.

Tip #6. When your work is critiqued (either by your editor, your agent, or your critique group) listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to reply.

Make a few notes about their feedback, then give yourself time to consider what was said about your work.

Tip #7. Practice being be bold and confident as a writer.

The more deeply you feel like a good writer, the more you will become one.

Tip #8. Recognize your writing weaknesses and your writing strengths.

Make the most of your strengths and work to improve your weaknesses.

Tip #9. Sometimes the best writing opportunities are just outside your comfort zone.

Don’t be afraid to take a chance and write something that seems a bit of a stretch for you.

Tip #10. Celebrate your small successes along the way to your ultimate goal.

This is really important because you'll stay more motivated to keep moving towards your long-term writing goals this way.

Okay, so start with just one of these tips today and start moving closer to becoming the writer you wish to be.

Try it!

For more writing tips, be sure to visit and get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge. Once you're a subscriber, you'll also have access to our Private Resource Library for Writers, filled with all sorts of helpful materials.

Suzanne Lieurance is the author of over 35 published books, a freelance writer, and a writing coach.

Searching for a Magic Bullet

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

With the rapid expansion of self-publishing (1.6 million books last year), you have to be careful in some regards which company you select, but overall, it is easy to make a book. Selling those books to readers is the major issue for every author—whether they verbalize it or not. Everyone is searching for a magic bullet which catapults them to the bestseller list and sells many books.
Are you ready for the hard truth from my decades in publishing? There is no magic bullet or path to become a bestseller. If such a path existed, every book from every publisher would become a bestseller. There are many well-written books, well-designed books which have dismal sales. What will make the difference?
In this article I want to give you a few of these best practices of bestselling authors. I understand there are many others here's a few critical ones:
1. Bestselling authors understand and maintain a relationship with their readers. These authors spend time to cultivate and nurture this relationship. They devote lots of attention to building an active email list.  I've read the articles where people say email is over but this long-term tool is key because each author controls their own email list for things like frequency, tone and building these relatinships through email. There are many tools for building this list like ConvertKit, MailChimp, AWeber and many others. As an author, pick one, learn to use the tool then actively use it repeatedly with your readers.
2. Bestselling authors create multiple paths to their email list. Whether these authors are on a podcast or a radio program or a guest blog post or a teleseminar or ????, they have created a “gift” or a “freebie” which is something attractive to their readers. Their readers can only gain access if they give this author their first name and email address. Some authors collect even more detailed information. These freebies are called lead magnets and take creativity and effort to create, then maintain. Check my link to see some of what I've created and get ideas. Every author needs to be creating these multiple paths of connection which lead to your email list.
3. Bestselling authors understand and use various forms of media like radio and podcasts. They have built relationships with effective publicists who can book these events for them.
4. Bestselling authors build an active presence on various forms of social media. Yes these platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are “rented” and nothing they control. They understand they have to be wise (read careful) about what they post so they don't get cancelled yet they find tools like Hootsuite or Buffer, then use those tools consistently to reach their readers—and guide them back to their email list.
5. Bestselling authors understand the power of advertising and invest in Facebook Ads, Amazon Ads, etc. Yet they hire the right people to help them or learn the inside scoop about it before investing into it. For example, bestselling self-published author Mark Dawson has a course which is only open a few times a year (follow this link to see it or at least get on his notification email list) or watch some of these testimonial videos of his students.
6. Bestselling authors are always learning and growing in their craft and various tools to reach new readers. It's something I've built into each of these various aspects.
Instead of searching for a magic bullet, I encourage you to mirror some of these practices for your writing life. Just pick one or two and begin taking action. My brief list is not exhaustive so let me know some other aspects in the comments below.

Instead of searching for a magic bullet, this prolific editor and author gives a series of practices from studying bestselling authors. Get ideas for your writing life here. (ClickToTweet)

W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. His work contact information is on the bottom of the second page (follow this link).  He has written for over 50 magazines and more than 60 books with traditional publishers.  His latest book for writers is 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed. Get this book for only $10 + free shipping and over $200 in bonuses. He lives in Colorado and has over 190,000 twitter followers

Marketing Engagement & Optimization: Balancing Your Process


by Deborah Lyn Stanley

Because Promotion and Marketing is about the reader, you’ve created a quick way to find your writing online. You have optimized your metadata, keywords, and search engine data for prompt findability. You have outlined a plan to deliver consistent content of value to your readership.

Today, let’s talk about balancing the work of delivering worthy content and marketing—getting the word out to more readers. You deliver through articles and books: by blogging, podcasting and videos. That’s the work of writing. Without writing, sharing with your readers becomes seriously lacking or old. Further, your readers will move on to follow other authors. So, how do we handle this juggling act?

Scheduling Tips—first creativity, then the business of writing:
•    When are you daily the most creative? That’s when you write. Creative time takes a great deal of energy, plan for it.
•    Do you write every weekday? Good, kept it and guard the time.

•    How do you handle the business end of writing; sending out queries, outlining your next book or article, or meeting with your writer’s circle? Can you move these to a few hours, a couple times a week?
•    Social media posting, promoting and marketing: these business tasks need less energy.
•    Write book reviews and promote them on your social media pages. Also seek outlets for promoting reviews you’ve received for your books (such as The New Book Review )
•    As Carolyn Howard-Johnson says in The Frugal Book Promoter: “Stay in the Promotion Habit” the longer you stay with it, productivity grows.
•    Take 1/2 or one day away from the computer each week to refresh.

Notes from prior discussions:
•    Metadata is info about your book, the title, sub-title, sales description, categories & author bio.
•    Keywords refer to a word or phrase that is associated with your book or your blog post.
•    Start and keep up your author’s website, include a blog. Consider guest posting.
•    Get involved with Social Media platforms that suit you and your themes and always link back to your website URL
•    Write a newsletter monthly. Create an audiobook. Start a podcast.

You’ve Got This!
You are a "Can Do" Writer!

Book Links:
* How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn

*The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson  

Deborah Lyn Stanley is an author of Creative Non-Fiction. She writes articles, essays and stories. She is passionate about caring for the mentally impaired through creative arts.
Visit her My Writer’s Life website at:   
Visit her caregiver’s website:

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How to Choose Yourself

Want to achieve your goals? The first step is to choose yourself. Give yourself the gift of time to do the things you love!

Easier said than done, right? 

We are all busy. Work from home (or hybrid), school at home (or hybrid). Chores, family bonding, responsibilities, obligations, drama ... life stuff...  

How can you possibly have time to do your want-tos - your creative projects, writing projects, passion projects, marketing, networking - when you are constantly bombarded by have-tos?

Time will never find you. You have to find the time. 

Schedule a weekly (or several times per week) appointment with yourself to work towards your goals. It can be 30 minutes a few times a week, a 2-hour block of time once a week, or a mixture. Put these meetings in your calendar, so others cannot take that special time from you.

The activities can change, and if you want to move your appointments around, that's fine. For instance, you are attending an event or coordinating with a friend. But the rule is you can never delete them.

What can you do during that time? The list is endless, but I have some ideas that will get you started.

Here are 8 things you can do when you consciously choose yourself: 

1. Recharge. Read a book, meditate, watch TV, play a game, nap. 

2. Self-Care. Exercise, cook something healthy, treat yourself., unplug

3. Set or Review Goals. Don't know what you want? Take the time to figure out what that is. (For help with this, check out Your Goal Guide) If you know what you are working toward, use goal-time to review your progress, make lists, and brainstorm new ideas. 

4. Write. Finish that novel, non-fiction book, screenplay, poem, essay, or article. Or start something new.

5. Journal. Write for fun, to relieve stress, or just to gather material for your next writing endeavor.

6. Attend Networking Events. You cannot achieve your goals alone. You need your network. Find online events with like minds, and build your tribe.

7. Learn. Like networking events, there are plenty of opportunities for continuing education from the comfort of your computer. Watch YouTube videos, attend webinars, find summits, listen to podcasts. There is so much low- and no-cost information out there, you just need to look for it! 

8. Have fun! Sometimes having fun is the best thing you can do to lift your spirits and feel good. Playtime - whether it's crafting, dancing (my fav), practicing an instrument, laughing - is frequently the best use of time!  

Make sure to choose yourself on a regular basis, whether you spend this time on a writing project, a fun hobby, or pure-and-simple downtime. 

That wonderful, happy, refreshed energy will spill over into all other aspects of your life!

* * *

How often do you choose yourself? What does "choosing yourself" look like for you? Please share in the comments.

* * *

Btw, the free Master Your Time, Love Your Life Masterclass starts April 12. My session is on April 16. Learn more here

Debra Eckerling is the author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals. A writer, editor, and project catalyst, as well as founder of the D*E*B METHOD and Write On Online, Deb works with individuals and businesses to set goals and manage their projects through one-on-one coaching, workshops, and online support. She is also the author of Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write & Promote Your Blog and Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages, Vice President of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Women's National Book Association, host of the #GoalChat Twitter Chat and #GoalChatLive on Facebook, and a speaker/moderator on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, and social media.

Writing a Successful Children’s Series – 3 Key Elements


This is Part2 of writing a children's series. And, if you’re a children’s writer of chapter books, middle grade, or young adult you can write one.

To write a series, you need three things:

1. Strong characters

In a ‘live’ workshop, Scholastic senior editor Matt Ringler noted that the most important element of a series is a strong character.

According to Ringler, the Goosebumps series is a perfect example of characters that people care about. This makes them want to read the next book in the series, and the one after that, and so on.

This is what makes a series successful.

2. Strong plot

Plot is also important, of course you need a good story. But Ringler finds strong characters trump plot.

3. The hook

Your story as always needs to grab the reader. It needs to hold his attention.

I can see you shaking your heads. Of course, you need these elements.

But, with the series it needs to have them consistently to keep the momentum moving forward.

So, how do you write a successful story?

According to Ringler, the most important aspect to writing a successful story is to do your research.

- Look in libraries and book stores. See what’s getting published and study those books.

- Look at similar titles in the genre your write and in the age range.

- Paying attention to comparative titles are crucial. Who published them? Who edited them?

- Know the format for the genres. This includes the word counts, age group, word levels, and so on.

- Read in the genre you write. Read at least 40 books in this genre. If you find this boring or you hate doing the research then you shouldn’t write in that genre. The research should be the fun part.

- Know what the editor edits. Know the genre he works in. If he edits chapter and middle grade books, don’t send him your picture book.

- Check out the editor’s website and try to find him on social media. You can also check Publisher’s Market Place and Book Shelf. The information you get from this research will give you a better idea of what he’s looking for and possibly how to approach him.

Next is to write and keep writing.

- Join a critique group to get other viewpoints (eyes) on your story.

- Revise, edit, slash, cut, and even start over if need be.

- When you’re finished with a project, start on the next one.

Ringler emphasized that the more books you have out there, the more potential you have for visibility and sales. If a child likes a book, she’ll want more of that book in the form of a series.

How do you know if you’re a successful series writer?

Most series have four books, some have six. This is usually the max of a successful series.

Then there is the phenomenon. These books skyrocket way beyond expectation.

Think “Harry Potter,” “Goosebumps,” “Twilight,” “Puppy Place.”

“Goosebumps” has been around over 20 years and the original author, R. L. Steiner, is still writing them. As a standalone series, it may be one of the reasons for its phenomenon success.

“Puppy Place” is on its 54th book.

And, “Harry Potter.” Enough said.

But, again, these are the exception to the rule.

How do you measure success?

Personal Success:

- Making extra money to supplement your income
- Support yourself with your writing
- Living comfortably
- Making the BIG bucks (this is exceedingly rare)

You’ll need to decide which of these meet your criteria for success.

Critical success:

- Positive reviews
- Starred reviews
- Grants and award

If you’re just starting out, don’t let bad reviews hinder you. “Goosebumps was originally slammed by reviewers. So was “Star Wars.”

Longevity success:

- A long lasting career. The ability to continue publishing.
- Consistent desire for more books from readers, libraries, editors, etc.

Promotional success:

- Public recognition (not usual)
- Direct outreach to kids to help promote reading
- A bigger platform for more visibility

Book sales success:

How many books do you need to sell to be considered successful?

Ringler gave an example of a new author, Author1, who had a 10,000-book print run. He ended up selling 20,000 books. The book was considered a BIG success.

In a second example, a new author, Author2, had a 100,000-book print run. The publishing house expected his book to be a hit. But, he only sold 20,000 books. This book was NOT a success. The publishing house lost money on this author.

In example two, if Author2 wants to pitch another book to that publishing house, they’ll think twice about giving him a contract.

So, success can be relative. Both authors sold 20,000 books, but one was considered a success, the other wasn’t.

I love the example Ringler gave. It's something I hadn’t thought of and certainly puts sales success in perspective.

Summing it up:

This wraps it up for two-parter. If you write chapter books, or middle grade, or even young adult, consider turning your story into a series. There’s definitely a market for it.

To read the first part of this two-parter article on writing a series, go to:
Writing a Children’s Book Series – Different Types

This article was originally published at:

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. She is also an author/writer online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. You can check out her books at:

You can connect with Karen at:




Pros, Cons, and a few How-Tos on Writing Interviews

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
If you follow Writers on the Move, you may already know that I love Q&A articles a la Ann Landers. It’s a hangover from my journalism days when I was given the job to edit The Great Ann’s column each day for space requirements. It was a lovely lesson in life, writing, and the ways of the publishing industry. These days I love to use Q&As when my readers send me questions using the contact form on my website at Here’s one on writing interviews with a few tips that help with just about anything you do as a freelancer:
QUESTION: I’m a new author and have been asked to do interviews for a pretty high-powered blog and don’t want to embarrass myself. Do you have any guidelines for me?
ANSWER: One of the things I notice about really great interviews is that the question and answers are short. And when I am asked to do interviews, the interviewer often suggests short answers and sometimes gives me a preferred word count for my answers.
When I was writing for a newspaper back in the dark ages I learned that it is an editor’s privilege—in fact their duty—to edit interviews and other material like wedding stories submitted to me. I don't do interviews for my blogs, but if I did, I'd tactfully—gently—let the interviewee know that I might need to edit it for style purposes or length. That way, they aren't surprised when they see interview answers that aren't exactly what they submitted.  
Another thing. This comes straight from my journalism classes: When we're wearing a journalism hat, we aren't required to let an interviewee (or informant) review, check, or otherwise monitor what we have written. We have a free press. So, you aren't obligated to run what you have written by your interviewee. You may choose to ask them to check for accuracy. And there are some benefits to that. It’s a process akin to having a sharp-eyed editor. It’s a great way to begin to build a relationship otherwise known as networking. But there are downsides. Are you willing to change a viewpoint or retract an edit you have made (like shortening an answer) to benefit the readability of your interview?  
Check out Time magazine's interviews. They're usually on their back page and they aim at information, but also try for a little spice, humor, or originality of language—even controversy. Your blogger will appreciate it if you can come up with an image that they might use, too. And it will always benefit you if you add your own short bio or credit line. You have more control of what will go into it if you do it for her. It will save your editor work if she is rushed (and they usually are!)  Be aware, though. She may do some editing of her own on it! That’s her privilege!
More About Today’s Writers on the Move Contributor


Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, editor, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program including a class on editing for self-publishers. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won multiple awards. That series includes  The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor which won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically launched to rave reviews from Karen Cioffi, The Article Writing Doctor,





Writing a Children’s Book Series - Different Types


I attended a ‘live’ workshop through SCBWI (before the pandemic). This one was with Senior Editor Matt Ringler with Scholastic. He’s in the series department for chapter books, middle grade, and young adult.

If you write in these genres, you’ll want to read on!

In case you weren’t aware, Scholastic is the only publisher that deals solely with children’s books. One out of every three children’s books is sold by Scholastic.

That’s pretty impressive.

Scholastic sells their books through their publishing houses, the Scholastic Reading Club, and Book Fairs. They sell to 35 million children in more than 130,000 Fairs across the country, annually.

Okay, that’s enough about Scholastic, now on to great children’s writing tips.

Children’s books have specific age groups:

Early chapter: 6-8 age group
Chapter books: 7-10 age group
Middle grade: 8-12 age group
Young adult: 12+ age group

Ringler noted that in the ‘early chapter’ books, the rules are stricter. Getting the ‘reader level’ right is essential as are using age appropriate words.

He also noted that ‘young adult’ is not a genre, it’s an age group. The reason for this is that book stores have limited space for books and they separate children’s books by age.

What I found very interesting, is a series doesn’t have to follow through with the same characters.

The series could focus on a particular theme, maybe sports. Or, maybe the series focuses on a particular setting or time period, or other.

This gives the series writer great flexibility and freedom.

And, did you know that there are three different formats for children’s series?

1. The continuation.

The books in this format continue with the same characters and often the same situation, like in the Harry Potter series. These books are dependent on information in the prior books – you need to read them in order. You need to know what happened in the previous books to keep up with the story.

2. The standalone.

The books in this format don’t reference the prior books at all. You can pick up Book5 and be good to go. You don’t need any prior information to make sense of the story. And, they aren’t in any kind of sequence.

These books are independent of each other.

An example of this type of series is “Goosebumps.”

Ringler mentioned that when dealing with a standalone series, branding is super-important.

Getting the logo and cover design just right is necessary to help make the series a success. It needs to be easily recognizable as that series.

To get it just right takes months. All the departments involved need to be on board and approve it.

3. Sequential, but not dependent.

The books in this format are in order (sequential), but they’re not dependent on what happened in the previous book.

I think the editor mentioned that the “Puppy Place” series falls in this category. But, there was a lot of information, so please don’t quote me on this one.

Where does an editor get his projects from?

Ringler finds manuscripts from:

- Agents: they pitch their clients’ stories to him.

- Authors: existing Scholastic authors will come to him with another book they’ve written.

- Colleagues: other editors in Scholastic may get a manuscript that isn’t right for them but think it would be just-right for Ringler.

- Book Clubs and Book Fairs: they’ll need specific books for specific fairs. For example, focusing on the month of April, they want an April’s Fool book.

- Self-generated: these are ideas Ringler gets on his own. It may from browsing books stores, watching a movie or TV, or other.

Once the story is found, what’s the purchasing process?

This is the same for all editors. If they find a manuscript they’re passionate about, it goes to the Acquisitions Dept – everyone gets involved in the decision to purchase the story, or not.

Ringler noted that he can get rejected for a number of reasons:

- Scholastic has a similar book in the works
- They feel there’s not a market for it
- They just don’t like it
- Other reasons

The editor needs to fight to have his book chosen. It can take a year or more just to buy a book if things work out in the editor’s favor.

Once the book is actually acquired, there are five steps that need to take place:

1. The editor goes over the first draft manuscript. This phase is about concept, story, clarity, etc.

2a. After the editor is done, it goes to the copyeditor for line editing. This phase is about grammar, punctuation, spelling, fact checking, and so on.

2b. Next, it’s on to character design. The illustrator will come up with a number of character designs that will be reviewed. The decision as to which should be used will be made.

3. Then it’s on to interior layout and design. The font to be used, where the illustrations are placed, the chapter heading style, and so on happen during this phase.

4. The fourth phase is where it’s all put to together with the cover, back cover, front matter, and so on. The book finally gets published at the end of this phase.

After about 18-24 months of contract, the author finally has a published book.

I’ll have more on writing a children’s series with Matt Ringler April 7th, next week.

This was originally published at: 

Karen Cioffi
is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. She is also an author/writer online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

You can connect with Karen at:



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