Showing posts with label Writing a series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing a series. Show all posts

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:



Branding Checkup

Perseverance Pays Off

Read as a Writer



Three Tips on Starting a Series, Part 2

Writer Beware: "Series are tricky. Writing series is not for the faint of heart." So says Janet Lane Walters, award-winning author of  series in multiple genres and more; as quoted in my latest find, Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide for Novels and Novellas, by Karen S. Wiesner.

I am living testimony to this fact. My dream has been to expand the one undertaking that has taken heart and soul to write, MY BOOK, into a series. The dream took shape when I realized I didn't want to part with my characters. Little did I know what the creation of a series would mean. Thank goodness so many authors are willing to share their ideas on writing a series, including how to begin, how to avoid common pitfalls and how to stay on target, whether you're writing a trilogy or see no end in sight.

In today's post, I would like to summarize three topics that will help propel you out of the gate, described in Wiesner's book: Book Groupings, Types of Series and Series Blurbs. If you are looking for good, solid advice on writing a series, I highly recommend Wiesner's book, which offers a thorough approach with many examples and worksheets that can save time and effort.
Book Groupings are as Familiar as Fiction Itself
  • Series: Any continuous or interconnected set of stories. The two main types are the books best read sequentially, such as Harry Potter books; and those books read in any order, such as Nancy Drew books.
  • Trilogy: Continues one long-term story arc or each story stands alone with a loose connection.
  • Serial: Serial, episode or periodical stories come from a single work and are read in installments, such as Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers, first published in 1836; considered to have established the serial format. A current example is Stephen King's story, The Plant (2000).
  • Miniseries: A planned number of stories told within an existing series. A personal favorite of mine on television, such as the six-part Roots and John Adams; Wiesner gives as her example in writing, The Darling Birds, by Johnny Dale.
  • Other types of groupings include: Prequel, Sequel, Interquel, Spin-off, and Tetralogy (four-book series that can be developed the same as a Trilogy).
What Type is your Series?
The four main types of series Wiesner pins down, summarized here, has helped me turn a fuzzy idea of what I'm attempting to write into a clear vision. She points out that authors often create a combination of these types, a good idea if you want your series to stand out.
  • Recurring character: Popular in mystery/suspense stories, fantasy, sci fi and paranormal genres. Wiesner's example: Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer.
Your star character appears in each book, often with her trusty sidekick. The stories can be told from one or the other point of view.

I considered doing this in my current series project but was advised by an editor that by switching POVs, some of the reader's emotional investment in my main character could be lost. I decided for this first series, to stick with the two mc's who are introduced in Book 1, with one of them the predominant mc. Wiesner advises that in this type of series there's a large cast of characters with varied importance from story to story.
  • Central Group of Characters: Popular in romance novels, women's fiction, paranormal, sci fi and fantasy. Example: Redwall Series by Brian Jacques.
Your main group of characters have a loose or specific connection that ties them together, and one or two of the characters become the mc as the series progresses.
  • Premise/Plot Series: Popular in action/adventure, suspense and thriller, inspirational, paranormal, horror, sci fi and fantasy. Example: Unbidden Magic Series by Marilee Brothers.
The connection in this type of series is the plot or premise that is the underlying theme.
  • Setting Series: Your setting works in your series' books across the board.
The stories are tied by the setting. Characters can change, but the setting stays the same.
Series Blurbs on Steroids
One of the most difficult tasks of fiction writing, as we know, is encapsulating our novel in a short, concise sentence.
Weisner suggests blurbing your entire series in the early stages of the work, keeping it to one to four sentences; as short as possible and tweaking it as you go along. Your series blurb should:
  • Be an overview of the entire series.
  • Tell how the books in the series are connected.
  • Inspire readers to want to read not just one book but the entire series.
  • Let the genre shine through.
  • Give the blurb the same tone as the story.
  • Consider adding interest by making the blurb a question or an exclamation.
  • Should give you a plan on how your series will end.
Nailing down these preliminary tasks, authors say, will save you much time and effort as you write your series. But the initial planning is not yet complete. This trilogy of posts will conclude next month with various worksheet suggestions, that if started early, can serve as reminders of details that might be forgotten and not easily found once your series gets rolling.
Check out last month's post: Is Series Writing for You, Part 1

Image courtesy of:

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction courses, picture book course and mystery and suspense course. She has currently finished her first book, a mystery/ghost story for 8-12 year-olds, and is in the process of publishing it. Follow Linda on Facebook.

Is Series Writing for You? Part 1

       How big is your book idea? In fiction, it might cover generations as in Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War and Plantagenet and Tudor Series, or growth of the main character which occurs in Nancy Drew mysteries. Have your pick of nonfiction topics that can blossom into a series from a single topic; series such as The Magic School Bus and the Body Works series; My Messy Body, My Noisy Body, etc.

        If you're like me you might start small, believing your idea will be covered in one standalone book. That's good, as we know your book needs to be submitted as a standalone. My desire to expand my book idea into a series (I am currently working on Book 2 while Book 1 continues to be primped and prodded) developed in ways I have since found to be common.

Why Turn a Perfectly Good Book into a Series?

        That's easy. You've got to:
  • Fall in love with your characters, especially the main ones, who have so much more life to live that you can't possibly stop now.
  • Write in a genre that lends itself to series, such as mystery, ghost stories, romance, westerns, historical novels, fantasy and sci fi.
  • Believe that series sell well and publishers like to buy multiple books because series attract readers.
  • Know that the groundwork in the first book will work again, and again, and again.

       Authors who write series promise readers that the fun doesn't have to end, that there's more excitement to come, more adventure and world's to explore, more of these lives to be lived.
                                        Karen S. Wiesner, Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide for Novels and Novellas

  • Weisner quotes author Thomas Helm: Author and reader dread the end, which is the test of a good novel. Why not expand it into a series?
  • Love reading series, from childhood on. If like me you love reading series books, then you thrive on the familiar feelings series provoke.
  • Enjoy the setting of your story and look forward to expanding on it so your characters can explore worlds, far and wide.    
      The list is never-ending. If you're already writing a series or are contemplating writing one, then your heart of hearts already knows why you want to make your book into a series. For me, this desire developed. In the beginning, going from writing short stories to writing my book was more of an undertaking then I ever could have imagined. One of my biggest challenges was keeping track of the story! What was happening where and to whom! In a nutshell, structure is what saved me. For one way to build story structure, go to March 28, 2013 for a post on "The Tent Pole Structure":

What? Turn my Masterpiece into a Series? Not!

        Before delving into the mechanics of series writing, which will be discussed in future posts, let's take a look at some of the ways to avoid the pitfalls, for there are many. You will find a way to make the pieces fit together. A way that works for you.  
     It's a good idea to:

  • Make an overall outline that shows how each novel relates to the others.
  • Have an overall plot plan as well as a plan for each novel.
  • Be organized. Know where your series will end. Plot a timeline to keep track of events.
  • Choose a central conflict or premise for your series that "is the main tension or unknown that needs to be solved."

               In . . . Harry Potter, the central conflict is the protagonist's unfinished business with the villain, Lord Voldemort. In Tolkien's Lord of the rings Trilogy, the central conflict is between the world-dominion-seeing antagonist Sauron and the elves and hobbits who desire peace and freedom from tyranny."

  • Keep track of the details and connecting threads among the novels in order to maintain continuity.
  • Plan for the passage of time and how your characters will age.

        You might wonder What am I getting myself into? I have, many times. But to help me decide what to do, I did a simple Google and Amazon search and found terrific information from the wonderful authors who have shared what they've learned. Once I nail down my research, I will share the resources I have found in the next few months as I continue to explore this topic.

Next month: Tips on How to Write a Series

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction courses, picture book course and mystery and suspense course. She has currently finished her first book, a mystery/ghost story for 8-12 year-olds, and is in the process of publishing it. Follow Linda on Facebook.

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