ProTalk Discussion: Writing Series - 3/15/05

NOTE: Many thanks to Shirley Harazin for editing this transcript for us!


*** Verla has set the topic on channel #kidlit to ProTalk Discussion on
Series Books IN PROGRESS
Verla: Okay, everyone... tonight is our next ProTalk Discussion
Verla: and the topic for this time is Writing Series books
Verla: The rules are very simple...
Verla: no hellos or goodbyes until the hour is up
Verla: no "outside" conversations
LindaJoy: so I can't say hello to Mel?
LindaJoy: since we have to be serious?
Verla: (no lyra!!)
WriterMel: Darn... I feel so... abandoned.
Verla: but everyone is encouraged to ask questions and make
comments on the topic under discussion
Verla: To start it off, I'd like to say a special thank you to Linda Joy for being here tonight, as she is a master at writing series books and has published over 25 of them!
NOTE: While most of our ProTalk Discussions have no workshop leader, tonight’s session was guided by Linda Joy Singleton, who is a real “pro” at writing series books
Verla: okay... who here has ever written a series book or wants to
write one?
Verla: (or has read one and loved it?)
Verla: I'm a reader of them
LindaJoy: glad to be here (although I'm here most nights anyway)
WriterMel: that last one!!!
colleeninb: I want to
WriterMel waves hand
JanFields: I've read some
LindaJoy: I shall wait for questions...
Verla: okay... do you have to have a whole series idea before you
start writing?
jansgrand: Did you start out writing series? Or did you do single
stories and/or books first?
LindaJoy: My first book was a single title
Verla: or can you just write one book and then let it go from
LindaJoy: I wanted to write series, but didn't plan to at first
LindaJoy: Verla, it's actually the best idea in the current market to write one strong book that can become a series later
colleeninb: what was your first book (that became a series) about?
LindaJoy: For instance, the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
was started with just one book, and was popular, so continued
LindaJoy: The way I sold my first original series was to have one
book, titled GHOST TWIN at the time
LindaJoy: It was submitted by me at first with some interest, but no
sale, then an agent subbed and sold it
LindaJoy: My first call said they want the book, then the next call
said they wanted it as a 3-book series
colleeninb: wow, was that scary for you?
LindaJoy: I included a single sheet at the back of the book with
"Possible Series Titles"
Verla: when they asked for it to be a series, did you have to
change things in the book to make it "work" as a series?
JanFields: Wow, that must have been exciting
LindaJoy: Colleen, I was thrilled...I had it planned as a series
LindaJoy: I still have the tiny cassette with the call from my agent
(but don't know how to play it anywhere)
Verla: oh, okay.  So you did plan it (background plan) ahead of
LindaJoy: I had titles planned, so just started writing each book
joanclr: You mentioned a "single sheet" - you submitted that with
your first ms?
LindaJoy: The eventual series title was MY SISTER THE GHOST, 4 books
Verla: (That's still one of my favorites of your series, too)
LindaJoy: yeah, joan -- just a page with series blurbs for about 3-5
LindaJoy: the first two books were reprinted by Wings Press, e-book
and paperbacks
Verla: can you give us an idea of what you put on those "blurbs,"
jansgrand: Were they sequential, or just involving the same characters
in different situations?
joanclr: I've heard that can sometimes put editors off, did you not
find that the case?
LindaJoy: sequential
WriterMel: LInda - how'd you do your query letter, then?  If you were
trying to sell the book as a single title, but hoped for a series?
LindaJoy: All of my series books were sequential, each having its own
story, but continuing some characters plots
LindaJoy: Okay--just a sec and I'll find an actual blurb
Verla: oh. I see. Like the Oz books.  You can read any of them in
any order, but altogether they tell a fuller story
LindaJoy: Here's the one for the book in my STRANGE ENCOUNTERS series
which is now titled SHAMROCKED:
Verla: hmm.  True.  Some series are just different situations with
the same characters in them
LindaJoy: Kelly green paint splattered on a woman's hair.  Green goo
spewing from a faucet.  And green clover-shaped warnings from the
mysterious "Leprechaun."  Does a leprechaun really exist?  "I won't
believe it!" claims Cassie's father, so he packs up the family and sets
off in search of another story for his TV show.
LindaJoy: (The rest of the blurb):
LindaJoy: While Cassie's father investigates, Cassie and her brother
Lucas make a new friend named Shaun, who claims to know a leprechaun. 
Shaun gives them a map and says it leads to a pot of gold.  Cassie
isn't sure what to believe, but she IS sure that an unknown person is
stalking her and Lucas, trying to get the map.  A treasure hunt full of
adventure, danger, and fun has begun!
LindaJoy: Now if anyone has read SHAMROCKED, they can see how this
plot blurb changed...drastically!
Verla: (it's a GREAT story, too!  I love that one!)
Verla: yep
joanclr: And this is one you submitted with the series lead?
LindaJoy: And Mel -- the query letter would vary depending on the
LindaJoy: Not the lead -- the first book was a completely finished
book called OH, NO! UFO, which stayed mostly the same
Verla: if you wanted to submit a single book, but had hopes of
being a series, would you SAY that in the cover/query letter?
WriterMel: (GREAT series, btw)
Verla: or would you mention it AFTER they bought the first book?
LindaJoy: If I was submitting to a publisher who wasn't looking for
series, I would query the one book, but include in the proposal a page
suggesting more titles
Verla: just titles?
LindaJoy: I might mention in the cover letter than it could be a
series, but I've heard editors say they see that too often
LindaJoy: Now when I actually subbed STRANGE ENCOUNTERS, I knew
Llewellyn was looking for series, so I slanted the proposal that way
LindaJoy: I created a "series proposal" which includes character
sketches, plots, first chapters, series overview
LindaJoy: In fact with the other series, THE SEER, I sold it without
having written the book and only on the 30 page series proposal
Verla: like... here's a book I wrote about XXX.  then at the end
of the query you would have a second page that said, "Suggested titles
for future books:   The Cast Iron Toybox,  Jumping Frog Legs, Mister
Lister made a Mess
jansgrand: I know that Llewellyn likes books on the paranormal. Do you
think a series of etiquette books for middle readers would be
paranormal enough?
joanclr: wow Linda
LindaJoy: Llewellyn is cutting back on their middle grades, in fact
they want to branch out with other genres for YA titles
LindaJoy: My editor even said she'd consider historical
jansgrand: wow! I can do that!
LindaJoy: Of course I still think paranormal topics would appeal to
her most, but definitely with older characters
Verla: there you go, jg!
LindaJoy: There's a new book out with a great title, BRAS AND
BROOMSTICKS, and I bet something like that would have interested my
jansgrand: Do we even dare guess?
Verla: lol... a combination of teens and paranormal/witchcraft, eh?
LindaJoy: kia, I wouldn't just suggest titles, but include a short
blurb for additional books
Verla: ah... so a title and short description of what the plot
would be>
Verla: ?
LindaJoy: It's hard to know what my editor wants, except I know she
wants to expand the line to gain notice in the YA field
LindaJoy: (did I miss any questions?)
LindaJoy: By the way, I read BRAS and BROOMSTICKS and loved it,
almost midgrade in tone with fun magic
Verla: I didn't see anyone's missed questions...
LindaJoy: Verla, a sample title would be for like WITCH BALL: Sabine
and Thorn travel in search of a missing book and end up at a ghost
Verla: oh, you need those Sound Bites again!
LindaJoy: That's the 3rd book in my SEER series and just today I
heard from the art department they're getting ready to "launch" the book
by deciding the cover
Verla: Does everyone know what a Sound Bite is?
Verla: Linda's a master at them...
colleeninb: Ahh, that blurb reminded me of a writing exercise I saw
somewhere... summarize your book in 10 words or less. (as would be used
for a blurb somewhere)
Verla: yep. That's a sound bite, colleen
LindaJoy: Yeah, colleen, it's good to have a short blurb of your book
Verla: (we did that)
colleeninb: I get the whole blurb thing now
colleeninb: ahh, ok
Verla: it's like writing flap copy
colleeninb: yep, I thought I saw it on your site, but couldn't remember
Verla: you read the flap copy on a book and it lets you know if
you want to read the book or not
LindaJoy: I often get people asking me what the book is about and try
to sum it up in a sentence
Verla: it's your job to write flap copy (a sound bite) of your
story so you can catch that agent or editor's eye the second they pick
up your query
Verla: I think that's important no matter WHAT you write
LindaJoy: When I queried REGENERATION, I had a blurb something like:
X-Files meets Party of Five when teens find out they're cloned and in
colleeninb: OOH, great example
Verla: what are some of the "pitfalls" of writing series, Linda?
jansgrand: As I started to say before I so rudely disconnected myself,
would non-fiction series be subbed in the same way?
LindaJoy: I have no idea if that helped sell the series, but it
probably didn't hurt (although BOTH of those series are gone now)
jansgrand: but both good series
Jaina: Hi, gang.
Verla: oh.. that's a good question, jg...
LindaJoy: Some of the pitfalls are having books go out of print too
soon and feeling bad when kids email to ask for more
Jaina: <Oh, I'm sorry... official chat, eh?>
LindaJoy: I solved this by writing another REGENERATION (#6) which I
posted on my website
LindaJoy: just Q&A, Jaina...jump in
Verla: normally non-fiction series are sold with a proposal and
synopsis of the books... yeah...
Jaina: I'm really excited about something, but this is off-topic.
LindaJoy: Other challenges are continuing each book when you have a
growing cast of characters
Verla: often they want to see a full finished book for series, but
not normally for non-fiction.
LindaJoy: (It's what Jaina?)
Verla: (well, you can share it with us when the hour is up, jaina!
Verla: lyra... BEHAVE!
LindaJoy: well...I want to know!
Verla: only 35 minutes and you can know
colleeninb: lol
Jaina: "Made in America" on the Travel Channel is profiling
Highlights at this very moment.
Verla: behave!!!!
LindaJoy: okay, question...
Jaina: I suggested it to them back in Oct. so I feel responsible!
Jaina: Sorry, I'll be quiet now.
Verla: well, that's GREAT for kids' stories, too
Verla: (thanks, jaina)
LindaJoy: wow!...maybe I should go watch it...oh, kia grabbed me and
threw me in muy chair
LindaJoy: Okay, to answer the questions...
Verla ties Linda into her chair
Verla: NO TV til we're done!
Rach: What do you do to keep track of characters and do you
develop your characters (they get older) or keep them the same
LindaJoy: Other pitfalls are deciding whether characters age or not,
if they do then they could get TOO old
Verla: I'm still waiting to hear the answer to my question
Verla: oh. there it is!  Thanks
LindaJoy: Rach, I have a binder where I keep my notes, synopses, etc.
LindaJoy: But I really need to make a good list of character
information...I forget a lot
Verla: kind of like a "series bible"?
Verla: I think that's what they call them, isn't it?
LindaJoy: I'm hoping an interested fan will offer to do it for
me...know anyone? (g)
jansgrand: Back stories for all the characters?
LindaJoy: Keeping track of hair color, eye color, birthdays, etc. is
a lot of work
Verla: hmm. I normally do a full character sketch of characters
for a novel
LindaJoy: I get lazy about that, and often just jump in to writing
the book
Verla: ah... bad bad
colleeninb: ooh, that would make a neat internship... only if we got to
peek at the rest of the work in progress, though ;>
LindaJoy: Sometimes I find out things about my characters later in
the series
LindaJoy: Like I just found out that Sabine didn't just take fencing
classes, she was the best student
jansgrand: Isn't it fun when your characters reveal things you never
dreamt of?
Verla: oh, wow.  She told you that, eh, Linda?
LindaJoy: yeah--I like finding out more
Verla: :-)
LindaJoy: well I just plotted the 4th book, SWORD PLAY, and it goes
back to the past to solve a mystery
colleeninb: I see now that I made need to toss in something to make my
character a little different or unique, and not just the average jane
jansgrand: kewl
LindaJoy: It's good to have some kind of "hook" for a series
jansgrand: how far back, LJ?
Verla: it's always a good idea if you can make your book "stand
out" somehow from the rest of what's already "out there" colleen
Verla: oh... tell us more about series' hooks, Linda!
LindaJoy: My character Sabine goes back to her old town and a ghost
makes her uncover secrets about a death she was partially blamed for
Verla: can you give us examples of the "hooks" in your series?
LindaJoy: okay, the hooks to sell the series:
jansgrand: that's a good one
colleeninb: I like how she tossed in fencing for a character, most kids
have never done that, and could even learn (gasp!) something
LindaJoy: For MY SISTER THE GHOST, having twins where one is dead and
one is alive was a good hook
Verla: lol colleen
LindaJoy: For CHEER SQUAD, I focused on competition, not romance or
girly stuff like other series
LindaJoy: For REGENERATION, teens being cloned was pretty new when I
wrote that (but another pub beat me to it for midgrade and made it hard
to sell)
jansgrand: And that made our jan want to try out for cheerleader this
Verla: (cool, jg!)
LindaJoy: For STRANGE ENCOUNTERS, Cassie thinks she's the normal one
in her "strange" family, until she meets aliens, little people,
LindaJoy: And for THE SEER, Sabine is a reluctant teen psychic, who
would rather be a normal teen and fit in at school
LindaJoy: But coming up with hooks isn't easy...I don't have anything
new ideas at the moment
Verla: what about that series idea you had writing those books
about the dreams?
Verla: that had a good hook, didn't it?
LindaJoy: Jan--great about your Jan...I used a real competition
tryout sheet in that book
Verla: I know it "hooked" me!  LOL I still remember it vaguely....
LindaJoy: Verla, you know too much about me (g)...the dream series
was one my editor liked
LindaJoy: Only I'm not ready to write it
Verla: okay
Verla: good.  You can do it next.  <grin>
LindaJoy: Another thing fun about writing series is the research
LindaJoy: (I've considered it)
Verla: (and THAT coming from a woman who used to say she HATED
LindaJoy: I love traveling for research, like to an Oregon beach to
research my upcoming SEA SWITCH
colleeninb: Wow, seeing your hooks has given me a HUGE insight tonight.
I'm seeing the whole 'make it unique' thing way clearer with things
summarized like that
Andrea: I LOVE researching-- when I'm writing anyway. I'm suddenly
interested in it and can't get enough info on whatever the subject is
Verla: yep.  Linda is really a master at writing interesting books
with a lot of good plots
LindaJoy: glad to help, Colleen
colleeninb: (My idea was only semi-unique)
LindaJoy: I probably plot TOO much
colleeninb: me too, Andrea
Verla: naw.  your stories really flow well, Linda
LindaJoy: Once an editor told me to get rid of a plot, that I was the
queen of plots (it wasn't really a compliment...)
colleeninb: lol
Verla: well,  *I* think you are the queen of plots and it IS a
LindaJoy: As soon as I hear that Llewellyn officially wants SWORD
PLAY, I plan to sign up for fencing classes
Andrea: Yeah. share some of the plotting queenliness. :)
colleeninb: Cool!!
joanclr: cool LJ
Verla: look at that!
colleeninb: ooh, speaking of plots..
Verla: she's going to play with swords
LindaJoy: Plotting is easy.  You just take each main character, give
them something they want, then weave it in so it adds to the overall
colleeninb: with the series, or the individual books within them...
LindaJoy: yes, Colleen?
Verla: I loved how she went to a cheer camp when doing the Cheer
Squad books
Verla: Hey gail!  We're discussing Series Books... join us!
colleeninb: how do you plan your plots and subplots?  Do you have them
all planned out in advance, then add in a few obstacles and see what
happens? Or something different?
LindaJoy: Going to Cheer Camp was my biggest research ever
Verla: wait a minute, Linda... you say you "give them something
they want..."  But don't you mean you have something they need in the
book and have to work to get?
Deetie: hello.
LindaJoy: Colleen, for my publisher I have to write a synopsis to
sell the book, so most of the plots & subplots are planned in advance
colleeninb: gotcha
LindaJoy: yeah, kia -- when I'm doing it right, most characters have
some desire or conflict
Verla: or both?
LindaJoy: could be
LindaJoy: Let me think of an example...
^GailM: I have a series, but I've been advised not to poffer each
as a series. Each book in the series must stand alone, so let the
publisher decide they want it to be a series.
Verla: oh good. I love examples. They are so much more helpful
than just talking "around" something
colleeninb: yes, please, examples
LindaJoy: exactly, Gail ... unless an author has pubbed series
before, publishers usually want a stand-alone first
LindaJoy: Unless a publisher is specifically building series
Verla: I think the main difference there would be if you were
submitting to an educational publisher, Gail.  They normally WANT
series books and don't want stand-alone titles. (At least in my
LindaJoy: For an SEA SWITCH, Cassie wants to have a fun
vacation with her best friend, but her best friend wants a chance to be
#1 in sports
jansgrand: And they tell you what type of series they want
LindaJoy: So when the best friend gets a chance to be on a team, she
ditches Cassie...
LindaJoy: Her brother has a goal of practicing for a new play, and
this skill helps in the final resolution
Verla: his acting ability?
LindaJoy: yeah--I try to weave character's goals/conflicts in to
advance my plot
Verla: hmmm.  I think that's what my poor 16 year old YA is
LindaJoy: Also in SEA SWITCH, a wicked mermaid wants to escape
trouble, and Cassie is wanting a new friend...this advances the plot
when the mermaid tricks Cassie by offering friendship
Verla: I keep putting off submitting it because "something" is
LindaJoy: It helps me write the characters if I know what they "want"
jansgrand: I've got one like that, too, kia
Verla: so cassie wants a friend, her friend wants sports, friend
gets sports, cassie gets a new friend, new friend wants out of trouble,
switches with cassie... now cassie has no friend and is in trouble to
LindaJoy: yup--I'm VERY mean to Cassie
colleeninb: PHEW
Verla: so what she wanted got her into more trouble
Verla: when she got it
LindaJoy: Which adds fun to the book...(see what I mean by plotting
too much?  That's me...)
joanclr: Sounds like great fun, LJ!
LindaJoy: Then I take a bad situation and make it worse
Verla: I need to think more about their personalities...
LindaJoy: Cassie ends up in sea jail, with penalties like cleaning
sea monster dung...
Verla: series books really ARE characters, aren't they?
jansgrand: ewww
Verla: ewwww, is right!
Verla: kids will love that one
LindaJoy: the characters make you you want to know what
happens next
LindaJoy: I hope so ... then maybe the publisher will reconsider
ending the series at 3 books
LindaJoy: any other questions?
Verla: that's another problem with series... the publishers END
LindaJoy: I've been heartbroken each time my series end
Verla: do you have ANY recourse when they say they want to end a
series, Linda?
LindaJoy: well I could take it to another publisher, at least
additional books if there was a publisher interested
LindaJoy: But at this point in my career, I'm not writing any books
that aren't contracted
Verla: like if you got out and drummed up massive sales overnight,
would they possibly reconsider?  I know I talked to my editor about my
Broken Feather book going Out of Print...and she told me they virtually
NEVER bring a book back once they've put it OP.
LindaJoy: Although I did write a complete new REGENERATION for fans a
few years ago
LindaJoy: It's very unlikely that Llewellyn will do more than the 3
books for STRANGE ENCOUNTERS, unless sales skyrocket
Verla: (which is a very sad thing)
LindaJoy: But THE SEER continues and is doing quite well
LindaJoy: I was told it might be in a second printing
LindaJoy: Another fun thing about series are the fan letters...
Verla: so what other questions/comments do we have about series
Verla: they are almost always in paperbacks, aren't they?
LindaJoy: For REGENERATION, my fan letters were mostly two questions:
Verla: so they are more affordable...
LindaJoy: When is the next book coming out AND which girl will Chase
fall for?
LindaJoy: My series have always been in paperback, but there is a
trend for small hardback series books now
Verla: really!  Do you know which publishers are doing the
hardback series books, Linda?
jansgrand: For historicals, I know American Girl is
Verla: ah ha...
LindaJoy: some fantasy books are coming out in hardback
Verla: history, fantasy...
jansgrand: And AG is also doing mysteries
Verla: I wonder if the fantasy books are a kick-off from Harry
Potter books?
Verla: since they were also in hardbacks
LindaJoy: yes, that's it exactly
jansgrand: Thank you JKR!
Verla: JK Rowlings did a great thing for all of us
Verla: yep...
Verla: raised the stakes for all of us...
LindaJoy: any other questions?
Verla: better advances... hardbacks... more "status"
Verla: Anyone have anything else they want to discuss about Series
colleeninb: but more expensive... does that lead to fewer sales
kittypye: I've just been listening, but wanted to say thanks for lots
of great info.
Verla: It didn't in her case, colleen... LOL... but then, she was
definitely the "exception that proved the rule"
LindaJoy: most hardback series are from $10-15
colleeninb: (I've been taking notes and just catching up)
jansgrand: The AG books usually run about $7
Verla: these discussion hours are GREAT, kitty... it's wonderful
to hear different opinions and ideas
colleeninb: AG?
jansgrand: Of course, they're for a younger audience and are shorter,
jansgrand: American Girl
Verla: American Girl
colleeninb: ahh
LindaJoy: anyone working on a series?
Verla: (took me a minute to figure out AG, too... I was thinking
along the lines of Agricultural books.... LOL)
jansgrand: only my "Young Person's Guides"
Verla: colleen said she wants to
Verla: I heard you say that at the beginning of the discussion,
LindaJoy: good luck, colleen!
colleeninb: I'm hoping to eventually take a stab at a MG book with a
female MC, but something that could make for a series
jansgrand: I'm still wondering if books on manners are non-fiction or
LindaJoy: non-fiction I'd guess
Verla: probably depends on how you write them, jg
colleeninb: I'm still in the read,read,read stage... fiction is
prettynew to me... I stuck to NF for a while
jansgrand: for the 6-10 crowd?
Verla: if you write them as fantasy...
colleeninb: depends on if anyone is around, jan
colleeninb: to see the manners
colleeninb: if so, fantasy for sure
jansgrand: My first one -- Peas and Honey -- is table manners
colleeninb: hehe, cute title!
jansgrand: it's an old poem
LindaJoy: cute title
colleeninb: I like titles like that for my own daughter - I bought a
little series/group of books (from the scholastic flyers) on manners
and things like sharing
Verla: one of my favorite manners books was the Something or other
book of Manners.  I forget the title now. But it was all about these
monster thingies that had TERRIBLE manners.  And the little kid goes
through the book with their bad manners and he "shows them" how to
behave correctly on each page
colleeninb: they're cute, and a fun read, most importantly.  But she
still learns something
jansgrand: I'm working on Are We There Yet? about travel manners
Verla: oh good titles, jg
colleeninb: those are the kind I would buy, jg
colleeninb: And Verla... that sounds so familiar
jansgrand: One of my favorite books, sort of picture, but I was in 5th
grade or so, was What Do You Say, Dear?
Verla: The Thingamajig Book of Manners!
Verla: that's the title of it
jansgrand: sounds wonderful!
colleeninb: ahh, nope... not what I was thinking of... hmmm
Verla: get a hold of a copy of it JG... it's a FUN book
jansgrand: I'll look for it
Verla: (By the way... our discussion time is UP
els: talk still on?
colleeninb: make them fun for us parents to read, though, too
Verla: NOW where is jaina?
Verla: right, colleen
Verla: with her fun news?
Verla: huh? HUH?
jansgrand: she left about 15 minutes ago
colleeninb: especially the 43rd time around
Verla: hmph
LindaJoy: so any last questions?
jansgrand: What are you going to do after the SEER series?
Verla: I want to thank you for being here tonight, Linda... and
sharing all your series experiences with us
LindaJoy: what do you mean AFTER?  It's never ending!
colleeninb: where do you get the crazy ideas for your books??  Not a
real question, I know where ideas come from, yours are just so great!
LindaJoy: I plan to have an astral travel murder mystery
colleeninb: oh my
jansgrand: Have you ever read any of Isaac Asimov's really short
shorts about a time/space traveler? Your Switch cleaning reminded me of
one of those
Verla: I LOVE Isaac Asimov
Jaina: :)
Log file closed at: 3/15/05 7:06:06 PM

Verla Kay
Copyright © 2005
All Rights Reserved