BEHIND THE BOOK: How to write for a children’s or teen book series (Part I)

Are you curious about how authors get in on multi-author series books like S.A.S.S. Students Across the Seas?

Do you want to understand what skill set and experience is required to write for any established series?

Would you like to know how to approach a publisher to get your idea sold?

Then this is the article series for you. In the coming days, I’ll talk about how to get started writing for a series based upon my own experience with S.A.S.S: THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA.  We’ll look at the process in-depth and I’ll share the techniques I used to get in.

For this first article, we’ll start from the beginning!

If you haven’t already,  read the crash course. I’ll be using terms you need to know. At the very least, refer to my glossary.

Okay, let’s get started.

Even though I am only speaking from my experience with the S.A.S.S. series, you can also apply this stuff to similar series as well … but do understand, each publisher has their own requirements and ways of going about it.  I will touch on that when I get to the appropriate spot in this article series.

Now you may ask, am I qualified to write for a series?

As with anything, you have to start somewhere. Don’t worry about this. Worry about presenting yourself in a professional manner.  Worry about writing a really great pitch (I’ll go into this when we get to that part).  If you don’t have any credentials, that usually doesn’t matter if you can demonstrate to whomever is reviewing your proposal, that you can write. The proposal you put together will help you demonstrate your skilz.  So when the time comes, knock the proposal out of the park.

Sure, some series will require that you have a body of work already, but again, you have to start somewhere.  And you shouldn’t let your non-experience stop you from going after something you want.

In my case, I did not have any prior experience writing for a series. I had nothing published. I turned in a proposal.  It did help the acquiring editor had seen another manuscript of mine. A full book. So she had some idea that I could finish a book.  She didn’t know if I could write fast enough though. I think she took some chances on me.  And that’s what you’re hoping for–that if you turn in a great proposal, they’ll take a chance on you, too.

Now that we got that out of the way, you should ask yourself this:

Why should I write for an existing series?

Here’s my answer.

  • Do you want a built-in audience?
  • Do you want the experience?
  • Do you want an “in”?

If your answer is yes, yes, yes. Then that’s a great start.

Now respond to this.

  • Are you willing to be paid on a work-for-hire basis?  This means you are paid a flat fee for the book. No royalties.  The plus side is you don’t have to worry about earning out any giant advances. You just do the job and cha-ching!, money is in the bank.  The downside is, if the book is really successful, you can forget about buyin a yacht–you’ll only get your flat fee.
  • Can you accept low royalties or no royalties at all?  In some cases, the publisher may offer a royalty, but that royalty may be less than a standard royalty paid to original series books or original novels.
  • Do you understand that you must  be able to capture the series’ tone and writing style to give fans what they want?
  • Do you understand that you must be able to meet a tight deadline?

If your answer is yes, yes, yes, YES! That’s terrific. Now your expectations are properly set.

But what if I want to write my own original series?

You’ll want to listen to this, too, especially when I get to the part about pitching your series idea.  Though not a requirement, becoming familiar with how other serial books work may help you come up with the best ideas for your series, and guide your pitch in such a way that you sound like you know what you’re doing.

Next, you might be wondering–how can I tell which series I can write for? Some seem to be written by only one person.  But is that really true?

Okay, so here’s the deal. Many series books, even if they have the same author’s name on it, are written by different people.  Those are called ghostwritten books. Ghost writers do not receive author credit for their books.  But ghost writing is a very respectable profession and if you’re good at it, you can pay the bills, writing other people’s books.  I’m not going to go into that too much because I am not a ghost writer.

To find out which series are written by people other than the original author, here’s a big hint. Open up the series book in question and see who owns the copyright. If it’s a company other than the publisher, like Alloy Entertainment for example, then you know that there are probably ghost writers writing for this series for that company.  Look up that company’s guidelines. Google away!

If you find the publisher owns the copyright, then look up the publishers guidelines online. You’ll find stuff  guidelines like these from American Girl.  If you can’t find anything online, check the CWIM. If not that, Google until your fingers are numb. Still can’t find anything? Keep reading.

If you have an agent, he or she can be a resource.

In the case of S.A.S.S., I heard about it through my agent.  Penguin had put out a call asking agents if they had any writers willing to write for the series. This practice is pretty common.  So that’s how I heard of the opportunity.  If you’re interested in writing for a series like S.A.S.S., ask your agent about it. He or she can help determine if that’s a good fit for your career. And if they think it’s a great idea, they can help you figure out if the publisher is still accepting ideas and pitches for series.

Okay, but I don’t have an agent and I STILL couldn’t find out anything about how to break into the series. Now what?

Query the publisher.  You do not need to find out who is editing the series. In fact, try not to bug them with this question.  Any slush monkey at the publisher will know whether or not they are still accepting proposals.  So mail in a brief query letter to whomever is listed in the CWIM for that publisher (see my article on writing a query letter).  Pitch the book like you are pitching your own, but make sure your savviness about the series shows in that short pitch.  Meaning, make sure your story idea is nicely aligned with the series, and not a duplicate of something they’ve already done.  Here’s an example of what you might put together for your query letter.

“Dear So-and-So,

I am very familiar with the X series, and I would like to know if you are accepting proposals.  If so, I’m including a brief summary of my idea for another book.

INSERT ONE PARAGRAPH or two … about your idea.

NEXT INSERT A BRIEF EXPLANATION OF WHY YOU MIGHT BE QUALIFIED.  See my query letter article about what is relevant and what is not.

If you are interested in a three-chapter sample and a full synopsis, an SASE is enclosed for your reply.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

YOU

Then wait for a reply.  Hopefully you will get one, maybe you won’t.  But there’s a very good chance that if your idea is awesome and your pitch is well-written,  AND it fits their needs, you’ll hear from them, asking for more.

This concludes the first article in this series about writing for a children’s or teen book series. Now you should know how to go about finding a series you to write for. Next, I’ll discuss how to put together a perfect pitch!

If you have any questions about something I have covered, or you’d like me to cover something in my next article tomorrow, do leave a comment.

To download this entire series of articles to your Kindle in one fell swoop, click here.

Happy series-searching!

Cynthea (and Snoop!)

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