BEHIND THE BOOK: How to write for a children’s or teen book series – Part II (a study checklist)

Yesterday, we covered how to find children’s and teen book series that you can write for.  Now I’m going to assume that you have some good idea of whom you will try to approach. You’ve verified the publisher or packager accepts new ideas for stories, and maybe you even have some guidelines from them about the series.

For S.A.S.S. I received a series concept letter from my agent (which came from the publisher).

The series concept letter detailed what a writer should consider when formulating a proposal for the series.  To give you an idea of what that letter looked like, here’s a paragraph from the letter…

This series needs a light, sassy tone, and as one of our authors, you would need to have a firm grasp of the setting that you’re writing about. Each book is 224 pages in length (approximately 45,000 words), and the outline and plot of each manuscript would be subject to our editorial approval.

There was more about the dilemmas characters’ faced in the books, small hints of what plots might be interesting, and so on.

If you do not have guidelines for the series, but think your idea is absolutely perfect, then do your best to formulate your own guidelines.

How? Study the series.

In fact, even if you have guidelines or a “bible” for the series, you should do this anyway!!!

Your first job is to read as many of the books as you can, so you can get a good handle on what will fit into the series.  Examine the five elements of fiction in each book. They are …

  • Character
  • Plot
  • Theme
  • Setting
  • Style

Think about what each of the books in the series have in common and how are they different.

Here’s a checklist.

  • Character

    • Always the same cast of characters? Same MC?
    • If so, what are that characters traits? What do they always mention in each book? Do they add new qualities to characters  in each book?
    • Do the characters grow or change? Or do they largely stay the same from one book to the next?Do they always introduce new characters into every book? Who are they? How many?
    • Come up with your own ways to distinguish how character-related issues differ or stay the same between one book and another.
  • Plot
    • How does each story build?  How many subplots in each book? Two, three, four?
    • Is the plot episodic like the TV show 24?  Or do the characters start over with each book like Law and Order?
    • Is the book more plot-driven or character driven?
    • High action or low action?
    • What are the elements of plot that are similar or different across all books?
  • Theme
    • What kinds of issues are being addressed? How serious are they or how light?
    • Is there a message in each book? What kind? How far reaching or surface-like?
    • Is the book mainly just a fun read or is there something else that should be a takeaway.
  • Setting
    • Are the books always set in the same places? Or do the locations change?
    • How is setting incorporated into the books? Lengthy descriptions or just passing thoughts?
    • How important is setting to the story?
  • Style
    • Is the writing very commercial, literary? or somewhere in-between?
    • Are the stories in first person, third person limited, omniscient, switching points of views? etc.
    • Is the writing fast-paced or quirky?
    • To what extent is the style of writing similar or different across books?
    • How is the writing similar or different from your own style of writing?

While my process for S.A.S.S. wasn’t THIS organized, the above were the things I thought about while researching the series.  I understood that I would need to make major adjustments to the way I write. I’d also have to tackle the kinds of plots I don’t usually address in my writing.  (I’m predominately a middle-grade-and-younger writer.)  And I’d have to put together a synopsis and writing sample that showed I knew how these books worked.

Now YOU have a handy list of questions to work from. Once you answer questions like these, you, too, will have a better picture of what you need to do to write a proposal that will fit into the series. Maybe that great idea you had will have to be tweaked because you realized X, Y, and Z about the books from your research.

Either way, arming yourself with knowledge can’t hurt you. Take the time to be thorough. And that will show when you pitch your stuff!

This concludes Part II of my article series on how to write for a children’s or teen book series. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the elements of a proposal. To download this entire series of articles to your Kindle in one fell swoop, click here.

Happy researching,

Cynthea (and Snoop!)


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