Guest post: On Pitching a Series

I’m thrilled to have Marianne Musgrove writing on my blog today. Her topic is on pitching a series of children’s books to publishers.

Marianne Musgrove

Pitching a series vs a stand alone title

Publishers love a series. They’re often easier to market than stand alone titles because the series itself becomes a recognisable brand. That said, it may be possible to have your cake and eat it too. I pitched Lucy the Good as book one of a series. However, I made sure to point out that it could work equally well as a stand alone title, should they prefer that. Since then, book two, Lucy the Lie Detector, has been released with hopes of a book three (fingers crossed!).

My advice is to try and make every book operate as a stand alone. You can’t guarantee the reader has read any other books in the series and, after all, a story should always stand on its own two feet.

Multiple Book Deals

Sometimes, a publisher will offer you a two, three or four book deal. Other times, as in my case, you will be offered contracts from book to book, even if you’ve pitched a series.

Bear in mind, if your publisher prints a couple of your books then decides to drop the series, it’s highly unlikely another publisher will sign you for extra titles in that series. Think carefully about writing too far ahead or you may find you’ve put a lot of work into books that will never see the light of day.

Themes

It’s important to have a theme for the series and then a complimentary theme for each individual book.

In the Lucy books:

Overall theme: an inquisitive girl explores life’s big questions.

Lucy the Good theme: what does it mean to be good (especially when you keep getting sent to the ‘time out’ chair)?

Lucy the Lie Detector theme: what is truth (particularly when you’re told to always be honest yet you keep catching your parents sneaking Tim Tams when they’re meant to be on a diet)?

Being consistent but allowing for growth

For each of the main characters, sketch out their emotional arc in each book, and over the series. In my case, Lucy has quite a temper. As she ages, she slowly gets better at controlling it.

Keeping track of things

  • Choose a birth date for your character. This will help you monitor how old they are as the series progresses.
  • Get a notebook and write the name of each character at the top of a fresh page. Under each name, jot down characteristics you need to remember, eg. age, hobbies, catch phrases, pet peeves.
  • Keep track of the weather. What time of year are your books set? I keep a seasons diary in which I jot down things on the relevant date, eg. ‘rained for a week’, ‘jacarandas out’.
  • List all minor characters in the front of your book. It’s easy to forget their names when they only appear briefly.
  • When you’re at the copy-editing stage, reread all previous titles in your series then read your current manuscript. Keep an eye out for continuity errors.

All the best with your pitch! With a bit of luck, we’ll see a third Lucy book on the shelves some time in the future.

Marianne Musgrove
Web site
Lucy the Lie Detector
Lucy the Good
(Random House Australia)

Thank you, Marianne! I’m sure this post will prove useful to many writers – including me and my work-in-progress. 🙂

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14 thoughts on “Guest post: On Pitching a Series

  1. Hi Lexie,
    Yes, Marianne’s article is very useful – I’m so glad I asked her to choose this topic (I have an ulterior motive, of course!) Great to see you again at SCBWI conference, Marianne. 🙂
    Sheryl

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  2. Hi Lexie

    Great to hear you have (and like) my books. Lucy has elements of me in her. I had quite a temper when I was young and vividly remember being sent to the corner by my teacher, not knowing why (for talking, I now realise!), and fuming about the injustice of it.

    I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the post. I’ve just got back from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Sydney (where I saw Sheryl – Hi Sheryl!) and the there was much talk about the rise in enthusiasm for series in the publishing industry over the past ten years. That’s good to hear as I’d love to do another Lucy book.

    Thanks for commenting, Lexie, and thanks to Sheryl for having me as guest blogger.

    Cheers,
    Marianne

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  3. Really enjoyed your post, Marianne. Very helpful.
    I love your books. Have the first three and am going to get Lucy the Lie Detector. She is such an amazing little character but real.

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  4. Hi Trish

    I feel greatly honoured that “Lucy the Good” shares shelf space with the likes of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton. They are favourites of mine, too. And Judy Moody is hilarious. I’m glad Lucy is in such good company.

    That’s a great idea, tweaking the characters’ names and ages and making them into new characters. It means all that creativity isn’t lost. I have a scene from “The Worry Tree” I had to cut out for the sake of momentum but I’m determined it will crop up in another book only with different characters.

    All the best with each of your projects!

    Marianne

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  5. Hi Marianne. I absolutely love your book, Lucy the Good. It’s one of my favourite children’s books. It sits on my desk in a small bookcase along with my copies of Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park, Judy Moody by Megan McDonald, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Enid Bliyton’s Naughty Girl series and Flax the Feral Fairy by Tiffany Mandrake. I have many more, but these are my favourites. I’ve read Lucy the Good so many times. It’s hilarious.

    I’ll be looking out for your new Lucy book for sure. I’ve written a couple of series, but have only completed two manuscripts in each one. I agree, it’s best not to write more until you get a publisher. Originally, I had planned a series of ten stand alone books, but stopped after the second story. Instead, I changed the names of the characters and their age and wrote a new series of two stories. Hopefully, I’ll find a publisher soon.

    Thanks for the advice Marianne, and thanks for a great interview, Sheryl.

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  6. Sheryl and Marianne, thanks for the great advice. Its of interest to me as I am currently working on two manuscripts: one which I hope to pitch as a stand alone and the other as a part of a series. So the tips are of particular interest to me.

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  7. Hi Kathleen, Angela & Vicky

    Glad the article was helpful. It actually made me rethink how I was approaching the third book in the Lucy series so I even made myself think (sometimes a dangerous activity).

    Marianne

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  8. Great post Sheryl and Marianne.

    I tend to read a full series or trilogy more than stand-alone books and it’s what I enjoy writing. So, I’ll be taking on your advice 🙂

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  9. Thanks Marianne and Sheryl for bringing us these really good succint tips on writing and especially for keeping track of characters’ abilities and arttributes. The tip about the overall theme and the complimentary themes is something I’d not thought about before.

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  10. Thanks for the great advice, I totally agree that each book should stand alone – and if you do write too far ahead? You could always change the characters a bit and pitch each one as a new stand alone ;-j

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