Serious About Series

You’re reading a fabulous book, you’ve invested in the characters, in their situations and suddenly, you’re on the very last page and then…it’s over. You want more. It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend.

Book 4: Fat Cat of Underwhere

But it doesn’t always have to end that way. Not if that fabulous book is part of a series.

Middle grade series come in all sorts of varieties.. From intricate plots like Harry Potter to fun and simple reads such as  Diary of a Wimpy Kid. There’s even an  increasing popularity of graphic novels, such as Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell or even hybrids like Bruce Hale’s Underwhere series. You can never be sure when market trends might change.

So, what makes readers love a book so much they want to read the entire series?

“I either need a plot point that keeps me coming back or a character I identify with. Humor’s in there too! “ –Jen K. Blom

“When I’m actually sad the book’s over, that’s how I know right away that I have to have the next book!” –Hilary L. Wagner

“The main character. I love a very strong voice while reading a story, it’s important to stay in tune with the characters main goal and if it’s a good one I’ll follow it all the way.” –Jen Daiker

“It could be the voice, the premise, the protagonist or a combination of all three.” –Amie Borst

“Books set in a different time period or fantasies set in an entirely unique culture that make me want to live in that world!” –Marissa Burt

I’m just beginning the journey as an MG series writer, but I often wonder if other authors started off the same way. I knew once I had the idea for my first book that it just had to be a series. There were too many situations for my main character to overcome in only one book. Yes, she is an accidental troublemaker.

Julep O'Toole: What I Really Want To Do Is Direct

I bribed two fantastic and successful MG series authors to answer some questions I had on my mind. Lucky for me, they settled for chocolate instead of money. 

Did you plan for your first book to become the first of a series?

 Yes, but the credit goes to my editor, Shannon Dean-Smith at Penguin, who encouraged me to write it. She came to me and said she was looking to acquire a series and would I consider writing one? I pitched her Julep O’Toole and we were on our way. –Trudi Trueit author of  Julep O’Toole series and Secrets of a Lab Rat series

Is it challenging for you to carryover certain details, characters and explanations from earlier books without making it seem redundant and boring?

I think there are two tricks. First, keep the explanations short for the reader that already knows everything, but detailed enough for the new reader. Second, avoid info dumps and just pepper in the information.-Barrie Summy, author of I So Don’t Do Mysteries series

What is a good recipe for creating a “hot” MG series?

Relatable characters. I think young readers are looking for characters to spark their souls. But If I had the magic formula, I’d be a mega-selling author!-Trudi

I So Don't Do Makeup by Barrie Summy

How involved do you get with your characters?

When I’m out and about or even when I’m at home with my kids, I’m always wondering what Sherry would make of the situation, how she’d react, what she’d say.-Barrie

For you personally, is it more difficult to write a series or a stand-alone book?

For me, a series is easier than a stand alone, because it takes the pressure off to have to wrap up everything in one neat, tidy bow. It’s incredibly freeing.-Trudi

What advice would you give to writers wanting to write an MG series?

 Choose your characters wisely. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together. –Barrie

 First, remember that a good idea doesn’t always make for a good series. Make sure you have enough material to sustain your work through, at least, five books. Also, every book in your series should be able to stand on its own merits. Finally, and most important, don’t second-guess the marketplace. Write what your heart says must be written. That is, after all, what it’s all about. -Trudi

 Some of our most memorable books from our childhood were book series. For me, it was the Babysitters Club (I so wanted to open my own babysitters club!) and The Boxcar Children (every kid fantasizes about living on their own at some point). You know those are good books when they stay with you into adulthood. I asked readers what some of their favorite childhood series were and this is what they had to say.

Amie Borst: I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure series.  There was something about having control over the outcome of the story that made me want to read the books again and again.

Jen K. Blom: The Black Stallion. I was a horse nut and dreamed that every horse I read about (all, curiously enough, black Arabians!!) was mine.

Hilary Wagner: My mother got me the Little House series, something I wouldn’t have picked for my self as a kid, but I quickly got hooked! 

Marissa Burt: I really liked the Mandie books (mysteries set around the turn of the century), by: Lois Leppard. the ones that stood the test of time – that I loved as a kid and still read every year – are L.M. Montgomery’s books.

Mom, There's A Dinosaur In Beeson's Lake

Trudi Trueit:  Judy Blume – changed me, and changed my life. That is powerful storytelling.

I personally love writing a series because it allows me to explore my characters in many different situations that I wouldn’t normally have a chance to do with a stand-alone book. I get to know my characters on a deeper level and I find new characteristics in them that I didn’t necessarily realize or show within the first book.

It’s the same as meeting someone for the first time. You spend more time with that person getting to know them. Wanting to be around them. Becoming friends. That’s how you become so invested in your characters. After awhile your characters feel very real to you. Talking to them, on the other hand, is an entirely different issue.

Just like the readers, I don’t have to say goodbye once I’m done. I can pick up right where I left off and continue with the next dramatic and social disaster that my characters have created.

Although I do have one advantage over the readers—I don’t have to wait a year to see what happens next!

Rose Cooper loves gossip so much that she wrote and illustrated a book all about it, which includes all the juicy secrets and gossipy goodness you can get your hands on. Her upcoming middle-grade humor series, Gossip from the Girls’ Room, A Blogtastic! Novel, will be published by Delacorte/Random House, January 11, 2011. Be sure to snoop out Rose’s website at www.Rose-Cooper.com.

Rose Cooper
17 Comments
  1. Great advice. I loved the advice on how to add info in the second book in a series so it’s not an info dump. I’m struggling with my first chapters and trying to find the balance on that one.

  2. As a kid I loved the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden, Romona and the Little House books. My 11-year-old daughter has enjoyed Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik books; Meg Cabot’s Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls; and Peggy Gifford’s Moxy Maxwell. My personal favorite is Lisa Yee’s Millicent Min, Girl Genius, and its companion books Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time and So Totally Emily Ebers.

  3. I can picture the childhood shelf filled with Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy mysteries. I loved them but also the Little House books and Anne of Green Gables. I’m working on a series idea of my own right now, and very much appreciated the insights from seasoned series-writers.

    Thanks for this timely post!

  4. Great post – and loved hearing all the different viewpoints. When I was younger, I loved reading series books. Now, as an adult, I’m not so patient to wait for the next one.

  5. I love series, too…except when I have to wait for the next book to come out.

    As a writer, I am currently working on the second book in a series, and I have to admit that I have a new-found appreciation for those who write series. Thanks for the writing advice…and the rest of this post!

  6. Hurray! Barrie’s on the Mixed-Up Files. Nice to see you here, Barrie. You know I love your books. I’m engaged to the 2nd one in the series.

    Wonderful Post. Series are great, especially when it’s about a character that I adore. It’s sad when they come to an end though.

  7. I think the key to a good series is keeping the books great across the board. A great example of that is the Silverwing Trilogy, by Kenneth Oppel. I found all three books unique and stand alone. They didn’t need the one to support the other and each book stayed with me for a while after I read it.

    Great post, Rose!

    xoxo — Hilary

  8. I love series. I’d love to write a series. So much fun. For me, it’s a strong character and a fun premise. I love Cammie from Ally Carter’s books!

  9. There were so many fantastic MG series when I was a kid! Anne of Green Gables, Little House, Redwall, Ramona Quimby, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Encyclopedia Brown were some of my favorites. I still re-read them every few years!

    There are a lot of terrific series these days, too. I haven’t invested my time in some of the more recent ones, but of course I love Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events!

  10. Rose this seriously rocked!!! I loved all the people and answers that were included!!! Brilliant 🙂

  11. I love Barrie Summy’s books.

  12. Interesting comments from series authors, especially about having to dispatch necessary info in subsequent books. How much does a new reader need to know and how to plant that info without dumping it? Tricky!

  13. Great post Rose! I love series for many of the same reasons you mentioned. Thanks for including me in your post!

  14. I enjoy books written in a series – always have. I think my first favourites as a kid were Encyclopedia Brown & the Bobbsey Twins 🙂

  15. I think the great thing about a series for the kid reader is that it’s easy for them to make a decision on what book to get at the library/bookstore. They know what to expect and that they’ll like it, so they just keep coming back for more. It’s an easy way to keep them reading.