Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Writing a series: Fiona Veitch-Smith

Today's guest is Fiona Veitch-Smith (pictured here on the right with her illustrator), author of more books than I can shake a stick at.


Two days ago, I launched David and the Giant, the third in my children’s picture book series about the life of the young King David. When I announced the third book would be coming out, I was delighted to see tweets and FB posts buzzing with the news that the ‘next book is out’. So what are the benefits of writing a series?

1. Readers like series

If you look on my bookshelf you will see a number of books from the same authors: Val McDermid, David Almond, Philip Pullman, CS Lewis, Eva Ibbotson, Ursula LeGuin, JK Rowling, Lindsay Davis, RS Downie, to name a few. If I like someone’s writing style, characterisations, settings or plotlines, I will be more likely to go back for more. This is even more so the case with children who are natural ‘collectors.’ My daughter (much to my feminist shame!) has watched every Barbie DVD ever produced. With three of the Young David books out and another coming out for Christmas (and two more planned after that), people are already talking about collecting the series – which means nearly guaranteed future sales.

2. Publishers like series

For all of the reasons listed above, publishers like series. My children’s books have been released through my own publishing company Crafty Publishing (we are publishing the first novel in a series by another author later this month – details on the website). However, I am in discussions with another publisher to take on a trilogy of historical novels that I’m writing. When I first approached him it was going to be a three-part novel. After looking at the material he said: ‘if you can flesh this out into three shorter novels instead of one, we’ll be interested.’

3. Bookshops like series

Bookshops like series because readers like series and will come back for more. However, in addition to that, a series gives an author more ‘presence’ on a shelf and makes the books more visible. If you are self-publishing or published by a small independent publisher, having more than one book on offer from early on makes it more likely that a retail outlet will put in an order. There is a belief that the only reason bookshops don’t stock self-published or independently published books is simply out of fear of poor quality. However, this is not always the case. Many bookshop managers I have spoken to say the main problem is that it is time consuming and cumbersome to open an account with a small supplier for a single title.

4. Authors like series

The first time I realised the joy of writing a series was when I was commissioned to write the Myro the Microlight picture books for series creator, Nick Rose. Six of these books have been published, but I’ve actually written 18 and Nick has at least another six conceptualised. Once I got to know Myro in the first title, it became easier to write about him and his friends as the series progressed. I began to inhabit his world. The same has happened with the Young David books. I’ve just finished writing the fourth book, David and the Lonely Prince, and am working with my gifted illustrator, Amy Barnes, on the storyboard. Amy and I now know David very well and we’ve brought back some characters from earlier books. As I don’t have to worry about creating characters from scratch it frees me to be more adventurous with the plotlines.

5. Reviewers like series – (at least mine do)

The Young David books have been described by Scripture Union’s Geoff Brown as ‘a wonderful introduction into the early life of one of the Bible’s great heroes with insightful writing and fantastic illustrations.’ While David Moloney of DLT publishers said: 'The Young David books are imaginative, funny, clear and with a simple but perfect message for the intended age (for any age, in fact). I publish books for grown-ups; if I did children's books I'd be keen on taking these on.'

David and the Hairy Beast, about the time David tackled the lion and the bear who were attacking his father’s sheep, helps children face fears.

David and the Kingmaker, about the anointing of David by Samuel, is about feeling valued and knowing that God has a good plan for our lives.

David and the Giant is the classic story of Goliath, with some hysterical twists in the tale. It encourages children to not try to be anything other than who they really are.

The fourth book, David and the Lonely Prince, sees David going for a ‘sleepover’ with his new friend Jonathan at King Saul’s Palace and is due out for Christmas 2012.

David and the Grumpy King and David and the Never-Ending Kingdom, will be released in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The books retail at £5.99. They are available from bookshops in the UK or may be bought from anywhere in the world through the Crafty Publishing e-shop.

Formerly a journalist, Fiona Veitch Smith now writes for children and adults and has produced work for stage, screen and page.


On that note, I bid you adieu and I'll see you on Friday.


Ruth Josse said...

I like series too! If it's a really good story, I'll want more of it.

Congrats on you books, Fiona!

Victoria Lindstrom said...

Thanks for hosting Fiona on your blog, Martin. I love her comments about the benefits of a book series. Her own book looks wonderful!

CF Dunn said...

This is an interesting post, Fiona, and one which is important for us all to bear in mind when setting out to write. On the basis of what you have written, do you think that it is easier to land a publishing deal if you plan to write a series rather than a stand-alone book?

Martin Willoughby said...

A series is good, but shouldn't each book also stand on its own merits?

CF Dunn said...

You would think so, Martin, and the series wouldn't get a look in if the initial book wasn't up to scratch.

Fiona said...

Thank you all for your very kind comments. @ Claire and Martin, in this day and age when marketing is so closely integrated into the publishing industry I think we would be foolish not to at least consider a series. But I don't think you should force it. There are still many wonderful 'stand alone' books - particularly in literary fiction. However, I do think a series attracts attention and certainly for a first-time author it may sweeten the pot in your initial approach. I also think that for children's books it is highly preferable to have a potential series on offer because of the spin-off merchandising and 'collectability' factor. However, as Martin has wisely pointed out, each book should stand on its own merits. If the first book isn't a success, there won't be a series to sell anyway. In addition, later books in the series need to be just as good as the first (which doesn't always happen) as a reader may come into the series halfway. For more on writing series for adults, historical novelist RS Downie did a guest blog for me earlier this year - she had some very interesting things to say regaring the 'how to'

CF Dunn said...

Well said, Fiona; there's a balance to strike in writing as with everything. I'll have a look at the RS Downie link. Thanks for the link.