Panel Reveals Series Secrets

June 24, 2011

“Everyone loves series,” declared Jonathan Stroud, author of The Bartimaeus Sequence. “Children love series, adults love series, publishers love series.”

Stroud spoke as part of a panel at “Keep ’Em Coming: Series Fiction Creators Talk Shop,” where four young adult authors talked about the whys and the hows of series fiction.

Financial considerations are a big part of the why—several panelists noted that series books sold better than stand-alone titles. Fortunately, they aren’t the only reason. Stroud said that The Bartimaeus Sequence was conceived as a single book, but its three story arcs became too cumbersome. His agent suggested turning it into a trilogy, and “each one deepened the world.” (The fourth book in the series came three years later, when a short story Stroud planned to release online as bonus content proved to have too much potential as a full-length work.)

David Levithan, author and editorial director for Scholastic, regaled the late-night crowd with tales of how he started as an intern for The Baby-Sitters Club. In the early days of online chats, one of his duties was to talk with fans as the characters.

“I came into publishing in sort of the heyday of series,” he said, noting the appeal of the excitement of a new monthly title. But he also said that series fiction is making a resurgence, and moving beyond its roots.

“The limitation of the traditional series is, quite frankly, the pages in the book,” Levithan said. “We asked ourselves how you can expand further than that.”

The multiplatform 39 Clues series grew from those discussions. That’s where 39 clues came from. “It all hinges on reading, but it expands how you can tell a story.”

Lauren Myracle, author of the Internet Girls and Winnie Years series, spoke of the value of keeping a “Bible” of the series in order to keep details straight for readers—who will notice discrepancies. Both she and Dan Gutman spoke of the difficulty of keeping new books fresh while still offering the things that made the series appealing in the first place.

Myracle said her books typically progress in time, allowing characters to grow and pass new milestones with each new title. Conversely, both of Gutman’s major series (The Baseball Card Adventures and My Weird School) have built-in mechanisms to focus on new major characters in each book.