I've gotten some questions on just what a book series is, exactly. At the workshop I attended, the official definition (by editors of varous YA book series) was:
A series is 2 or more books linked by characters or themes.
Very dry, I know. Examples would include Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, The A-List, Gossip Girl. Those are all teen books. In adult land, series books are often genre - mysteries, sci fi, or fantasy. Robert Parker's Spenser books, the Kinsey Milhone A is for Alibi books, Agathe Christie's Hercule Poirot books - these are all mystery series. Lord of the Rings, however, is not a series - it's a trilogy with an end point. Few "literary" novels become series.
Series books are beloved in children's lit because kids get addicted to them, which gets kids reading. Librarians and teachers are big proponents of series because kids who don't read stand alone books will gobble up series books.
From a fellow writer's notes at the workshop we both attended:
In coming up with a series, you need to:
Do research and see what's out there
Pick your age group
Pick your genre
Pick your main character and friends
Find your hook, come up with something different.
The hook is all important in book series. Given my Hollywood training, hooks and high concept are old hat to me.
Hook = the high concept or gimmick that frames the theme of the story.
1. Three friends who have to spend the summer apart.
Hook: connected by their dreams at night.
2. A child's parents divorce and she moves across country with her mom.
Hook: She turns into different people to cope
3. A child needs to improve his grades or get kicked off his sports team.
Hook: Brings baseball cards back to life to tutor him.
So you take something familiar and make it unique with an unusual twist. It's a coming of age story - on Pluto! You get the idea.
The familiar part of it means 1) your reader will identify with it - mystery readers who like male detectives will like Spenser novels; 2) your editor will recognize the genre; 3) the publisher will know how to market your work.
Yes, you must keep the market in mind when coming up with a book series. These things are money making machines. Study what has sold in the past, then put your own unique twist on it.
The twist makes your work stand out. Folks who read and liked Nancy Drew might try The Hardy Boys, which is basically the familiar Nancy Drew idea with the twist that the detectives are now brothers.
In our next post - how to write a series proposal.