If you are a loyal attendee of British SCBWI's Writer's Day as I am, two things about children's publishing become clear:
- What comes up ("Fantasy is hot at the moment" – 1990s), must go down ("My heart sinks when I see yet another Fantasy submission"- 2000s).
- Series fiction for younger readers is always in demand
So here are the editors who were on parade for 2007's Writers' Day panel:
- Stephanie Stansby of Little Tiger Press
- Imogen Cooper of Chicken House
- Lara Hancock of Egmont
- And Emma Lidbury of Walker books.
I was particularly struck by what seemed like a new look Walker list – I recall Walker editorial director Gill Evans at Writer's Day 2006 talking up exciting changes to the Walker list and here it was. Among other things, Walker's Emma waved around some very nice looking new series for younger readers: Walker Stories – with three linked short stories of 600 words each for readers from six years old – and Racing Reads for seven to nine year olds – four linked stories of 2,000 words each, with the emphasis on retellings and traditional tales.
Emma told me it was harder to sell one-off chapter books for seven, eight, nine year olds though there was "a lot of scope" for mass market series (Walker's big hitters are Megan McDonald's Judy Moody and Anthony Horowitz's The Power of Five series). But take note:
We are not particularly looking for fairies, ponies, unicorns and mermaids
Having said that, the editors all declared that they were not averse to mixed genres: ie. Mermaid Detectives … Astronaut Dinosaurs …
Meanwhile, Egmont is so keen on series that they actually do the brainstorming for series ideas themselves, going to schools to "road-test" ideas and then commissioning authors on a flat-fee basis.
The writer is provided with a story bible (plot, style) … some people might say it isn't creative but one of our writer's has gone on to write a series for Walker!
The consensus seemed to be that series for seven-to-nines is a sure thing – that is, if you can come up with something that ticks the boxes – "original voice", "that reaches out and speaks to you", "linking with the curriculum – things that work in the classroom".
Luckily I had managed to catch a breakout session with Diana Kimpton, author of the popular Pony Mad Princess series, talking about how to write the darn things. Diana has very generously put some of her notes online and anyone with a hankering to try series fiction out can have a look. It might be instructive though to mention Diana's key message:
The most important part of creating a series of children's books is coming up with a terrific idea – something with instant child appeal and the possibility of loads of plots.