Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Welcome to Tiffany

Tiffany Mandrake is guest blogger here today. She has just released the first two titles in her new 'The Little Horrors' series. I asked her to explain the difference between pitching a single title and a series.



Thanks, Claire, for inviting me to be guest blogger at your blog! As a resident at Hags' Abademy of Badness, I'm something of an expert on logs and bogs, but blogs are somewhat of a mystery. (I just started my own, so this is good practice for me.)

Today I'm going to talk about the difference in pitching a single title and a series. My closet cousin (who helped me with my pitch to Little Hare) says I'm not allowed to talk about hexing editors and sending my cat, Speedwell, to wee on their keyboards, so I'll pretend I'm an ordinary writer instead of an extra-extra-inordinately-unordinary one.

When pitching a single title, you need to pitch a high concept of about 25 words that makes your book-to-be sound like the best thing since pickled nightshade. It should sound like something a reader just HAS to read. Consider these high concepts.

Boy quarrels with his friend and gets lost in the bush.
After a fight with Jim, Brady gets lost in the bush.
Boy quarrels with his best friend and spends a scary night in the bush.
A quarrel might finish a friendship, but night in the bush could finish Brady's life.
The end of a friendship or the end of a life? Only Brady will find the answer.
The fight with Jim was bad, and Brady is lost in the bush. Will he live to make amends?

They all refer to the same story, but some sound much more dramatic than others. Pick the one that hints at page-turning potential.

The pitch for a single story also needs a brief synopsis, character outlines, target audience, length, theme and tone and, depending on the publisher’s individual requirements, one-to-three finished chapters. Easy peasy, really.

When pitching a series, you need to consider, and specify, the kind of series you propose. Is it a series where a protagonist moves from adventure to adventure, learning, aging and changing, or one in which the protagonist stay the same age and never change? Will the episodes be self-contained, or will each end on a cliffhanger as they build to a final goal or ending? Will the protagonist(s) be the same in each book, or will heroes and heroines come and go?

Some series are “closed” from the start, such as the type which tell virtually the same story from different points of view. Some are planned as trilogies, or as seven-book cycles. Others are open ended. If you plan a finite series, or an open ended one, you should mention this in the pitch.

In most cases, rather than just a plot, you’ll pitch the environment for a series. Your setting, or “series world” is generally a constant in each book, and it must offer variety and plenty of possibilities for more than one story. The world might be as small as a house (remember The Royle Family? Almost every episode took place in a single room) or as large as a galaxy or time. If the series world is large, it will almost invariably have a small constant as well. Consider Doctor Who. The Doctor can go anywhere and to any time, but his “constant” is the TARDIS. It is the environment to which he returns, and in which readers/viewers find him most recognisable. The characters in Sally Odgers’ Space Sports series might travel to another planet, but they will always return to Space Station Nova, and the social politics of Nova will always affect their actions. Remember these examples in your pitch for a series, and think it through before you send it off to ! an editor.

Begin with a concept such as “dog wandering the galaxy”, “country child in the city”, “new girl at progressive school” or “survivors on an island” and then move to series specifics in character and plot. For example, “dog wandering the galaxy” might be fleshed out to become “genetically altered dog, sole survivor of a meteor disaster, joins the star ship Valkyrie and proves his worth in every new adventure”, or “dog, accidentally left behind at a check point, continually boards new ships seeking his master”. In each case, the dog is alone, but in one it has a new constant environment (the Valkyrie) from which to have adventures, and in the other, the ships and companions change in each story while the constant is the dog’s search. In one, the adventures are the point of the stories. In the other, the adventures are almost incidental to the main quest. The series pitch could go either way, or take a completely different track! , but the pitch should make the commissioning editor aware of what the constant will be.

As well as a place, time or situation constant for series characters, there will often be characters (villains or friends) which will reappear from book to book. If Zac meets his rival Henry in Book 1 of a series, and befriends him, then Henry may appear thereafter as a friend. However, if Zac and Henry remain rivals (or enemies) at the end of Book 1, then Henry will reappear from book to book as a rival or enemy. This is something else to consider in a series pitch. Will relationships remain steady (protagonist + sidekick + mutual enemy + killjoy cousin) or will they change and develop, so an acquaintance in one book may become a good friend in another, then fall out with the hero in a third and be a distant enemy in a fourth?

It is in these variables that the true difference between pitching a single title or a series lies. A series may make readers feel comfortable as they adjust to the rhythm of the storytelling and recognise the constants, but it may also stretch belief almost to breaking point. If a ten-year-old protagonist escapes kidnappers in Book 1, readers might swallow his one-off display of skill and luck. If he escapes an earthquake in Book 2 and a shark attack in Book 3, the pattern emerges, and the adult reader, if not the child, starts to wonder how many death-defying adventures this kid will have before his putative eleventh birthday. If he has a broken leg at the end of Book 3, and is abseiling up a mountain in Book 4, many readers will start counting on their fingers to see if he has had enough time to heal.

To make this kind of series even slightly believeable, the author must pitch the constant convincingly. WHY does Ben get into these hair-raising situations so often! ? The constant must answer this. Perhaps Ben is a millionaire’s son, an intelligent and top secret robot, an alien, heir to a pirate king, under a curse, a political orphan, a young crusader, a fugitive from villains… the answer could be just about anything, but it must be strong enough to override the disbelief. It must support not one single story, but as many as the series will bear. Obviously, the more domestic and low-key the adventures, the less fictional time need pass between each one. The series set up can be adjusted to allow for as many adventures as necessary.

Fantastic answer Tiff. Now I'm off to fix up my series pitch...

4 comments:

Latesha said...

Tiffany~Thanks for the insight on pitching a single title and a series. You have given me a lot to think about as I try my hand at writing. Here's hoping your series continues for a long time.

jwhit said...

Tiffany, do you or any other readers know if this is successful for adult series as well, particularly for unpublished writers?

I think your concepts are spot on. I'm just wondering about the response of an agent who is queried and told this particular work is part of a series. Or is it different when it's a proposal instead of a query for a completed manuscript?

Jan
[waving from the Australian Writer's email group]

Tiffany Nightshade said...

Well, Jan, I think you have a bit of a cleft stick situation when it comes to writing series for adults. It all comes down to what a publisher is looking for. Some publishers love series, because, let's face it, a popular series brings in a captive audience, and new readers who join the train can always buy up the backlist. However, (looking at it from the editor's point of view) what if yhe first story sells so-so and doesn't make a profit? If the editor has signed up another book (or even two more), then what is s/he to do?

I suggest pitching a series AS a series, but also mentioning (if this is indeed true) that the first book COULD stand alone. This gives the nervous, or simply prudent, editor a back door. S/he can sign up the first book, and if all goes well, give the go ahead to unleash the lions... um, the next book(s).

I hope this helps. (And now I have to get back to cultivating heatherweed for the Hags' loch monster.)

Maree Kimberley said...

Thanks Tiffany, that was a great post. Really helpful.