Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) is kicking off this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!
Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman!
When I was drafting and revising Book Scavenger before it sold, I repeatedly heard editors and agents at conferences advise against pitching your book as a series. I took this advice to heart, and even a step further and pitched it to myself as a stand-alone as I worked on it. Whenever an early reader pointed out the series potential, or an idea for a sequel glimmered in my imagination, I waved it away, determined to focus on Book Scavenger and Book Scavenger alone. I didn’t know if my book would sell to a publisher, let alone if that publisher would be interested in a series, so it felt emotionally easier to focus on the book I was writing, versus a hypothetical hoped-for future.
Fast forward to receiving the offer from my editor. She loved Book Scavenger and wanted to publish it—Hooray! And she was interested in a sequel, possibly more in the series depending on how the first two did–Hooray! That was one of the most exciting days of my life. But when the time came to actually sit down and get to writing the second book . . . GULP. What had I gotten myself into?
I found my way, and if you’re facing the blank page of a new book in a series, you will too. My process writing The Unbreakable Code wasn’t an easy one—in fact “process” doesn’t feel like the right word because it suggests I had a methodical or organized way of going about it. My process was something akin to barreling forward and hoping for the best. (There is an underlying theme of hope in that book, which I suppose isn’t a coincidence.)
I learned a lot as I went along, and by the time I began writing The Alcatraz Escape, I’d internalized a few questions that helped me get into the meat of writing the third book much more quickly. If you’re beginning a sequel or new installment in a series, here are five questions that might help you jump-start your ideas:
- What makes the first book in your series you? Meaning: what qualities might a reader expect if they picked up the next title?
- Where did your characters leave off in the last book, emotionally and physically? Brainstorm new goals they might have for themselves that grow out of their past experiences.
- What obstacles (internal or external) might happen that keep them from reaching their new goals? Try and come up with challenges that are different than the previous book.
- What’s going on with your secondary and minor characters from the first book? Get to know them better. Think about where they are at emotionally and physically at the end of your first book. What do they want? What are they struggling with? Bringing a minor character into the spotlight can be an interesting way to keep a series feeling familiar but like it’s treading new ground.
- Are there locations you could explore more deeply from the setting of the first book? Or new places your characters might venture to? Brainstorming about different locations, why they are meaningful or interesting, what could happen there, and the sorts of people your characters might meet can help generate ideas.
Above all else, remember what inspired you with the first book. What sparked your passion for your characters and their world and the type of story you are writing? Find that joy, or what drove you with your writing, and channel that into your work. I kept an inspiration file for Book Scavenger to remind me of where I began and what I hoped to create, and returned to it whenever I felt like I was losing my grasp on Books 2 and 3.
Bonus Advice: Get out of your own way. Too often I think we writers are our own worst enemy with the head games we play with ourselves. Fonda Lee (author of the YA science fiction novels Exo and its sequel Crossfire, as well as the YA novel Zeroboxer) wrote with humor and insight about this very thing in regards to writing a sequel for Chuck Wendig’s blog. ( http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2018/05/30/fonda-lee-so-you-think-you-know-how-to-write-a-sequel/) There were moments I felt in over my head working on my series, but I’m so glad I pushed forward. The fog of self-doubt cleared and I found my way again. You will find your way too.
Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the New York Times bestselling Book Scavenger series (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt). Book Scavenger has been named to over twenty state reading lists, was an NCTE Notable Book, an Indie Next Pick, and a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year. The third book in the series, The Alcatraz Escape, was recently published. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Jennifer now lives in Colorado with her family.
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The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.
Tune in on Friday for a guest post from Natasha Deen!
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