Should I submit the first book and a proposal for the whole series?

Posted on July 1, 2010


I have just completed a manuscript that is book one of a ten-book series. I need your advice and direction. Should I submit the first book and a proposal for the whole series?

There are definitely two schools of thought when it comes to marketing a series. In The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, Harold Underdown recommends marketing the first book in a series. Mention in your cover letter that this is the first book in a series. And, he warns, you should be sure to send your query only to publishers that publish books in a series. In his article, Getting Out of the Slush Pile, Underdown advises:

Some people put a lot of time and effort into developing a whole series of picture books or novels, as in a proposal I once saw for 32 picture books about two brothers’ adventures on a farm. Mass market publishers do publish series, but usually develop them with a packager or in-house; trade publishers like the companies I have worked for almost never sign up more than one book at atime. (Nonfiction can be an exception to this rule, by companies publishing for the library market). But for most nonfiction and fiction, put your energy into the best possible manuscript, not into planning a series. If you don’t sell the first book, you certainly won’t sell a series.

In her article, Rules Beginning Children’s Book Writers Should Not Break, Laura Backes writes:

Don’t Write a Series Before Selling the First Book

I’ve critiqued many stories from authors who say, “I’ve got six more books written with these characters. Should I mention that to the editor when I submit my manuscript?” My answer? No.. Unless an editor is specifically looking for new series proposals, and the books were written from the start to form a series, this is a bad idea. Realize that series are created as a group of books that are bound together by some sort of hook; in fiction, it might be a club the main characters form, a neighborhood they all live in, or a cause they champion. In nonfiction, it’s a topic (natural sciences, biographies) and an age group. Rarely do you see picture book fiction series. What does happen is a character may find popularity with readers and the author is asked to write another book featuring the same cast. These fiction “series” actually grow over time, one book at a time.

So, unless you’ve designed your books as a traditional series and are able to creaft a thought-out series proposal to the editor, stick to selling one book. When an editor sees you have many manuscripts featuring the same characters and similar plots, she may feel that you’ve invested too much time writing new material and not enough time revising what you’ve already got. And keep in mind that each book – series or not – must stand on its own. It needs a strong beginning, well-developed middle, and satisfying end. No fair leaving the ending incomplete with the intention of continuing the story in the next book.

In my article The Elephant in the Room: Marketing Your Children’s Manuscript, I recommend visiting your local library and/or bookstore to find books similar to yours and make a note of the publishers. Go online to the publishers’ websites and look at their submission guidelines to see if they are looking for series. Your best bet is to market your series to publishers that are actively looking for series.

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