In today’s post, Christine Evans shares the basics of writing a chapter book series.
AND Christine is offering a giveaway! Just leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of THE WISH THAT GOT AWAY!
Congrats to Robin Brett Wechsler, winner of MAKE WAY FOR ANIMALS by Meeg Pincus!
How to Write a Chapter Book Series by Christine Evans
Thank you Beth for having me on the blog today! I’m Christine, a chapter-book and picture-book author living in beautiful California. The first three books in my chapter book series, The Wish Library, came out last year and book four, The Wish That Got Away, releases on April 19.
When I first started writing chapter books, I had never written more than 1000 words in one project. And as you know, as a picture book writer I had to get most of my texts down to around 500 words. So the idea of writing a chapter book was daunting! If it’s daunting for you too, read on for some tips!
1) Read Piles of Chapter Books
My top tip for writing anything is always to read lots of mentor texts in that category. When studying chapter books, notice how the author adds descriptions, how they end chapters on cliffhangers, word usage, and how heavily illustrated the books are. Books for younger readers tend to be more heavily illustrated and in color (the Branches range from Scholastic, for example) and those for older readers will have black and white line drawings every few pages. My friend and author/illustrator Vicky Fang recorded a great video about studying mentor texts.
The word count for chapter books can vary hugely too so pay attention to how long the type of books are that you want to write. My Wish Library books are around 8500 words.
Bonus Tip: if you want to see how long a book is, search for it on AR BookFinder.
2) Find a Winning Idea
When kids find a series they love they will read through as many as they can find. So the most important thing to consider when evaluating your idea is whether it has series potential. Can this idea, world, and characters be sustained over multiple books?
The idea should also be relatable to your target audience (typically around ages 7-10 but kids as young as 5 are reading early chapter books too). Think about what was important to you as a second or third grader. If you have kids in your life, what are they interested in? What do they wonder about? What are they worried about?
3) Memorable Characters
Kids love Junie B. Jones, Ramona, Dory Fantasmagory and their stories endure for that reason. Think about your characters, what habits do they have? Do they have a catchphrase? A sidekick? A favorite toy or accessory they always carry?
Raven and Luca in The Wish Library have distinct personalities and I have fun figuring out how each of them react to situations in the books. They face challenges, they make mistakes, and they learn along the way. Just like kid readers!
4) Write the Book!
Once you have the idea ready, it’s time to write. I write an outline summarizing the main plot points per chapter. It’s a good way to make sure you have enough happening to sustain a whole book. I don’t always stick completely to my outline, sometimes deleting scenes and adding others as I write.
Once I’ve got the first draft done I revise it. I often write sparsely so I look for places that need more action, and often I need to add more descriptions. As a picture book writer, description was something I found hard to add having been so used to leaving it to the illustrator to work their magic.
I then send my revised work to my critique partners before revising again (and again and again!).
5) Get Submission Ready
To submit a chapter book project to an agent or editor you need to have written the first book, and have ideas for 3-4 more books in the series. These should be included in your proposal along with your pitch (or log line) and a series overview. Research carefully to find agents and publishers who are looking for chapter books. You could look at deal announcements in Publishers Weekly (sign up for the Children’s Bookshelf emails) or Publishers Marketplace(subscription needed) as well as checking agency and publishing house’s websites.
Good luck with your chapter book writing! It’s a fun age to write for.
Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of THE WISH THAT GOT AWAY! (US addresses, ends 4/1/22)
Christine Evans is the author of two picture books, Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist illustrated by Yas Imamura (Innovation Press) and Emily’s Idea illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns (Sounds True). Her chapter book series, The Wish Library, is out now (Albert Whitman).
Christine Evans has jumped out of a plane once, windsurfed once, and water skied once. She much prefers books and writing to adrenaline sports. She is a British expat and has lived in California for over ten years with her husband and two young daughters.