How To Grow A Picture Book Series, by Pippa Goodhart

One part of my work is critiquing picture book texts on behalf of the Jericho Writers agency, and very often people send a series of picture book texts, or a single picture book text together with proposals to develop a whole series.


What I’ve tended to tell those writers has been based on my own experience, that picture book series depend on creating an exceptionally strong stand alone picture book which sells so well that the publisher asks for, or agrees to, further books. My You Choose books, illustrated by Nick Sharratt, began with a single book, with the second one agreed to only once that book had sold well over a number of years.

I now have a bit of a series developing from a different book. Fair Shares, illustrated by Anna Doherty and published by Tiny Owl came out in 2019. It quickly proved popular with teachers and librarians, and so Tiny Owl asked for another book from us, and now Best Test will be published in April. I have an idea for a third book, but wait to see if that is going to be wanted!


So I wondered if my experience of series growing from single book success was shared by my co-denners. Here are their interesting answers -  



Natascha Biebow, (an experienced picture book editor as well as writer):


All the series that I've ever edited or seen do well on the market started with a single title - e.g. DAISY, Kes Gray's OI series, YOU CHOOSE as you say, THE DINOSAUR THAT POOPED..., HARRY AND THE BUCKETFUL OF DINOSAURS. The only exception I can think of is PRINCESS POPPY- in this case the author had already self-published and built a brand and so RH bought in the character rights and kicked off with a planned series.


Chitra Soundar


a) When my first Falgu book came out (illustrated by Kanika Nair), I wasn’t well-known in India or known at all in the UK. But after they edited the first book, they offered me a second book right away.


b) After rights sold in Frankfurt for Book 1, Book 3 and 4 was commissioned together. (‘Frankfurt’ refers to the annual International Book Fair at which co-editions are sold)


With respect to the massively popular You’re Safe With Me series (illustrated by Poonam Mistry), the first book was on unsolicited submission which was then rejected and then solicited back. Even before it came out, when US Junior Library Guild agreed to stock them, the publisher commissioned a second. And then commissioned a third soon after. 


None of those were automatic series - but one thing I’d say is as a writer I always put character first and when I’m writing, I’m always thinking of other scenarios for the characters. Even when not commissioned as a series, I create potential for it from the first book and then depending on my relationship with my publisher, ask if I can show them another story in the series. I do this for chapter books as well and it has worked well. 


Every time I have an idea, I evaluate if that idea will work for any of my existing characters and if so, I’d see if I should write it and show it to my publisher or ask them first and write it. 


Jane Clarke


Interesting topic because unless you are an author illustrator, picture book series depend on keeping both the writer and the illustrator on board.


I've experienced it both ways - eg I wrote Gilbert the Great as a one-off, and it slowly (over the next 5 years) became a 3 book 'series' because the first book was popular. They only commissioned the third book when the second also sold well. The illustrations by Charles Fuge were a huge attraction and at that time, Charlie was so busy it was hard to fit the third book into his schedule.

Same experience with Knight Time but it only got as far as book 2 (Knight School) - I wrote more texts but the decision was made to stop at 2. I cheekily pitched my most recent text (A Small Person's Guide to Grandmas, to be published 2022) as a potential series, I'm contracted for the first title only - but I guess it doesn't hurt for them to know that there's the potential for more :-)


On the other hand, I was contracted from the outset by Nosy Crow to do 4 picture books with Britta Teckentrup ( the unifying characteristic being the use of neon colours rather than a character, and I'm sure the 4 book contract was because they wanted the incredibly popular and busy Britta to schedule time for these books). Titles are Neon Leon, Firefly Home, Leap Frog and the upcoming Tiptoe Tiger.


I was also contracted from the outset to do 3 x picture books featuring the character Sky Private Eye - but that series was the concept of the publisher Five Quills.


Garry Parsons


My experience of working on a series has been that they have developed after the first book has  reached a certain level of popularity and then increased one book at a time. Having a tie-in title publishing a year later helps ignite new interest in the first and so on until you gradually acquire new readers who hopefully will enjoy all the books. My most popular sequence of books being The Dinosaur That Pooped series. Initially a one book contract for the first title, The Dinosaur that Pooped Christmas has now grown into 6. 

The Dinosaur That Pooped series written by Tom Fletcher & Dougie Pointer

The other series of picture books I worked on was with author Peter Bently - The Tooth Fairy is a funny series of 3 rhyming story books which also started with a Christmas title, The Tooth Fairy's Christmas followed by The Tooth Fairy’s Royal Visit to coincide with a royal birth and finally, Happy Easter Tooth Fairy! for the spring. Similarly, this series, published by Hachette, developed one contract at a time. So it seems to me that a series grows on the strength of one book at a time but the potential for a series can be very worth while as well as fun to have the opportunity to take a character through different stories.


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