Wilderness Ridge Series

A lot of authors are interested in writing work-for-hire projects (work commissioned by a publisher or book packager) both to gain experience and to supplement their income. Work for hire can be fun and can be great practice for authors in working editorially, meeting deadlines, and being creative within a pre-prepared set of plot and structure guidelines. RQLA clients Monica Roe and Art Coulson recently worked on an eight-book work for hire series, WILDERNESS RIDGE, for Capstone, and we were lucky enough to have both of them and their editor (Alison Deering) answer some questions about this project in particular and work for hire in general.

 

 

 

Agent Jacqui Lipton “virtually” sat down with each of them and asked them questions about their process and this series. We hope you enjoy these interviews …

Jacqui e-Chatting with Art and Monica’s editor, Alison Deering:

JL: How are WFH series like this one developed in-house? What was the genesis behind the WILDERNESS RIDGE books? Can you tell us a little bit about what books will be included in the series?

AD: Capstone has a wonderful content strategy team responsible for coming up with ideas for new series, topics for existing series, etc. They often ask for and take input from other departments via brainstorming sessions. The brainstorming sessions are a great way to discuss new ideas, interests, trends, and holes in the market, and anyone is welcome to attend — sales, marketing, editorial, design, etc. The Wilderness Ridge series is designed to appeal to kids who are interested in hunting, fishing, and outdoorsy adventures but who don’t necessarily see those interests and hobbies represented in the books they read. (And, of course, the series will handle everything in the safe, kid-friendly way Capstone is known for.) As of right now, we’ll cover deer hunting, fishing (and ice fishing), elk hunting, pheasant hunting, duck hunting, turkey hunting, and bowhunting.

JL: When you take on a series like this as acquiring editor, how do you go about finding the authors?

AD: Capstone’s editorial team has a database of WFH authors we’ve worked with in the past (or who have submitted writing samples to us), so that’s often where I start. (We keep track of authors’ interests and what ages they’re interested in writing for.) More and more, though, I find myself asking agents I work with if they have any clients interested in WFH. (It’s a great way to find new writers, and I’m pleasantly surprised by both new writers and writers I’ve worked with in the past who I didn’t realize were interested in WFH.) We also put out calls on social media if we’re looking for a writer for a particular topic/series and are always looking for authors with the necessary lived experiences to tell authentic stories.

JL: Does an author have to be agented to work with Capstone?

AD: Nope! It definitely helps when it comes to submitting to our acquisitions team, which I’m a part of, but many of our WFH authors don’t have agents. (In the past, I would have said the majority of my WFH writers were un-agented, although that’s changed somewhat over the years.) 

JL: In a WFH series like WILDERNESS RIDGES, how much information do you give the authors about the content/focus/storylines for the books, and how involved are you editorially? What happens if an author comes up with an idea you didn’t think of?

AD: For a WFH series, I supply author guidelines with specs, including a rough series description/concept and a general topic for the book (like bowhunting, for example), and let the author take it from there! I love when authors want to be involved and make it a collaborative process, especially when they’re able to add their own unique voice or perspective. Wilderness Ridge is a great example of this process—for the bowhunting title coming out next year, I supplied Monica with the general concept, but it was her idea to set it in Alaska (because of her experience there and knowledge of the landscape) and make the title a bit more aspirational by focusing on Sitka deer. And Art’s books in the series all have his input/voice in the settings and characters—his titles all feature characters with ties to different nations, like Cherokee, because of his heritage. (Having authors with their own ideas is especially useful in a series like this where I am not well-versed on the topic because, spoiler alert, I am not a hunting or a fishing expert!) I love knowing I can give my authors the basics, and they’ll run with a concept, although we do always make sure we have a chapter-by-chapter outline agreed upon in the beginning so I know where a story is going and can ensure it fits within the series guidelines. 

Jacqui e-Chatting with Monica:

JL: How did you come to be involved in the WILDERNESS RIDGE series?

MMR: I had been interested in giving work-for-hire projects a try, and my wonderful agent (Jacqui blushes!) had helped me submit some writing samples to Capstone to see if my style might be suitable for any future projects with them. Some months later, Capstone reached out to Jacqui, looking for authors who might be well-suited for a new hunting and fishing series for young readers they were planning to publish. While I don’t hunt myself (I much prefer fishing!), I do come from a hunting family, and many of my classmates growing up were hunters. Here in Alaska, where I live most of the year, hunting and fishing are a huge part of the subsistence culture of the state, as well as a valued part of the social and community fabric.When Jacqui suggested me as a potential contributing author for this series, I was excited for the opportunity to see hunting and fishing portrayed in contemporary, accurate, and positive ways for young readers—and, especially, to show girls enjoying and excelling at these activities (which are often portrayed as more interesting or suitable for boys).

JL: What were some of the best and worst parts of being the only authors responsible for all eight books in the series? How closely did you and Art work with each other?

MMR: Art and I each sort of did our own thing once we’d mutually decided how to divide up the different titles. I feel like working with the same editor helped ensure that neither of us strayed too far off course from what Capstone envisioned for the series. Each book features a different protagonist, cast, and storyline, so the main connecting thread was the fact that each story centered around a specific type of hunting or fishing adventure. It was definitely fun getting to work with another Raven Quill author on the project! Art and I have never met in person, but we’ve spoken plenty of times virtually due to RQLA’s wonderfully supportive community, which includes weekly Zoom social hours that anyone from the agency can join. So, I felt like I was entering the project with a great author whom I knew and respected.

JL: Which of the books did each of you choose to write, and why?

MMR: Well, Art nabbed whitetail deer and fishing the first time around, so I got stuck with duck and turkey! Just kidding. Art did have more experience with deer hunting and lake fishing, so those were the titles from the first batch that made perfect sense for him to write. I hadn’t hunted ducks or turkey, but I have raised (and processed) both types of birds on our small farm in the past. I also have family members who enjoy bird hunting, so I had plenty of experts at hand to help me with the more specific hunting details of the duck and turkey stories. When the second round of titles was offered to us, I immediately wanted to give the elk hunting project a try. I’d spent some time as a horseback guide in western Colorado after college and had some familiarity with pack trips—so I definitely got excited about possibly writing a story that centered around a Rocky Mountain horseback hunt. Similarly, the mule deer hunting story attracted me because of the possibility of setting the story in Southeast Alaska, which is home to a smaller cousin of the mule deer (the Sitka Blacktail). I have lived and worked in some of the Southeast Alaska island communities and thought it might make a great setting for one of the stories in the series. Thankfully, Ali and the rest of the team agreed!

JL: How do you find writing WFH projects as compared with your own original work? What are some of the benefits and downsides of each type of project?

MMR:

Original work:

+ : Complete creative freedom, no word counts. If your book sells, you keep the copyright and potentially earn royalties, etc.

–: Have to come up with ideas all alone! Can write yourself into corners if not careful. No guarantee of selling the project once it’s written.

WFH:

+: Very close, collaborative process with the editor at every part of the process. Guidance with plot/structure/pacing, more formulaic (which can be great practice and make for great storytelling). Up-front payment guaranteed, potential for multiple projects if editor deems you a good fit for other work.

–: Deadlines can creep up fast—recommend using a spreadsheet or calendar alerts if working on multiple projects! Have to relinquish some creative control, as you’re usually writing with specific parameters (word count, basic storyline, house style, etc.).

JL: How would you compare the author/editor relationship in a WFH project versus an original manuscript?

MMR: Great question. Ali has been amazing and fun to work with every step of the way, especially since this was my first time working on a WFH project. One thing I found different was the amount of structural help and guidance she offered (but never forced) as I was drafting. Since these are very short books (5,000-6,000 words) that need to include a fairly specific structure and a lot of action, I found it very helpful to be able to bounce ideas off her as I was drafting, without having to wait until I had a polished draft in hand (which has been my editorial experience with some of my original work). I’ll admit, there were times that I’d secretly dread her feedback because I knew it would say, “We need more hunting action!”  She was right, of course, but it could sometimes be a challenge for my character-driven brain to be able to shift gears toward a much more plot- and action-driven type of story structure. That said, I have found it to be absolutely wonderful practice for refining my ability to tighten structure and plot and pacing—all of which can be much more challenging for me than more character-driven storytelling.

Art Coulson

Jacqui e-Chatting with Art:

A lot of authors are interested in writing work-for-hire projects (work commissioned by a publisher or book packager) both to gain experience and to supplement their income. Work for hire can be fun and can be great practice for authors in working editorially, meeting deadlines, and being creative within a pre-prepared set of plot and structure guidelines. RQLA clients Monica Roe and Art Coulson recently worked on an eight-book work for hire series, WILDERNESS RIDGE, for Capstone, and we were lucky enough to have both of them and their editor (Alison Deering) answer some questions about this project in particular and work for hire in general.

JL: How did you come to be involved in the WILDERNESS RIDGE series? 

AC: Jacqui actually pitched a book I had written to the editors at Capstone. They didn’t buy that book but wondered if I would be interested in writing a book in a WFH series they were planning. Once I heard the details, I jumped at the chance. Monica and I ended up writing four books each, which was a lot of fun. I really like the variety in the stories—the situations, the characters, the settings. Plus, they’re great stories for young people who enjoy spending time outdoors, in the field, or on a lake somewhere. 

JL: What were some of the best and worst parts of being the only authors responsible for all eight books in the series? How closely did you and Monica work with each other? 

AC: I really enjoyed working on the series. There really were no bad parts for me. I do think one of the challenges was making sure the characters and situations were different enough—I didn’t want all of my books to sound the same. Monica and I worked together mostly on splitting up the various topics among ourselves. I did get a chance to read one of Monica’s books—the one about duck hunting. Ali suggested I read it before I started my pheasant hunting book to make sure we didn’t overlap on the stories because of some underlying similarities.

JL: Which of the books did each of you choose to write, and why? 

AC: I wrote books about lake fishing, ice fishing, deer hunting, and pheasant hunting. I chose those because they are all activities I enjoy and have some experience with. I grew up fishing every weekend with my family. I still spend as much time as I can at my cabin on a small lake in Wisconsin. I get to fish from my dock, and, in the winter, I set up a little camp on the ice and fish for Northern Pike, just like in the book. I also have fond memories of spending time with my grandfather and my Uncle Jack, hunting for deer, pheasant, and woodcocks in Northern Maine when I was a boy. I’m thankful that Monica was willing to take on the stories she did because they would have been a heavier lift for me in terms of research to make up for my lack of direct experience. 

JL: How do you find writing WFH projects as compared with your own original work? What are some of the benefits and downsides of each type of project? 

 AC: Work-for-hire projects serve a purpose for me. They keep cash coming in while I work on longer-term trade projects. They also give me the chance to try my hand at different genres and writing for different age levels. In the past year, I’ve also had the opportunity to write two graphic novels and a play, all WFH projects. I enjoy working on my own story ideas, and you have to be willing to give up a bit of that creative control and direction when you write WFH. This project with Ali was a bit of a hybrid—she gave us a broad topic, like ice fishing or deer hunting, then let us come up with our own stories that covered the topic. So we still got to stretch our creative muscles and make the stories our own. 

JL: How would you compare the author/editor relationship in a WFH project versus an original manuscript? 

AC: Ali was a dream to work with. She clearly laid out the vision for the series, went over some basic story parameters (POV, length, etc.), then let us take off. She had great comments on my outlines and kept the stories focused on the central point: a young person’s love of hunting or fishing. Sometimes, working on a WFH project can put handcuffs on a writer—editors often have a very clear, rigid idea for the book, leaving little room for the writer to show any creativity or to put his stamp on a book. Thankfully, working on this series wasn’t like that at all. Working on an original manuscript really is the ideal for a writer, at least to my mind. When an editor acquires that original manuscript, she has already bought into your vision and works with you to bring that vision to life in the best possible way. 

Thanks again to Monica, Art and Alison for sharing their experiences of this series with us! Check out the beautiful book series trailer below. 

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