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  • Writer's pictureHamish Morjaria

Why Barbie means your next book should really be the start of a series

Updated: Apr 26

From the moment that I began to write my first novel, every visit to a bookshop was an opportunity for my imagination to picture my book in the window or on the shelves. I would walk past the big window displays and picture my own book there, or nestled in amongst the bestsellers on the wall just inside the door.

Over the months, I began to notice that the same books seemed to dominate those key positions in the major booksellers, or at least the same authors. Stephen King, John Grisham, Lee Child, James Patterson and recently in the UK, Richard Osman, all had their places reserved whilst everyone else was left scrambling for the few remaining spots.

So, as I continued to write my historical thriller, The Muziris Empire, my thoughts often returned to the bookshops and how I could persuade the mysterious world of publishing to grant me a place on its favoured list.

The answer came to me on the historical island of Malta whilst on a family holiday in August 2022. Malta is a fascinating place for anyone interested in history, from the temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra dating from maybe 5000 years ago to the Ggantija Temples of 3500 BC, you can find some of the oldest and best preserved religious sites in the world. St John’s Cathedral in Valletta was perhaps my most memorable visit with its beautiful Baroque architecture and ornate interior decorated with scenes from the life of John the Baptist. The whole marble floor is a series of over four hundred intricate tombs of the Knights of St John and each one has its own story to tell.

The deal for allowing me to spend far too long in this artistic masterpiece was an evening of pizza and movies in our apartment. The children picked Top Gun: Maverick and as we ordered the pizza, I enthused about the original Top Gun and how it would be interesting to see the character development. The blank stares confirmed something quite interesting, my nineteen year old daughter and fourteen year old son had no idea that there was an original film called Top Gun.

Maverick was the biggest movie in 2022, grossing $719m in US box office alone. It seems that however intricately you design your story, however deeply your characters are developed and however wonderfully your climax delights the audience, there really is no better movie than one in which Tom Cruise is strapped into a fighter plane wearing aviators.

Looking at the top box office movies of 2022 gave me the same emotions as looking in the bookshop window. There was a new Jurassic Park movie (a previous one was filmed in Malta. A model of Blue, the velociraptor, stands in the city's St George's Square), an Avatar movie, another Minions episode, more Batman, Thor returned, Buzz Lightyear’s origins story, a spin off of Puss in Boots, the continuation of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, and a second outing for the frenetic video game character Sonic. How would there be any room for new writers to have their books developed for the big screen?

Movie executives have found that it is easier to market existing IP than to go to the trouble of working out what new things may become successful. Every author dreams of their book being snapped up for a big movie or Netflix series but as the dial moves, it is becoming harder for executives to justify the costs of translating books into screenplays. Hollywood alone spends half a billion dollars every year on screenwriting for projects that will never be made into films. The Writers Guild of America script registration service deals with over thirty-five thousand new titles every year that will never get made. A big studio may commission eight to ten big budget projects a year from these. Far easier to bring back Harrison Ford for another outing as Indiana Jones, or maybe give Rocky one final, final shot at the title.

Then, this year, came Barbie. The movie about the plastic doll. It was not only the dominant film of the year with a Box Office take of $1.4 billion and counting, it consumed all news and social media feeds for months and months. Celebrities, creatives, authors, and just about everyone else filled our feeds with pictures of themselves dressed as Barbie or Ken. It became commonplace to phrase every mundane activity in the context of this movie. ‘This Barbie is going to have some fish and chips tonight’. It was a marketing tour de force from Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie and it has changed our world for the foreseeable future.

Movie executives rushed into the marble foyers of the biggest toy and gaming companies and began snapping up movie rights for anything they could secure. We have already seen Battleship, G.I Joe, Sonic the Hedghog and Trolls. Soon we will see the big budget movie for Polly Pocket (Lilly Collins has already signed up for this one), Hot Wheels, Barney and He-Man. The logic is that if we don’t have a franchise to exploit, then anything that the people recognise and have some type of emotional connection to could be made into a franchise. The gap for authors to have their books turned into big budget movies had shrunk again, this time in favour of plastic toys.

It became clear to me that a series was more marketable than a stand alone book. It made me question each of my main characters and whether they were developed enough to sustain a series. The world building became more detailed, the backstories became more nuanced. It eventually felt like my debut novel should always have been the first in a series.

As my book project went out on the first round of submission, it was a stand-alone historical thriller, with a fearless Indian archaeologist digging up secrets from two thousand years ago and being pursued by The Vatican Secret Service. We had so much great feedback about the story and the main characters. On the second round of submissions, it was presented as a three book series. The pitch document talked about the series potential and how we saw this developing in future books. It was something that a publisher could support over multiple books and we had several publishing offers for the whole series, finally signing with Pan Macmillan in October 2023. it seems that plugging into this change in the market dynamics was one of the key things that helped me secure a deal.

Most authors spend time developing their world and main characters into people that we believe in. They allow us into this world for just a fleeting moment and if they have done the job well, we are left craving more. So, ask yourself this, is there a series in your project and what would the next couple of episodes look like? Publishers and filmmakers see the benefits of projects that work over a period of time. Your novel could be that project. Are your characters memorable enough to be the next Jack Reacher or Lincoln Rhyme. Do they have unique and interesting skills like Temperance Brennan or courage to face down disasters like Jack Ryan? I think there are so many stand alone projects that could be developed this way. Perhaps yours could be that project. I hope so.

Now, I really must book my next holiday, perhaps it will provide more inspiration.

Hamish Morjaria is the author of the historical fiction Harveen Gill Mysteries which was acquired by Pan Macmillan in October 2023. The first book in the series is The Muziris Empire and will be released in September 2024

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1 comentário

06 de dez. de 2023

Great writers and creators lift us all into new worlds. That is what we need from them. This book series of yours is gathering momentum for the leap. Outrageous vision, shared from the get go.

What you write, happens.

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