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'Seven' young-adult book series further fuels binge culture with sequel

TORONTO – Call it the Netflix of the young-adult book world in Canada.

The “Seven” series is a homegrown initiative in which seven writers pen seven interweaving YA books at the same time and release them all at once. The stories have different characters and settings but one main plot link, and readers can consume them in any order.

The first instalment, “Seven the Series,” came out two years ago and has sold about 135,000 copies and been translated into several languages. It follows the seven grandsons of fictional late adventurer David McLean as they try to fulfil the tasks he had set out for them.

In the newly released second instalment, “The Seven Sequels,” the grandsons find a hidden cache of passports and foreign currency at McLean’s cottage, sparking a globetrotting mission to figure out his mysterious past.

“It creates a buzz,” Eric Walters, who spearheaded the project, said of the benefits of releasing an entire book series at once.

“It’s hard to get any publicity for a children’s book in this country, which is really ironic in that the biggest selling books these days are all young-adult books. The biggest selling movies are all movies based on YA books. So by doing it all at once, we create a market for kids to want to buy all seven.

“Together we’re stronger than we are individually.”

Walters, a Mississauga, Ont., resident who has written over 80 novels since 1993, said he thought of the idea when he and his wife were chatting about her father dying and the legacy he left behind.

“Then I started thinking, ‘What about a grandfather leaving a legacy for his son?’ and I said, ‘Why not seven?'” Then I started thinking, ‘Why would I write them all when I can get really interesting people to take different shots at different parts of it?'”

Orca Book Publishers agreed to the idea along with Walters’ wishes that he pick the writers and release the entire series on the same day.

As far as he saw it, the initiative had never been done before. “There’s been linked stories but not like this,” he said.

Walters said he wanted to choose a group of writers who are not only skilled scribes but are also “good people” and deft presenters who could travel to schools with him to talk about the craft and the series. He picked John Wilson, Ted Staunton, Richard Scrimger, Norah McClintock, Sigmund Brouwer and Shane Peacock.

“The idea just appealed,” said Staunton, who lives in Port Hope, Ont., and has written close to 40 books. “It was just a little out of the naturalistic fiction that I usually write and it just sounded like a riot. I thought, ‘I’m going to have a lot of fun with this.'”

He also liked that it was being released all at once.

“If the publisher can handle it, it’s huge,” said Staunton. “When you’re writing for young people, for one thing, you have a new audience every five years, roughly. So if you’ve written something that appeals to them, the idea of having the whole series before you at once is wonderful for readers, because they can just dive right in. And of course with this one, thanks to Eric, there’s this added trick of you can start with any book.”

Besides, most publishers don’t have the “massive, megabucks marketing” J.K. Rowling did for her “Harry Potter” series to keep momentum going between the release of books, added Staunton.

“Unless you’ve got the Hollywood tie-in and the whole nine yards, no publisher can afford to wait three or four years for the next book, because your audience will have outgrown you by the time the next book comes out.”

Walters, 57, started both instalments in the series by writing an opening scene each writer had to agree on and reference at some point in their books. The scene served as “the core” but the writers were free to pursue their own stories, their own characters and their own genre — as long as they stayed consistent.

Staunton said he’d written his own series before, but this was the first time he’d worked with other authors on the same project. He tends to write humour, so he made his character, Spencer O’Toole, a “bumbling cousin.”

“Certainly it’s moved me outside of what I normally write, and I think in a very good way,” he said. “It’s just that the novelty of somebody else handing you an idea that you never would have thought of on our own. There’s something liberating about that.”

Sarah Harvey edits all the stories, which are available in print, digital and audio format.

“Some of these writers get into this thing that they’re each other’s competition and there’s only so much available and we’re fighting for what’s available,” said Walters, “and I think this has shown that if we work collaboratively, it produces more for everybody.”

Walters said he heard of some readers finishing all seven books in the first instalment within three weeks: “People were clamouring for a sequel.”

He’s now doing a different series that will also be released in its entirety at once with books that can be read in any order. Called “Secrets,” the new series will be penned by seven female authors and will revolve around seven girls from an orphanage that burned down in fictional Hope, Ont., in 1964.

Author Teresa Toten, who won a Governor General’s Literary Award for children’s literature last year, is Walters’ “co-leader” on that project and has written the opening scene with him.

Walters said he isn’t sure if he’d do a third instalment in the original “Seven” series. “It’s got to be a story that really grabs me. I don’t want to be at a point where we start getting silly.”

Staunton said he’d be game for it. “We are a sort of binge culture these days. I think it bodes well for reading and publishing in Canada, and for the genre.”

— Follow @VictoriaAhearn on Twitter.

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Online: www.thesevensequels.com