WRITING Can you debut with seasonal texts? (Part 2)

Can aspiring authors hope to debut with a seasonal story? In Part 1, Words & PicturesProduction EditorTracy Curran, explored what is or is not classed as a seasonal text. Today she talks to author,    Bonnie Bridgman, whose debut young fiction novels centre around Christmas and Easter.

Should aspiring authors avoid writing seasonal texts if they are seeking agent representation and a route to publication? After hearing mixed advice from industry professionals, this is something I have been keen to explore. In Part 1, after talking to Alexandra Page and Emma Finlayson-Palmer, it became apparent that if a story has a seasonal hook but can also be sold across the rest of the year, authors can have the best of both worlds when it comes to sales and promotion. But what about a book that is exclusively seasonal? 

Bonnie Bridgman published her picture book, Catch That Cough, with Tiny Tree in 2019. However, it wasn't long before her debut chapter books, Clara Claus Saves Christmas and Clara Claus Saves Easter followed.

Bonnie Bridgman, author of Clara Claus Saves Christmas and Clara Claus Saves Easter,
illustrated by Louise Forshaw and published by Tiny Tree

Hi Bonnie, your young fiction novel, Clara Claus Saves Christmas, was published by Tiny Tree in October 2021 and was quickly followed by Clara Claus Saves Easter in March 2022. Clara Claus is the daughter of Santa Claus, and in both novels, she has to save the day. Can you tell us a little bit about where the idea for this series came from?

I was actually trying to write a story about Nick Claus, Clara’s older brother, when Clara pushed her way into my head and told me her story instead. As a parent and as someone who works in a school, it was also important that I mentioned the fact that Santa will always bring you the presents he thinks you need rather than the latest Xbox or smartphone. It can be a tricky time of year for those children who think they’ve not been good because they haven’t been given much. I like to think that Clara has shown children that they are special regardless of what presents they receive, and of course, that reindeer are awesome!


I know you are a massive lover of Christmas, but did you experience any doubts about writing a Christmas story from a commercial perspective?

Honestly? I have doubts every time I write, no matter what the story is about! I think you can drive yourself to distraction if you focus solely on what may or may not sell. For me, Clara Claus Saves Christmas was a story that needed to be told. I had no choice but to write it down and I fell in love with Clara and Nick, and the relationship between them from the very beginning. I don’t think you can second guess the industry, so I just write the stories that I’m compelled to write and go from there. I’m of the opinion that if I’m not enjoying what I’m writing, then no one else will. 


What was your agent’s reaction to your first young fiction novel being seasonal? Did it change the way it was submitted to publishers?

I think Helen (Helen Boyle of Pickled Ink) fell in love with Clara as quickly as I did! Clara Claus was the story that got me signed with her in the first place, and it all happened very quickly. Helen tailors every pitch to suit the story (because she’s fabulous like that) but I think she enjoyed writing a pitch with loads of Christmas puns!


Obviously, your series found a home with Tiny Tree, but did you receive any feedback from other publishers, positive or negative, about Clara Claus being a Christmas novel? What was Tiny Tree’s initial response to it?


The feedback was great and very encouraging, especially for a debut author. The whole submission process was alien to me, so I was pleasantly surprised by the response Clara Claus received. I was delighted that Clara found her home with Tiny Tree because they had the same vision as Helen and I did. I was lucky enough to be partnered up with Louise Forshaw again, and she brought Clara to life with her wonderful illustrations. It’s incredible seeing your character come to life so perfectly.


Clara Claus Saves Easter mixes Christmas and Easter together. How did this idea come about, and what has been the readers’ response to such a unique concept?

Helen had the idea of putting Clara in different situations, and I absolutely loved it. It was tricky taking Clara away from the North Pole because I wanted to make sure there weren’t many Christmas references and that the focus was on Easter. It was so much fun creating a new world with trains in trees and giant rabbits. I was thrilled that Catherine Coe continued as editor because she’s brilliant at getting me to think differently. It was a challenge, but the reader response has been fantastic.


Post-publication, what are your reflections about having a seasonal debut and do you have any advice for debut writers who may be keen on writing a seasonal story?

I would say always write the story that you need to write. It’s great to be aware of the market, but ultimately, it’s you that will be working on the story for endless hours, and it’s important that you enjoy the process. Helen guides me on what to stay away from writing-wise, but she always says to write the story that you’re excited to write, and I think that’s excellent advice.

Thanks, Bonnie!

It appears then, that authors need to weigh up the balance between writing what they love against giving industry professionals the excuse to say no. Seasonal stories may be a harder sell but, as Bonnie's experience proves, it's certainly not impossible to secure a deal. If a writer can turn their passion for a particular subject into a brilliant story, then surely it has every chance of being snapped up? Whatever you decide to write — enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

*Header Image: Clara Claus Saves Christmas by Bonnie Bridgman, illustrated by Louise Forshaw, published by Tiny Tree
Author image courtesy of Bonnie Bridgman


Tracy Curran is Production Editor for Words & Pictures and author of Pumpkin's Fairytale, illustrated by Wayne Oram and published by Final Chapter. She writes picture books, chapter books and lower middle-grade and runs a children's book review blog, The Breadcrumb Forest


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