June 23rd, 2012, 07:06 PM
Thoughts on releasing a novel using the Victorian serial format?
As well as fantasy fiction, I have a keen interest in classic literature, much of which was published in serial form during the Victorian era.
It worked like this: an author would publish one chapter/part of a novel each month. Each chapter would often end with a "hook" to encourage the reader to buy the next instalment (which, interestingly, is where the phrase "cliffhanger ending" comes from).
Penny dreadfuls were released like this; they were sensational, often horrific and trashy, novels that were strung out over sometimes hundreds of chapters and could be said to be the literary forerunners of TV soap operas. Quality literature was published in this way, too, and perhaps the most well known and renowned author to publish his works in this way was Charles Dickens.
I'm considering releasing my novel - a traditional epic fantasy - in this way, releasing monthly instalments and taking into account modern technology. My idea is to publish each chapter digitally, initially for the kindle, and allow customers to pay either on a chapter-by-chapter basis or to purchase a block of chapters. In addition, I would provide customers with access to an exclusive discussion forum in which they could discuss the ongoing serial with each other, communicate with me, and perhaps even have a chance to influence the direction that the story takes.
What I want to know is: do people think that such an approach might work? And if so, what would be an acceptable price to charge for each instalment?
I look forward to hearing people's thoughts.
June 23rd, 2012, 08:34 PM
The increasing popularity of ebooks makes this a viable way to go. One warning: Make sure your book is finished or close enough to it before you begin this. You would trash what little reputation you gain by a meandering story which you eventually abandon. Or which ends but fails to deliver a satisfying climax.
Key is delivering promptly each month. As you (we hope!) gain readers they will come to look forward to (say) the last Friday of every month or week or two weeks. Be ready to change emphasis in your book as you get feedback from readers. You may want to expand or change some characters. You may need to change the direction of the plot to some extent, perhaps to add obstacles to make it harder and longer for your character(s) to reach hi/r goal(s).
Amazon will not let you publish anything at less than $.99 - though this does not keep them from sometimes cutting that price to nothing!
June 24th, 2012, 12:13 PM
Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, after a publisher collapsed under them, so to speak, began e-publishing their next novel chapter by chapter.
What worked: they had an enthusiastic established fan base that was willing to pay to see the next chapter and continued to publicize the project as it went along. They chose a novel in their most popular story universe. They are experienced writers whose books already had considerable tension pulling from chapter to chapter (and multiple POVs, which is very handy when offering one chapter at a time...you can have a "conclusion" to one character's immediate dilemma, but readers are still thinking "But what about the other guy/gal/robot?" They laid out the project with enough (but not too much) detail that readers trusted them to get the chapters out on time and knew the project was to their taste.
Questions someone considering this should answer are "How much like the successful serial writers of today are my skills?" How much serialized literature have you read (starting back in the 19th c., sure, but bringing it on up to right now)? Have you analyzed the structural components that glue readers to the project? Do you fully understand the difference between a successful TV serial drama (for instance) and a successful e-published serial drama? Do you have the writing skills to create multiple engaging characters, an easily described background/setting, an interesting culture, and a plot that is more than just episodic (a failure of many TV dramas, but desirable for most readers)? Do you have any kind of fan base you can get excited about this? Do you have the business experience to anticipate costs, set up a business plan, etc. (One thing Lee & Miller admitted is that they had not anticipated the cost of shipping the hard copies of that first book--part of the package that higher-contributors received--to all the places those contributors lived. ) How will you deal with the necessary editing/ copy editing/ design part of it?
I would strongly suggest looking up the Liaden books simply because several were published serially (and saved Lee & Miller's writing career--they were able to market the Liaden books to another, larger publisher on the basis of the success at serial self-publishing--they proved their numbers) and are thus a current model of success in this venture. Look at their websites, look at how they said they did it. They're still self-publishing shorter works, exclusive to those who subscribe; they have a very active and supportive fan community, and they've been very open about how they accomplished surviving when the brown stuff hit the rotating blades.
June 24th, 2012, 04:46 PM
We Read for Light
I've got to agree with Laer on this. Get your book finished, let those data strokes age a bit in the memory cloud, then make another pass and polish. Even books by very fine writers can benefit from a complete edit at the time of their final release. Twain's Huck Finn is an example. It's nearly a perfect book, but IMO the entire ending (complete with Tom Sawyer) is cut & patched from different cloth.
Originally Posted by Laer Carroll
June 24th, 2012, 05:52 PM
Laer Carroll and E_Moon, thanks for taking the time to reply.
I'm going to respond to to the various points that you both brought up in this single post:
1) Prompt delivery & reliability.
I think that people would only invest their time and money in a serial if they felt sure that the author would deliver each instalment on time and that he/she would eventually conclude the story rather than abandon it.
2) Editing/copy editing & design
I can probably handle the first two myself; I have a certain amount of formal training in literary editing (it was part of my English (literature & language) major), and I love the editing process very much. Having said this, to avoid the problem of being too close to the work to edit it well, I would significantly write ahead of my publishing schedule so that I could put aside "finished" instalments, move on, and then edit them with a fresh pair of eyes much later.
As far as the design goes, I am reasonably confident in handling this. I can lay out the interior text without too many difficulties and I can probably produce cover art of the less-is-more sort (think UK fantasy book covers rather than US ones).
3) The "nuts and bolts" of drama - what makes it tick and the difference between the various types of drama.
Again, I covered much of the "theory and structure, compare and contrast" stuff as part of my English major - it was a very comprehensive degree. Also, I read fiction critically with the intention of improving my understanding of the craft as much as for entertainment. I read quite widely, both in and out of the fantasy genre, and I enjoy both modern and classic literature.
I think that serialised fiction is its own beast - it's not really enough to cut up a long work of fiction that is meant to be released as a novel and release it piece by piece. An effective work of serial fiction needs to take into account the strengths, weaknesses, and conventions of the format.
4) Writing skills.
I'm not sure that I can write a profound work of timeless prose but I do think that I can tell an entertaining story. There are many areas of my writing that I think I could improve. I believe that, privately at least, most writers are their own worst critics, and I include myself in this group, but experience has taught me that knowing when you've produced a work that is "good enough" is a an essential attribute that most productive authors possess.
I believe that I have come up with a thrilling plot, an interesting setting in which to locate it, and - I hope - compelling characters to drive it. All of which is a good start, no?
5) My fan base.
My son thinks I'm great. As does my goldfish. My wife? She is very patient with me.
I think that success would depend upon, a, the quality of my work, b, my perceived reliability and consistency, and, c, effective marketing, but I haven't put anywhere near enough thought into how to generate, maintain, and hopefully increase a fan-base.
I am toying with the idea of releasing the first chapter for free, and the next few for a reduced price, to try and drum up interest and hook people by word of mouth. But if, as Laer Carroll says, Amazon does not allow one to sell an e-book for less than $.99 then this might present me with problems. Hmm. I need to research this carefully, I think.
6) Having said all of the above...
No matter what I think I know or what I believe I can do, no matter how confident I may be, I understand that there are so many ways that I can further improve my skills and knowledge. I honestly think that I have reached a point in my personal development that allows me to realistically contemplate writing a long work of serialised fiction, but I can't say that I am ready to do it without investing a significant amount of time in further research.
Again, thanks for the feedback!
June 24th, 2012, 05:58 PM
I'm going to respectfully disagree with you about taking a "write a complete novel then edit and polish it before attempting to publish it" approach. If I was contemplating the writing of a novel then I would agree with you, but what I have in mind is something that I believe would benefit from a more organic and flexible process.
Originally Posted by Window Bar
Having said that, I do think that writing significantly ahead of the latest published chapter/part (and having some sort of plot-progression roadmap in mind) is a smart idea.
June 24th, 2012, 11:57 PM
From what I gather serialisation is big in China, perhaps because the copyright laws are too lax for writers to make money from novels (with a serial people will pay to get the next section now, even if they could download it free from a pirate site next week). It may work in the West, but short stories generally don't sell as well as novels here.
June 26th, 2012, 12:45 AM
I'd like to try this myself. One big question: how are you going to find readers? Even bigger, how are they going to find you, among the many thousands of self-publishers a year?
You can always try friends and family. That's a thousand-to-one shot. But it can happen. Stephanie Meyer's first fan, before she'd gone very far in her first book, was her sister. Then her mother. All were fascinated by Edward.
That was enough to get Meyer to finish her book and then go through the effort of submitting it to an agent - 14 of 15 who rejected her, one with a detailed letter saying what was wrong with the book!
This project is very unlikely to succeed. But it's sure not to succeed if you don't try it. And at the very least you will learn something from it. You'll also strengthen your writing skills.
June 30th, 2012, 07:49 AM
I am currently doing this myself. I won't say what as this isn't the promotion thread and I don't want to get kicked off!
Writing and the business of writing is not a science. It is important to try different things. I like the idea of letting things unfold organically and having a direction that can change with reader input.
It's very challenging to be a few steps ahead but even then things can change drastically.
Good luck with your project.
July 1st, 2012, 03:52 PM
Come to think of it, I do use this approach. I do it in two phases.
One phase is when my book is in final or close to final shape. I then self-publish it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you need to change it because of reader feedback, or some other reason, you can do that immediately. I try to avoid this, but it's an option.
The first phase of publishing is on my site. This has the advantage that your readers sort of expect your stuff to be works in progress. Since they are not paying for the chapters of your book you put online, they don't get annoyed at you. And they're happier and freer at giving you advice.
Here's an example from my site. I have a dozen regular readers who are signed up to get email announcements when I add stuff to the site. Every day I get about a dozen hits, fewer on holidays. Every months or so visits peak at several dozen.
Notice at the end the back-and-forth between readers and me.
If you want to create a site, I suggest you use WordPress. It's free and flexible enough to tailor to suit your needs and likes. I chose to set up mine as a combination blog and regular site. The blog part has changeable stuff like announcements of new chapters. The regular part contains the more static stuff, like the actual chapters.
Here's how the home page looks.
(It's bad practice to put the static stuff in the blog part. You want to keep the blog short so it's easier for people to scroll back a few days and weeks to see announcements they missed.)
July 2nd, 2012, 12:27 PM
We Read for Light
This is good advice. I went another route with other software, and the lack of easy interactivity has been a drag on communication. (Turns out, as self publishers, we are in the communication biz from many angles)
Originally Posted by Laer Carroll
July 2nd, 2012, 08:44 PM
I was thinking that there may be a market for short "chapters", ones that take about half an hour to read. The market would be mass-transit commuters; something to read on their commute. Of course, you would have to publish 5 chapters a week, so unless you're a prodigious writer, this wouldn't be for you.
July 5th, 2012, 06:53 PM
Last edited by Laer Carroll; July 5th, 2012 at 06:55 PM.
July 5th, 2012, 06:54 PM
Here's someone who's posting his novel on his (WordPress!) web site. Notice how he's interpolating colored comments in the text. Giving, for instance, an alternative passage or idea on how to write a paragraph or scene. Or giving links to relevant material.
Not the way I'd do it. But it serves one of HIS needs on HIS web site. I expect to see all sorts of variations on this "post stuff as you write it" approach.
July 8th, 2012, 09:19 AM
Riyria Revelations Author
I wish you well, but I'm not sure you'll be successful.
We live in a very ADD, "want it now" society and people will not be interested in a chapter a month...heck most will forget what happened in the last episode because they have read 10 full length books between your chapters.
Many people have "tried" this and I've seen no successes as of yet. But hope you will be the one that "makes it".