book promotion, reading

Serials: The Little Engine That Could?

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Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo, won’t you choo-choo me home!

Curtis says: “I have written a book that nobody needs. But that’s not just the case of One Green Bottle – you could say it of practically any book that’s published.”

Atthys says: Agents … “didn’t see the potential for the kind of commercial success that would’ve made it worth their time and effort. The bottom line really is the bottom line.”

Serials may be a viable alternative path to publication. Slow and steady wins the race, remember? No stone unturned, I promised that, to you and to myself, a while back.

I’m going to look into it.

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Here’s Yael Goldstein Love (of Plympton Publishing) on serialization: (some of this is paraphrased/condensed)

* A serialized novel is a novel delivered to readers in installments over time. Each installment is a satisfying read in itself, but it also leaves you wanting more. Any good serialized novel also reads well as an all-at-once book, whereas the reverse is not true. A slow, lyrical novel, for instance, might make a bad serial. I say ‘might’ because you never know what other charms this book might have. Maybe each chapter is a perfect gem you want to savor.

Charles Dickens was THE famous early serialist, with The Pickwick Papers. Pretty soon, and for much of the 19th century, it was rare for a novel to be published as a book without first appearing as a serial. Most of the great (and not so great) 19th century novelists needed that money to survive, before their full book made its way into stores.

* Time-wise, and cost-wise, a serial has obvious advantages (for a reader) over a full novel. The stakes are much lower. Don’t like the first installment? Don’t get the second.

* The rhythm of the thing: Monthly doesn’t seem to work. A month might as well be a decade as far as serial reading goes. You lose the thread, maybe have to start over. But is weekly ideal? Daily? Release everything at once and let the reader choose the pace? Yael says that works for the library of classics on Plympton’s companion site DailyLit. She doesn’t have an answer for original fiction.

Serials are something of a natural for us today. TV shows with a running narrative have trained us to expect our stories to arrive in bite-size chunks, and there’s real delight to the cliffhanger.

* Serialization may work best as a marketing device—to build buzz before a book is released. This means the format becomes, in part, a gimmick. But, historically, serials have changed thinking, and may do so again.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published as one complete book, wouldn’t have had the effect that it had on thousands of white readers. It would have been easier to read it, put it aside, and forget the uncomfortable fact that something horrific was happening in this country. Instead, readers had to sit with it for months, thinking and wondering as they went about their lives. That made it a lot harder to forget those uncomfortable facts. I mention this mainly because I think it highlights just how much depth and richness the serial experience can add. It’s the furthest thing from a gimmick; it’s an art form.

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Entertainment choices were once severely limited. Serialized fiction filled a real need. A popular author under contract was an asset, giving a newspaper an edge over rivals. It was no second-rate way of publishing, it gained you a wider audience than you would have had, and it paid, perhaps not handsomely, but dependably.

Online outlets have proliferated, but there is an admission process, and there are rules. We’re back to a situation in which we deal with a gatekeeper. Some spots are difficult to join, some less so. On those easier to infiltrate, the quality may be less. A few lemons and a reader may move on. There are pastures and pastures, some greener than others.

A handful of sites pay, most do not. The major gain is exposure. You’ll have to fight for it, like anywhere else and, to quote Ringo, it don’t come easy. There’s massive competition.

Plympton is a major player. It’s gotten some great press. I read about them on Salon. (Kindle and Amazon are the biggies, but Plympton is a well-known boutique site.) They handle some big names, and they take on unknowns. But I went to the website and found: No new submissions accepted at this time due to submission overload. I have no idea, as yet, how common this is.

You can go it alone, some do. But you have to promote just as relentlessly as you would for a book. And punchy episodic chapters that hang together as a whole are essential.

Punchy. We’re back to a formula. A few thousand words of fast-paced shenanigans, wrap it up with a hook that entices folks to look forward to the next bit of business. My dense, ambling style may not pair well with the format.

It is easy to believe, and it may well be true, that serials lead to repeat customers and enhanced customer retention. Some sites allow for reader participation. Authors generally welcome the back and forth, saying it gets a reader onboard like nothing else.

The form is appealing on both sides of the equation. An intriguing novelty, a short, self-contained story, read it on your lunch break. The structure lends itself to a test drive for reader and author alike. I expect that readers settle on a favorite one or two sites after a broader try-out.

With an eye-catching title, you may have a better than average chance of being noticed in a table of contents. It’s a form of market research. You may build a committed fan base before you vault onto Amazon, followers who may be Johnnie-On-The-Spot with a review when that time comes.

May-may-may. I’m constructing my castles in the air before I’ve ever set foot into a serial site. BTW, I read that some of them are loath to give out figures on traffic, hobbling an accurate evaluation of prospects. Choose wisely.

Hugh Howey created a serial without meaning to. His initial petite version of Wool proved so popular, readers demanding more and more from him, that he spun it out to a full-length novel. The rest is publishing history.

His story was so successful that he’s the first author ever to negotiate a contract allowing him retention of digital rights. He’s got his big book deal, and he keeps the full proceeds from online sales. Full earnings, not whatever percentage your liege-lord thinks good and proper. They had to do it. Hugh wouldn’t have signed otherwise. He’s making too much money on his own. How’s that for an inspiration?

Check out Tuesday Serial, which offers . . . whoa! . . . one-hundred-twenty-seven pages of listings. I’ll dig deeper into that next time.

 

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reading

The Channillo Challenge

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Nicholas Nickleby, published as a serial in 1838-39

I’ve finished my gig with Channillo. 52 piece of WaLWaD, starting with Calliope, who kicked off the series on June 1st a year ago. You won’t have heard of it – WaLWaD, I mean, not Channillo. But if you haven’t heard of Channillo either, it is, to quote their site, ‘a subscription-based digital publishing platform that allows writers to share their work with readers in regular installments.’ In other words, (most of the time) serialized fiction.

Now we’ve had some discussion about this here on the site, thanks to GD’s serial Bob Versus the Aliens (which is, incidentally, as zany and entertaining as the title implies). So how does it work on Channillo? The main point is that readers actually pay to read. Yes, you read that right. Strange as it may sound, such readers exist! The cheapest option is $4.99/month, which gives you from one to ten series of your choice. Might as well go for the whole ten, right? In which case, it’s not a bad deal – you just have to find the time to read them. You’ll be spoilt for choice – at least 400 titles in a broad range of genres, from historical to paranormal, but also including nonfiction and poetry. And for writers it’s not bad either – 80% of the royalties, with the first payment made when $50 is reached.

So where’s the catch? Well, that brings me back to WaLWaD – What a Life! What a Day! The reason you haven’t heard of it is that I didn’t promote it. I did a few tweets at the start but they soon fizzled out. Oh, and a blog post back in January. That was it. My apathy had a number of reasons. Firstly, WaLWaD is humour, totally different from my books, which are mystery. So I wasn’t sure that promoting it would be of much use for the books, which are challenging enough to promote already. But more importantly, though I’m pleased enough overall, some of the pieces were pretty close to first drafts, penned in haste on a Sunday evening to meet the Monday deadline. Would readers notice? I don’t know. But I wasn’t too happy promoting material I knew could be better.

As for my earnings, well, put it this way: that first payment is still up ahead in the distance. Which is a shame because it’s not for me but the Against Malaria Foundation. That’s one of the options – you can pass on the royalties to a charity of your choice. Will I get there one day? Let’s be optimistic – yes! And the quicker the better – fewer people will die of malaria in the meantime. You see what I did in that last sentence? Hint, hint. And because the series is completed, you could sign up for just a month and get the whole lot in one go. Crafty, eh?

So yes, you have to promote. And I’m not the only one who didn’t do enough of that. After seventeen weeks of posting a chapter each Sunday, I went from having four subscribers to two. I asked for analytics of how many people visited the site, clicked on my chapter descriptions, etc, but was told they wouldn’t make that available. So writes Philip Carroll, who took his serial down and put it on his blog instead.

So is this another blog post about something that doesn’t work? It would be unfair to leave you with that impression. So I approached a couple of other writers, rather more active than I am, to see if they could report more success. My sincere thanks to Bill McStowe and Chris Waltz for answering my questions.

Bill McStowe, author of the humour series Uncharted.

How actively do you promote your series and where?

I’m active on Twitter and try to draw attention to my series at least once a day. You can find me @BillMcStowe. I also promote Channillo itself and some of the other writers. Similarly, there are writers who help promote my work.

 How positively would you rate Channillo overall?

 It has been a positive experience for me, but I am aware that this is not the case for everyone. Some very talented writers have left the site and I miss reading their work.

Channillo has given me the opportunity to reach more readers. I like that. A lot of the readers on the site are Channillo authors, but I see a consistent effort to draw an outside audience. We’re asking people to pay for a subscription for the right to read when there are thousands of sites out there with free material. That’s a tall order.

 Would you say it has driven interest towards your writing in general i.e. beyond the Channillo series in particular?

No, I can’t say that. I’d like to believe it, but I’m not sure it’s true. Actually, I haven’t done much other writing since my series began. Spending hours a week meeting a self-imposed deadline has left me little room to do much else. This weekend, though, I’m making time to cut my toenails.

Chris Waltz, author of the horror-comedy series, Hellbound.

Generally, I promote my Channillo series through Facebook and Twitter. I’m a part of several writer and reader groups who are fairly supportive. Twitter has been my best avenue, because other Channillo writers tend to share the posts with their followers as well. As far as popularity goes, I have to say I’m not 100% sure how popular my series is on the website, but I know it has garnered some popularity as far as new followers and social media interactions outside of the Channillo site.

I never had plans of getting rich or famous from my Channillo series, and I haven’t, but I have been pleased with the number of people it has gotten my name to as a writer. It’s also something I feel comfortable using as a resume builder of sorts, because I was approached to write the series and it was the first writing project I began that wasn’t self-published. Since then, I have had several short stories published in more well-known publications. I have a second Channillo series debuting in a couple of months, and I am generally happy with my experience.

So yes, there are happy authors on Channillo, which I continue to believe is a highly commendable initiative. You can read a fuller review of Channillo here. And while we’re on the topic of serialisation, stay tuned to this site for an upcoming set of posts about it by Mimi Speike. Also, don’t forget to check out Bob Versus the Aliens, as well as the excellent serial Voyage of the Ballyhoo, posted on his website by Atthys Gage. Though Atthys is our resident maven of gloom, you’ll see that anyone who can spin such a yarn has nothing to be gloomy about.

As for me? Call me crazy if you like, but I’m planning another series for Channillo. Those damned mozzies, you understand.

Are you running a series on your own blog? If so, let me know in the comments – I’d be glad to go on over and take a look.

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