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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book promotion

Serialization: Part one of a series …

… exploring the ins and outs of publishing a series. I’ve been considering the idea for some time, and GD’s in-house serial has spurred me to action.

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The Perils of Pauline, the most famous of the early-cinema serials.

I’m in my snatch-and-grab mode, picking brains. I start with a quick look-see: is an article potentially useful? I don’t over-think it. One good line and I scarf up the whole to digest and boil down later. I have a file with twenty pages and I’ve only just started.

Many sites specialize in the format. The one I like best so far is Plympton Publishing, but I don’t know how hard it is to get accepted. The key, of course, is … will they take you on? Then, what size readership do they have, of what inclinations?

I haven’t delved enough to be able to answer these basic questions, but I like what I read of them. Plympton was started by two members of the Harvard Crimson, and they serialize classic fiction. (Possibly new stuff as well? Dunno, yet.) So, they may have a soft spot for a classic-feel piece (author intrusion up-the-ass, silly footnotes an additional source of delight or irritation, depending on your tolerance for suchlike) detailing the faux-historical exploits of a pivotal figure in a previously undisclosed event in Elizabethan politics … who happens to be a cat.

I’m excited by what I read. Again, it’s no silver bullet. Have your sales mechanism in shape, in case you should be eagerly sought out. (I can dream, can’t I?) For me, that means my website in full flower, all them back pages linked to a menu, discoverable. Most of the serial sites (so I understand) do not pay; think of the process as a teaser with wide exposure.

My intention is to publish my novella free-to-all on my website. Would a serial site object to a competing outlet? No problem. They can have book one, I still have books two and three to myself. Does this hobble an eventual pub-for-a-price? I don’t think so. I’ll handle it the way I’ve handled the novella.

I’ve temporarily removed a lot of juicy material to streamline a shortie. And I’ve added mucho speculation on matters that are still up in the air. Nothing I write is ever set for good and all. I revise constantly. Something in the news knocks me out, that might work for Sly? In it goes. I have no shame. I steal (hmmm … adapt) right and left.

So: does a fake sighting of the Virgin Mary ever come to pass, or do my creatures only discuss it? This is one of my favorite gimmicks for getting business in without actually getting it in.

Spoiler: Yes. The Virgin Mary visitation does transpire. It’s got to. The official from the Inquisition who shows up to vet the miracle turns out to be an old client of way-past-her-prime Buttercup (I conceived her while reading Princess Bride), a street-walker roped into the scheme. As a witness! No one actually sees the Blessed Virgin. Like at Lourdes, it’s all say-so. This situation is the answer to another problem I’ve been wrestling with. The fool is able to be blackmailed. Sly needs something done for him, and the scum-bucket is just the one, the perfect one, to do it.

Buttercup recognizes her interrogator from her glory days in a top house in Paris, where she role-played Virgin Mary for a sicko who liked to dress as a priest and pretend to bang … uh huh. C’mon, how can I not go in that direction? Too too tasty not to at least explore. (It’s not yet written.) To bypass the gotta-be-a-total-riot bit, impossible!

In my next post I will try to answer the following questions:

> What are the various forms of serialization?   > What are the advantages?   > Who has been successful at it, and how have they handled it?

Part three will be a report of my explorations. I’ll contact a few of these sites and get the low-down. Leave no stone unturned, that’s the name of this game, right?

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No Stone Unturned #1: Anybody got a kit-cat who might pose prettily in a tiny pair of boots? A photo would be great, a video even better (with a voice-over of the animal’s musings), posted to YouTube. Your cat could be the new Grumpy Cat.

Our Gang of Four is having none of it. Our guys are hopeless.

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No Stone Unturned #2: I am just now reading about a service called Thunderclap, that sends out a one-time announcement of a book’s being published. You must have a hundred people sign up on your behalf, but I guess the notice gets emailed to their entire bank of subscribers.

But!honestly, how likely am I to pay attention to an email notification for a book I’ve never heard of? Not very. Don’t we all go through the reams in our in-boxes, delete, delete, delete?

I’ll check this out also.

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What might make me open and read the email is a great title. I’ve pondered what makes me pull a book off the shelf in a store, when all I see is a spine. A book/author I’ve heard about/admire, that’ll do it. Other than that, it’s the title! A really interesting title! That reflects, hopefully, an interesting mind-set. Not another The Something-Something Saga. There’s way too much of that. Boring!

When Harry Met Sally, that was a great title. Bob vs. the Aliens, that’s another.

The thumbnails on Amazon may get my attention, but they do not get me to buy. It’s a title that tempts me to read the blurb, and/or the Look Inside.

This might be a good topic to discuss. I’ll tackle it myself, if no one else gets to it first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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