One of my favorite authors, and definitely my favorite client (but don't tell him I said that), Tony Healey, sent this to me a while back. Since he and I are possibly collaborating on a serialized novel this year, I thought it appropriate that I should finally share it with you, my fearless readers.
Also, I love to tease you all and figure I'd hold off on the shoulder strap tutorial for my latest handbag pattern until next week. That gives you plenty of time to finish the body of the bag before we get started with the strap.
So, here's Tony sharing some of what he's learned about publishing throughout 2013:
The Far From Home series was about twelve months work, writing one part at a time. I'd read about Hugh Howey doing it with his Wool series, and how it'd caught people's imagination. Being new to this writing lark, I really didn't think I'd be able to write a 50,000 word novel to begin with. Now I could, but not back then. So I chose to write the parts between 10 and 20,000 words each. A reasonable amount of work to do in a month – though now my output is about 40,000 a month.
It was slow going. Tedious. I found I got half way through, reached number six, and didn't want to carry on. Why had I said it would be twelve installments?
But I soldiered on, found my mojo again and finished it up. And you know what? It was a resounding success. Each part was a best-selling title. Aided by the fact that Part 1: Legend was made permanently free by Amazon, the series sold in droves.
Some people took umbrage to the fact they had to buy all twelve installments individually, but on the whole readers were receptive and supportive of what I was trying to do.
So should you try it?
I'd advise caution.
Firstly, yes, serializing your work is a great idea. What better way to build an audience (and necessary experience publishing on Amazon) than to do so over a twelve month period? That slow build, that gradual creation of a large piece of work seems like an uphill struggle at the time. But once you're there, you really discover you've achieved something. Not only have you written a long work of fiction, you've gained readers along the way. People emailed me, wrote messages on my site and twitter on a daily basis to tell me they liked Far From Home.
They still do.
But this leads to me second point. It's hard work. It takes discipline. You can't let them down. Once they start buying the first couple, readers expect to see it finished. And you owe them that. You're the storyteller. You can't take their hard earned cash with one hand and wave goodbye with the other.
See it through. As I said above, there was a point where I got disheartened. I didn't want to carry on. But I did. It was the only thing I could do (and the best thing I could do).
There's the financial consideration, too. You'll be making money as you're writing it. Who else gets to write a long novel and get paid by the chapter these days? Nobody. The whole year I was writing Far From Home, I made a steady income (that increased as each part was released).
Do I think you should write a novel first, then serialize it? No. Why would you want to? The whole idea is to write it as you go, bit by bit. I don't think it's fair on a reader to write the work first, then split it into chunks purely for financial benefit. Some reviewers accused me of just that. They didn't realize I was actually writing it as I went. I had a rough outline for each part and a list of characters. That's it.
However, I would recommend writing them a little in advance. Make sure you are a month ahead of where you need to be so that if you fall ill, or something else comes up, you don't let your readership down.
Have a site, let people know what's coming. Get readers involved in reading the parts before they come out. I wrote many of my readers into the series as characters. Designed catchy, branded covers that tell people in once glance what they are. As my pal Bernard says in his manifesto for independent authors, "Provide excellent value for fair cost."
What he means by that is give people a good deal. I published twelve installments of Far From Home at $0.99c each. When I finished the first three, I packaged them together and offered it for $1.99. I did the same with parts four, five and six. It was my way of providing a cheaper alternative as they read the series. When I had completed all twelve, I unpublished the first two volumes as they were no longer needed. I then put all twelve together as Far From Home: The Complete Series and priced it at $2.99. So to me, that's a saving to the reader of $9.
It would've cost them $12 to buy the whole thing. Now they can get it for a scratch under $3. About the same as a cup of coffee.
So in short, here is my advice if you'd like to try your hand at writing and publishing a work of serial fiction.
1. Write as you go, and make each part no less than 10,000 words to provide value for money. $0.99 for 10,000 words works out at about a penny a page. I think that's fair.
2. Realize this isn't a ride you can stop once you get on. You're on for the duration, so buckle up. Don't short change people. Be resilient. Stay the course. If you've told people it's going to be in six parts, then you'd better deliver six parts that rock their socks off.
3. Experiment. I tried new things throughout Far From Home. Some of it worked, some of it didn't. I'm a better writer now than when I started with part 1; that's for sure. You learn the trade as you go. Stir things up, and always leave the reader hanging. I tried to leave things on a cliffhanger when I could, though I wasn't always able to. Carefully craft your ending so that people want to find out what's coming next.
4. Use bold, simplistic covers that communicate what the serial is. Have a brand. Have a look you've decided on, and stick with it. If the covers don't look like members of the same family, readers will find it hard picking them out of the crowd. Presentation is 99.9% of the sale. A book may not be judged by its cover, but I believe it is sold by it. Without a good cover, you're dead in the water.
5. Do not write the serial first, you're cheating the reader. And you're cheating yourself in the long run. It's a unique experience. Embrace it. Let it do it's thing.
6. Offer each part at the cheapest price possible, then when it's all complete give readers a huge discount. Remember that having an audience of people actually reading your work is more important (always) than making the maximum profit. Let everyone know you're not there to rip people off. You're there to write, and have what you've written be read and enjoyed. Don't be greedy and deny yourself the joy of having people appreciate your work and the effort it took to create it.
These are the pros and cons of serializing. In short, I believe everyone who writes should have a go. But always finish what you started. And know that it's a headache once you're doing it – though the end result is worth it. Follow my points and you won't go wrong. Be consistent, be professional, be a writer who values his or her readership, and you'll be fine.
If you're the opposite of those things, don't even attempt a serial. You're not dead in the water, you've not even left the dock yet.
Tony's latest project, whose official launch is today, is Edge of Oblivion, an anthology to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
Listen to podcast interviews conducted by contributor and author, David Hulegaard, here: http://bit.ly/1dmltXh