let’s talk serials

One of my goals for this year is to Try New Things. Not only does it mean writing out of the box, but it also means trying new ways of reaching readers with my stories.

Such as web serialization.

Now, I’m not a big reader of serialized fiction, which has a lot to do with not liking to read fiction on a computer screen. Last year, though, I got into Lisa Ahn’s wonderful flash-fiction-sized Wing-Feather Fables and Liana Mir’s short-shorts and her serial, City of Glass.

And then I came across M. C. A. Hogarth’s work, including her serialized fiction (and the Three Michas, cartoon jaguars that explain art business principles), and Wattpad–and had an epiphany.

Hey, not everyone is like me! Some people actually like reading stories online, in small doses spread over many months!

(I wonder if these are the same people who also like listening to audio books, something else that I haven’t been able to get into).

So, here’s want I want to do. I have this awesome (well, yes, I think it’s awesome) novel called Quartz. You may have heard me talk about it a million times, or two. It’s kind of steampunk, a bit of science fiction, a lot of fantasy–and all adventure.

Here’s the blurb (culled from 15 single-spaced pages of a document entitled Quartz Query):

Rafe Grenfeld, Oakhaven diplomat and spy, has problems: his embassy’s been arrested, he’s trapped in the hostile totalitarian state of Blackstone, and he’s just learned of the discovery of a massive pillar of quartz from an informer who died before revealing its location.

Once, quartz powered magical devices, but the mages who created them are long gone. Now, desperate states vie for rare veins of quartz that provide light and heat, and mean the difference between starvation and survival. Determined to return home with the news, Rafe forms an uneasy alliance with Isabella, a demon slayer with undisclosed loyalties.

Riven with internal strife and facing war with Blackstone, Oakhaven is not willing to pursue a rumor. It’s up to Rafe to find the quartz he believes is vital to his people, even if it means defying orders and collaborating with the mysterious and maddening Isabella. Unfortunately, they have competition: Karzov, chief of Blackstone’s secret police and architect of a plan to resurrect magical weaponry, is also hunting for the quartz—and he has help. But it’s not enough for Rafe to dodge mind-destroying demons and allies-turned-enemies. He must also overcome his quartz-induced disability—the one that leaves him writhing in agony—and tap into powers long thought lost, before his world is torn apart by famine and war.

And I’d like to serialize this, right here.

But, Rabia, you might be thinking–why not just self-publish Quartz, like you did Mourning Cloak and Rainbird and Shattered?

Good question. And in no particular order, here are my thoughts:

  • I’ve never serialized before (except for that one time, with Wired). No time like the present to try.
  • I haven’t self-published anything longer than Rainbird, which topped out at less than 32K words. Quartz is 101K words and I’m intimidated by the idea of self-publishing it. The line-editing and the proofreading passes are a lot of work. I’d rather spread them out over the many months of serialization than do it all in one go. It’s the whole how-to-eat-an-elephant thing: one bite at a time.
  • I want to bring readers to a place that is unquestionably mine–my website. Right now I’m selling through e-tailers, which means I don’t have direct access to my readers. I hear rumblings that Amazon might–bad move!–take away the 70% royalty rate unless you enroll in KDP Select. Therefore, I want to have lots of little baskets for my eggs, to make sure that all my readers–and income–aren’t coming through one channel.

So, how are you planning on this serial thing working out?

Well, so far the tentative plan is–I’m still working out the kinks of this–following a model similar to Hogarth’s (hey, I’m teachable).

  • I would post a scene (less than 2K words) once a week, probably on Tuesdays.
  • If I get enough donations ($5? $10?), they would pay for an extra episode per week, probably on a Saturday. What this means is that if you like the story, you can pay to read it faster. Without donations, the story will continue to run at its weekly pace.
  • The money I get for Quartz will go towards paying for cover art for the ebook. If I get more than that, I’ll hire a copyeditor/proofreader (oh, yes, please! My eyeballs are still bleeding from the 354 rounds with Mourning Cloak). And if I seriously overfund (along with getting my own pony, a castle made of candy, and rainbow kittens), I’ll pay myself.
  • Anyone who donates to the serial will get an ebook version for free, and their name–if they choose–in the Acknowledgements.

So, what do you think? Would you read serialized novels? Any tweaks you’d suggest to this system? Comment away!

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  1. Rachel says

    I really enjoy your blog, and I’m finally buying one of your books (Mourning Cloak)! I think it’s fantastic that you’re self-publishing so purposefully, and aggressively marketing on your site. Like you said, I have also been writing in fear for a very long time – resulting in countless unfinished projects. Your resolutions have inspired me to make a few of my own. I’m really getting tired of not ‘being a writer’. :) Also, I think those who enjoy reading serialized web-based fiction are probably in the same category as those who enjoy fanfiction. Or the types who would have read Charles Dickens in the magazines way back when.

    • Rabia says

      Hi, Rachel,

      I’m so glad that my blog has been an encouragement to you! Feel free to use my contact form if you have any other questions for me. Many of us writers struggle with fear, and it can creep up in the most unexpected ways, even after you think you’ve finally squished it.

      I agree fan-fiction readers are certainly more used to reading serials online, helped in part by the community aspect. I have a friend who has more experience than I do in that sphere. I hope she’ll chime in!

      Thank you for buying Mourning Cloak! I really appreciate it.

  2. says

    Brilliant way to launch a serial and a book I want to read! :grins: I wish I’d thought of setting up like this when I tried serializing initially. Ah, well. Live and learn, and I’ll get back into longer fiction eventually. Off to go tweet this.

    • Rabia says

      Oh, hello! I was hoping you’d come by and talk about serializing, Liana! Since you read more web-based fiction (including serials) than I do, I wonder if you give some tips about what works–and doesn’t work–for you as a reader?

      I’m trying to look at this endeavor with my Reader Hat on, which is difficult, because my Inner Reader would like the entire book right now on her Kindle, with several spare hours to read the whole thing, and no nattering about the book from others, please, until she’s done. *wry*

      • says

        Hmm. The best thing to say is Rachel’s right. I got trained by fanfic, so let’s start off with this concept: chaptered fiction and one-shots. It’s not at all the same way of dividing fiction in your head as short stories and flash fiction and novels. It’s how many discrete parts are used to tell the story.

        There are also different kinds of readers. I hate, as in absolutely loathe, story reminders at the beginning of each chapter or previews at the end. It mixes up what’s in each chapter. Some readers like single-scene installments, most like sizeable ones. I haven’t figured out why so many people think 500–800 words is normal or desirable, though I hear it is with original fiction. I always aimed for 1200+ and everybody was thrilled when they got a 4000+ update out of me. Most fanfic writers go for 2K or 3K+ per chapter if it’s a novella/novel length work. Shorter chaptered fics, like four-shots, smaller is fine.

        As for content type, remember to keep up story threads and either make each installment/chapter about one thread and rotate often enough to keep things in people’s heads OR use multiple scenes and try to mention, refer to, or imply most or all story threads in each installment. At least, that works best for me as a reader.

        When it comes to original fiction, straight novel-type chronology with little in the way of reminder seems to be common. I’m good at holding details in my head, so I don’t always mind that way of doing it, but if you pick that method, make sure every installment has a payoff and a bit of an arc. It doesn’t have to stand alone.

        Those are my initial thoughts. I’m pretty easy. Some readers are much harder to please.

        • Rabia says

          Thanks so much, Liana! This really helps. So, people are willing to go for longer–which might work for me since my scenes tend to be 1K+.

          Also, as a reader, how have you gone about finding original serial fiction to read? I have readers who like my SF&F work, I’m not sure if they like serial fiction, though!

          • says

            Most do the directory listings route: Wattpad, Muse’s Success, Top Web Fiction, Web Fiction Guide, Tuesday Serial, etc. I find writers I like and stuff they write that I like, then stuff that they read that I like, and pretty much stick to internet word of mouth. I’ve never found a serial I wanted to keep up with through a listing, though I have found them through blog posts and guest posts about web serializing, then reading what that author wrote.

            So, first thought. Maybe write up a guest post about serializing short fiction, “Wired,” and submit it to Tuesday Serial. That’s how I discovered Tales of the Big Bad Wolf: The Red Riding Hood Arc, a favorite.

          • Rabia says

            Okay, I had NO idea that these sorts of sites even existed! You’ve given me a lot of resources to explore. Many thanks!

  3. says

    I don’t really read serialised fiction, but I can see the appeal in writing it. Would you have plans to release it as a full ebook once it is all out there?

  4. Tami Clayton says

    What an interesting idea! I haven’t read any serialized stories on line but I would certainly read yours! (Two of your books are very close to the top of my TBR pile on my kindle and I’m very much looking forward to reading them.) You seem to have thought this through and have a solid plan. Best of luck with it! :)

  5. Rachel says

    The nice thing about serial/fan fiction, is that you can get feedback from readers as you’re going along. I remember a piece I wrote, just as an exercise, was meant to be a one-shot, but all the comments I got were asking about what happened next, so I went ahead and wrote more! It completely changed what I had set out to do and carried the writing exercise a lot farther than I had intended, which was a challenge. It’s also a nice way to relax and recharge, creatively. Whenever I’ve got writer’s block but want to put words on a page, I tend to write a bit of fan fiction, just for the heck of it. The characters and basic premise already exist, so it gets the juices flowing with little work and no risk, and gives me some of my confidence back. And for someone who tends to start writing projects and not finish them, the serial format is a lot more accomplishablel Maybe I should do that with a non-fanfiction idea, see how it turns out. Hmm…

    • Rabia says

      For *true* serial fiction, I would write and publish in installments. However, since I don’t trust myself to write that fast–and keep all the story threads together–I’m going to serialize an already-written and well-polished novel. But reader feedback will definitely be helpful and much appreciated!

  6. says

    I hate reading on the laptop so I would probably print the pages as a pdf using print friendly and transfer them to my kobo reader. I wonder if there is a service you could employ that might do that automatically though?

    • Rabia says

      One of my friends has a Convert to PDF option on her blog posts. I’m sure I can find a WordPress plugin for that.

      Good point!

  7. says

    I love this idea. I first found your site when you serialized Wired. Since then, I’ve become a devoted fan. (Thank you so much for the shout-out to Wing-Feather Fables, too!). I would probably read at the regular pace (1 section per week) but I would definitely contribute in order to (1) support one of my favorite writers, (2) get a copy of the ebook at the end. Hope that helps in your decision! Looking forward to reading. :)

    • Rabia says

      Hi, Lisa! Thanks for stating what brought you to this blog. I don’t remember how we connected, but I know Twitter and Wing-Feather Fables and blog comments had something to do with it. 😀

      Thanks for your thoughts!

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