Should You Serialize a Novel on Kindle?


By

My Memories of a Future Life

Today’s guest post is by Roz Morris.


Last month I released my literary novel as four episodes on Kindle: 100,000 words, in chunks of 25,000 words, at 99 cents a time. Why?

Like many writers who enjoy blogging, my platform is a writing advice blog, Nail Your Novel. That was perfect when I was releasing my writing book by the same name, but my fiction wouldn’t necessarily appeal to those readers.

Also, it’s easy to sell a book you feel might be useful to people. No one, frankly, needs a novel. You have to hope they like the look of it when they’re in the mood to amuse themselves with a yarn.

So my biggest problem was tempting readers without making the novel a throwaway price.

The book

My Memories of a Future Life is an eerie twist on reincarnation stories, where a trauma in a past life haunts a character in this one. My narrator is a concert pianist with a career-threatening injury who gets involved with fringe healers offering miracle cures.

Editors said it reminded them of The Time Traveler’s Wife, but they asked me to make it more conventional, like a time-bending murder mystery. However, I wanted to explore deeper questions and take the story in unexpected directions. Going indie was the obvious choice.

I talked it over with my agent. Do it, he said. “And while you’re at it, let us know how the experiment goes because we’re looking into models for e-publishing too.”

With such a mandate, I set forth on my adventure. And here’s how it went.

What reader reception was like

Readers definitely tried my book who wouldn’t have otherwise. Typical reviews went like this:

I normally read crime, or fantasy, or historical or thrillers but I really enjoyed this.

I don’t usually like literary fiction, but this is a proper story.

I’d never have thought I’d enjoy reading about a concert pianist living in London with a gay flatmate but I was hooked.

Launching in parts brought faster feedback. Reviews were appearing on Amazon after a couple of days as people got to the end of episode 1.

There was more buzz on Facebook and Twitter, with people getting excited about the next episode. I had a theoretical hope that it might built a great sense of community among core readers, like fans of the TV series Lost. As well as talking to each other, they talked to me.

Once I’d released part 3, they were chewing through the e-mail wires trying to persuade me to give them the last part immediately. I don’t think I’d have had that kind of engagement if I’d put the book out as one conventional volume. It gave me many excuses to keep the book on readers’ radar.

How I marketed the series via social media

In all, I did 4 launches for the one book. The first episode was well attended and the others less so, but announcements went into people’s inboxes and kept the book in people’s awareness even if they said no or ignored it.

Advertising is all about opportunities to get your product seen, and although we filter out what we don’t want, a sustained campaign stays in people’s peripheral vision. Eventually, if they’re interested, they’ll look at your book properly. And they did—new people bought episode 1 throughout the campaign and a few still are. It allowed me to keep the campaign fresh. We’ve all seen the tweeters who send out the same message week in, week out. Launching 4 times gave me more natural ways to offer new material.

How I used Amazon to best advantage

Having 4 episodes means I could put it in 8 different categories in the Kindle store. Some Amazon customers browse by category. If you put your book in general fiction or literary fiction it is much less likely to be seen against the books with massive marketing power, but in a niche category you can chart with modest sales—which means you get featured.

The genre flexibility that scared traditional publishers qualified it for at least eight categories in the Kindle store. Having 4 editions meant I could put it in all of them. I charted in suspense, music, metaphysical fiction, reincarnation, contemporary fantasy, medical fiction, women’s fiction—and in many cases made the top 10. Then, when I put up the whole book, I used that as market research to choose the best categories.

Other marketing opportunities

The uniqueness of my launch made me new friends in the industry. When I announced I would serialise my novel, I had an email from a small publisher who told me they’d been hatching the same idea. Not only had I pipped them to the post, my blog articles about methodology had solved some problems for them! So we clubbed together and issued a press release to the industry, allowing us both to bask in a little publicity. I’m not sure if this had any effect on my sales, but it never hurts to make another friend in publishing.

What didn’t go so well

  1. Asking people to buy four times instead of one is risky. My agent was very skeptical about this. I felt that because I’m in direct contact with my launch audience—unlike authors of books that are conventionally published—this meant I was able to keep the relationship going with them. Certainly, uptake of episode 2 isn’t as high as 1, although it’s climbing. This looked depressing to start with, but is probably because buyers hadn’t gotten around to reading number 1. Some people have bought 1 and 2 together. However, uptake from episode 3 to 4 was almost instantly 100 percent—a great endorsement.
  2. Several people told me the cheapness put them off, because they associated it with amateur genre fiction. To some people, a higher price means quality. To others, it’s a rip-off. But no one can answer the question of what the right price is—everyone’s got their own ideas.
  3. The four-part format clutters the Kindle display. I buy my Kindle books from a PC, so I didn’t appreciate this, but when I looked at my listings on the Kindle itself I realized it was confusing to see lots of titles that look roughly the same. Some readers urged me to get the whole book out as soon as possible—which I have now done.
  4. There is huge potential for readers to misunderstand. As it’s a new idea, I had to be pedantically clear in my Amazon listing that each part was not a whole book. No one got confused, thankfully, but I lived in dread of a snarky review from someone who thought the book was rubbish because they read part 3 before any other parts.
  5. Some people were put off by the episode format. They saw it as a marketing gimmick, which, understandably, irritated them. One Amazon reviewer knocked a star off my rating because I’d messed with his reading experience. But he did concede he had tweeted and blogged about the book far more often than he would ever have if it had been launched as one volume.
  6. Releasing four times is a lot more work. Each launch had an exhausting amount of admin time: websites to update, links to hunt down, invitations to send, replies to e-mail.
  7. The book itself needed a little adapting to work as a four-parter. Although the structure allowed it to split easily enough (and I wrote a post on it here), I had to be aware of what would be offered as the sample at the beginning of each episode. Those first chapters had to work doubly hard to pull the reader back in after a gap when they might be cooling off.

The bottom line: What were sales like?

Here I’m going to get coy and not reveal actual figures. Several reasons: a good sales figure for me might be paltry to you, or the other way round. Also this book is newborn; all books take time to find their feet. And fiction probably takes even longer than nonfiction.

The most accurate comparison is with my writing book, Nail Your Novel, which I released six months ago. My platform has grown since then, but is the same demographic of readers. They were perfectly suited to Nail Your Novel, should they be inclined to buy a book on writing. They were not necessarily the target audience for My Memories of a Future Life.

Taking that into consideration, my launch was a great success. In this first month I’ve sold more copies of My Memories of a Future Life (episode 1) than I sold of Nail Your Novel in its first month. People who bought episode 1 are coming back for the others, or going straight for the paperback, or tweeting about how they haven’t had time to read very far but are still enjoying it.

In marketing parlance that probably means the book has a tribe—arguably a more active one than would be possible with a one-off launch. Whatever we call it, we all had a lot of fun, which can’t be bad. My Memories of a Future Life is now available in full, undivided form on Kindle (US and UK) and also in glorious, doormat-thumping print. The price of the individual episodes will stay at the launch offer of 99 cents until October 15, and will then go to their full price of $2.99 (U.S.). They’ll always be available, but if you want to get them at the launch price, visiti Amazon now. You can also listen to or download a free audio of the first 4 chapters right here.

 

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Roz Morris

About Roz Morris

Roz Morris lives in London. You’ll have seen her books on the bestseller lists but not under her name because she ghostwrote them for other people. She is now coming into the daylight with novels of her own. Her first is My Memories of a Future Life and her next, Life Form Three, will be released in winter 2013. She is also the author of two writing books—Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books< and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence and has just released Nail Your Novel: Bring Characters to Life. Find her on her Amazon author page, her blog and on Twitter at @ByRozMorris and @NailYourNovel.

  • JJ Toner

    1. Can you tell us how much you had to add to the beginning of parts 2-4 to enable the reader to make sense of each part (assuming they hadn’t read the earlier parts)? Or did you not bother? Perhaps you simply summarized the story so far?
    2. Was it necessary to re-introduce the (main and other) characters in each part?
    3. What about the structure of each part? Did each part follow the 3-act structure in microcosm?
    4. Does each part work as a stand-alone narrative? Do you think this is necessary?

    I have thought about chopping one of my books into 3 parts, but I thought I would have to make each part stand as a narrative on its own, and found that prospect daunting. My book is 106,000 words, probably too long for an eBook. For my taste, somewhere between 37,000 and 60,000 is plenty long enough for a kindle book.

  • JJ Toner

    Sorry, Jane. I’ve just realized this was a guest blog. Could you forward my questions to Roz. Thanks. JJ

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed_Cyzewski

    Thanks for sharing your insights Roz. I think e-books are tough to release like a traditionally published book, so I really appreciate your insights and lessons here. This may be one of the main ways that authors can make it as price expectations plunge for e-books.

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Hi JJ – good questions
    1 – I didn’t add anything, I didn’t summarise in a ‘previously’. I wondered whether to and then decided instead to make clear in the listing that it was a partwork and trust the reader to plunge back in. Also I felt that to begin with a summary would somehow diminish the power of the events and the immersion, so decided it was better to pick up exactly where I left off so that the prose style was uninterrupted. After all, few people read an entire novel in one sitting and we’re all used to picking up the text again from where we left it. I reckoned that if the reader needed a reminder they would be able to look back over the previous episode if necessary.
    2 – Further to answer 1, no, I didn’t. In fact, it didn’t occur to me to. And no readers said they were confused or needed that.
    3 – Hmm, interesting. I hadn’t thought about that. Each episode had plenty of momentum and twists, and the general trajectory was about increasing the tension and trouble. Each episode ended in an emotional cliffhanger, where the reader would think ‘crumbs, she’s torn it now’, which would propel us into a new phase of the story. I figured it would have enough momentum to keep moving forwards.
    4 – No, I don’t think each part does work on its own. It’s not designed to. It’s an involving, intense experience, but if you joined it late the chances are you wouldn’t understand why what was happening was important. As it should be, in fact – if you could read one part without the ones that went before, the others wouldn’t be necessary. My Memories of a Future Life is most definitely one novel, chopped into four parts. 

    In conclusion, if you can split your novel in ways that will bring readers back for more, go for it. And good luck.

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Thanks, Ed. You’re right that it’s tough releasing ebooks – indeed, it’s tough releasing any books. I certainly feel that by releasing My Memories of a Future Life this way I was able to give it a good start.

  • Patricia V. Davis

    What an intriguing idea, and well documented. Best of luck with it, Roz!  Thanks for this guest post, Jane!

  • http://IrvingsJourney.com Irving Podolsky

    Thanks, Roz,

    For your thorough advice and marketing descriptions. This information is invaluable.

    I too released my first novel broken apart into a trilogy. But at over 181,000 words, it was long enough to do that, and structurally I had written it that way: as a modern but mythic journey. It also spread across multiple genres and Amazon did placed it in three. But I didn’t have anything to do with that.

    How did you influence Amazon to advertise your books across multiple genres? I didn’t know we authors had the ability to do that?

    Irv

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Hi Irving
    Bah, thought I was the first! Well done, sir.
    I placed my novel in those genres myself, when I published to Kindle and to Createspace. But if you didn’t use either of those avenues you might not have had as much control.

  • ccc

    I’m a fast reader and finished each part long before the next part was available. So between each installment, I read one or two other books; so with each restart of Memories, I’d lost the momentum and had to get myself back into it. I’ve finished Part III, but Part IV is on hold in my books-to-be-read lineup, because I’m already into a different book which I will finish in a couple of days. I might have to look back at Part III to connect again with the thread, in order to flow into Part IV without going “huh?” all the time. And I’ve been putting it off because I don’t want to do that. The only reason I ever stop and start a book is because I’m just not into it. I’m liking Memories a lot, but it doesn’t need that extra complication. I’d have preferred to read it in one sitting.

  • http://twitter.com/Later_Bloomer Elle B

    Hi Roz, I really appreciated you sharing this experience all along. I’ve been following it with much curiosity. I read your free first four chapters and loved them. Your writing is stunning and evocative. 

    But I knew, with my busy schedule, I wouldn’t keep up (with the reading) launch by launch. I downloaded the full version (despite the extra expense) and hope to get back to it next week. :)

    So for me as a reader, the release of teaser chapters definitely works.

  • Elle Strauss

    My hat’s always off to anyone willing to try something new. I’m glad it worked out for you!

  • http://danholloway.wordpress.com Dan Holloway

    This is a great book, and the serialisation is a fabulous idea.

    Did it make you nervous releasing the book when you have Nail Your Novel out there? Does that make you feel an extra pressure to deliver, and make it harder to be innovative as it may seem to go against your advice? That said, I loved the book so much I’m keen to go and read your advice

  • J. Perry Kelly

    Congratulations, Roz, for so effectively carrying out this brave step re your [personal] debut novel, and thank you for sharing your experience! Good luck! :<) James 

  • http://twitter.com/VictoriaMixon Victoria Mixon

    Wonderful to read the record of how it went all in one place like this, Roz! As one of the behind-the-scenes supporters, I know you were keeping me posting on bits and pieces as they occurred, but this really captures the essential points and makes your experiment an intriguing possibility for others. (Was it really only last spring that you first said you were playing with the idea?)

    Dickens would be proud of you, m’dear!

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Hello ccc – well, I guess you’re one of the people who didn’t like their reading experience being messed with. Apologies for that and point taken. Thanks for your positive comments!

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Thanks, Elle – delighted you like what you read, and hope the full book keeps you just as entertained!

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Hi Dan! The pressure… oh yes, I was very nervous indeed. I’d spent years talking the talk and now had to prove I could walk the walk. What’s more, I chose a launch method that required the book to prove itself, and left me nowhere to hide if it didn’t. I could seriously have ended up with egg on my face.

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    James – lovely to see you here. Thank you for all your encouragement.

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Hi Victoria! Gosh, yes, I remember the email I sent you with my daffy plan – can’t believe that was only a few months ago! Can’t believe I’ve come out the other side, come to that. Now it can have a life as a normal book.

  • CG Blake

    Roz,
    Thanks for sharing your experience. What an intriguing idea. Joe Konrath said one of the key strategies in garnering sales on Amazon is to have multiple titles out there at once. This is a way to achieve that without having to write multiple books. It strikes me that each part must have a compelling arc and narrative structure to keep readers interested. Thanks again.

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Hi CG – you’re right about having a compelling arc and structure. I learned my craft by ghostwriting thrillers so I always like to keep a story rollicking along. I made sure each episode of my novel had plenty of momentum and that each one ended on a point where the tide had turned.
    And yes, I’m aware that multiple titles gives an advantage on Amazon!

  • http://tahlianewland.com Tahlia Newland

    Ooh, I’d better get those other three installments now Roz. I’m one of those who bought the first one and haven’t read it yet. Have you got it on Smashwords yet? That makes it available to everyone world over and I won’t have to read it on my computer because my ereader is a sony.

  • Drdebra

    I wouldn’t buy a serialized novel, especially when you have to pay for it four times. 

    It also sounds like a LOT of extra work for you. I hope it payed off.

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Hi Tahlia! No, I haven’t got to grips with Smashwords yet. Partly because it’s a learning curve, although only a tiny one, but mainly because I want to wait until after 15 Oct when it’s at its eventual price. I’ve heard too many horror stories of conflict with Kindle bots if prices change.

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Fair enough, Dr. Did the price put you off or was it the faff of clicking ‘buy’ four times?
    And yes it was a lot of extra work. Would I have done as well if I’d launched conventionally? There is no way to know.
    But  it’s a publishing model that a lot of people are interested in and want to know about. I’m here on this blog talking about it, and I doubt I would be if it was just another conventional book launch.

  • Patrice Fitzgerald

    Thanks for sharing all this valuable info on your experiment!  I am fascinated by what you discovered.

    I am close to releasing a book in very small parts… short vignettes followed by a tongue-in-cheek advice column.  Each “episode” of The Frisky Chronicles will be about 4,000 words.  I’ll make the first one (at least) free, then I’m thinking of 99 cents per.  I wonder if that will fly.  I guess I’ll find out!

    The author, Frisky Dimplebuns (a nom de plume, could you tell?) is a cousin of mine.  I’m publishing The Frisky Chronicles though my electronic publishing venture, eFitzgerald.  The first one should be out next month — “Dreamboat,” followed quickly by “Stick Shift.”  In order, of course, to make them free, I have to do the Smashwords thing.  Since everyone seems to report far fewer sales there, it’s a bit annoying to take the time to do that.  Particularly since I’m publishing my own books all the time.

    So much to do (and learn) in this brave new eWorld!

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  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Frisky Chronicles… lovely title. Best of luck with your venture, Patrice.

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  • http://stevenmmoore.com Steve Moore

    Hi Roz,
    I performed a similar experiment.  I serialized a sci-fi thriller Evil Agenda on my blog (it covers a wide variety of topics)–hard to tell whether the increase in blog visitors was due to the novel or better blog posts.  LOL.  It was a challenge to get those one or two chapters posted every Saturday.  The serialized novel was more a novella, as a consequence, so I just released it in an expanded version eBook–same story, same quality, a bit more background.  We’ll see how that works out.  This solves your problem of having those multiple Kindle versions.
    All the best,
    Steve Moore

  • Michael Veason

    I am a fan of this type of release, but I’ve also been “burnt” by a very popular author who had been releasing a book that I very much enjoyed in parts and then stopped before completing. The disappointment it left me with has kept me from exploring any of his more recent work. It sounds as your four part method is a much better strategy and I enjoyed your article discussing your method of release.

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Hi Steve
    Yes, that would be another way to do it. And adding extra material is a nice idea.

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Michael, I agree that’s a betrayal of trust. I made it clear that I had all the book complete, and made a point of specifying the dates when each episode would be available. I didn’t want readers worrying that I might putter out of steam half-way through.

  • http://claudenougat.blogspot.com Claude Nougat

    Very interesting experiment – thanks for sharing it!

    So far, the commonly accepted idea has been to write series or trilogies to put up on your virtual shelf – with each book a stand-alone ( in the usual 3 act structure) with a cliffhanger at the end to entice people to read the next in the series.

    Here, you cut off you novel in episodes. To some extent, that’s not very different from a series is it? It’s like a series of mini-novels…But in the comments you mention that you don’t consciously follow the 3 act structure for each episode. Would you say your 4 episodes can be divided into 3 acts in some other way (aside from the fact that you have to increase the tension with each new episode – or else no one would be enticed to read the next…)

    Sorry to ask those questions, but as a writer I’m interested in the idea and not having read your books, I have no idea how you actually did it.

    As a marketing idea however it sounds like a resoundingly good one!

    Congrats and good luck!

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  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Thanks, Claude! I don’t think that each episode divides into 3 acts because each act is not a standalone story. It’s more like, as you say, one story serialised, and the cliffhanger points happen at these act divisions. But the tension increases throughout each episode, which is what keeps the reader (I hope) glued to the page (or it seemed to work, anyway).

  • SeptemberLynnGray

    I found this article because I was researching the same idea. I wanted to release my book in parts for more personal reasons than sales numbers. I do short pieces better than long. I believe by writing and releasing in shorter blocks, my story will be more focused and better paced. There is really no right or wrong in Indie publishing anyone. There is only what works for you. If sales are effected negatively, I’ll just delete the parts and relaunch as a whole book. Thanks for this. It helps to know someone else has found some success with this strategy.

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Thanks, September! The main point is to be absolutely clear for readers, especially as this is such a new mode of publishing. That’s why I borrowed from TV vocabulary, using terms such as ‘episodes’ – so that they would more instinctively understand what it was. Best of luck and thanks for the follow on Twitter.

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  • http://twitter.com/Wordstrumpet Charlotte R Dixon

    Thanks for sharing all this info, Roz, it’s very interesting and I’m so pleased that your books are a success for you!

  • WJ Davies

    Thanks for the great article! I’m definitely thinking about serializing. The whole thing is written, but not edited. I edited Part One, and would rather release sooner rather than later, so I’m getting Part One out this month, and then hopfully the other parts a month or two apart.

  • Stuart Taylor

    Hi Roz, I’ve read your post with interest because I’m considering serializing my children’s novel. Did you assign new isbns to the serialized episodes, or did you use the automatically generated Amazon asn numbers for each? Looking forward to some blog posts as good as this one in the future. Thanks.

  • Elaine White

    This is a great post, that’s really told me what I want to know. I have a crime/romance story, currently with 12 books in the series. I wasn’t sure whether to seriously cut out a lot of the story, to make them all a decent size for an e-book (they’re generally around 150,000 words each).
    I have toyed with making them a serial, but I’m not sure if 12 seasons is just asking too much of the reader. Each season follows the last, but you could stop at the end of any season without being left hanging.

    What do you think? Is 12 too much?

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