EXTRA ETHER: Serial Iterations

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press


It takes an incredible amount of effort to persuade a reader to buy your book. But what if you have to persuade the reader to buy the book six times? Or ten?

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Jason Ashlock

That’s Jason Ashlock, president of Movable Type Management, writing about serialization and Amazon’s unveiling late last week of Kindle Serials.

It may sound like a quiet bit of news, less flashy than the back-lighting and and 4G. But if you’re in the business of writing or publishing fiction, it was the most exciting part of the day.

Ashlock’s comments, Amazon’s Best News Has Nothing to Do with Devices, dropped too quietly into the Digital Book World Expert Publishing Blog.

Most of the surrounding noise did indeed trumpet the coming suite of new Kindle Fire models.

An aside on those new Kindles: Within three days, Amazon reversed ferret on the ads-only original plan, and now will offer no-advertising versions of the new Kindle Fires HD and entry-level models for a $15 opt-out fee. For more on this point, see CNET’s John P. Falcone in Amazon backtracks, will offer $15 opt-out for ads on Kindle Fire tablets.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressI appreciate the salute Ashlock is making to Kindle Serials, and I want to bullet out for you his smart points:

Amazon is continuing to open up markets for new forms of storytelling–even if they’re old forms that we’d forgotten.

  • They did it with the Kindle Singles program, which has sprinting toward 3.5 million short ebooks from a standing start.
  • They did it with Kindle Direct Publishing, which continues to surface quality storytelling from the self-publishers.
  • And now Amazon again endorses a new market, this time for the serial work.

This is clear thinking, expertly parsed, something not always available in the industry! the industry! that loves no sport better than the hurling of stones at Amazon.

In a moment, though, I’ll ask you to put aside the Amazonian component of this development, so we can consider not only the rich writerly potential to which Ashlock rightly points, but also some of the technical pitfalls and a potential literary vulnerability I think I see ahead.

  1. We first will quickly review the prime elements of Amazon’s program.
  2. Then we’ll hear from a serialization veteran, Roz Morris.
  3. Then from the data-aware Sarah Kessler.
  4. And finally, I’ll ask you to mull a potential, related concern.

1. The basics on Kindle Serials

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressWhat Amazon is releasing is an initial set of eight Kindle Serials at an introductory price of $1.99. They are:

In an especially nice touch, Amazon is offering free downloads of the serial-novel experience with Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers. Seattle is publishing these using recreated covers and original illustrations, and parceling them out in the same installments Dickens issued them. Sweet.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressFor his part, Ashlock’s agency has an acute interest in this news, which he readily concedes, although it’s not a direct connection with the Amazon project:

We’re now just a few weeks away from the launch of our virgin serial effort with St Martin’s: Jamie Brenner‘s serial novel The Gin Lovers, an inventive story set against the turbulent and glamorous backdrop of Prohibition and the rise of the jazz age.

And that’s a key reason that Ashlock and his associates are more readily up to speed on the trickiness of serial marketing issues than many others may be. He writes:

Prior to this (Amazon) announcement, you could sell serial novels, of course, but you had to sell each piece individually.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressThe Amazon apparatus suddenly changes all that, if only for those who are serializing on its program.The Bezosian engines will be roaring with serial installments for customers who have, in fact, subscribed up front, paying a fee for the whole ride of a serial.

But outside such a digitally reinforced ride across this Lake Constance of a literary format? Ashlock:

When each installment is a separate sale, there’s a lot of room to lose a reader. Wooing them back for each subsequent release, however well-timed, is a serious challenge.

We know more about this. Read on.

 

2. Roz Morris: Serial Veteran

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Roz Morris

Ashlock is echoing the apparently prescient London-based author Roz Morris, who was writing a post about her own serialization experiences when she got word of Amazon’s new effort.

You can see her scrambling at the end of her post, Serialising my novel… what to do when the show is over, to add a footer:

STOP PRESS – just as I put this post to bed, Amazon announced the Kindle Serials Programme. If you are chosen for it, it looks as though this takes a lot of the faff out of it.

But without that program under you?

Nobody knows the faff Morris has seen.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressI watched with interest, one year ago, as she experimented, more graceful under pressure than I’d have been, with the four-part serial release on Amazon of her novel My Memories of a Future Life. This is the book, as Ethernauts will know, with which Morris has been kind enough recently to sponsor the Ether. She writes:

Although serialisation was exciting as a launch pad, I’m not sure that readers appreciated being interrupted mid-stream. Some told me they wouldn’t buy until the final episode was up. Others told me they’d knocked stars off their reviews for the inconvenience of waiting.

If anything, having worked very hard to create four discrete sections from what was written as a single, unified novel — in effect, four standalone books — Morris then found herself desperately trying to get the full-volume edition ready.

I released my complete edition as quickly as I could to grab the interested readers before they decided I was making life too difficult for them.

And to this day, there are five versions of My Memories of a Future Life on Amazon, each with its own reviews. This can be confusing to unsuspecting readers who are looking for the complete novel and run afoul of a partial without realizing it.

Here’s what you see when you search for Morris’ book by its title. You’re looking at one complete novel (the top listing) and Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressWhat’s more, Morris writes:

Amazon understood that the complete book had the same content as the episodes, but regards them as different publications and won’t transfer the reviews. That seems entirely fair to me – but it does mean that you launch the full book with a worryingly naked star rating.

When Morris released the full book, about a month after the first installment ran, she had some strong reviews and high star ratings — but only on the separate sections. The whole novel had to start at ground zero with readers and gain its own responses.

Suffice it to say — and as I think Ashlock and his team will agree — should you feel inspired by the advent of Kindle Singles to rush out and do a little serialization of your own, do read Morris’ post first and realize that the “faff” she struggled with last fall is all yours to surmount, unless your effort becomes part of Amazon’s new program.

Now, let’s move to another viewpoint.

 

3. Sarah Kessler: Little Dorrit’s Data?

Throughout its 17-year history, Amazon has helped change the way that books are sold, the format in which they’re read andhow they are published. Now it could change how they’re written.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Sarah Kessler

That’s Sarah Kessler writing at Fast Company, her article is headlined Amazon Changed Reading. Now It Could Change Writing.

Among responses I’ve seen — and I’d like to thank Jenn Webb at O’Reilly Media’s radar program for flagging Kessler’s write — this one comes the closest to voicing my concern.

Here’s Kessler, emphasis mine:

Dickens didn’t have the Internet. Or data about how readers responded to each of his chapters.

“[Kindle Series] Authors will be able to follow along with reader reaction and adapt the next installments based on the first ones,” Bezos said.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressDon’t worry that it’s Jeff Bezos or Amazon talking, my point is larger, and the authors involved are lucky to be with a company like Amazon that can pull this off.

In fact, let’s hear this from the press release on the serials, a little different wording, same emphasis from me:

Readers can also join the conversation on Amazon discussion boards as the stories unfold – allowing the authors to learn from readers in real-time and perhaps influence a story’s path.

One more time, here is the very able Jeff Belle, VP of Amazon Publishing, talking it this way in the release, me doing the underlining again:

Readers can discuss the stories on Amazon discussion boards as they’re being written – like virtual water cooler conversations – perhaps even influencing where the next episode may go.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressLet’s go back to Kessler at Fast Company:

Publishing one segment at a time will enable authors, like app developers, to make decisions based on user activity. Data analytics will push that ability to another level. Do readers have high drop-off rates when a certain character appears? Maybe he should appear less in the next episode. Do they share a certain idea with their social networks? Maybe that idea comes up again.

Feel that chill? More Kessler:

Digital has transformed all media to some extent. News is a different beast online.

And there it is.

 

4. Doubt Amid the Data

One of the reasons I’m not a great believer in crowd-sorcery is the effect that crowd-sourcing has had on the news media.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressBy the time advertising pressure and digital capability colluded to cause editors to choose coverage based on what readers wanted — rather than on journalistic importance — the newsrooms of my own career had changed forever. I can grossly simplify the issue for you in four words: Security Council versus Bieber.

And when your readership is at that virtual water cooler, giddy about the latest installment in a given serial, suggesting that this character be killed off or that character have sex with the other one … does it start to feel like something about Twilight characters and fan fiction? And does the area between author intent and reader “interaction” get a few more shades of fuzzy?

The quick research I’ve done indicates that Dickens did indeed incorporate some reader reactions into serial installments as he went along. But this was, perhaps, a friend or family member, a business associate, a chat over luncheon. Not a global digital forum.

Kessler writes this:

Amazon publishers are currently little better off than Dickens in the data department. Amazon only gives them access to data regarding sales figures and royalties.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressShe goes on to mention startups working on deeper data, including Hiptype, with which we’re familiar, of course.

But with discussions in progress among readers, those Amazon publishers will have much more input to work with, with or without the help of startups.

Maybe we simply need to agree that this sort of writing — and reading — establishes itself, of necessity, as a class by itself.

Maybe the reader-“influenced” serial novel is just that. We enjoy it for what it is, celebrate the data and the formidable genius of Amazon that make this possible.

Kessler, it turns out, had another story queued up at Fast Company: Closer Look at Amazon’s New Kindle Series: Part Dickens, Part TV.

In that one, she looks at “a literary studio for digital serial novels called Plympton.” Not a publisher but a “studio,” please, Plympton has published — or studio-ed — three of the eight initial Kindle Serials.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Guy Gonzales, poetry, Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays 1997 – 2011, Free Verse Media, chapbook, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Jamie Brenner’s “The Gin Lovers” serial is being prepared on Amazon for an October 8 release of Part 1. Not a Kindle Serials project, note how much this looks like Roz Morris’ array of serial installments online.

And Kessler, in talking to the three authors involved — Anderson, Rachlis, and Amore — writes:

All of them we spoke with say (writing serial fiction is) different than writing a book.

Now, that’s an interesting line, isn’t it?

Kessler and the authors seem to want to compare this work to television and film. Rachlis notes that the episodic element makes it closer to TV.

And Plympton editor and co-founder Yael Goldstein Love lets Kessler know that, in fact, two of the three serials from her shop are already finished — not much room for reader influence there.

Nevertheless, Kessler writes:

Plympton is taking the idea of reader input a step further and allowing anyone who pledges $25 or a more in its Kickstarter campaign to become a voting member of its advisory committee.

Author Dani Amore seems to be a bit more cautious about reader input:

“How much I’ll factor it in, subconsciously or not, I don’t know,” Amore says about reader feedback. “I’ll definitely try to read it and see what happens.”

And maybe it’s for the best if serial authors think of what they’re doing as “different from writing a book.”

The strongest material in literature probably has not been written by committee, nor voted up or down by Kickstarter donors.

We’ll just keep our eyes open, if that’s OK with everyone.

Because sure, these are serials. Fun stuff. Nobody said we’re going to build a better Michael Cunningham or Ian McEwan or Andrew Miller or Ann Patchett, did they?

After all, serious literature will never be compromised by this kind of audience-influenced entertainment.

That’s what we said about the news, too.

How do you feel about the reader-input part of the new efforts in serialization? Does it sound like a healthy trend that brings readers and authors together? Or can you see situations in which expectations of readership influence could compromise a writer’s control of her or his own material?


Join us Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com for Writing on the Ether, presented this week by Ether sponsors Darrelyn Saloom, and Dave Malone, whose Seasons in Love is a recent release; and, starting Thursday, by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, author of Handmade Memories: Poems and Essays, 1997-2011.

The books you see here have been referenced recently in Writing on the Ether and/or installments of Extra Ether.

I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement. And, needless to say, we lead our list weekly with our fine Writing on the Ether Sponsors, in gratitude for their support.

 


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Porter Anderson (Find him on Twitter / Find him at Google+) is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute. As a journalist, he has worked with three networks of CNN, The Village Voice, Dallas Times Herald, D Magazine, and other outlets. He contributes to Digital Book World’s Expert Publishing Blog and to Writer Unboxed, and has been posted by the United Nations to Rome (P-5, laissez-passer) for the World Food Programme. He is based in Tampa. His companion to this column, Issues on the Ether Issues on the Ether, appears on Tuesdays at PublishingPerspectives.com, and is followed by a live chat on Twitter each Wednesday, hashtagged #EtherIssue. His Porter Anderson Meets series of interviews for London's The Bookseller features a live Twitter interview each Monday hashtagged #PorterMeets, followed by a write-up in the magazine on the stands each Friday. More at PorterAndersonMedia.com.

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48 Comments

  1. The audience-influenced story? I shudder. Much of what a clever storyteller does is to mislead, misdirect and therefore surprise – but surprise fairly. While it’s very entertaining to watch what the audience is thinking (as I found with MMOAFL – and thank you for typing that six-carriage title so often here) we can’t let them direct what actually happens. It’s their job to read and be frustrated, entertained, twisted and rewarded. They don’t know how it +should+ go; only I know that, after repeated experiments on myself and my beta readers et al.
    But that’s the thinking of a conventional novelist. If we regard the audience-steered serial as a completely different form, who knows what might result? I’m willing to watch and find out, although I fear it will be lowest common denominator.
    It puts me in mind, though, of experiments with interactivity a decade or so ago. TV folk were talking about letting the audience choose the outcome of the story. I thought this was a simply dreadful idea – a sure way to slap the audience out of the spell of the story. I don’t think it caught on, either.
    I think part of the fun of a story is knowing there is a puzzle to solve. That there is a ‘proper’ end, a definitive ‘what happened’. Do audiences want to know that there isn’t, but that they themselves are contaminating or voting it into existence?
    Food for thought.

    • Hey, Roz (and thanks for that six-carriage title to type, my fingers are staying in great shape, lol).

      Needless to say, I agree that the audience-driven “book” (serial or otherwise) is a pretty scary idea. That comes across in my piece, I’m sure. I suppose I’m a little heartened to hear the authors at Plympton talking about their serials as something other than books for that reason — while I’m amused that two of three of their books are finished (in this first round of offerings) and won’t really hold room for audience wiggling, despite the concept announced as part of Kindle Serials.

      I don’t like to sound dismissive of these forms. In the transmedia community — which I’m looking forward to covering again this year at StoryWorld in October http://ow.ly/dB4Dr — the idea of story being developed and changed and entered and explored by audience is a revered one, a real tenet of basic context. And I respect that. Some of these folks are tremendously accomplished in this work. The transmedial events are devised as such, though — just as these new serials are being created — and therefore at least may carry that “not really a book” element, an amalgam of many forms that thus can support audience interaction without a diminution of the “author” we know in literature.

      The choose-the-ending idea reminds me of more Dickens, the unfinished last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. A staging originating with the NY Shakespeare Festival in 1985 went to Broadway and is due for revival this season by the Roundabout company. In most stage evocations, the audience is asked to “choose” an ending from some selections (the book’s murderer was not established before Dickens’ death). But I haven’t seen such efforts really take off in any setting yet, myself, either.

      I think your take on the “proper” end created by a “proper” authorial voice is probably more popular with readers than they may think if we asked them. It sounds exciting to have a hand in the action — in reality, I’m not sure it works so well.

      As you say, it’s all food for thought. And we can certainly be glad for the digital heft that today gives a company like Amazon the potential to explore such issues. In Fats Waller’s great line, “One never knows, do one?”
      -p.

  2. “After all, serious literature will never be compromised by this kind of audience-influenced entertainment.”

    Unless I missed something glaringly obvious, I am certain there is no “serious literature” offered in the Amazon Serials programme.

    (Outside of the Dickens reissue, I mean.)

    Is there a reason to believe this fact may change? Now that would be interesting, indeed.

    • Hey, Edward, thanks for reading, and for your astute response.

      You’re correct, as I see it — and without the slightest criticism meant of the authors and others involved — I don’t see “serious literature” offered in the initial eight modern offerings at Kindle Serials. Which is why I think that for now, it’s thoroughly possible to see this, as I’m suggesting, as a kind of entertainment entry in which readership interaction is a different thing than it would be if it were, in fact, a case of, say, literary fiction.

      I supposed that once burned by the experience in news — in which we thought our “product” was too “serious” to be compromised by the entertainment-driven elements of digital … and were proved wrong — I’m especially sensitive on this point.

      It makes me awfully early to the barricades, doesn’t it? I’ve just learned that being watchful, proactively, is not a bad thing in the rapid disruption the digital dynamic brings to things. In so many ways, that dynamic is healthful and promising. In the case of what’s happened to “serious news,” it hasn’t worked out so well.

      So, on behalf of “serious literature,” then, I’m recommending we all stay up on things. Such as, for example, whether “seriously literature” is introduced in the new Serials program. I hope you’re right that such an effort would be “interesting.” And no, I hven’t been told there’s a plan afoot for that. As I say, I’m just … up on the barricades early, getting a few pre-emptive flags in place. :-)

      Thanks again for reading and responding,
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

  3. The “success” of a group-written novel would have to be judged on different criteria than a traditionally written novel, but they both could have their audiences, which I think would be very different from each other.

    • Right on both counts, Diann — different criteria and different audiences. Both good, too, by the way, in their own way.

      I think my only qualm is being sure that the exigencies of one mode aren’t imposed on the other because “the audience loves to participate so much” and “the advertisers really want to see more audience participation,” etc., etc.

      Once you’ve seen the kind of creeping effect one form can have on another — even in another tangential industry, as I did — you don’t forget it.

      The day our marketing people introduced T-shirts to the editorial staff, emblazoned with the headlines that editorial staff had written the day before and now ready for sale in the boutique attached to the news outlet in question? I know I’d seen two things come together that weren’t supposed to be together.

      I’ve kept my eyes open ever since.
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

  4. Oh, dear…for a couple reasons.
    Reader input, to start: I had a conversation with one of my manuscript readers on Saturday. He admitted he hadn’t finished it, but had two criticisms. One was about who I mentioned in the dedication (or rather, who I did not mention), and the other was my decision to serialize. I took them in the spirit they were offered (mostly), but when I hung up I thought “it’s my decision, not yours”.
    It’s one thing for a reader to say “I loved this minor character; why not write a book about them?” It’s another to say “I won’t read the series until it’s done.” Wasn’t Harry Potter a series? And didn’t people look forward – for years – to the next installment? Reader input can be instructive, but to what end? Should authors follow reader responses instead of their own instincts? It’s your name on the cover, not theirs.
    The other, more technical point, is about Amazon. Are they truly the only option for serializing? Must I go this route (and this one only) or can other companies (Kobo, etc.) provide the same service? I’m not criticizing Amazon (other than the glitch in posting reviews when the book is offered complete). I’m just curious, and a tad confused.
    Enlighten me, Porter. I’m not writing “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”. ;)
    Viki

    • And here I thought you were finally going to answer the Mystery of Edwin Drood, Viki. Shoot.

      No, to your question first — Amazon isn’t the only route to serialization with support, shall we say. Look at the example we open with in the post today, in which Movable Type Management (Jason Ashlock’s agency) is supporting author Jamie Brenner’s serial, which is being published by St. Martins. When you see that lineup of book covers (clicking will take you to the books on Amazon), what you’re seeing is the publisher’s setup for the author of the various coming installments. Each has a different publication date. This, to go back to Roz Morris’ experience, is something she didn’t have — a publisher and agent’s help in establishing and setting up the various entries in the series.

      And remember the Plympton “studio” — I can’t get enough of that chi-chi phrasing, but clearly they’re doing an impressive job to have landed three of the eight slots in Amazon’s initial serial offerings. Plympton is devised to do serial work. That’s what they’re there for. Ready for your inquiries, I’m sure.

      Nor do I think the fact of your work being nonfiction is necessarily a deal breaker of some kind. I’m not sure the Kindle Serials project is set up to handle nonfiction, since its description speaks of “stories” — but many stories are true, and maybe the Kindle program is, in fact, going to do nonfiction.

      Check with them. Inquiring minds want to know.

      And as for your feelings about the input from readers, yep. Just what I was getting at. Although, you have to take me with a grain of sea salt here because, as I said to another commenter today, I’m early to these barricades. Once you’ve had one 30-year career-industry shot out from under you by digitalia, you’re less willing to sit around and be reassured by folks who say, “Oh, this isn’t THAT kind of literature — literary fiction would never be subjected to this kind of reader input.” Sure. And vinyl records have a bright future in the digital age, too. :)

      As you say, “it’s your name on the cover, not theirs” in the usual form of literary production. Assuming that this sort of work is separate from what someone here today has called “serious literature,” then all is well.

      And, because we once thought that legitimate news delivery was too “serious” to be undercut by digital developments, I’m real intent on keeping my eys open. :)

      -p.

  5. Pingback: The new wild wild west of publishing, e-serial style

  6. I think there’s a big difference between breaking your novel into chunks in order to “serialize” and purposefully creating short episodes, each with their own story arc yet linked by a bigger story arc. And then bundling them together. That I could see doing. I wouldn’t look to break what was intended to be a novel into episodes.

    And for some reason, the audience influence doesn’t bother me. Most authors are influenced by reviews – and look to see where they can improve for next time. Or I think they should. I do. So many fun new options. What a terrific time to be a writer!

    • Very good point, Laura —

      As I’m sure Roz Morris could tell us, there really is a difference in breaking an existing complete work into parts (as she did with My Memories of a Future Life) and creating, from the outset, a serialized format.

      I should say — not knowing if you’ve read Morris’ work — that she did go to the mat to create the four parts of that particular work as genuine standalone elements so that, in the end, the effect on the serial reader was the same as if they had been written-to-purpose. But I get from her that doing that reorganization of material was a huge lift.

      I’m glad to hear that you don’t see any red flags in audience reaction. You’re right, of course, that review material always puts response in front of authors. At the same time, I think that in most cases, review phases for the work come after the entire piece is out. In this case, outside opinion will be levied “internally,” if you will, as frequently as section-by-section, which I do think could have a very different effect on a writer. One wants to be very secure in the outline and plan for a work in such a scenario, I think.

      Thanks again for your input, always great to have you join us with such sharp insights on the Ether!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

      • I’ve been discussing this same question in the comments on my blog. It seems there are two broad approaches to serialisation. One is like the long-running TV series with an overall arc of perhaps 26 episodes – far too long to tell in any but an episodic fashion. The other approach is more like the mini-series – an extremely popular way to adapt novels and have more room for all the details than a conventional movie. I suppose what I did was ‘mini-serialisation…’


  7. The strongest material in literature probably has not been written by committee” Wise words. The attraction of a joint writing project would be the sense of community, not the reading experience, so I think the commenters are right who say this shouldn’t be compared with a traditionally written novel–serialized or otherwise. It would be more like video-gaming.

    • Probably quite right, Anne — and you could see me in my piece drawing this kind of conclusion, too, it’s really a different type of work entirely. I thought, in fact, that Rachlis’ comment about it being closer to TV than film is pretty astute, considering the episodic nature of the form.

      And as for the readership-participation aspect, I’m wondering if future offerings may not be more deliberately timed (in the writing, that is) to take advantage of that “virtual water cooler” effect. It seems to me that if this is the interest, then capitalizing on it by trying to match the production to the reading-track makes sense. It should be really interesting to see it all unfold.

      Video-gaming is not a bad comparison at all, perhaps, to what we may see developing, you’re right.

      Thanks, as ever, for reading and commenting!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

  8. First off, it took me more than half the article here to even figure out what the hell “Kindle Serial” even was. In an article focused on that, it probably would have been prudent to offer up a definition or description early on, which was notably absent.

    As for the issue itself, I guess it’s okay…. but it is going to be more like writing a soap opera than it is writing a major literary work. On shows like Breaking Bad or Walking Dead, you can bet that the writers of the show pay attention to fan feedback in the forums. The characters we hate, plot holes- everything.

    I even noticed fans saying that Anna Gun looked fat, and lo and behold, Season 5 she comes out looking more trim.

    So, if you want to write that stuff, rock on. There will surely be a market for it, just as well as those who watch entire series of shows on Netflix. The A.D.D. nature of today’s audience should fit well with smaller installments of a story.

    I have no intention of engaging in this activity, although I did a smaller version once as a blogger, creating short stories and posting one segment a day. I found that when I was writing the story well, I lost momentum by making people wait until the next day for the following segment. As much as the A.D.D. crowd might have their proclivity, so does the instant gratification crowd, and the latter will not likely enjoy all the waiting. I also wonder if this will necessitate a lot of contrivance of suspense-building, knowing that each snippet has to have a cliffhanger for the next “show” so people will come back. I love to hang my scenes and chapters with suspense to keep the pages turning, but I would not care to pace the story in a way I don’t like just to attempt to bridge the gap to ‘next week’.

    I very much welcome feedback from fans about what they liked about my novel, characters they would like to see more of in upcoming subsequent novels, etc. I also know that sometimes fans can come up with great ideas or speculation- but I prefer to first determine where I want the story to end up, and then how to get there, rather than contrive a bunch of little darlings for their own sake to keep readers on the line, hoping I can still do what I want with the end of it after letting others influence it.

    If I were to do a serial work, I guess I would have to let go of the outcome, and let it just be entertainment for its own sake, rather than to have a point or ‘moral of the story’. I also think there is the danger of tuning in to fan feedback so much that you end up with a lot of ‘cotton candy’ and lose out on some of the intensity and heavier stuff. I like to verbally punch readers in the gut sometimes, but fans will not usually ask for that, for instance.

    In any case, I will keep an eye out on the topic. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

    • Hey, Samuel, thanks for your good comments here.

      Sorry if you felt I left you hanging there at the top. The Ether columns are based in publishing and read by folks in the industry, and I’m afraid that at times we all probably jump in and talk past some folks who may not be following the incremental elements of news in the business as closely as we are.

      It’s one reason, of course, that I linked out from “Kindle Serials” ( http://ow.ly/dBpR0 ) on the very first reference to the name — so you could, in fact, have Amazon’s own quite good explanation of what they are. Here’s how the company describes this new program, which was just announced last Thursday:

      “Kindle Serials are stories published in episodes. When you buy a Kindle
      Serial, you will receive all existing episodes on your Kindle
      immediately, followed by future episodes as they are published. Enjoy
      reading as the author creates the story, and discuss episodes with other
      readers in the Kindle forums.”

      So that’s in, albeit in a promotional nutshell.

      And I appreciate several of the points you’re making here. Some of your lines that stand out for me:

      – “the danger of tuning in to fan feedback so much that you end up with a
      lot of ‘cotton candy’ and lose out on some of the intensity and heavier
      stuff”

      – “As much as the A.D.D. crowd might have their proclivity, so does the
      instant gratification crowd, and the latter will not likely enjoy all
      the waiting.” (You’ll notice this meshes with what Roz Morris found when she serialized, as quoted in our piece here.)

      – “I also wonder if this will necessitate a lot of contrivance
      of suspense-building, knowing that each snippet has to have a
      cliffhanger for the next “show” so people will come back.” (Certainly, I think that part of the technique in writing these serials has to be the generation of suspense around each section’s end.)

      Much of this gets us back to what I think many of us are agreeing on — that the writing of true serial work, which Amazon is so handsomely rolling out here, isn’t the same as the writing and production around other traditional literary forms. And the digital dynamic, which enables the mass discussion-group impact here, simply isn’t part of the traditional serial experience in history — we’re in an unprecedented time for interactive engagement beyond anything available in past ages, such as Dickens’ era.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful input.
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

      • “I also wonder if this will necessitate a lot of contrivance
        of suspense-building, knowing that each snippet has to have a
        cliffhanger
        for the next “show” so people will come back.”

        Think of your favorite TV shows. OK, Game of Thrones, we’ll go with that. Each week, you know there’s going to be a shock at the end that’ll lead into the next show. You need people to come back. I don’t hear anyone talking about the contrivances at the end of each Game of Thrones. It’s taken from a book. They just end each episode at a nice moment for maximum effect.

        The Many Lives of Lilith Lane was conceived as a serial. I looked at each episode as a short story (of sorts), and just ended each chapter at a natural ending point. Of course, I want something interesting there to give the reader a jolt.

        I also went back to the beginnings of literary serials to see what Dickens and the others did, and what their ending points were. I remember reading Alan Moore’s Watchmen as a kid, and marveling at how each issue felt whole and complete, yet Moore built this brilliant epic 12-part story. Actually, I didn’t realize that ’til later. When I first read it, I was just thinking, “Wow, that giant squid is cool.”

        Right now, looks like there are quite a few of us writing these serials. I’m just as curious as you to see how the others work the cliffhanger aspect.

        It’s pretty exciting to be having these discussions about literature and books and the future of the medium. Because, clearly, books are on the rise, again. Excited to see what lies ahead.

  9. Kindle Serials doesn’t interest me as writer or reader, but this is just my personal preference. I consider the way I read; if a book doesn’t hold my interest for the first three chapters or so, I tend suck up the financial loss and put it in the Half-Price Books pile. I’m wondering if the practice of serializing books will lead to gratuitous sensationalism in storytelling. I’m also wondering if readers, a different breed of animal than, say, television watchers, will respond to serialization the way Amazon assumes they will. Barring book club discussions, reading is largely a solitary activity; it’s something we do to get away from other people and the mandatory socialization that takes place in our workplace and personal lives.

    Ultimately, I think that there’s such as thing as too much reader input, when the sum total of the author’s ideal for a book becomes too dilute to even call it a “book”. Like Sam (and for many of his reasons), I can’t ever see a time when what I write is dictated by readers or when I become one of those “interactive” readers myself — I’ll leave that to folks who enjoy reality television show voting on American Idol.

    • Hey, Lisa,

      Your point about whether gratuitous sensationalism can become an issue here came up quite a bit this afternoon during a #litchat discussion of the issue. I think you’re right, of course — the “Dan Brown effect,” as I call it, is bound to set in.

      And as for the solitary nature of reading for many, this is a very valid part of a wider debate about the concept of social reading in general. It includes questions of readers sharing marginalia, for example, and may in some instances in the future be based on the kind of reader-experience tracking that Hiptype offers publishers. Being a more solitary soul by nature, I find these initiatives somewhat daunting, though in terms of commercial issues and digital advances, I find them fascinating.

      And yes, a great comparison, the amateur contest shows on TV, particularly Idol, for the kind of audience-input zeal we see in so many quarters. Eventually, the digital dynamic is going to have to serve all of our various (and idiosyncratic) approaches and interests, from full-out social types to the ones, like me, who take the “auteur” role seriously and, even as a reader, demand control of my own experience over sharing with others.

      Interesting times ahead, huh? :)
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

  10. I need my Tevya cap for this one.

    On the one hand, anytime artists and arts consumers get together and talk, good things can happen. Good art can become better art, if the talk involves critique and review. And if you’ve got a crowd of folks clamoring for your work, then you’re looking at a better retirement. Maybe.

    On the other hand, artists are rarely the kind of people who want to hear what other people think they should be doing. It’s my story. I’m writing it. Jog on, please.

    On the one hand, crowdfunding, I may have said once or twice, is my new favorite thing in the whole wide world. I see a potential in it for our economy to shift in revolutionary ways that, ultimately, will lead to artists and arts consumers enjoying life a little more in the future. I’m not so naive to think that the USAF will actually need to launch a Kickstarter to fund their new bomber, but I sincerely believe that we’re going to see more consumer dollars spent on crowdfunding platforms than in the shopping mall. And that’s going to change how goods and services are produced and marketed. It already is changing.

    Someday, we may even see an end to products like this one: http://nyp.st/P43yv7

    On the other hand, as you say, Security Council versus Bieber.

    • Ha! I hate to tell you, Aaron, but crowd-funding may produce more monstrosities like Candy Corn Oreos, not fewer.

      I don’t share your enthusiasm for crowd-funding because, again, it’s based in the judgment of crowd-sourcing. And I’m simply not impressed, not with the crowd’s intelligence and not with using that crowd as “source.”

      I’m happy enough for people to vote with their wallets and if they get all het up about some project or product or event and want to contribute, that’s fine. But if too many elements of the landscape go to a crowd-funding model, then eventually, you’ll tap out the part of the population that does like to participate in such efforts, the cap will arrive somewhere.

      I also think we have yet to see some problematic other-end stories play out in crowd-funding. What happens when the crowd that funded HATES the work the artist produced (or the jet the Air Force built)? When does that originally supportive crowd turn to a furious mob that collectively believes it’s been swindled. What type of retribution are we looking at?

      We don’t have to wait long. I sense that there soon may be a case in which whatever seemed to be promised (even earnestly), especially in the creative arena, just doesn’t match what the funding crowd thought they were funding. Already, there was a storm of criticism for Seth Godin, as you know, when he went to Kickstarter, trying to convince his “tribe” that his publishers wouldn’t fund his book — clearly preposterous. He got the money, and then some, but how many funders then read the follow-up press and felt duped?

      I’m not really equipped to debate crowd-funding, and it’s not our topic here. But those are some thoughts borne of an incoherent market that is stabbing around at a lot of things “because we can” when I’m not always sure we even need fixes. Time will tell, huh?

      Thanks for commenting,
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

  11. Serialization is already being experimented with in books produced as iOS apps. Seven Poets started a Kickstarter project, promising a serialized story that began with the closing ceremonies of the London Olympics.The project ended up raising more that $14,000, in excess of what the creators asked for. The app, which went live during the Olympics this summer, includes chapters, released periodically as the story unfolds in real time, and newspaper “articles” that report on the events of the story. The app also has multimedia “Challenges” that the reader can complete (which will eventually add up to the reader’s own “story”), but no built-in comment/discussion forum that might be used to shape the upcoming chapters. The first couple of chapters were free, after that each costs $.99, with the full story available for $6.99. The app itself and the newspaper articles are free.

    The Mirabilis app, written- and drawn- by Dave Morris, began being released serially in 2010, with each episode sold separately. To date, there are 8 episodes.

    There is also an upcoming app that also uses serialization as an inherent characteristic of the story being told. According to Publisher’s Weekly. “Secret History” will deliver 20 installments over the course of a year, with an upfront price of $9.99.
    These apps each involve a mysterious set of circumstances produce a sort of TV show experience, “Be sure to tune in next week to find out what happens next…”. But haven’t all the recent trilogy of novels used a similar technique in just a more extended form (both in text and length of delivery before the next part of the story)? And even standalone, non-mystery novels these days seem to employ a sort of cliffhanger approach to each chapter, as if a reader might not have the fortitude to continue on without some obvious hook.

    So regardless of whether crowdsourcing becomes a factor in writing books issued as installments, it seems to me that serialization in some form is a natural way for books/stories to be adapted to readers with shorter attention spans and an infinite variety of alternative entertainment and distraction.

    • “The Dan Brown technique,” Alice, lol — this is what I call the cliffhanger approach you’re seeing in so much of this work. (His very short chapters, as you may know, inevitably end with some unabashed pot-boiling line on the order of, “She opened the door and gasped, staring at what she saw.”)

      I confess that a lot of the projects you mention here are more interesting to me for their various uses of transmedial digitization than for their content value.

      You’ve got a very good grasp on some of the more interesting projects moving (even Dave Morris’ — @MIrabilisDave — new Frankenstein app, as I’m sure you know, has a suite of reader-choice elements involved). I think that when we’re in the hands of someone like Morris we can be assured of a content experience of quality and some depth.

      In other instances, I think the gamification elements tend to run away with things, almost in a “because we can” way, so that developers end up chasing the moving parts that jumped out at them before they had a fully matured concept of what they were creating. This MAY be inevitable in the form at this point, since we’re still new to the creation and deployment of these things.

      But even the use of apps, themselves, when the promise of HTML5 is sweeping many folks back toward “books in browsers,” is one way in which I think we see the field starting, finally, to turn toward something more firmly based in contextual and content-first development. I hope so.

      And how integral to all this the serialization component will be, I think we can only guess. I’m never happy assigning its popularity to the “short attention span” issue of today. Powerful enough content lengthens attention spans (as long Tolkein film projects prove, etc.). I worry when we rush too quickly to the ADD end of things, assuming that everyone has the attention span of a flea.

      I’m also quick to remind folks that chapters are nice, short installments, too. Serialization is not required for folks to receive material in an episodic way — and the popularity of buying whole seasons of shows (so one doesn’t have to wait for the episodic march over time) seems to me at times to counter some of the declarations that serialization is our future.

      Neither extreme is likely the “winner” in all this, but I must say it’s a formidable time to watch production personnel try to understand and respond to audience, overall. If only the audience actually knew better what it wanted when asked. :)

      Will you be with us at StoryWorld in October in Hollywood? It’s looking even better than last year, as a superb summit of transmedial thinking this year. If you’re coming and haven’t registered yet, do feel free to use “porter” as a promo code for a discount on registration. http://ow.ly/dBRhp

      And thanks again for reading and contributing some great comments here!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

      • Alice, thanks for the mention of Mirabilis – and Porter for the vote of confidence. I showed the app to dozens of UK publishers at the London Book Fair a couple of years back, explaining that this was an example of how to produce serial fiction with its own built-in store/subscription page. And that in-app purchasing screen can double as the modern version of the old Bullpen Bulletin page that gave Marvel Comics such a powerful sense of community back in the 1960s and ’70s (when my own passionate attachment to the medium was formed). The reaction of those publishers? “We’re not booksellers.” “It’s not our business to form a direct relationship with readers.” “We’re not interested in subscriptions and serializations, we leave that to magazines.” All very sensible if you’re working in a stable, undisrupted industry – but not for publishers in 2011. Their fear of all things digital, in the UK at any rate, continues to astound!

        • Porter- I think you put your finger on the real issue- serialization and/or reader involvement can’t overcome the lack of a good story. And, unfortunately, with Dave’s two apps- Mirabilis and Frankenstein- as clear exceptions, many of these technologically innovative apps seem to forget that point, sacrificing great content for a flashy delivery system. But, in my mind, that is a necessary step in the creation of what I think digital books will eventually become- not just enhanced text, but a new medium for storytelling. As other comments have noted, the Biblion, Citia, and TouchPress apps are already pushing the boundaries of how content is communicated. So in many ways, despite how painfully slow the birthing process is turning out to be, it’s still a very exciting time to be involved in the digital publishing arena.

          • I think we’re waiting for the coherence that can only arrive, Alice, when a good bit more of the boundary-pushing you rightly note has happened. For all the good initiatives of real courage and intelligence you can find, there are many more silly ones, startups on all sides, some of them a breath away from cynical in their attempt to capitalize on some insecurity of the market’s moment. You’re right that story will out, always, as the foundation of the lasting successes. But an awful lot of ersatz “new storytelling” is going to come and go in the meantime. And I have to say that at times, I’m not sure we need to search so hard for those “new mediums.” I think they’re coming to us. And I’m not convinced that the readers want to be transformed into users of wholly new concepts and realities. In the digital end, we forget too easily that print books are still the lead. Maybe not for much longer, but they’re not going away (as I assure people constantly) and the most successful efforts so far — say reading on phones and getting seamless buying experiences onto tablets — aren’t nearly as reachy as some of the “new medium” efforts we’re trying to make … and maybe aren’t needed. I certainly see the sense of what Citia is doing, for example, but I wonder how long it might take for an audience to form around that logic of a deconstructed book, how many readers are really needy of “cards” that reveal various points in a nonfiction book. In short, when are we trying to innovate “because we can” instead of because we need to? I’m not saying that Citia is doing anything wrong, by the way, more power to them. But is there an audience out there crying for a new approach? Or are we creating these intelligent models as things that will end up becoming major efforts in explication and persuasion to form markets of adaptors? Time will tell, huh?
            Thanks again,
            -p.

        • Thanks for jumping in, Dave, and your description of the “reader-phobia” once found among publishers is all too apt. I say “once found” because they ASSURE us daily that they now have gotten the religion of d2c, direct to customer, but I can tell that in most cases, it’s still a very top-down view that means primarily a site of their own for selling books, a newsletter here, an online “club” of some kind there … I can’t with any real assurance say that I see the embrace we need of reader-as-prime customer. There’s still such a love of the days when romancing the distributor was all needed (let alone being feted by the large retailers with front-table exposure). So easy for us to forget that the digital dynamic has done so much of its work in such a short time. I fear that more time is needed — and I’m talking years — before the establishment will truly have changed its colors from the skin out and learned (alas, the hard way, for some still to come) that both reader and author empowerment may be a bit of an incoherent force now but it’s here to stay. What a difficult transition.
          Thanks again for commenting, great to have you, sir!
          -p.

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  13. Porter, First thoughts-serialization and receiving feedback from readers along the way sounds intriguing but I think I’m off the hook in writing a memoir- the story only I can tell. It’s akin to getting input from involved parties or critique groups and having to decide when to listen to feedback and when to write what you feel you need to write despite the input. I’m probably simplifying it too much. It certainly highlights the possibility that the way we tell our stories-fiction or nonfiction- is changing by the minute. Where there’s change, there’s opportunity. Suffice it to say, this is a very exciting and interesting time to be a writer! Thanks for the update.

    • Thanks, as ever, Kathy, and yes if anyone is off the hook of reader-input, it’s likely the memoir people, unless you open reader participation to the people who are IN a major memoir project. What a recipe for disaster that could be! :)

      Something more germane to your work, I think, is on Jane’s site today — where Shirley Hershey Showalter is writing about the surge in memoir, and asking if it’s a good thing, do have a look: http://ow.ly/dCN2M

      And thanks again!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

  14. Reader-influenced serialized stories, hmmm. Why not open that to musical compositions, even opera? Or how about paintings? Or dance. Have the performance stop at several points and have the audience vote on the next movements, whether or not they know anything about dance. Seems great for Broadway productions, right? The ultimate in audience participation.

    But why stop there? Let readers—writing seems the most available for this, given the time it takes—grab each subsequent chapter and run with it, submitting their individual efforts to the “readership,” then have that readership—for a fee. Weee!—vote for the best submitted chapter, and so and so on. ‘T’would be the ultimate in this our Interactive/Interconnected Age. I just love 21st Century progress.
    —SK Figler (skfigler.com)

    • Almost all you mention is already happening. :) The musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood went to Broadway with a vote-on-the-ending plan in 1985. (It’s also Dickens, by coincidence, in its original.)

      As long as you don’t mind the loss of market coherence during the Big Shakedown of “let’s try this!” and “let’s try that!” then you’re going to be very happy these days. :)

      Thanks for reading and commenting.
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

  15. Reader-influenced serialized stories, hmmm. Why not open that to musical compositions, even opera? Or how about paintings? Or dance. Have the performance stop at several points and have the audience vote on the next movements, whether or not they know anything about dance. Seems great for Broadway productions, right? The ultimate in audience participation.

    But why stop there? Let readers—writing seems the most available for this, given the time it takes—grab each subsequent chapter and run with it, submitting their individual efforts to the “readership,” then have that readership—for a fee. Weee!—vote for the best submitted chapter, and so and so on. ‘T’would be the ultimate in this our Interactive/Interconnected Age. I just love 21st Century progress.
    —SK Figler (skfigler.com)

  16. We’ve been serializing for a year at The Collective Inkwell, and haven’t followed traditional novel formats at all. We model what we do after scripted television – a model that has been warmly embraced by readers and is crazy fun to pull off as a writer.

    We’ve published every Tuesday since January 10th, and are running five separate series, all of them serialized. I couldn’t be more thrilled by Amazon’s announcement, and truly believe the good times are just getting started and the best of times have yet to begin.

    • Great to find it’s working out so well for you, Sean, and more power to you! Keep at it, sounds like you’re going great guns with the TV model as your engine. Congrats and thanks for dropping by and commenting!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  18. I’m one of the writers of the Plympton serials, and I started working on it more than a year ago. My original story is done, but when it comes to reader input, that wouldn’t come into play unless there’s demand for a follow-up stories. My approach to writing a serial has more to do with growing up reading comic books: each issue tells a single story, with a cliffhanger strong enough that the reader can’t wait to come back for the next installment, and those individual stories add up to a cohesive whole. We’ll see how it all plays out. But, personally, I love the anticipation that comes into play, like waiting for the next “Breaking Bad.” I remember Stephen King did The Green Mile as a serialized story, and I really had fun reading it that way. And I’ve always loved when magazine had a story that ran for several issues. So, serialized stories might not be for everyone, but it’s just one more format for readers to enjoy. In the end, though, these serials will succeed or fail based on their quality.

    • Hi there,

      Great to have you join us here, and congratulations on The Many Lives of Lilith Lane being among the original eight Kindle Serials!

      This is really good input you’re giving us here. I like your comics-based experience of serials, makes a lot of sense. And as you say, the whole concept may not be for everyone.

      I have a friend who, when she gets hold of a novel, sits down and reads the entire thing, cover to cover, in one gigantic sitting — all day, all night, whatever. Simply cannot abide any waiting. Makes me a little, crazy, but she as a reader is pretty much the antithesis of a serial reader, and there’s nothing that says any one format has to work for everybody.

      I really like how you think of the reader input angle (which has given a lot of authors some trouble, as it does me). I’m glad to hear you say that what you’ve created is there as you want it. If readers have an influence on sequels, that’s fine and logical, in that the interest, itself, might be what brings about the sequel. But what you’re clarifying here is that it’s not as if you’re sitting there with one ear to Twitter waiting for the next person’s opinion on your antagonist’s last name or something. Many folks, I fear, have felt it was to be a crowd-sourced effect, with readers piling in with their demands and suggestions.

      I remember King’s Green Mile, myself. Seemed so wildly experimental at the time, lol.

      Are you working only on serials these days, then? Or do you have non-serialized books in the works, as well? And, just out of curiosity, how do you come to call the town Lilith is in Mirabalis?

      Thanks again for reading and commenting, and all the best with the new work!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

      • Thanks, Porter. Yes, to be clear: The Many Lives of Lilith Lane is not a crowd-sourced book. It’s a novel in five parts, with each installment having its own feel while adding up to a cohesive whole (I hope!). I wrote each chapter as its own entity, but kept the “big picture” in mind. I started working on it in August 2011 and finished in January 2012. The only contribution story-wise besides my own was from my amazing editor, Yael Goldstein Love (The Passion of Tasha Darsky). But, no, I’m not checking twitter to get ideas for the next episode. That would be totally insane (but maybe fun). I’m not speaking for the other serials, just my own. This is all me (and Yael) for better or worse. If everyone hates the story, maybe I’ll start checking twitter and get some new ideas.

        I’m a freelance writer, so I’m working on several projects right now, but I do have a sequel to Lilith Lane in the works. We’re all just waiting to see how this whole serialized fiction thing works out. I envision my heroine as a sort of sci-fi Nancy Drew. So her adventures are meant to continue. But, you know, that depends on the audience.

        To be honest, a few years ago, as bookstores started dropping at an alarming rate, I thought something to the effect of, “Damn, real books are dying, and now I’ll never get published.” I was fearful that books would die before I ever got my chance. But digital has revitalized the industry. It’s given me an opportunity I wouldn’t otherwise have had. I wrote a coming-of-age novel a few years back, had an agent, publishers said nice things about it, but they ultimately decided it wasn’t commercial enough. The industry was in flux. Now, being commercial isn’t quite as big a worry because with digital there are no printing costs. Sure, we’ll see the release of a lot more crappy books, but we’ll also see many worthwhile books that might not have had a chance previously.

        Still, when The Many Lives of Lilith Lane gets its print edition, that’ll be a pretty great day.

        Oh, and as far as Mirabilis goes, it was just a random thing. I went through about twenty different names for the town, but I didn’t like any of them. Trying to come up with something catchy, I started looking at names of plants and found Mirabilis. It stuck in my head, so I used it.

        Thanks for the interesting discussion!

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  21. The elephant in the room:

    The classic ‘loss leader’ method would work brilliantly for serials.

    For a 10 part serial with mounting tension in the story, it would pay to make the first 5 parts free. This would create a win-win for authors and readers alike, because only well-written books that fully engage readers would attract sales for the remaining 5 fully priced parts. This is a similar proposition to the KDP select free promotion program, with the elephantine difference being that the initial serial books would stay free forever.

    It would work even better for an everlasting TV style literary ‘soap’. First 5 parts free, small subscription for the rest. This is how computer games work. The first level is free to engage new players and get them ‘hooked’.

    Think about it. I’ll lay odds Amazon wake up to this.
    .

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