Monday, August 19, 2013

Seriously, Serialize

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Publishing is changing, books are changing, reading itself is changing – and it’s all changing so fast that authors can feel that they can’t keep up. What’s a writer to do?

First, we need to remember that changes in book publishing and the way readers access reading material is nothing new. Stone tablets gave way to inky scrolls which gave way to printing presses, and at every stop along the way Luddites cried.

Somehow writers evolved to meet the new technologies. Back in the Victorian Era, which wasn’t really that long ago, historically speaking, one of the new publishing tactics was publishing novels in serial form in magazines and newspapers. Charles Dickens is perhaps best known for using this form, starting with The Pickwick Papers in 1836, but Dickens was not alone – in 1893 Mark Twain first published Pudd’nhead Wilson as a serial in The Century Magazine, and Joseph Conrad and George Eliot published some of their works in serial form as well.

Maybe we can learn from these authors of the past. Today’s authors have a perfect venue for serializing our new works or even Works In Progress: blogs.

There are some good reasons for serializing. Perhaps the most obvious is that it can be a productive marketing tactic. Like many writers, I am not a big fan of marketing, especially the marketing of my own books. I do a better job of marketing my ghostwriting services, and thus surprise surprise, I've made more money on ghostwriting than at selling my books. Hmm, perhaps there is a connection.

But it doesn't feel like the dreaded “marketing” to write a blog. I already write regular blog posts about my writing life, so it’s like a no-brainer to also post my WIP in segments as I write it, in the hope that people will read it, like it, and come back for more of the same. And when the serial is finished, I hope that people will want to buy the book in one piece. It worked for Dickens, so why not me?

Another benefit of serialization is that it keeps the writer writing, spurred on by appreciation, helped by critiques, and motivated by the simple pressure to deliver on the promise – in writing – to finish the book. This sometimes leads to stress, but a little stress can be motivating. I have found that ideas and scribbles that may have stayed ideas and scribbles have actually become real projects – I have to finish them because my readers what to know what happened. (So do I.)


I’m still new at serializing, and do not pretend to be an expert. But in my next post I’ll discuss some of the things I've learned about writing blog serials and how they have worked (or not) for me. Meanwhile if you want to check out my current WIP serial, called Grandma’s Masks, it’s available on my blog www.primary-sources.com/blog/category/serial-fiction. (See? I’m getting better at marketing already!)


Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit http://www.primary-sources.com/.

13 comments :

  1. Great post, Kim! I'm definitely interested in seeing how you fare with serializing. I had considered it, but haven't pushed self to go past the "consideration" phase yet.

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  2. I've read one experiment in serializing. My main problem was that it felt underdeveloped. The world building and writing were brilliant, but it didn't make up for the weak overall trajectory of the plot. The jerky nature made it easy to walk away from at the end of each "episode." I'd be hesitant to put out a first draft of anything. If you are figuring the plot out as you go along, it could be full of holes that need repairing at the end. I'd be more prone to serialize a work that I'd completed and polished first.

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    1. Diana, I agree that there are some downsides to serialization. Right now, the main upside to me is that it's keeping me writing -- "Grandma's Masks" is now nearly finished, and I'm pretty sure most of it would still be inside my head if I hadn't decided to serialize it while it was being written. I hope to interest readers enough to know that the edited (& in this case illustrated) product will be even better.

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  3. You know, there are non-fiction titles that started as blogs and really are just a form of serialization. Crafters and cooks do this a lot. Again I mention Pioneer Woman as well as the knitter Stephanie Pearl McPhee. These blogs aren't perfect by any means, but their books are. I think this attitude of perfection isn't necessarily something the readers demand. Me, I'd like to fire up my Penny Dreadful blog again! :D

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    1. I agree, Dani. I also like that serializing WIP shows the creative process at work, which is usually messy and never perfect. (The only people I know who are perfect are my grandchildren.)

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    2. Hahaha. The only perfect people *I* know are my cats!

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  4. Do you think if your blog followers read the book on the blog, they will not buy the book when it's published?

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    1. I hope they will, of course. I've been thinking of ways to incentivize them to do so.

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  5. I've heard of projects where people actually have to pay to subscribe to installments of a book. I'm interested to see how things play out--right now, the only serialization I've done is with my crit partners, who get a chapter at a time. And chapter 1 is so different from the first version I gave them, it's kind of scary to put it 'out there' with all its wrinkles and flaws. I've offered sneak peeks to my newsletter subscribers as a perk, but usually only a draft of chapter 1, but that version is at least 'editor ready', not hot off the fingers.
    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  6. I think you're brave, Kim! I'm with Diana—I develop my work too much in later drafts to put it out there right away. I don't even think it would be fun for me. But you go!

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  7. You know which art shows I like the very best? The ones of the masters that include their experimental and developmental studies. The stuff they didn't destroy... they weren't afraid the public might see it and frown. Or maybe they never gave it a second thought. Those shows often tell us more about the artists than their best masterpieces. I think in the modern day, we become a bit preoccupied with how others will judge us. Why be afraid of showing more than just your best side? Besides, most people can't write a decent excuse, much less a decent story.

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  8. My goodness, what a potpourri of ideas this post inspires! Consider the options already mentioned: serialize an early draft, a WIP, a finished product.

    How about this...serialize part of a completed and edited work, and then, at just the right moment (when the heroine is hanging over a precipice, holding on with just her little finger), let the reader know the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey used to say) is available by subscription, on amazon, in hard copy, on Kindle, or whatever. If you say upfront that you are serializing just the first 4 or 5 chapters but the rest can be available to all who want to know what happens next, you've not misled anyone — and you may well gain fans who might never have otherwise looked at your book.

    Final thought: Serializing, like blogging, creates a connection between reader and writer. And if you make provision for the reader to give you feedback or otherwise interact with you, you've endeared yourself to that reader and quite likely to anyone else with whom she shares your story and your accessibility.

    Great post, Kim!

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    1. Thanks, Linda. I have indeed thought about not including the last chapter of my book in the serial, or perhaps having TWO last chapters and asking my readers which one they prefer. Not only would it give me valuable insight into my readers' minds, but it might also make them feel like part of the process.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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