In general, I write novels. Then I trim said novels because their early drafts are excessively long. However, I’ve recently become fascinated with the concept of serial novelization. You release the novel in several parts, with the idea that readers know they aren’t getting a complete work at one time and that the next installment will come in a timely manner. I toyed with the idea of doing this for my current manuscript, The Wishing Blade, with each installment between 10,000 to 15,000 words. But as I started the rewriting stage, I realized that each section didn’t feel complete. The sections left on a cliffhanger, and weren’t really satisfying.
The other serialized option I’d studied was to write a complete short story (or novella), and make sure it had a full beginning, middle, and end, even if it was part of a larger work. At the moment, I’m thinking that might actually work well for The Wishing Blade. Each installment would be around 30,000 words, maybe more, with an expected three installments. I could release the story sooner, while still producing a reasonable quality work. Each story would be complete in itself, so there would hopefully be fewer unhappy readers who aren’t satisfied with the ending. With each installment, the reader should feel the series has made progress. Think about the show Avatar: The Last Airbender. (I think Legend of Korra and Fullmetal Alchemist where this way in their first seasons, too, but it’s been long enough since I’ve watched them that I don’t remember). For the most part, each episode (or set of episodes) felt complete, even though there was a larger story arc in progress. Granted… I’m still in the second season of Avatar, so that might change.
So here’s how it would work.
1. I separate The Wishing Blade into three novellas. They’re tentatively called Magic’s Stealing, The Shadow War, and The Immortal Realm. (What do you think of the names? Good? Bad? Neutral?)
2. I then figure out the story arc for each individual novella. This is crucial, because while reading them in order would be preferable, I also want readers to be able to pick up book three, enjoy it, then go back to book one. I personally have a habit of grabbing whichever book interests me… even if it’s in the middle of the series.
So the novellas would look something like this:
- Magic’s Stealing: Focus on the loss of ribbon magic in Cirena. Main character who hates magic is suddenly one of the few who can still use magic, and she’s trying to figure out what happened to the magic and where she fits into the whole scheme.
- The Shadow War: Main characters get separated. One works from within the shadows to foil the trickster god’s plot to kill the gods and get magic for himself. The other seeks out glass-stone, a material which has been proven to kill shadows and not be susceptible to shadow magic, then seeks to protect and warn others in the mortal realm. (For those of you who read my post on creating fantasy languages, this is where word magic shows itself).
- The Immortal Realm: Character in shadow realm escapes into ‘immortal realm’ and seeks out artifact (from book one) which could wipe out shadows for good. Other character defends Cirena’s capitol city from the shadows’ massive onslaught. They’ll either succeed in their separate goals, which serves to aid the other, or they’ll fail and the shadows will take over the kingdom.
3. Edit book one and make shiny. Send to beta readers for feedback. Work on a different story in the meantime (either finish the rough draft for The Wishing Blade: The Shadow War, or work on long-overdue edits to book two in my husband’s and my Distant Horizon universe). Once beta readers return comments, I’ll review said comments, make edits as necessary, then set book one aside for a while. Work on The Shadow War in the meantime.
4. Polish book one. Do what editing I can, maybe get an additional beta reader to proofread for errors.
5. Begin publishing process. Upload to Kindle and Smashwords, and consider other markets (I’m currently considering Drive Thru Fiction and Draft2Digital, but I haven’t had experience with either). For now, The Wishing Blade will be in ebook format only. I hope that once I have all three books out, I’ll be able to earn enough from them to purchase a block of ISBNs. Then I’ll need to decide if I want to make a collected print edition with all three books, or make a separate edition for each story. (If you’re looking for a length comparison, I’ve been looking at the old Animorphs series. Wrong genre and age group, but the word count is about right.)
6. Continue process with book two. I’m hoping to release each book around two months apart, though I may change my mind on that once I get further into this process.
Granted, there’s a lot more going on in the background (my husband and I setting up a partnership to publish this, and we’re picking up the DBA, EIN, and trying to figure out tax forms, etc…) but this is what I’ve got going on in the front end. Hopefully you found this post to be interesting, and I’d love to hear what your thoughts are regarding this process. 🙂
6 responses to “Thoughts on Publishing – A Novel or Three Novellas?”
Just my .02 but I think you’re on the right track. I’ve read a few serials and the novelty of constant cliffhangers to get me to buy the next edition quickly wears off. But if each one has it’s own arc, like you said, then it could be a very effective model.
Thanks for commenting. It’s nice to see what the thought process is behind the reading. I know that there are some TV series where I’ve enjoyed having tension at the end of the episode (Season 4 of Korra, toward the end of the series), whereas others had the effect you mentioned, where I got tired of cliffhangers quickly (Attack on Titan). Granted, that may also depend on target audience and when those episodes are released, while I tend to watch them on Netflix, about an episode a day.
Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts. 🙂
I think I should mention George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series here. It was conceived as a trilogy. But, as he sat down to write the first book, he decided it might have to be 4 books. By the second book he was thinking it needed to be 5 or even 6. The 4th book turned out to be so large halfway through that he had to split half the characters out into their own book so 4 and 5 run concurrently. Now he’s very careful to say that book 6 will be out soon and the discusses the final book, but he doesn’t say the final book is book 7 anymore.
The point is, you set down a story as part of an epic multi-story arc. But, without tight scripting you find that the arc grows out of control. If you already admittedly find you tend to build excessively long stories, you will have to be ruthless in cutting, especially if the story is already half released. That’s a major handcuff that prevents revision, and if you find you need lots of revision…
While some authors can go back and expand on a previous work (Orson Scott Card practically rewrote Ender’s Game from scratch from the POV of another character to get double the mileage from the same story – or Stephen King added hundreds of pages to The Stand as a “director’s cut”) I think that’s got to be rare. You’ll have to make 100% sure the first part is finished and won’t have hanging plots you later find you want to cut from later chapters, and that’s very difficult to do. If that doesn’t scare you, go for it.
I will say that three 30,000 word books don’t feel “serial”…it just feels like a trilogy with shorter than average individual books. When I think serial (and maybe this is just me) but I’m expecting it to not wrap up each section nicely. On a TV show there might be an in-episode arc that’s wrapped nicely, but the season long mystery takes months to resolve one week at a time. There needs to be several lingering threads that continue from one to the other and that call backwards. That means you specifically can’t really jump in halfway, that would spoil previous events and leave me confused about present ones.
You mention Animorphs, and I think that while many stories in it are “stand alone” the arc of the series has several specific events that all needed explanation in the right order. Trying to read the last book and going backwards would never work. Compare that to something like Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys where the book resets every time. There’s no arc there, the characters are the exact same in every novel.
Your process feels a lot like it works for a trilogy of stand alone books just as well as a 3 part serial release of a giant book, the only real difference is (as you’ve said) how the books flow into each other.
Other notes: I like the 2nd and 3rd titles, the second is a little generic but cliches are popular specifically because they work. The 1st one feels odd, and I can’t pinpoint why. The apostrophe title I think. Maybe something like Stolen Magic? I dunno, but you did specifically ask.
Finally, did I understand correctly that you’ve watched Legend of Korra, but not the original Avatar?
Right, and you have a point. I wouldn’t want to jump into publishing a series without having a pretty good idea in mind of where I want it to go. I feel a little more comfortable doing this one as I go because I already have quite a bit of world building in mind. Granted, I have been paying attention to be careful and not tie myself into certain plot points without knowing where I might want them to lead, or leaving other minor points ambiguous so that I have room to play later.
And indeed, trying to publish this as I go, rather than having it all written out first is a scary thought. It’s one reason I haven’t minded not trying to publish one of the other worlds yet. So much is tied together that has to fit just right to make sense. It’s at the point where I finally feel it might be ready, but still… I’ll be very hesitant not to release the first book until I look over it again really carefully.
In regards to whether or not this is a serial, I think you do have a point. At 30,000 words, with complete arcs and not publishing them quite as frequently, they might not have the ‘serial’ effect anymore. And part of that, I think, links back in to what you mentioned earlier in regards to how a story expands. I do have a tendency to expand a story further than intended, and if I didn’t have a clear story arc for each one, it would be easy to get lost in. My hopes with doing three stories, versus a serial one, would be to make sure that each story is cohesive.
True, you couldn’t read the very end of Animorphs and have it make sense. But a good number of the books in the middle read all right as a stand-alone. I didn’t read them in order for quite a while, mostly because I had to search out the earlier books from used bookstores. Some plot points did take adjusting to, whenever they brought in new tech or aliens or important secondary characters.
In regards to having several lingering threads that continue, I’ve opened up the possibility for quite a few sub-plots in the first book, while only really resolving one major issue.But then, that may be more of a series than anything else.
Granted, that also means that I’m considering allowing later stories to go longer. My current draft of Book One, which I just sent out to beta readers, is standing right at 29,000 words. On the other hand, my rough draft for Book Two is standing at 35,000, and I’m only about half-way through what I expect to be the complete story arc. Granted, I do expect to do some cutting and revising, but I don’t really mind if it runs longer. If it needs to be 60,000 words, I think I’ll be okay with that. However, I’ll still want to make sure that ‘every word counts,’ so that it doesn’t go on a tangent like my original draft did.
In regards to watching Legends of Korra first… *Sheepish grin.* The steampunk element intrigued me, and I got hooked. I’m currently in the process of watching Avatar, and it’s cool to see how everything ties together. (I had seen a couple episodes of Avatar before, so I was able to pick up on a few of the inside jokes in Korra).
Thanks for commenting, and for noting your thoughts on the titles, too. 🙂
If you want another set of eyes, I’d love to take a peek at a draft. I’m not always the best at raw grammar, but I spot plot errors pretty well.
I’ve sent you a facebook message. 🙂