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Thoughts on Publishing – Serial Publishing Methods

I recently got back notes from our beta reader for The Multiverse Chronicles, and one of the questions we asked her was whether or not she would read it in serial format (in this case, one episode a week). We want to make sure that when we release the episodes that the method of release will work well for readers.

Though she said that she enjoyed the episodes that she read, she also said that she personally wouldn’t read it in the serial format. She explained the reason was because the first two episodes (two weeks of content) had a lot of characters to keep track of, and given that the episodes alternate between two groups, that was a long time to wait to find out what happened to the main character from the first scene.

As an alternative, she suggested releasing several chapters at once, but at longer intervals, so that readers would have a chance to get grounded in the story before having to wait for the next installment.

In a sense, this is what I’m doing with The Wishing Blade series, but with a several-month interval. Technically, each book will fit together as one larger, complete book, though each one is meant to have a semi-complete story on its own.

Our beta reader suggested looking at Stephen King’s The Green Mile as an example of releasing several chapters at once, a serialized novel that was released monthly in 1996. From what I gathered during my (Wikipedia) research, The Green Mile was released in six parts, once per consecutive month, each paperback book around 100 pages until the last book, at 144 pages). Later the publisher released a compiled edition.

Now, I haven’t read the book, so I’m not sure how complete each part was, (though I did try to skim through a few reviews to get a feel for it, and I’m still not sure), so I don’t know how much of a cliffhanger each episode may or may not have been. Click here for more information about the original release of The Green Mile books.

But this research did lead me to thinking about the various options involved in releasing a serialized novel.

Originally, Isaac and I had intended the Multiverse episodes to be stand-alone short stories that fit a larger story arc, but the story arc took over. and now we have a serialized novel on our hands.

The options (with variation, depending on the author) are generally to release episodes or chapters every few days, once a week, every few weeks, or monthly/bi-monthly.

Due to time constraints, Isaac and I decided not to release episodes more than once a week. Otherwise there would be a long span of time between the beginning and end of each “season.”

However, if you have a complete novel, or if you want to write daily and release the new parts as their written, a faster release schedule may be the way to go.

Releasing weekly or every few days could work great if you have cliffhangers and an audience who is excited for the anticipation of waiting for the next episode. Here, having a story that hooks the reader and doesn’t let go, but demands a faster release schedule, may work well.

Though I haven’t read it personally, I found one example to be Worm, a completed web serial by Wildblow. In their case, they released chapters twice a week (sometimes three times, if donations met a specific goal). Also, The Legion of Nothingwhich (according to the info at the top left corner of its home page) updates twice a week.

Interesting side-note: According to Merriam-Webster.com, bi-weekly can either mean “twice a week” or “every two weeks.” Gotta love the consistency there.

Releasing every few weeks might work better for stories with larger episodes, where the author wants time to make edits before the release, or for writers who are writing the story as they go, but want time for feedback to develop, and time to implement that feedback.

Releasing monthly or even bi-monthly seems like it would work better for longer episodes or short books that have a reasonably complete story arc, however, my current research suggests that stories with strong cliffhangers can work well at this extended rate, too.

One romance series I’ve heard has done well, Renee George’s The Lion Kings, (according to its description/reviews, since I have not read this series, either) has each book as a fairly short installment that involved cliffhangers, where the author released the books on Kindle at around a month or so apart. Of course, audiences preferences may vary between genres.

Then there’s The Martian by Andy Weir. According to Smithsonian.com, The Martian was released on his blog at the rate of one chapter every six to eight weeks, though it does sound like he made adjustments per reader feedback. I’m not sure how long each chapter was, though, and since I haven’t read it, I’m not sure what specific part of the book may have drawn in the large audience that it did. (The Business Insider suggests that the author’s enthusiasm for science attracted a lot of other readers who were also interested in science, which helped propel its popularity forward. The eventually release of a Kindle edition continued to boost its popularity until it was picked up by a traditional publisher).

I haven’t tested out these methods myself, but I wondered if Isaac and I could mix a couple of these ideas together.

In this case, we’re thinking of releasing six episodes (chapters) to start with, which should give readers time to get familiar with the characters and the world, but also leaves off at a major turning point for the story. Then, a week later, we’ll start releasing one episode a week until the story is complete.

We already know that we’ll have at least 28 episodes, and since we originally planned on a six month schedule of weekly releases, offering the first six episodes to start with would help keep this plan on track. Not only that, but it would give readers more reassurance that this will be completed, since they can begin to see how the story will progress. As a bonus, leaving off the first week after the sixth episode would give readers a bit more idea of the conflict that our Battle Decks: Trials of Blood and Steel game (which influenced the story) is about.

So now I just need to see if I can get all six episodes edited before the release date. If so, then we may give this method a shot.

If that doesn’t work well, we can always switch it up later.

The main thing is that we’re trying to go for consistency, that way potential readers know what to expect.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. 🙂

Have you found any serialized novels or blog serials that worked well in terms of how they released each segment?

Related Posts:

Thoughts on Writing – What Does A Serial Episode Need? (The Multiverse Chronicles)

Thoughts on Publishing – A Novel or Three Novellas? (The Wishing Blade series)

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Thoughts on Writing – Subplots and End Scenes

Isaac has finished writing the rough draft of Trials of Blood and Steel, and I’m about half-way through editing his draft (with plans to go back at the halfway point and start polishing, that way we can start releasing episodes), so Isaac is now working on the little segments that go at the end of each episode.

We’ve been calling these segments end caps (a cross between recap and end of the scene? I’m not sure how we started calling it this), but I realized that wasn’t the actual name for those scenes. Did a bit of research, and they aren’t exactly a post-credits scene/stinger (they don’t come after the “credits,” just at the end of the episode, and they aren’t a teaser, since they come at the end of the episode rather than at the beginning. They also aren’t finales or cappers or endgames, per Merriam-webster.com.

So… I’m still not sure what to call these segments.

For now I’ll call them end scenes (though even that isn’t technically correct, per this site).

Anyway, our goal is to have a small scene at the end of each episode which provides a bit of extra background without being required for the main plot. Preferably, it will be something that makes readers wonder what’s going to happen next, and how this scene will get tangled into the main story.

For example, this is one of the end scenes (Still semi-rough), which references a carrier pigeon that was set loose earlier that episode:

Miles into its flight, the pigeon reached the border of the northern Prussian forest. The bird flapped tirelessly, trained for such flights, though it planned to take a food-break once it reached the other side.

Or it would have had a break, if it had made it that far.

A pair of glowing gold eyes spotted the pigeon from the ground, waited until the bird was within range, then lifted its rifle, sighted the target, and fired.

The shot echoed across the trees, but due to a slight miscalculation in wind speed, the bullet only clipped the bird’s wing. The pigeon faltered, but it had been trained as an elite war bird. It compensated for its broken wing, angling its beak and tail feathers in its best attempt to direct its plummet away from its assailant. The wind coasted under its good wing, and the bird directed its dive into the thicker part of the nearby woods.

The marksman waited as the bird disappeared into the trees. Despite being ordered to retrieve the bird, it turned around on its spiny legs and began its trek back to camp. The bird had fallen into the Deep.

The Deep… even in the marksman’s strained memory… resonated with its core and sent a tingle of fear through its metallic body.

Despite being a small part of the woods, no one who entered the Deep ever came out.

The goal of this scene is to raise the stakes (an important message has now been delayed), to set up the strange, metallic marksmen (which will become a major foe later), and to do the first foreshadowing of the Deep (which our heroes will encounter very soon).

Technically speaking, this scene isn’t absolutely necessary to the main plot.

It does raise the stakes, but if we remove this from the story, the rest of the plot would still make sense, though we might lose some of the richness.

This is, effectively, a subplot.

One of the interesting things about watching Isaac add the end scenes after writing all of the other episodes is seeing how they effectively develop into a subplot (mostly detailing what the bad guys are up to).

Not only that, but the end scenes significantly boost the word count.

Something to keep in mind if you have a bare-bones story that you want to develop further–or need to increase the word count of–is that you can add subplots.

Are there any plot threads that readers might find interesting that add to the story?

On the other hand, if you need to reduce your word count, cutting a subplot may be the way to go, particularly if there’s a thread that slows things down rather than keeps the pace moving. (If you need a breather, a subplot may be a nice way to release tension).

The next decision Isaac and I need to make is whether to have these end scenes be a separate post of their own, so it’s clear that they don’t have to be read for the main story to make sense (though I certainly enjoy them), or whether to include them at the end of the episode, perhaps with a telling Meanwhile… to denote that these are something separate from the main story.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. 🙂 Have any thoughts about subplots you’ve found to be effective or ineffective?


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