Why We’re Serializing, Part 1

A lot of people have been asking why my co-authors and I decided to publish serially. In the age of Amazon, instant gratification, and the digital revolution, why would someone choose to release a book in installments rather than the full thing?  We’ve even had a few people ask ‘what is serialization?’ and many more have wondered why we would choose to break our book up into sections. It’s complicated, they argue, it forces the reader to do more work to read your book, and it’s confusing. And in a lot of ways, they have a point.

So I’m going to explain our rationale for serializing The Sowing, and at the end of this whole process, I’ll do a reflective post and explain what worked, what didn’t, and whether we would do it again.

First: It’s important to note that we, K. Makansi, the authors of The Sowing, are indie authors and have no publisher, press, or marketing tools to back us up. We’re reliant exclusively on social media, blogs, and word-of-mouth to spread the word about how good (we believe) The Sowing is. So the decision to serialize was partially based on marketing. On July 17, we launched Episode One of the book, which is 1/9th of the total content of the book. If we had released the ENTIRE book, our work would now be done. There would be no more promotion to do – unless we chose to endlessly tweet and Facebook self-aggrandizing and self-promotional material with messages like “Buy Our Book!”

But since we only published the first Episode, we have loads of marketing opportunities. We can do contests that center around the big reveals from each new Episode. We can tweet our illustrations for every section. We can share special quotes from this week’s episode that encourage people to stay tuned for the next one, or feature teaser quotes from next week that get fans excited about the new one. We have NINE ‘book birth’ days rather than just one. See what we did there?

Second: It’s also important to note that publishing itself is entering a new paradigm. No longer are writers restricted by the size – or lack thereof – of their published material. The near-infinite storage capacities of the internet allow for better distribution of everything from micro-poetry to epic works, simply because it’s all in the cloud. So when we were considering whether to serialize or to publish the whole book in one go, it was important for us to realize that we could quite easily break the book up into different parts without having to worry about getting them individually printed, shipped, and sold. Nope, we just have to upload it to the internet, and – boom. For sale.

Finally: Everything we’ve read has indicated that more and more people are consuming information in bite-sized pieces. From Twitter, Facebook, Buzzfeed, and Reddit, to digital news articles, to Angry Birds, to blogging, journalists have been lamenting the decline of attention spans for the last five years. So instead of lamenting, we decided to capitalize. By publishing our works in shorter pieces that are consumable in between one to two hours, we’re betting that people will read shorter works more willingly than they would an entire book. This also gives new readers the opportunity to read the first Episode and decide for themselves whether they like it or not, without having to commit to reading an entire book.

This last point leads to an interesting question. How do you break a long work of fiction up into smaller pieces? How do you keep your short works interesting enough that readers will keep coming back for more? Our biggest concern here was giving readers enough value for their money. The lowest price we can sell anything for on Amazon is $0.99, which means that we have to give our readers enough action or length that they feel they’ve gotten a good value out of that spent dollar. Otherwise they won’t come back – especially since there are so many indie authors who are selling entire books for $0.99. So we were very careful to break the story up according to two things: the natural beats of the story, and word count. This was especially important at the beginning, where we are still introducing the reader to the world and to our characters. In some cases, we made the Episodes longer to compensate for slower plot movement. In other cases, the Episodes are short in terms of word count, but are action-packed and intense. Every decision was made from the perspective of giving readers a powerful emotional read and ending strong – so that they would be excited to pick up the next one.

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Finally, it’s not like this is a new idea. Serialization of long works of fiction has been around for ages; it just got kicked to the curb when Penguin introduced – and had wild success with – the paperback novel. (Anyone remember The Beatles’ hit ‘Paperback Writer’?) Long ago, back before the Great Wars, serialization was a popular way for new writers to publish their fiction. Eventually it became a popular way for all writers to publish their fiction. Many of the greatest writers of the 18th and 19th centuries published their works serially, which were distributed through journals and periodicals as exclusive content. Charles Dickens did it. Alexandre Dumas did it. So did Harriet Beecher Stowe, Herman Melville, Henry James, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to name but a few. We’ve decided to revive this revered tradition as a way to build momentum and anticipation for our book, and as debut authors, we felt that getting the word out about a new adventure in publishing would be far easier if we serialized.

And ultimately, that’s what this is. An adventure in publishing. The times, they are a changin’, and we wanted to be at the forefront of the revolution, rather than straggling at the back. Even if that means taking a risk. And that, too, was a key part of our decision to serialize.

So, what do you think? Would you serialize? Why or why not?

Thanks for reading!