Why We’re (Not) Serializing, Pt. 2

As my well-educated and intellectual readers undoubtedly learned in elementary school, the scientific method is an important way of learning new things by proving or disproving hypotheses. You set out with a theory – a hypothesis – and you try to prove your hypothesis by conducting a series of experiments. You record your data. You check your data against your hypothesis to see if you have proved your hypothesis. If you need more evidence, you do more experiments, until such point as you can say conclusively that your hypothesis is or is not true.

In a way, we used the scientific method to examine how serialization would perform in a modern setting, by using our debut novel, THE SOWING, as the grand experiment. We set out with the hypothesis that would gravitate towards shorter works of fiction, quick and easy bite-sized consumables that could be read in a sitting. We performed our experiment by diligently loading each serialized Episode onto Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and our website, by marketing and promoting each Episode separately but as parts of a whole, by preparing book covers that could evolve and illustrations that would accentuate each Episode. We hoped that readers would gravitate towards this style, that they would start with us and snowball forwards, that those who came late to the game would start at the first one and eagerly consume the rest of the Episodes, jumping on the bandwagon as we released more pieces of the book.

At this point, it appears that this hypothesis has been disproved. The difficulties we’ve had in getting each Episode to market, coupled with DECLINING sales as we went along, as opposed to INCREASING (which is what we hoped) has ultimately led us to change our tactics, at least for THE SOWING. Serialization, at least in the format we attempted, doesn’t seem to be working.

So, as authors, we’re copping to this failure. We’re going to release the full book, THE SOWING, in e-book format as soon as possible, so that our readers will be able to get the whole thing – no bite-sized formats – and consume it at their leisure. We’ll do this as soon as the full book has been proofread and is ready for release, which will hopefully be either this week or next. Then we’ll do a re-launch and celebrate the arrival of the full book, while we prepare to release the print version in mid to late September.

In the meantime, though, here’s a summary of why (we think) serialization DIDN’T work. So if you’re considering serializing your own novel, you can take this into account, adapt, and do it better than we did.

1) The technology simply wasn’t there. Our biggest problem came on Episode Four, when we dutifully uploaded all of our files 48 hours before our intended release date of Wednesday, August 7. When we went to check on our files on Wednesday morning to find the links to Amazon, B&N, and Kobo, so that we could promote them on our Twitter and Facebook platforms, alas alack Amazon, our biggest distributor, didn’t have Episode Four up yet. What do you do when you have to tell your readers that your book isn’t ready when you told them it would be? (Answer: you stiffen up and find a solution.) We were basically stuck. And a day later, it still wasn’t up, and Amazon hadn’t replied to our support inquiry, and we realized we were screwed. This wasn’t the first time we’d had this problem, either – Kobo took up to four days to load both Episode One and Two onto their site, so we knew it was a possibility. It makes the whole process unreliable.

In addition to that, the technological challenge required of asking our customers to buy and download nine separate books onto their e-reading devices was clearly asking too much. In the old days of serialization, this was done differently. Authors wrote stories; periodicals paid authors for the rights to publish these stories serially in their magazines; readers paid for the magazines and they were automatically dropped on the patron’s door on a regular basis. It’s push versus pull distribution. The distribution system for serialized works was less consumer-driven and more publisher-driven. In our case, though, unless we wanted to find a magazine willing to undertake this serial experiment with us, it would have been impossible to do the same.

2) It’s hard to get people to commit to bite-sized stories. When we asked our customers to pony up $0.99 for each Episode (that being Amazon’s minimum price for any e-book) we were asking quite a bit. You can buy entire books for $0.99 on Amazon, so why should people pay $0.99 for just a tiny chunk of a book? Especially when they have to go through the trouble of doing it week after week after week? It doesn’t work – either serialization needs a better distribution system or the book ought to be released in its entirety. That’s why, when we post the FULL book on Amazon soon, we’ll leave it steeply discounted for a week or so, so that all the people who stayed with us and rooted for us in the early stages won’t pay the price financially for their loyalty and enthusiasm (I’m looking at you, J. Edward Paul).

3) It’s a lot of work, man! Every Sunday night and Monday, we sat down to proofread, format, and upload our new Episode to all of the various sites we were using as platforms. This included Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Scribd, and our own website. This ended up being at least a six-hour time commitment for both me and my mom, once a week, every week, JUST TO GET THE EPISODE ONLINE. Not counting the marketing coordination of setting up blog posts, writing blog posts, asking for reviews, Tweeting, Facebook-ing, each one in preparation for the release of the new week’s Episode. Seriously, it’s a time commitment.

That said, even with all these downsides, we are still considering alternate ways of serializing for Books Two and Three. We’re considering a number of possible methods. One such option would be an iPhone app similar to the one developed for the Song of Ice and Fire world, where the app is free but multimedia content is available via paid download with just a touch of your finger. Another possibility is a digital subscription service akin to the one provided by Kinfolk Magazine or Shelf Unbound. These publications are beautifully laid out, involve email based subscription services, and involve push, rather than pull, distribution to consumers. Both of these formats would work really well with our trans-media vision for our project (which, in our wildest hopes and dreams, would draw on artists in all media forms to bring the Okarian Sector fully to life via dance, illustration, art, music, poetry, etc.) and we’re definitely looking forward to exploring them further.

So, regardless of the way we go about bringing THE SOWING to our readers, our adventure in publishing continues, and I hope you’ll join us for the ride.