As a writer who works in serial format myself (my co-writers and I just posted part 14 of a story in a science-fiction universe we’re creating to a free on-line fiction site), I was interested to see this piece from PaidContent that looks further into Amazon’s new serial format in-depth. The business turns out to be unexpectedly lucrative; the startup, Plympton, that licensed the first few Kindle Serials went from being able to pay its writers $500 per episode plus a bonus to paying them five-figure fees.
But writing serials isn’t for everyone. It can be very tricky—as I can attest from my own experience. The problem with it is that you’re working on a tightrope—it’s very hard to write and keep posting serial fiction because it’s all too easy to hit a snag in mid-stream.
Plympton’s Goldstein Love echoed [long-running online serial writer Claudia Hall] Christian’s comments that writing serials is hard. “We have really come across a lot of what we’re calling the third episode problem,” she told me. “It’s a lot easier to write a brilliant first episode of something. In your second episode, you’re continuing that. In the third episode, you realize you have no idea where this is going. It’s a real danger with writing serially. We won’t sign anyone on fully until we see how the first three [episodes] go.”
That is absolutely right. I’ve seen many attempted serials flame out in places like the old Superguy listserv as writers had trouble figuring out where to take them once they’d started them. Or simply trouble finding the time to get there once they had. (I’ve left more than one series unfinished for that reason myself.) And this problem has struck even professionally published writers, as with Diane Duane’s long-delayed The Big Meow Storyteller’s Bowl project, which went for years without seeing an update.
The article goes on to note that serials could be a challenge for Amazon because they’re basically charging the same amount for a serial that they charge for a “Kindle Single”—and only requiring the reader to pay that amount once to gain access to the whole thing—but requiring authors to do many times the work.
As someone who’s worked in serial (albeit admittedly unpaid) online fiction myself, I find Amazon’s attention to serial e-books to be very intriguing, and I will be interested to see how this new format goes. Is it going to fizzle out? Will it set the world on fire? One thing’s for sure, it hasn’t done that badly for a lot of the free online and fanfic sites that post writers’ serialized works.
Heck, even chartbuster Fifty Shades of Grey was originally published serialized as a free Twilight fanfic, building up its huge original audience over time as more readers spread the word and became invested in the story. (Was that fact more of an inspiration to Amazon than Dickens, I wonder?)