Serials Can Be Challenging, For Writers and For Amazon – An Author’s View
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?)
Stephanie September 20, 2012 um 4:59 am
Thanks for an interesting article, Chris. I think there’s a lot of potential for serials, blovels, even Twitterfic although, as you say, a lot depends on the dedication and stamina of the author for this genre to succeed. I’ve got a not-quite-finished blovel out there myself, shame! However, I shall put that to rights at once and do some more blogging myself about serialisation.
Hussman September 20, 2012 um 9:15 am
This was interesting. Just finished up a serial story myself. Learned a lot from the experience. I’m going to have to look into this.
Noel Goetz November 17, 2012 um 10:35 pm
I think the trick to writing a serial with longevity in mind, is to initially put your main character(s) in a situation that will continue to challenge them in as many ways possible over the long haul. Rejected, Penniless, Homeless, Chased, Seeking, etc.etc. In addition having a few well thoughtout (co-staring) auxiliary characters, with their own backstories and sets of personal challenges is essential as well. Also worth considering is character arc, which is a absolute necessity, not only to the story but gives you the opportunity to stretch your character(s). There are some very good stories out there. one Web-site among others, that encourages and showcases authors in this genre is at tuesdayserial.com One of the longest running serials is "Denver Serial". I myself write a serial at cardinalmeadows.com It is now at 140 episodes. One of the greatest hurdles for me is time. A serial writer will plug along day in and day out, and put themselves on a strict schedule. If you want to see your writing improve, daily or consistent writing is key. Writing a scheduled serial, forces you to do this. Then there’s writers block. Everyone hits the wall on occasion but if you don’t give yourself the option of stopping, you will generally write through it. It may be important to take a break now and then to recharge your batteries but only to refresh the gift. I stopped for almost a year once but then jumped back in with both feet. If you’re interested in Serials, read a few and then start writing one yourself. They’re great fun while being a worthwhile challenge.