When it comes to publishing serial stories, writers have faced a conundrum. There are very few online formats that lend themselves to publishing installments. Smashwards specifically disallows unfinished works, and Amazon and Barnes & Noble force the publisher to package each installment separately unless it’s a completed work. This means each episode / installment has its own price, its own cover, its own description, its own reviews. The reviews make it a particularly sticky issue because if the first installment has glowing reviews, those reviews don’t show up automatically on the seventeenth installment. Readers have to go to some trouble to track it all down.
Roz Morris recently wrote an insightful post about her somewhat frustrating experiencing publishing her novel “My Memories of a Future Life” in installments on Amazon. She recapped her issues and lamented the fact that Amazon and other publishers didn’t easily allow for the publishing of a serial in installments.
Just after she had published her post, however, Amazon made an announcement which has the potential to revolutionize the publishing of serial stories. You’ll see at the bottom of her post, she included an addendum about Amazon’s announcement.
For full details of Amazon’s announcement, you’ll want to check out this press release from the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch. The upshot of this is that Amazon now has a new format specifically for serials which will allow readers to pay one flat fee and receive all installments of the story: past, present and future. It keeps reviews in one place and doesn’t clog up the reader’s kindle with multiple entries for the same story.
At the moment, Kindle Serials do not appear to be a self-publishing platform, although it does appear to bypass the role of the agent. Amazon’s submission guidelines provides no indication of how serials are evaluated, how many might be considered for publishing or any specifics. We hope that over time that will become more clear and of course we also hope that the platform becomes a self-publishing option.
As writers, publishers and everybody else try to figure out how Kindle Serials will work, there’s a lot of buzz about it on social media and the interwebs.
Porter Anderson has tapped into some of the buzz and has some thoughts of his own in his post: “Extra Ether: Serial Iterations.” He begins with some nuts and bolts information about Kindle Serials, talks about Roz Morris’ post and her reaction and provides some additional compilation of thoughts from Fast Company’s Sarah Kessler and other sources. The primary debate in the latter part of the article is about whether allowing readers to have input to the course a story will take is triumph or travesty. And while you’re there, you must read through all of the comments to Porter’s post as it gets into a much more in-depth conversation with many various viewpoints expressed.
LitChat – a very popular Twitter chat for writers founded by Carolyn Burns Bass – had a discussion about the news on Monday, September 10. Much of the conversation revolved around serial fiction as a concept rather than the specific implication of Kindle Serials, but it was a very interesting nevertheless. It was clear that serial fiction is not a good fit for every writer nor every reader. Tony Noland, another member of our Tuesday Serial team, was able to join the conversation in-progress and emphasized the many different flavors of serial fiction, some involving reader input and some not.
To me, the reader input issue is a red herring, although people certainly have strong opinions about it and it makes for an interesting discussion. The serial format has been around – according to Wikipedia, at least – since “One Thousand and One Nights” which dates back several hundred years. There are as many flavors of serial fiction as there are unique snowflakes. Hyperbole aside, some serial fiction incorporates reader feedback and many types of serial fiction do not.
Incorporating reader reaction to stories is a mainstay of fiction, not just serial fiction. Writing groups, critique groups, forums, and editor’s feedback provide ways for writers to get a reader’s perspective on the course their story should take in time to change direction if necessary. We usually feel that this improves the quality of the story. Whether the readers providing input are four members of an intimate critique group or four hundred readers of a writer’s blog is largely irrelevant. Ultimately it is in the author’s hands to craft the best story they possibly can. We can debate the literary merits of this approach, but in the end the reader decides whether it works for them or not. If the writers rely too heavily on reader feedback to guide the story then it may smack of the same issues raised with reality TV shows, but this will undoubtedly appeal to some readers.
Here at Tuesday Serial, our aim is to bring together writers of serial stories – in whatever flavors they come – with readers who enjoy the serial format. As part of the serial community, we try to create opportunities for our writers not just to reach more readers, but to explore their various publishing options when they are ready to take that step. Kindle Serials has the potential to be a very exciting event in the trajectory of serial fiction, potentially bringing new readers to the format and creating new publishing avenues for our writers. We will try to continue to bring the latest news on Kindle Serials and other publishing options as it comes. We have reached out to several writers of serial fiction and we hope to feature posts with their perspectives on what Kindle Serials could mean to both writers and readers.
If you are a reader who’s not sure whether the serial format appeals to you, check through our weekly archives and you can choose from between twenty and thirty serial installments each week.
So, what do you think Kindle Serials will mean to writers and readers? Let us know in the comments!
PJ Kaiser blogs at “Inspired By Real Life“, is the editor at Metro Fiction – the fiction column at Metro Moms Network and is one of the Tuesday Serial team. You can connect with PJ via Facebook, Twitter, Google+ , or email.
During #LitChat, the discussion of the reader input seemed to revolve around two issues: 1) whether writers being responsive to mid-narrative reader feedback would help or hurt the quality of the serial, and 2) whether serial writers are selling out to Amazon by signing on as "staff writers", thereby making themselves contractually obligated to be responsive to reader input.
Participating under the @TuesdaySerial banner, I noted that responsiveness to the readers has little to do with the quality of the writing. If you chase after every new whim of taste, you're writing without a core idea of what the story is about. The goal is to please the readers and keep them coming back for more, but not be completely swept away after every bit of feedback. If they already know what they're going to get, you won't be able to surprise and delight them.
Charles Dickens, that great serialist, changed the story arc of "Martin Chuzzlewit" mid-stream in response to reader feedback. At first, sales weren't great – if he'd been on Amazon, he'd have gotten a big share of 2 star reviews for the early episodes. To re-hook his readers (and to boost sales), Dickens sent young Martin Chuzzlewit to America, that false Eden, where he was rooked and swindled by con men and card sharps. The move allowed Dickens to then use the plot device of bringing young Martin back home, sadder and wiser after his experiences along the exotic Mississippi River.
For novelists, the quantum unit of reader feedback is the book. If they don't like your latest book, you learn what you can from the feedback and go on to write a better book. For serialists, the quanta are the individual episodes of your serial, not the whole arc.
Thanks for adding that, Tony – that's a great clarification. And an interesting tidbit about Dickens!
People need to remember that a lot of stories we now treat as regular novels (the Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle come to mind, and Tony's Dickens example above of course) were originally published as serials in magazines. One of my prized possessions is a facsimile edition of the Sherlock Holmes stories — the summaries at the start of each instalment and the teasers at the end are wonderful (and dead funny) to read.
Thanks for commenting, Eyrea – yes, Amazon definitely did not invent the serial by any means. They've been going strong for many years. Hopefully their new format will be a great boon for serial writers!
This is a very interesting development for the future of serial fiction. One of the main drawbacks of serial fiction is that many people don't like reading off a computer screen, but if they can get regular episodic updates of a story on their Kindle it opens up to a whole new set of potential readers.
Adam – yes, that's definitely one of the key advantages of kindle serials. It was possible before if you packaged it yourself and offered it as a download in mobi format on your site, but it was not pretty. Of course this still isn't open to everybody, but we can hope 🙂
In past centuries, newspapers were often a vehicle for serialization of fiction (I'm thinking Charles Dickens here). With newspapers going the way of the dinosaur, I'm glad to see that other distribution channels are opening up, and that Amazon is getting creative. Great analytical post, PJ. Thank you!
My pleasure, Robin – thanks for the comment. They are getting creative and I'm hoping that with their close relationship with self publishers they will open up the format more widely.
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