A.M. Harte has been a friend of and contributor to Tuesday Serial and has been involved in the serial fiction community as a writer, editor, commentator and more. We are pleased to welcome her here today as she launches her blog tour for “Above Ground” – her first novel that began as a nightmare, turned into serial fiction and is now a book. Welcome, Anna!
“From Webfiction to Print: 9.5 steps to turn your serial into a book”
by A.M. Harte
Like most strange and wonderful things, it started with a nightmare.
Three years ago, I woke up with my heart pounding, my fingers scrabbling for the notebook by the bed. What I scribbled down in that half-dazed state was to become the starting point for Above Ground, my first novel.
I wasn’t quite sure where the story would go. I knew it was futuristic science fantasy, I knew it had werewolves and other critters, and I definitely knew that no traditional publisher would want it.
As a fanfiction reader and writer, and a new inductee to serialised original fiction, I did the only logical thing: I started posting it online.
Today, over three years and three drafts later, I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour to celebrate Above Ground‘s book release.
The journey from webfiction to print hasn’t been easy, which is why today I’d like to share my experiences in the hopes of, at the very least, helping you to avoid a pitfall or two.
Or at the very least, finish the first arc of your story.
Serials are often structured differently from novels, so you’re going to need to package it up into something that’ll work as a book. Evaluate where you can cut off the story without (overly) pissing off your readers.
2. Read critically.
You’re most likely going to need to edit your serial to beat it into a decent shape and get rid of all those ridiculous scenes you made up to fill up the page.
Read your novel carefully. Note down the characters, the plot holes, the themes. Take notes on what isn’t working and what needs to be done.
The crueller you are, the better. You know that throwaway scene with the werepenguin choking on a cheese puff needs to go. (And, yes, that’s a real example from Above Ground.)
3. Outline, outline, outline.
Using your notes from Step 2, write a fresh outline for your novel.
I don’t care if you hate outlines. Gosh, when I started I loathed them… and as a result wrote a second draft of Above Ground that still had one million plot holes and far too many characters.
Due to the way serials are structured and written, I often found myself pushing up against the deadline with absolutely no idea where the story was going. I wrote ridiculous scenes and invented new characters willy-nilly. I wrote myself into corners and overlooked gaping plot holes.
Serial readers are patient and put up with an author’s silliness. Novel readers, rarely so.
4. Rewrite and/or edit.
Depending on how much your new outline differs from your serial, you’ll need to do some serious rewriting and editing.
With Above Ground, I had two word documents open: the original draft and the revision. I didn’t let myself copy-paste any text over; everything had to be re-typed, and therefore everything went through the editing filter.
Forcing myself to re-type the entire thing worked out well. When I came across verbose, dull passages, my inherent laziness forced me to condense them, and when I came across sections devoid of any description at all, I was able to insert prose seamlessly into the story.
4.5. Edit some more.
Get an editor or a writing buddy at the very least, and brace yourself for their criticisms. Listen to what they say. Get a second opinion if you’re not sure. Keep editing. Keep working.
With Above Ground, I re-serialised the second draft and used my readers as a sounding board. The third (and final!) draft went past my awesome editor Terra.
5. Know when to stop editing.
A problem with serials is that you can easily go back into an old post to tweak and edit. Each time you go back, you see something to change.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll never be 100% happy with the end result.
Trust me: set a deadline, and stick to it. Don’t keep editing forever.
7. Make the damn book!
If you’re a designer and/or illustrator, you can probably handle the book design yourself. Otherwise, pay/beg/bargain others for help in laying out your book and making the cover amazing.
Spending as much time on your packaging and design as you did on your editing is really worth it. Remember, people do judge books by their covers.
8. To take down or not to take down?
If you’re planning on turning your serial into a book, the chances are you’re doing so in order to sell copies. If so, are you going to leave your serial online, or take it down?
Some authors fear that having the serial online could hurt sales. Others feel that the serial is what encourages sales.
Me, I’m on the fence. I’ve decided to never take down Above Ground because the story wouldn’t exist without my online readers, however, the ebook/print versions are revised and polished—the final versions of the story, so to speak. I think it’s a good compromise.
9. Brace yourself.
This is the stage I’m at now.
The book is revised, edited, designed, and on sale. After three long years, it’s finally over.
And here I am today, thrilled and terrified and excited… and so very happy that I could begin my blog tour on Tuesday Serial, for without the serial fiction community, Above Ground would still be a scribbled nightmare in my notepad.
What next? Well, I suppose it’s time to start the next serial. While you’re waiting, you can check out my Rafflecopter giveaway and throughout November you can join me at all of my blog hop stops.
A.M. Harte writes twisted speculative fiction, such as the post-apocalyptic Above Ground and the zombie love anthology Hungry For You. She is excellent at missing deadlines, has long forgotten what ‘free time’ means, and is utterly addicted to chocolate.
She’s the Editor-in-chief of 1889 Labs, commissioning projects and generally ordering people around. She co-hosts the online fiction podcast Webfiction World; see the full list ofepisode archives. She has also volunteered as an editor for Web Fiction Guide and run qazyfiction, a webfiction project.
For fellow writers, she tries to do my bit by maintaining a directory of indie book reviewers.
She lives in London, a city not half as foggy as some seem to think.
Woo, and so the tour begins! Thanks for hosting me 🙂
This is my plan, too, although I am only at the halfway point in my serial of what I will be collecting into a novel. Thanks for the article; I can't wait until I'm at the same point!
I see you've opted to put up a synopsis of previous parts so people can start reading from your latest post. I never did that – so everyone had to read from Chapter 1 and work their way upwards.
Do lots of people use the synopsis?
I do see that some people read the synopsis, read the next few sections, and then either stop reading or start from the beginning. I'm not sure anyone has become a regular ongoing reader from reading the synopsis alone. However, I know that starting in the middle of a serial can seem daunting, so anything I can do to make it slightly more attractive, I will try to do.
Well, someone used the 1-24 synopsis and read through to the current page (37) today, so I count that as my first synopsis success.
I considered having a synopsis but always thought it was too much effort! Perhaps I'll try it with my next serial. I can see how it might be a good way for someone to quickly see if they'd like your story – but at the same time, I don't see myself ever reading a synopsis as it'd have loads of spoilers.
Agreed. I see it as more for the casual reader.
For creative types, a notebook by the bed is a very important tool. I don't often use a traditional pen and pad any more on my night-stand but there have been many nights where I wake up, or just before I go to sleep, that I quickly jot down a series of notes in my phone.
springpad.com is great for that. It syncs my "notebooks" between my phone and pc/internet.
I've never heard of springpad – is it like a notebook version of dropbox?
To leave the serial up or not…
Well I started reading Above Ground during its first iteration. I think around the time chapter 7 was getting published to a now long defunct blog site.
Despite having read, and re-read this story in more than one edition I still ordered the book. So I'd say that (at least from point of view) you have struck the right balance.
That's more because you're a star than because of my book, I think 🙂
As some one who followed your serial through both online revisions, and reads many others, a book represents an opportunity to help support an author and see a more polished version.
While I understand why many pull their serial upon reaching publication, it may mean those with limited funds never get the chance to become a fan. Having the online version to hook me in is a big boost towards allocating funds for a follow-up purchase.
Also – Congratulations, Anna!
Good point. And I have to say even those readers who can't afford to buy the actual finished book have been huge helps and supporters in other ways (spreading the word about my work, posting encouraging comments, giving helpful feedback…).
To me the benefits outweigh any other consideration.