Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Monday, June 17, 2013

All About Serials...

I've already written a few posts about serials (On Serials, and the older-but-still-relevant Indie=Dime Novels of 2012?), but writer-friend Heather Sutherlin had a few more questions..., this post is for you, Heather!

How did you schedule in writing, editing, revising, etc?
I wrote the first three episodes before I launched the series, then wrote as I went. Mostly the pace was "write crazy fast," driven by the episode release schedule of every two weeks, with a little lead time (given by the pre-written episodes). Once the first draft of an episode was done, I did a quick second draft, then sent it off to my three critique partners. As soon as that episode was off, I started writing the next one. My crit partners were wicked fast in turning the eps around - I seriously couldn't have done this without them. Once I had their feedback, I revised - there were only a couple episodes where entire chapters had to be rewritten, so for the most part, revisions went quickly. Then I read through once more out-loud for line editing, formatted and read the episode on my kindle for proofing, and it was time to upload. Episodes took from a week to three weeks to draft, depending on my level of discipline. Overall, it was 125k over nine episodes in about 4 months (my fastest prior pace being about 85k in 5 months).

So I was writing constantly.

Lessons Learned:
  • Swapping pages with a friend every Monday helped keep me on track.
  • The pace I set for writing wasn't completely outrageous, just very challenging.

    What about cover art? How did you handle having to create/purchase new covers so frequently?!
    I had a great partner in creating cover art with Steven Novak. The first thing I wrestled with was the general "brand" or "look" to the series: dark, gritty, future-noir. I actually struggled for some time before I came up with a concept that I liked, namely black-and-white photos branded with fonts and background. Then I spent a ton of time trolling stock-art sites looking for just the right images. Finally, I decided that quality covers pay for themselves, and brought Steven on board to make the covers awesome (he did the covers for fellow Indelible RaShelle Workman's 12 part serial, so I knew he could execute on it). He totally "got" my concept, and making covers with him was a dream. But it was time-intensive. Writing the serials at the pace I set was challenging enough; I underestimated how much time I would spend creating covers and formatting and uploading as well (even though I had done these things before). I could have outsourced the formatting part, but that would have slowed things down, so in the end, I think the process worked well.

    But it was intense.

    Lessons Learned:
    • Stock art site trolling can suck up your time if you're not careful
    • All that stock art trolling will come in handy when you make a trailer
    • A nine part serial actually requires about 15 covers - the individual episodes, the collections, the print and audio versions

    How did you handle the actual plotting? Did you plot the whole series to begin with and then sit down to write each episode? Or did you plot a few and then add to it as you went? 
    Once I had written the first three episodes, I had a general plot direction for the series. But I also left lots of room for pantsing my way through - partly because I wanted to listen to reader feedback and have the chance to incorporate it (which I did on several occasions), and partly because I was still discovering the world as I wrote the series. One of my favorite characters (Valac), I didn't plan on having at all until he showed up on the pages. His story arc drove much of Episodes 4-6. I wasn't completely certain about the story arc of Episodes 7-9 until Episode 6 was written. So, I mostly pantsed my way through, with the caveat that at this point (having written several books, including a complete trilogy), I have a pretty firm grasp on the rhythm of a story that will (hopefully) be satisfying to the reader.

    Lessons Learned:
    • A strong, character-driven premise makes storytelling easier
    • A rich story-world makes creating the details easier
    • Every episode doesn't have to be plotted out, but getting feedback as I went (from CPs) was extremely valuable for keeping me on-track
    More questions? Throw them in the comments and I'll give them a stab. :)


    1. Wow! A whole blog post just for me? Thanks!
      I was incredibly impressed by your discipline while you were writing the Debt Collector. I think that's an area I need to work on improving before I even think about tackling such a project. Still, I think it would be the covers that tripped me up. That's a LOT of book covers in a short amount of time!
      Here's one more question for you: How was marketing Debt Collector different from marketing your other books? How did you prepare readers for the change in format and build an audience for it? (Sorry, that's two questions.)

      1. How was marketing Debt Collector different from marketing your other books?

        This is a good question, and there are some substantial differences. I rely a lot more on grass-roots reviews and word-spreading, because it's difficult to get reviewers and ads (like Book Bub) to take on the serial format. That's the danger of doing something new, something the market is still learning about, but I knew that going in. Also, the pace of writing/publishing cuts into marketing time - which is actually ok, because I think a lot of the marketing will com e AFTER the series is complete. This is another difference - people will take a chance on the first novel of a series, but with a serial, they tend to think of the whole "season" as a "novel" and want to wait until it's complete. Which I have no problem with - I love my readers, however they choose to read! I'm just happy they're interested enough to pick it up and give it a try at some point.

        All of that is one reason why I decided to go free with the first episode - to ease the "try me now" inhibitions.

        How did you prepare readers for the change in format and build an audience for it?
        I used the word "serial" a LOT. :) Made sure keywords like "episode" and the wordcount were bolded in the description. My experience before with novellas has been that if you make pains to say it's short, reader expectations are adjusted pretty reasonably.

        Building an audience is a different question - in a sense, audience finds you, not the other way around. People select what they want to read based on their interests and recommendations. I've heard things like "I've never tried a serial before, but I liked Susan's other works, so I'm giving this a try" or "Future noir sounds really cool and different; I had to see what that was about" or "I had no expectations going into this, but after reading it, I'm impressed."

        So, I think I'm getting a range of people - some who've read my prior works, some who stumbled on the description and liked it, and others who just downloaded the freebie having not heard of me, my works, or anything else before.

        That's where readership starts. Building audience requires delivering a story that people enjoy, and I'm happy that reviews so far seem to indicate that's happening.

        I wrote Debt Collector because I literally couldn't NOT write it. However far it goes is bonus for me.

    2. Thanks so much for providing this behind-the-scenes detailed information. Someone considering writing a serial would do well to check this out. I'm not sure I'm there yet. Barely handling my 3 month Characters Revealed journey lol!

      And this post made me feel extra good since I did a bit of fangirling about you at my blog today (ha!)

      1. Thanks so much for the fangirling!! You are so sweet...

        And serial writing definitely isn't for everyone - but I encourage novelists to at least try their hand at a novella or two. There's a lot to learn in the short form...

    3. I have another question, not strictly about serials. How and where do you go about creating boxed sets? And can you do it for e-books as well as print books?

      1. The box sets are only for ebooks - you create them just like any ebook (the 3D covers help communicate that there's more than one book in the set, but there's not physical box set). It's probably possible to make print box sets, but it's also probably prohibitively expensive.


    Erudite comments from thoughtful readers