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Thursday, July 31, 2014

'A Killer Serial' - Guest Post by Hart Johnson

I am delighted to host a guest post by Hart Johnson, familiar to bloggers from her delicious (and quite informative) blog:

Hart had the idea to write a serial. She speaks of this in her post, so I will not steal her thunder. I will, however, give a thought or two of my own on serials. In past centuries, many writers were published in serial form. Dickens, specifically, wrote in a format that lent itself for serialization. Typically, a family would subscribe to a publication and that publication would feature an ongoing story. Each issue would contain an installment, which would be read, exclaimed over, discussed at great length. The younger members would be on the lookout for the next installment. When the process was through, the book would be published in its complete, monumental form.

That practice fell out of use nearly a century ago. We are now seeing it again. Hart's is the first I've seen among writers I know, but there are others.

So... What does a serial have to offer over a 'brick', as we call non-serialized publications. I have my own thoughts on that issue, and they surprised me. I have The Pickwick Papers in serialized form, and it was impressed upon me when I read it that way that I was being drawn more thoroughly into the story. My enjoyment was deeper. If Mr. Pickwick at the end of the most recent installment was on a coach about to head to Dingley Dell for Christmas, I had a month or so to reflect on what he had been doing, what he was about to do, my thoughts on the character of the residents and visitors at Dingley Dell. Would Alfred Jingle (the cad!) be up to his caddish tricks? Would he charm, say, the maiden aunt? My thoughts would deepen my enjoyment, something that doesn't happen in these days of novels you plow through.

Is it working? I will say that my reading of the installments has made me ponder what will happen next, frown over what seems to be about to happen, and argue with others over what will happen.  It's a little more leisurely and (I won't hide the fact) annoying to some people.  But I think the format is back to stay.  I think it's a good thing. - Diana

...And now Hart, in her own words.

Serial Madness

First, I really want to thank Diana for hosting me! I'm happy to be here!  (It's good to have you, Hart...)

To give you just a bit of background so you know where I'm coming from:

For the last ten months I've been serially releasing a very long book—there have thus far been 11 parts (of 12) and they are about 100 pages each. I'm here to share my thoughts on the good, the bad, and what I would have done differently in relation to serial publication. 

Moth to Flame 
First:  why I was so DRAWN to this idea... I have always had a love for door-stopping stories (physical door-stoppers, I mean—the 1000+ pagers). When I began trying to publish the hardest thing I had to do was learn how to rein in a long, complicated tale. Then, almost two years ago I had a friend announce she was serially releasing a story and I fell in love with the idea... Heck, follow in the footsteps of Dickens and Dumas? I could tell the stories I wanted to tell—the LONG complicated ones! I had a nearly finished book that I was frustrated with because it needed more, but at 600 pages, it needed LESS, if you know what I mean, so I decided to take on the rewrite, not to TRIM it, but to fill it in—give it more points of view so the stuff I was having trouble getting across because of the PoV limitation could be told and a good ending would no longer seem out of the blue.

Man, talk about a project to keep a person on their writing pace. I have written SO MANY words in the last year. (the 120K thing I HAD became a 330K thing, and that doesn't even account for old version stuff I had to lose)

I have learned SO MUCH! It was trial by fire and I had to just get in there and do it. One of the BIGGEST things, and I think this is why I managed to be an Amazon semi-finalist with Parts 1-4, is having not just one climax, but regular mini-climaxes so each section was satisfying and the tension always remained high.

I think it worked to get a great story out there that was as long as I wanted it to be. 

The BAD 
I REALLY strained my first and second readers—it is too much to ask people to read 100 pages EVERY MONTH (which was the gap I ended up with between episodes after the first couple)

Readers, apparently, don't TRUST serials. I didn't know this because I thought it sounded so awesome, but I've heard this several times now—they will wait for it to be done. And no matter HOW up front you are that you are serially releasing, they grumble about SHORT or about 'is this all'?

I am REALLY worn out. The monthly marketing effort is GINORMOUS and I think I had either too long or short between to be really effective. If it was shorter, I could build momentum, if it was longer, I could rest up between. One month is the WRONG distance.

The REVIEWS are all on the individual episodes, but once they are bundled, the BUNDLES are what I have been focusing on selling because it is easier to talk about.... yet there they sit, reviewless...
What I would Do DIFFERENTLY 
The VERY most important is I would finish the full first draft AND get first and second reader feedback before I started the polish to publish cycle. I had a few life stress cycles that really stopped up the original writing end of things—I think 6 weeks is the longest between episodes, but I think 2 weeks may in fact be ideal. I REALLY should only have had copyediting left to do.

If I do it again, I will either try to go through Amazon's formal serial arm (they require a finished product before they take you, then they sell subscriptions) or I may just say, “Hey, let's make it a trilogy” (that is the version I am working with on my current book—three books with three acts each, to be published as a trilogy)

I would have self-published a standalone before committing to a serial. I've traditionally published, but the publisher does all the technical stuff, so part of my learning curve was THAT. I really should have mastered all that before I started shouting and creating expectations. And then I had to repeat it regularly, but there wasn't enough time between to master OTHER formats (Nook, iTunes)--I really felt like I scrambled a bit. (read:  a lot) 
Volumes 1 - 4
Volumes 5 - 8

I am happy with the outcome though. The LAST ONE comes out next week. If you are curious, the bundled first four are still just 99 cents—once all of them are out, I will figure out a pricing strategy. Volumes 5-8 are also bundled, and sometime in August I will bundle the last.

You can find the first bundle, parts 1 - 4 here, and the second, 5 - 8, here
...and here are the covers so far:

Hart Johnson is a social scientist by day and plots murder in her bathtub at night. If you want to learn more about her, you can find her at Confessions of a Watery Tart: 


  1. Hi Diana and Hart - I have to say I'd thought about serials .. but you've highlighted the ups and downs - equally I'm sure they will take off - seems a really sensible mode for writing ...

    I love the look of your books and admire the covers .. good luck - and cheers to you both - Hilary

    1. Hilary, if you do it, best of luck to you! I'm happy to field questions if you want any more details!

  2. Thanks Diana for this great post, and the interview with the author. I heard of serials recently and you've really helped elucidate the matter! I love a big book too and my WIP ended up so huge that, just as the author has done, I had to cut it into three because I don't think kids are into reading books at more than 300k!