It’s best to discuss serial fiction early, as it’s a somewhat controversial and risky experiment. Before I ever started writing the Fireward series, I decided it wasn’t going to be in a traditional book format. What I had in mind wasn’t a straightforward story and it never felt like any of the other stories I had written. It wasn’t just plots and characters, it was a whole world to explore, and almost instantly I had so much depth to that world that I couldn’t conceive of locking myself into the narrowly plot-related elements of that world. It came into my mind in episodes, each building on the last but still diverging in unexpected directions. The thing that I need to tell not just this story but these stories is flexibility.
The thing you do not get in the publishing world today is flexibility. It may be controversial to say, but if you look at the numbers, it is a depressing picture. 99% of writers will never make any money at it. It’s a net–and massive–loss in terms of the time spent writing and polishing a book that is either never published at all or languishes somewhere in the 20,000s on Amazon. Accepting that reality, you have to accept that an even smaller number of that 99% will ever be picked up by an agent or publisher, and a still-smaller number of THOSE will ever turn a profit.
And publishers are not known for rolling the dice when they pick up an author. I have frequented agents’ blogs, talked to other authors, read authors’ blogs, and all of them seem to amount to, you almost have to hand them a golden goose before you’re going to get anywhere. It’s like winning a lottery. And by the numbers, those are about the odds we writers are playing.
That’s why I’ve decided to go straight to Amazon.
The format I’ve decided to use is to write this story as a series of episodes, almost exactly like a television series. The story will unfold at that pace and each “episode” will be about 20,000 words long. That will give me a short arc for each episode, contributing to the overall arc of the entire series, but more importantly it will give me room to detour off onto other, smaller plots along the way that will let me explore my world and develop my characters in a way that’s very difficult to do in a novel. In novels, sub-plots are always the first to fall under the editor’s axe. In traditionally published fiction, sub-plots are additional pages, and additional pages are additional expense.
That is not an issue with e-fiction.
It gives me so many different directions to take this story. It allows me to build this world and tell stories in it almost indefinitely, in both long and short form. I could start up a Patreon and do Patreon-only vignettes or short stories set in this world. I could do “spin-off” series to my heart’s content, exploring characters or locations that turn out to be fan favorites.
And more than anything else, I can interact with my fans in a new way because instead of just Q&A sessions where I explain how X came to be or to give more backstory about fascinating character Y, I can tell them those stories without sacrificing the novel or setting it separate from the novel. I’ll have to be careful about derailing myself too far or for too long from the overall arc, but I see this serial format as an opportunity to provide more story, more often, and more responsively to readers than any traditional novel structure will permit.
Each episode could come out biweekly or monthly, after all, which is FAR more often than a (best case) biannual, annual, or if you’re George R. R. Martin, decennial wait between books. I plan to take breaks over the summer months to give both me and my readers time to digest, and I expect the schedule will adjust over time, but the idea of being able to keep my readers continuously interested and engaged is very exciting. I am a believer in fandom, I’ve participated in multiple fandoms, and I hope to provide my readers with a continuous stream of fodder for their own imaginations.
I believe that this flexibility is worth the trade-off for the respectability and prestige of mainstream publication, especially as mainstream publication is no guarantor of success by any means. But I’m also really interested in opinions on the topic, as I haven’t seen any mainstream breakout serial fiction to this point. What do you think? For or against serial fiction?