The first few months of this year found me in the throes of writing 15,000 words a week and staying about three episodes ahead of my readers. I was in the middle of a 13-episode serialization called Hidden Falls.Think of a television series, with continuous storylines and characters but presented in individual episode that connect to each other.
I was collaborating with the publisher (Shiloh Run Studios, a new imprint of Barbour) in a grand experiment. None of us knew exactly what would happen.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak to the local ACFW chapter about the experience. We had a rousing discussion about the challenges and opportunities of digital-first publishing in general and serializations in particular. We looked at pros and cons of serialization for the publisher, the writer, and the reader.
In this space for the next three months, I invite you in to some of our conversation. Let’s start with why a publisher would try a strategy of releasing one long story (200,000 words) in episodes.
Here’s what I come up with.
1. Digital-first publishing connects with the wider context of our highly visual culture that rapidly consumes entertainment.
2. Digital-first publishing capitalizes on growing trends for how people consume fiction.
3. Digital-first publishing allows a publisher to wade into innovative waters and benefit from a shorter cycle of evaluation and adjustment than traditional print publishing.
4. Digital-first publishing gets new projects to market faster, helping to keep readers connected to writers they enjoy.
5. A serialization, as a particular form of digital-first publishing, presents an old format (think Dickens) to a modern audience.
6. Innovation keeps a business going.
There’s always a flip side. What are the cons a publisher must be mindful of with a serialization in particular? Here’s my list.
1. If the publisher has no track record for selling serializations, which is likely with a traditional CBA publisher at this point in time, they face a greater degree of uncertainty in predicting business outcomes.
2. Publishing systems must be more nimble, able to adjust to new information as it arrives and making adjustments to product development and marketing even in the midst of releasing the episodes of the series.
3. In a new format, the publisher must find afresh the balance between the length and form of a product and profitable pricing, a particular challenge in an environment where many readers believe digital formats should be less expensive than print.
4. Despite clear labeling, there’s a risk that readers who begin the first episode may not realize they are beginning a serialization with ongoing storylines and cliffhangers.
Serializations are only one form of digital-first publishing, but they raise new challenges to a publisher’s business model. At the same time, serialization offers challenges for the writer (which we’ll look at in August) and adjustments for readers (which we’ll look at in September).
• As someone interested in writing fiction, in what ways do you think serializations could change the landscape of fiction in the future?
Olivia Newport is the author of the Avenue of Dreams series, the Valley of Choice series, Hidden Falls, and the forthcoming Amish Turns of Time series beginning with Wonderful Lonesome in September.