Guest Post: Bringing Your Readers to the Edge… Serialization with E-books

Today we have a guest post from David Wright who along with his writing partner Sean Platt has been bringing the cliffhanger experience of prime-time TV dramas to e-books by way of serialization. Welcome to Catherine, Caffeinated, David! 

You know that feeling you get at the end of every episode of Dexter?

That dread as the episode’s remaining minutes are ticking away, and you just know the show is gonna leave you hanging? Then, when the ending comes, you scream at the TV, “What the… ?!”

I LOVE that feeling!

It’s not just Dexter, but all the best TV dramas — LOST, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, The Walking Dead, plus a ton of other shows which love to tease and torment by bringing you to the edge of your seat before leaving you dangling in the aftermath of an awesome cliffhanger.

That is what serialized fiction does best. And yet, so few authors are presently writing serials.

Serials used to be big. They’ve been around for hundreds of years, but have, for the most part, fallen out of fashion in book form. However, I suspect what Amazon has done for digital publishing is about to change that.

Which is why my writing partner, Sean Platt and I are thrilled to launch our post-apocalyptic serialized thriller, Yesterday’s Gone.

STEPHEN KING: GODFATHER OF SERIALIZATION?

Yeah, I know, Charles Dickens is considered one of the best known early adopters of serialization, but for me, Stephen King was my mentor.

While I was a huge fan of serialization on TV and in comic books as a kid, it wasn’t until I read Stephen King’s six-book series, The Green Mile (later adapted into a full-length novel and then a movie), that I fell in love with the concept of serialized books.

They were easy to get into, like the best short stories, yet held the promise of returning to the world and learning more about the characters as full length novels do. It was the best of both worlds. And… I LOVED being kept in suspense for a full month!

I WANT TO LEAVE PEOPLE HANGING!

Sean and I met in 2008 and started serializing a vampire story, Available Darkness, on the Internet shortly after. However, a PC browser isn’t an ideal place to read fiction.

Unfortunately, eBooks hadn’t yet taken off, let alone dominate print sales. Self publishing our story in print didn’t seem financially feasible, either, especially in serialized form. And to be honest, Available Darkness worked better as a book, not a serial.

So we pressed pause on our serialization plans… until this year, when Amazon exploded into the stellar success story for writers it has become.

Suddenly, indie authors can find and build audiences without having to worry about the costs associated with Print On Demand. In short, the Kindle (and other eReaders to a lesser extent), made it possible for an author to earn a living on the merits of their own work with fewer obstacles in between them and their happily ever afters.

THE PLAN

Sean and I have many stories in our story garden, but for our first eBook serial, we wanted to write around something new. We decided to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch… literally. We began with the question:

What if everyone (save for a few people) on the planet all vanished at once?

What would the survivors do?

What would happen to them?

What was responsible?

And what the hell is that lurking in the shadows?!

We decided we’d plan the series similar to a TV show, in terms of episodes and seasons, building rising suspense to the end of each 100 page book (borrowing King’s book length from The Green Mile). Six episodes make up a season, with the best, most WTF ending being held until the final moments of the season. We planned to release one episode a month, starting this summer.

Note: we wound up putting the full first season out sooner, since a month was a bit long to expect readers to wait while keeping track of several complex story lines.

We’re returning in January with Season Two.

While it might seem easier to plan out 100 page mini-books than writing one larger one, you’d be way wrong.

THE CHALLENGES OF SERIALIZATION

While serialization is seemingly perfect for the Kindle generation, there’s some challenges to selling your serialized books.

Firstly, there are some people who don’t like the format and never will. They don’t want to wait to read the full story. This is one of the reasons we’re also releasing the seasons as individual books, giving readers a choice in how they would most like to consume our story.

Next, you must consider cover design. You want to create covers with similar branding so people know each book is part of the series, but you don’t want them so similar that people mistake them for other editions of the same book. If you’re paying someone else to do your covers, this will add to your expense significantly.

Fortunately, I’m also a cartoonist with a decent eye for design, so I made our covers and saved that expense. I stuck with a specific title design, always in the same place, at the top of the book. Beneath that, we have a colored band (different for each episode) with “Episode” followed by the number. Beneath that, we use a compelling photo which conveys the theme for that particular episode.

Designing a cover for the full Season One book was also a bit tricky. We had to clearly indicate that this was not a new book, but rather a compilation of the first six. I think I did a pretty decent job at that and haven’t had any complaints or confusion that I know of.

Part of the clarity comes in the marketing, and explaining to your readers what you’re delivering. We were also sure to explain the difference between the editions in the sales copy of the Season One book at Amazon.

Pricing also presents a problem. If you sell a book for less than $2.99 at Amazon, you get 35 percent of the sale. Not a lot, especially when you’re splitting sales with a co-author. It’s even more of a problem when you’re selling your 100 page book at .99 — unless you pull John Locke-like numbers.

If you want to make a 70 percent royalty, you must price your book at least $2.99. Now, if this were just a short story or novella, I’d have no problem pricing it at three or four bucks. Short stories are a smaller market, so you have to price accordingly.

However, if you’re expecting people to buy all six episodes of your book, they’re gonna have to shell out almost $20 for a full eBook, which is way too much!

And here’s where it really gets tricky… we WANT people to experience the episodes one at a time. But since we make little money at .99, we had to incentivize buying the full season at a higher royalty for us.

The full season is $4.99, cheaper than the single books at .99 (and much cheaper than the $1.99 we bump the prices to once a full season edition is available). When people buy that, we get 70 percent of the profits.

Additionally, we’ll market Season Two a bit differently, since we’re releasing the episodes every week, instead of every month. This way, we cater to those who prefer to read it at their pace, encourage more full season purchases since people only have to wait six weeks for the full season, while still offering the single episodes to those who can’t wait.

THE RESULTS

So far, serialization seems to be working for us. Our full season book is outselling Episode One by a nice clip and reader response has been amazing.

We also get great email from people angry that they have to wait to find out what happens next, which, as an author, is about the most awesome thing in the world, to know someone is that invested in something you brought to life.

Sean and I are writing Season Two of Yesterday’s Gone now, and planning for a second title using the serialization model. We’ll probably rotate titles like HBO does with its shows. For two months, you’ll get Yesterday’s Gone. Then we’ll debut our next serial, and rotate titles every two months or so, as long as readers keep reading what we’re writing.

David W. Wright is an indie author who loves serialized fiction and is the co-author of the post-apocalyptic serialized series Yesterday’s Gone which you can pick up the pilot episode here or get the full season for just $4.99 here. Sign up and Be A Goner to keep up with the latest in Yesterday’s Gone news and to get exclusive chapters from Season Two and short stories long before anyone else. Follow David on Twitter @thedavidwwright.

[Yes, I’ve gone back to the original text color. Couldn’t do it. This is what goes, people! Fiddle with your screen brightness if you’re having trouble reading. Or read me on Google Reader instead. But for the love of fudge don’t make me use a text color that doesn’t go!]

5 thoughts on “Guest Post: Bringing Your Readers to the Edge… Serialization with E-books

    • Cynthia says:

      I had thought about serializing my book since the beginning – for the same reasons you identified here. I was also wondering about the delivery system – and Amazon seemed to be a good place to start. Thanks for the information! Glad to hear that it is working for you. I will definitely look into this.

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