Guest post by Nick Bryan: Life after the Serial

Hi, I’m Nick Bryan. I write Hobson & Choi, a London crime story with a dark-comedy twist. It started off on Jukepop Serials, before expanding into book editions collecting the webserial, the second of which has just come out. Now, with the Jukepop version at an end, the books continue into new and uncharted territory.

I guest-wrote about the H&C webseries here a couple of years back. Now I’m moving into this post-serial phase, Shirley generously invited me back to talk about how this latest step came about, why I made the decisions I made and the practicalities involved.


The plan to produce collected editions of Hobson & Choi story arcs was with me from the beginning, thanks to my enjoyment of binge-reading monthly comics and DVD boxsets. I knew the individual episodes should eventually be brought together, ideally without me printing them out and using a stapler. (more…)

The State of the Web Serial: Thoughts on infrastructure and crafting

As we begin the new year, I thought I would reflect a bit on the state of Webfiction and Web Serials.

This year, the most popular page of 2014 was “Where to Read/List Serials” followed by posts comparing places to post fiction.

I’ve now been knee-deep in the original webfiction world for four years.  Companies come , rebrand, and go. Many just never make it big.

Faces come and go in the webfiction world very quickly (as evidenced by how many folks who were past authors on this blog have gone back to writing a book in more traditional manner).

What amazes me is that in spite of failures on part of companies and authors to capitalize on “fiction on the web” that new authors continue to show up to the webfiction/online serial world in search of readers.

Life continues to putter along at several indie hubs for web fiction such as the forums at Webfiction Guide and at Starter Serials.   Wattpad continues to make waves with tens of millions of readers showing up at their door. And Amazon is quietly developing “WriteOn” as a potential rival to Wattpad and other smaller webfiction communities by keeping its Beta phase targeted towards authors who want feedback.

While Wattpad continues to try to find a way to push out their successful stories within their community into the larger digital reading world, I don’t think they’ve quite managed to find respectability yet. Anna Todd’s reworked One Direction meets BDSM fanfic seems to have created a lot of media noise , both good and bad. However, I think I’m still waiting for the last volume of  “Captive Prince” to hit the bookstands before we have another meaningful dialogue on webfiction as a potential source of a credible franchise.

* * *

It’s rare to find blog posts about web serialization from other authors. I do know there are conversations and fora posts in various communities, but sadly not enough!

However, it looks like is ramping up again with more posts. A few weeks ago,  veteran web serial author Claudia Hall Christian , posted the first of a series of posts on crafting serial fiction.  This first column, “Surviving Serial Fiction,” presents the dilemma of someone trying to return to it after some time off.

I think what’s commendable about her approach is her sense of intention and purpose. She treats it as a serious undertaking that should happen with planning and discussion (some part of her already well-defined process, honed from experience I presume.)

But the process she describes comes from a full-time writer and is balanced on top of other writing commitments. It sounds daunting.

I don’t disagree that thought needs to be part of a serial. However, I would like to venture that starting a serial or webfiction is never that hard. Publication platforms are free. Audiences can be found.  It’s maintaining the serial that is much harder.

Some things I would like to clarify for the newcomers:

You are your own team.

Most indie serial authors have no “team” behind an author. None of the folks I interact with have a team. The author themselves is the entire team of content creator, editor, marketer, and publisher.  Do not feel like you need one to get started. In fact, don’t try to sink money into all of these roles until you can prove you can create interesting content on a consistent basis.

There is no minimum outlay of time to invest, no magic formula. 

While she mentions 16 hours a day being committed for a serial, some get by with 30 minutes or less a day or every other day.

In my fourth year of writing, I can commit (at most) 6 hours a week to each 1600-2400 word installment of The Queen of Swans . This often includes 2 hours or so of navel-gazing where I try to take a one sentence “goal” for an installment and flesh it out to a few paragraphs marking each scene. Then there’s henpecking at this hulk of messy text over stolen hours on a weekend before a massive painful rewrite the night of posting.

I know of some folks who are able to simply complete each installment in one sitting because they are capable of writing exactly what they want out the first time.   All this to say — in the realm of webfiction or serials, there is no right way/approach or time commitment to writing.

How many hours, people, installments, revisions, you have — it doesn’t matter as long as your output is interesting and compelling enough to get people to want to come back.At the end of the day, what needs to happen is to have a plan and stick to it.

Looking ahead for this blog. 

In 2015, I hope I’ll be able to spend more time studying the various communities.  In the immediate future, I also plan to come back and talk about Wattpad, three or so years in.

The majority of blogposts about Wattpad are from traditional authors who are invited to the Wattpad author program (and often cut up existing books more than write new exclusive content).  I have had a pretty good time with collecting my own analytics the past few years and am rifling through the new analytics information to draw new conclusions about who my readers are and all that jazz.

2014 in Wattpad ended on a pretty cool note– namely, finding one of my works on a curated list put together by someone in Wattpad HQ.  The impact on my readership is still hard to assess but it looks promising.

In any case, everyone, talk to you later. Happy 2015 and Happy Writing!

Half-formed thoughts on Kindle Unlimited

To add onto SgL’s last post — I have been wondering if Amazon’s latest program, Kindle Unlimited, the subscription service released back in July to compete with Scribd and Oyster, is part of their ongoing experiment with non-traditional models. (And if Kindle Serials, which functioned much like a subscription service, has become obsolete and will ultimately be phased out.) A lot has been said already about KU from a reader’s perspective, as well as a lot of ongoing chatter/controversy at various writer boards, so I’m wary of adding much more to the conversation.

But. A few things that have been on my mind:

1. The rise of paid serials outside of existing programs (in particular Kindle Serials)

– I think this started roughly in 2013 with H.M. Ward and her (still ongoing) “Arrangement” serial. Each installment is short novella length (~20k?) and published for $2.99.  She’s been wildly successful, obviously. This led to a surge of serialization in various romance subgenres.

– To be precise, there was stuff going on with the form as early as 2011, and 2012 is probably where it first started hitting its stride on Amazon, especially in the erotica/romance realm (H.M Ward among them). I remember this being the impetus (or one of them) for the Kindle Serials program (unleashed late 2012). I wasn’t paying as much attention at the time though, so please do correct me if I’m mistaken. (2013 is only when it seemed to me serials started becoming “mainstream” due to a variety of factors.)

– 2014 in particular saw the rise of serialization in paranormal romance, with several writers finding great success there, all without relying on Kindle Serials

– I believe SF was the other genre that saw an indie serialization boom thanks in part to Hugh Howey (but I did not watch this as closely)

2. Ye Olde Pricing Dilemma

– H.M. Ward prices each installment at $2.99, as mentioned above. A fair number of serializers follow this model too. But there are also a lot of 99c per installment serializers, who then price higher for “bundled” versions of the story. Installment lengths vary (especially depending on genre), but are generally in the 10k-30k range.

– There was a lot of vocal reader complaint about these pricing models, especially since way back at the start of the Kindle/self-publishing movement the fad had been full novels priced at 99c (with $2.99 being the other common option). There’s been a definite shift in pricing models over the years, but it’s also undeniable that the math can be harsh for the serial reader: last I checked “The Arrangement” is now on part 17, for example, with several offshoots. That’s $50+ in all for maybe 3-5 novels’ worth (if we count strictly by words and assume a base of 20k)… which actually isn’t that outrageous compared to equivalent print pricing*.

Of course, either way it hasn’t really stopped these installments from selling like hotcakes. Despite complaints, there has clearly also been a large contingent of readers who are perfectly happy paying for what they love (or who complain about it but pay up anyway).

* sure, apples and oranges, but probably just as much so as comparing serials with novels in the first place

– 99c may be a friendlier price for readers (from what I observed there were complaints even at that price point though), but disadvantages authors due to the lower royalty rate

– This was an issue Kindle Serials faced as well. The program seemed to approach the matter essentially as if serials were novels: a reasonable one time payment per serial with all subsequent episodes free. Great deal for the reader and fair for the author, but potentially not as profitable as independent releases as above, and also not good for writers with really lengthy serials.

3. Enter Kindle Unlimited

– For $9.99 a month, a reader can read anything they want in the program. Authors are paid per read out of a fixed pool (which may just be there for show, considering the fact that Amazon has manipulated the size of said pool every month of the program’s existence thus far to ensure [or so it seems to me] deliberately calculated payout rates). For the serializing community, this is a win-win for both sides… assuming, of course, that the reader is voracious (i.e. reads other writers’ material in the program too) and/or there are enough installments published and/or the writer publishes frequently. Reading either three to four $2.99 installments or ten 99c installments in a month is enough to make that fee worth it.

– But the program’s exclusivity requirement (anything in KU cannot be published anywhere else) may or may not be to its detriment, as well as the fuzzy payment pool issue. H.M. Ward (who was allowed to experiment with KU without being bound by the exclusivity requirement) recently claimed to have seen a drastic loss in revenue due to the program and has since pulled her work out. Whether or not the loss of revenue for her is true, it’s certainly true that readership will be limited to the Amazon customer base (which is nothing to sneeze at, mind).

(NOT, however, limited to KU subscribers. Those who don’t subscribe can still purchase, as before.)

– Also, KU was not designed specifically with serials in mind. Whether or not it has succeeded for novels is kind of a touchy issue among writers. But the impact of the program has definitely been far broader than Kindle Serials. And even half a year in, it’s really tough to gauge the full implications — in particular the question of “who is really using/will continue to subscribe to KU in the long run?”

4. Differing paths of evolution…

Over the past few years it’s started to appear to me that “webfiction” and “serials” have been evolving along different (but not necessarily contradictory) paths — one with a free/community-based model (Wattpad et al), and another, more aggressive commercial model. KU feels like a gamechanger, and yet it’s hard to say how things will develop from now on. The market is in constant flux. I’m not convinced the dust has settled, and even when it does (if it does), I’m sure there will be more changes waiting ahead of us.

Either way, as 2014 comes to a close, there are a lot more options now to consider, especially for a new writer interested in serializing. Having experimented with a few options myself by now (some under another, secret name), I’m not convinced any path is easier/superior to the others.

But that freedom of choice is what makes this all really so exciting.

Amazon and Write-On: Take Two on Serials

I apologize for months of radio silence. Work decided to have its own crisis which I hope will subside in the next few weeks.

While Amazon seems to have been in publishing news this entire year irritating the traditional pub world, I think it’s worth noting their interest in “non-traditional” models like serials. I’m not sure what has become of Kindle Serials which I’ve discussed in previous posts.  I haven’t seem much sign that it is currently growing nor many post-mortems on the program. Its current submissions page  remains closed — closed for so long so you wonder if it’s considered retired .  As I don’t see much publicly stated from the participants or Amazon themselves online, I point you instead to Jane Friedman’s post from earlier in the year trying to dissect the serial landscape.

While in a work-induced delirium, I caught an article very late last month on TechCrunch   regarding Amazon WriteOn (beta). The headline implied it was a counterpoint to Wattpad which is everyone’s favorite Canadian startup (if one reads all the  venture capital hype).

Like any sufficiently curious and sometimes informal reporter, I signed up to poke around. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed moderate benefit from Wattpad in terms of finding new readers (but no sales, alas) although having a work that doesn’t hit the ideal Wattpad demographic squarely in its face. (I like to say that I am on the Wattpad demographic dartboard but my work is too long, language somewhat complex, and not strict romance so I tend to graze the dartboard and then fall off it!)

I signed up for the beta and within a few days was provided an access code to log in using my existing Amazon account (currently linked to my Kindle Publishing account). As promised, it did appear to be what was advertised and has mostly writers (not readers as of yet) onboard.  What is particularly nice is that the writing quality (as a baseline) is far higher than Wattpad . My guess is that part of this is because the beta is tied to existing Amazon accounts which, I suppose, need bank/credit card info attached so skews the age of participation higher. (That said, who knows?) And I guess that the earlier invitees were all authors or people who hung out in writing forums in Kindle perhaps… makes sense… and the pay off is that the baseline quality of work is much better than what’s currently out there on a lot of “serial sites.”

I found the previous requirements in the open submission phase for Kindle Serials to be too onerous. If you weren’t done with your book and able to produce on weekly/biweekly installments at a proscribed word count, it wasn’t for you.   This looks far less restrictive and, in the beta, ideal as a writing community goes.

However, as it is a beta and everyone is starving for feedback, I haven’t yet jumped in. Tossing in a book and not engaging likely would be seen as obnoxious based on some of the forum conversations I was reading. Also, I clearly would need to bring my A-game once I do start posting my current serializing piece of fiction. The covers I see are really great and Kindle-worthy.  What passes muster on Wattpad won’t work here. (And so I need to enter when I’m ready. Not now.)

Let’s hope this effort matures. I think we need more than one Wattpad out there to help shape the serial market . Who better than Amazon?

I hope to start in on reading works in a few weeks but do have an account. If you sign up and are wanting to connect, let me know! Would be great to have some other points of view from the writer community!

Online-novel News and Views, Stories from around the web

In China, you can actually do this and make a living

For the long-time readers of this blog, you know from time to time we get hints that digital fiction actual works somewhere.  Light-novels are a viable format for publishing in Japan.  Cell-phone and web novels thrive and even can be lucrative in China.  In this piece, online novelists in Hong Kong get a shoutout. One thing I find particularly intriguing is the mention of a publisher, Sun Effort, whose catalogue focuses specifically on online novels.  Also think this is a first as well for a web/online novel as “Red Minibus” was turned into a live-action film with a debut on the international circuit.   So there we go, Hong Kong has charted the way. Now if we could only get a small piece of their success in the English speaking world ;)

Sparkler Monthly Creator Contest

Sparkler Monthly is running a low-key but interesting creator-driven contest. This contest asks creators to share how you as a creator share what you do with your audience.  Entries can be in any format (drawn, sung, video’d) and will be accepted through the end of June.  Good luck!

Jukepop community overhaul

In this latest blog , Jukepop announces a new facet to their comment/review feature.  Jukepop (Serials) initially began as a vote-driven site. In more recent months, they’ve added a comment feature for various stories.  Now, comments have become front-page territory as the main JP page not only shows updates but comment activities of authors and readers. It’s an interesting move and certainly will reward activity by authors and readers for simply “being present” on the community.

I’m sure those who benefited from the previous layout (i.e., Top 30 stories being top  real estate) will not be too thrilled but this shift in the other direction might actually at least let us evaluate the level of activity on Jukepop and encourage people to “delurk.”  Hopefully at some point, however, they adjust the layout so that the feed is not the center of attention  vs. the actual stories or randomize the feed. The idea of a feed can be abused easily by authors seeking to constantly have front-page real estate and can take away from the books that the site features.

Wattpad Fanfiction Writer gets a Deal with Simon and Schuster

In one of the more interesting acquisition stories out there– the series “After” written as a “One Direction” fan fiction has gotten picked up for both a book deal and movie deal.  It’s not the first Wattpad work to go both book and movie but it certainly is the first time I’ve heard of a fan fiction being optioned without little scrubbing as those of us in the fanfic community term it.  Basically the statement in this Time article is that the story will go on with just the band member names being removed.  I wonder how One Direction fans feel about their fandom being used to leverage promotion for the book, particularly since the content is purportedly “Fifty Shades of Gray” inspired.

Other news stories:

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