fiction

Guest Post by CA Sanders: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Serial

Where I’m Coming From

I’ve been writing professionally (or trying to write professionally) for almost fifteen years, but online serials are still new to me. When I started, the paradigm was print. Literary journals were the way to go, and they were all in paper and only taking the fanciest of the fancy. It was not an easy way to break in.

By the time that mags moved to the Internet, I was already convinced that I was awful and needed to get a real job (“get a real job” being the meanest thing that you can tell a writer), so I missed out on this initial orgy of zine activity. I got into it late, and I got in with reservations. Even now, I miss the scent of newly printed paper…sigh.

The Way We Write Now

It was last autumn. I had just finished my first novel, Song of Simon (due out Sept 1st, 2013, from Damnation Books), over the Summer, and I was looking for a new project. Song of Simon is an intense novel and writing it was emotionally draining. This time I wanted to write something a bit more lighthearted.

I guess I didn’t get out of that novel-writing state of mind. What began as a short story ballooned into a massive 16,000 word novelette, now known as The Watchmage of Old New York. I would’ve given up on it (it’s near impossible to sell something that size, and I have bills to pay), but I was having too much fun exploring the Watchmage world.

So now I was stuck with this albatross of a story hanging around my neck. No mag would have her, certainly no paying mag (I make it a point to only sell to paying mags. That magazines will pay nothing for our work and act like we should be grateful is a crime. But that is a different story).

I use Duotrope to find markets (you should too) and that’s where I found Jukepop Serials. A paying market that takes long stories? Sign me up. It hadn’t occurred to me to serialize Watchmage, but how could I resist?

I was biased against serials, I’m ashamed to say. I was a “professional” and serials were for fan fiction. I was an idiot.

Serials are not a new paradigm, they are the old one. Charles Dickens used to write serials, so did Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I never realized this until I immersed myself into one of my own.

Healthy, Whole Grain, Serial

If I was going to boil serial writing down to three rules (and I will), they would be these:
1)Outline everything
2)Master pacing
3)Keep a healthy buffer

Outline Everything: I believe in doing this for everything you write, even blog posts. But outlines are especially important when you’re writing a serial. Once you post an installment, it’s there forever. I feel that going back to previous entries and changing them is unfair to your readers. Make sure that what goes on that page is exactly what you want.

This includes noting the important aspects about characters, plot, and the world of the story. In Watchmage, I found that I was uncomfortable with some of the main character’s characteristics. Looking back, I would’ve written him differently (which I am doing in the novelized reboot). You can avoid my mistake with preparation.

Outlining doesn’t stop once you start writing. One of my favorite things about writing is all the interesting people, places, and things that naturally pop up as the story goes on. Make sure you add these to your notes. Don’t forget anything, because you never know what’s gonna be important a few story arcs down the line.

That said, don’t make your plot outside too rigid. Think of it more as drawing with dots, and then connecting the dots. As long as you get from plot point to plot point, it doesn’t matter how you got there.

Master Pacing: Reading online is different from reading in print. For some reason, readers will only read a certain amount before they fade out. The big complaint that I have heard is eye strain. Regardless, a good chapter in an online serial is shorter than one in a print book.

I think that 1000-1500 words is a good length for an installment. You should be able to end at the end of a scene or a cliffhanger. Don’t rely too much on either. Cliffhangers keep the reader coming back, but they get old quickly. Think “tension and release.”

The major difference between a serial and a novel is that a serial is ongoing, where a novel has a finite end. This does not, however, mean that a serial is an open-ended mess.

I grew up reading comic books and watching pro wrestling, both of which I still love. Both are great examples of serial structure. A comic might go on for decades, but it’s broken up into story arcs. A story might go on for a few months, reach its conclusion, and then move on to another arc. Wrestling is the same way. John Cena might be feuding with Daniel Bryan now, but in a couple of months (after Bryan does the J.O.B…wrestling fans get it) he might feud with Randy Orton or Fandango (yes, there is a wrestler called Fandango). This is the way that your serial should be constructed. It provides closure for the reader without ending it.

For example, Watchmage currently has two story arcs. I could easily write more, but I am rebooting it. You could read one arc and be satisfied, or you could keep going. Readers need closure. In other words: don’t get carried away by your own awesomeness.

Keep A Buffer:

Writers will argue about the length, but you should always keep a buffer of at least a few weeks. This means that you have a few weeks’ worth of story written ahead of your installments. For Watchmage, I kept an eight week buffer.

Writing is like starting a hose with your mouth: you have to do a lot of sucking before things flow. The problem is, too many serial writers post those first few sucks before they realize that they don’t fit. This is why I keep a buffer. It gives me a chance to look back and edit my work before posting it. Remember: what has been posted cannot be unposted (ok, maybe it can, but it shouldn’t).

Another reason is because life happens, and sometimes you won’t be able to hit your deadline. The buffer allows you wiggle room for when you get the flu or your dog eats a Cadbury bar.

I hope this little insight into my conversion to serial writing, and the methods to my madness, have helped. If you disagree, that’s fine too. Everyone works differently, don’t be ashamed of your own technique. Be brilliant.

For more information on CA Sanders’ writing and projects, please connect with him at his website  http://www.casanders.net/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/casandersauthor 

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Publishing Your Own Serial | What WordPress.com has that Blogspot doesn’t

From time to time would-be serializers  bring up the topic (at places like the Webfiction Guide Forums ) of how exactly to publish the serial.  For the new readers of this blog, let me help you walk through some of your decision points you have to navigate first  before I get to the meat of this blog post.

When beginning your process of selecting “how to publish”

1) Consider whether you want to be paid or not paid. The paying options do exist (e.g., JukePopSerial, Amazon, Plympton) but have various submission requirements (and those submissions may only be accepted on a limited basis) . The unpaid options are numerous. (See earlier post, “Where to read free serials or list free serials.”)

2) If you elect to post your serial yourself at a neutral blog-type space (i.e., not a community or a paid site), you have a handful of free options to consider — including WordPress.com, Blogger.com, and Pandamian.com.   Pandamian is a unique entry in itself to this space (and is free) .  Of note — blogs can be moved from WordPress.com and Blogger.com to your own domains fairly easily. (The import tools seem to work reliably from *.com to your site or from Blogger.com to WordPress.com.)  Specifically, using WordPress or Blogger hosted blogs doesn’t preclude you from later moving all your content to your own host.

3) If you elect to host your serial at your own site, consider that many web host providers offer support for a self-hosted version WordPress, Blogger, and some other clients.

For those who fall in categories 1 and 3 above, the rest of this blogpost will be academic. For the remainder of this post,  I’m going to just focus on looking at Blogspot.com and WordPress.com as the primary host for a serial/online novel.

These are my thoughts based on a recent move of this blog from blogspot.com to wordpress.com in April.

I moved the blog to WordPress.com in April largely because I had a HTML meltdown.   Blogger’s interface looks “friendly” but it seemed to have acquired a  new habit of inserting a lot of font codes whenever I happened to click through the visual editor interface.  This often meant each post was getting manually reedited every time I reopened it within the editor.   As I was well-familiar with WordPress as it’s my own platform for publishing my self-hosted serial, I decided to just move the blog to WP.com and save myself the hassle of multiple code edits with each new post.

These few months have largely confirmed for me that there is a distinct advantage to having done so and, as such, I feel comfortable making a personal recommendation to would-be serializers debating between these two platforms to choose WordPress.com over Blogger.com.

While features are similar to some respect, there are some interesting differences with ramifications to a writer who is looking to grow and track their readership.
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June 7, Biweekly News Roundup

YA Readers in the Age of Social Networking: A CBC Forum

This Publisher Weekly piece  isn’t per se about serials/online novels but about teen readers.  Using some data /information provided from Wattpad, Teenreads, and Tumblr, the panelists draw some conclusions about how teens read, when it’s best to engage them with new works, and offer other ideas.  This forum appears to have been discussed fairly widely. Additional article here

For those who don’t care about the teen audience, some randomly interesting information from the first article:

  • Wattpad has 15 million active readers, half under the age of 25
  • 80% of traffic is through mobile devices

I haven’t quite brought up the issue of designing websites to be mobile device friendly, but it does beg the question – what does your serial look like on the mobile web?

Chinese Military Fantasy web novels – a unique subset of literature that could not exist anywhere except online

I was forwarded an article on China and its digital habits that pointed a foreign policy article that discusses the phenomena of Chinese military novels. Per that article  the author asserts that are thousands of Chinese war fantasy novels on the Internet that have really no other place to exist because of their content.  I’m always fascinated by the online writing/reading habits in East Asia, but isn’t it something to realize that writing online sometimes is the only method of expression available to a writer?   (Please note that you  may have to register to see the second article. It is free.)

Serial novels reveal how we’re willing to wait for a good story

This piece from the Minnesota Star Tribune provides a general background on what serials were historically and tries to wrap up with how ebooks seem to be generating interest in the format.  There are actual references to Webfiction Guide, Eat your cereal (publisher) and Denver Cereal (a specific serial) although the author has mislabeled these as “publishers.”

Other Stories:

Weekly News Roundup – ending 5/3/13: Wattpad, Wattpad, and your obligatory Atwood post

It might be coincidence that there’s a lot of Wattpad stuff to report this week, but I think there are a few reasons for this sudden attention.  I think everyone is still looking for the next big thing… there’s always a lot of bad news in the publishing world, and yet there are odd success stories like these.   Everyone wants the next Goodreads — an independent, accessible, and (yes) exploitable community of passionate readers.

Wattpad appears to have the unenviable position of boasting strong numbers and supporters.

Wattpad can keep growing as long as readers/writers get read and the community improves.  Their latest move to reorganize the interactive “club” structure seems to be an attempt to improve the social component of the site, particularly the quality of interaction.  They’ve reduced the number of groups and tried to promote association by “genre.” So far, so good.  I’m definitely in favor of this change at least so far. We’ll see if the changes (for the better) can be maintained.

Teen author Beth Reek’s online hit novel The Kissing Booth is released in paperback

Beth Reek is one of Wattpad’s home grown success stories.  She’s gotten quite a bit of press in her native UK for her accomplishment.   She represents a real Wattpad success story — where someone from the community ends up finding many reads and votes and then draws attention from the publishing world.  Glad that she’s able to parlay her digital success into print success.  Her family also just sounds fantastic.

However, I’m not all too sure that stories like this will continue to be made. Wattpad has aggressively begun pushing books from “the outside” that were previously published onto the community.  My feeling is that Wattpad and the traditional publishing world are going to be courting the readers at Wattpad on an increasing level, particularly since the acquisition of Goodreads by Amazon.

That said,  I’m not sure if Wattpad features actually result in sales for books (unless they’re part of a series), so it’ll be interesting for me to see if any authors report sales bumps after being promoted on Wattpad.

Wattpad has made some other interesting news as of late:

Author, Margaret Atwood, continues to blaze trails

In this piece, Atwood hits on the truth (For her) about online publishingI’m encouraged by all this online activity,” Atwood said, calling it an incubator in which writers and readers can find new paths to one another.

For me this is exactly the point of embracing the internet as a reading medium. It is a “something else” for those who write who want to be read or storytellers who want to be heard. What I respect is that Ms. Atwood’s purpose isn’t financial but artistic.

Followup: WordPress move

I wanted to just affirm that online-novel.com is going to stay at https://theonlinenovel.wordpress.com for the foreseeable future. So far wordpress.com has been kind in sending new followers every other day. Given that my objective is to grow awareness of the entire serial fiction/ webfiction/ online novel platform, it seems that so long as wordpress.com continues to funnel new viewers, there’s no reason to go back to blogspot.