kindle

From Web-Serial to Book

Hey all. My name is Drew Hayes, and I’m here to talk to you about drinking responsibly… while working in an office.

                (Off-stage whisper)

                Really? They want to hear about that? But I had this whole bit about making liquor injected donuts.

                (More off-stage whispering)

                Well, alright, I guess we’ll give them what they want. Ahem, so, my name is Drew Hayes and apparently I’m actually here to talk about the process I went through of taking my web-serial, Super Powereds (hosted at DrewHayesNovels.com) to an e-book.

History

                Super Powereds was actually my second web-serial, following a comedic project called No More Ramen. My first web-serial was a test of self more than anything else, seeing if I had the gumption to actually put my work on display for the masses (masses here meaning the five readers I managed to accumulate). With SP, however, I decided to write it because it was the sort of project I really wanted to read but couldn’t find. All of the super-hero stories were either nothing but action with no emphasis on character development, or eschewed the abilities so completely that they may as well not have been there. I wanted to see realistic people coping with their own abilities in a world where you never know who can do what.

                Super Powereds is the story of five(ish) people with super human abilties going to college. In my world, people with powers who want to serve as crime-stopping cape-wearers, Heroes, must get certified just like any other response personnel. This lead to the Hero Certification Program: an incredibly difficult course running four years in parallel with college. There’s also a bunch of sub-plots and blah blah blah, but we’re not here to talk about the work itself, we’re here to talk about taking it from medium to another.

                Also, if there’s time at the end, liquor donuts.

Making the Change

                When I started SP, I never imagined I would see it on any kind of digital format other than my website. This was 2008, and while there was undeniably an indie book scene on Amazon, it wasn’t nearly as touted and well-known as it is today. And, to be frank, SP didn’t have the makings of a classic book. It was long and sprawling, with a multitude of characters that require a wiki to keep track of. I’m pretty sure that even now, with good reviews and a history of sales, I couldn’t get an agent to touch the thing.

                The e-book actually came about in response to reader request. Many of the people visiting my site would e-mail me or comment about how they enjoyed the story, but it wasn’t practical for them to sit at a computer all day. They wanted a digital version that would be portable and easy on the eyes. After a bit of debating, and a lot of research, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to throw an e-book into Amazon’s Kindle program to accommodate the people kind enough to read my words.

                Now why Amazon, I’m sure you’re wondering. In the digital self-publishing world, there are three main entities I’ve become aware of: Amazon, Smashwords, and Nook. Amazon is actually the most limited of these, in that the file type used by its propriety Kindle (.mobi) will not work with any other e-reader. Smashwords usually sells both types, while Nook sells .epubs that will work with pretty much anything except a Kindle. Ultimately, I went with Amazon for 3 reasons:

                1. Kindle Apps: While the structure of the Kindle seemed limiting, there was another side to it. There are Kindle apps for iOS and Android, turning nearly every phone and tablet into a Kindle with access to the owner’s library. Nook, at the time, had nothing approaching this, so going through them would have meant a far more limited options for the readers.

                2. Price: Listing on Nook and Amazon are commission systems, where you pay them a portion of your sales. Smashwords, on the other hand, requires money upfront for formatting and various other options. You can make a free book on Smashwords, however it’s not quite as streamlined a process, and for the first-time e-book maker I was, ease was invaluable.

                3. Exposure: Though Nook has rallied in recent years, the honest truth was that I viewed Amazon as having the biggest network available. Even though I wasn’t anticipating much in sales, I’m optimistic and ambitious. I saw no reason to hamstring myself from using the network with the widest reach and greatest opportunity to gather new readers.

                For the record, I’m not trying to advocate that just Amazon, or Amazon at all, is the right choice for someone launching their first e-book. All I can tell you is that it was right for me at the time. Some of you might be asking why I didn’t do all three, or at least Nook and Kindle. That was the original plan, but Amazon’s Kindle Select Program ended up changing my plans. We’ll get into that a little later on though.

From Web to Book

                There was never any question that I would need an editor. Some authors have amazing and honed skills; they can spot typos, inconsistencies, and grammar mistakes with eagle-eyed precision. Some of us having typo-based drinking games readers play when on our sites. I’m the latter.

                Finding a freelance editor is a daunting task. A lot of the ones you find through Google are very expensive and difficult to book. I got quotes upwards of $3,000 dollars for editing on Super Powered: Year 1 (To be fair: they charged by word and it was over 200,000 words). Fortunately, if you’re plugged into the writing community you can find many editors who are newer in the game and hungry for work. They tend to have more accommodating schedules and reasonable prices. In my case, I got lucky. One of my best friends from college opened up a side-business doing editing. Shameless plug: She does great work and can be reached at cooley.edit@gmail.com.

                Once the editing was done, I had to think about the structure of the book. SP published twice per week, with chapters ranging from 1000-1500 words (sometimes more, but never less). Year 1 ended up having 156 chapters, each of which was far shorter than the length of an average novel’s chapter. It took a lot of puzzling (till my puzzler was sore), but I ultimately decided to keep it as it was. This was because:

                1. The breaking points in the chapters worked for the overall flow of the story and I didn’t want to start jamming them up.

                2. As I mentioned, Year 1 is really long. Putting the chapters in bite-sized pieces allowed a reader to take a few chapters down whenever they had time, without feeling like they were pulled out of the narrative or lost their place.

                Despite my worries, this actually went over quite well, and when I put out Year 2 I decided to keep the structure once more.

                The last thing to tackle was the cover. For my first release, I made my own, and I regret it to this day. A decent graphic image artist can get you a cover for $100-$200. I now know other authors who spend far more on custom images people paint by hand, so that’s a great option if you have the free capital. Bottom line: make sure the cover is professional looking. We all know the old adage, but the truth is people judge an e-book first by its cover, then it’s summary, and then its price. If you don’t grab their eye when they’re scrolling through countless other books, they never even get the chance to become customers.

Going Live

                When I converted the book (a tedious process documented at here) and uploaded it to Amazon, I thought that was the end of it. Oh how wrong I was.

                First off, during the upload, I had to do something that had sincerely, never occurred to me: set a price. I, like most web-serial folk, give my work away on the site, only making a small bit from ads and donations. The idea of charging people for what I already gave away at first struck me as crass. However, since Amazon doesn’t allow free e-books without a lot of hoop-jumping, I made peace with it. I eventually settled on a price of $3.99: high enough to show the amount of value I felt the work had, but low enough not to trip anyone’s mental circuits as a major purchase.

                When that was done, Amazon next presented me with another choice: Did I want to enroll in the Kindle Select Program? This essentially means you agree not to sell through anyone but them. In exchange you receive: the ability to make deals and promos, a higher percentage of international royalties, and a piece of the communal Prime Member pot when Prime members borrow your books. The promo deal intrigued me, and having just finished making the .mobi I was already dreading doing an .epub for Nook, so I signed on.

                With that, it was just a matter of being reviewed, posted, and put up for sale as an Amazon e-book. At long last, my journey was completed.

                Right?

The Aftermath

                When I graduated high school, I decided (on a whim) to go to college in a town ten hours away from my hometown where I knew exactly zero people. For most of my adult life, I referred to that as the impulsive decision that had the largest consequences. The e-book of Super Powered: Year 1 overtook that honor within months after it was published.

                While I originally planned to put out a portable story for my more dedicated readers, the book quickly took on a life of its own. I didn’t realize it when I published, but superhero stories are a huge indie author bonanza right now, and I’d published right into the niche where books were being gobbled up. It was great; it meant a few dollars in my pocket and new visitors to my sites.

                Then, as it always does, reality set in. There were forums with readers asking me questions on Amazon’s site, so keeping a good relationship with them meant hitting it several times a week. The longer I spent on the site, the more I got to see the various authors scrapping to keep their sales rank and review numbers high. As more sales came in, it occurred to me for the first time that it might be viable to make a living off that. It became a pipeline of both income and new readership, and like all pipelines it required management if I wanted the flow to continue.

                I will say this to all of you who are looking at taking an established web-serial and making it into an e-book: you have a tremendous advantage over many of the other authors clamoring for attention. Having a reader-base right out of the gate is a great step-up, the only reason I saw such initial success was because of the kind readers who took the time to review the book and spread the word. They gave me such a good leg-up, in fact, that I’m only now beginning to learn about promotion and advertisement. Don’t be shy about asking them to review, I’ve found most readers want their authors to meet with success; it translates into more products available for them to consume.

                In closing, I’ll say that taking a web-serial to an e-book is a very time-consuming and potentially expensive process, however it can be very lucrative even if you aren’t looking to branch out into more traditional publishing mediums. It’s a tool, and like any tool only the wielder can decided if it’s correct for that they want to accomplish.

                There, now that ALL of that is done, let’s finally move onto to office drinking. To start, the “coffee” pot can warm a fine mulled wine if you-

                (Offstage whispering)

                Out of time? This is a written blog, that doesn’t even make sense. You can’t do this! I will not be silenc-


Writer DrewDrew Hayes is a little bit writer, a little bit performer, and currently being fed to the blog sharks.  You may find his  manifestos and his serial “Super Powereds”  at at his website. 

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Semiweekly News Roundup, Ending 4/14/2013

From royalty to fugitive

In this showbiz article from Asia comes news of a live action adaptation of a successful online novel from China.  Again, no surprise here. As has been discussed on Pandamian and in other blogs, the serial prose/online novel format works quite well overseas.

Paywalls are Scary Growth Killers

In these two pieces, the authors reflect on paywalls. In general, there’s a great deal of uneasiness about paywalls and whether anyone truly is going to be able to monetize off a largely closed content system.

More data and observations from Kindle Serials

In another interesting piece from PaidContent, author Laura Hazard Owen summarizes several pieces of information related to webcontent. Of note is her link to the WSJ which then links to another piece from April 11 on serial novels.  Catch this one before it goes behind the firewall. To summarize

* Their Kindle serial update frequency worked best for them on weekly basis
* Their best selling entry came in at 80,000 copies. Wow.

I think the comment on the bad reaction to the one story that sold episodes at 1.99 e ach was pretty insightful. I think the tolerance for the format largely is underwritten by the low price. The Kindle Serials model works more like a subscription and I think that while there may be room to experiment upwards with pricing… not by too much.  Serials are still very much a gamble for readers unless they know the author well and asking someone to invest beyond the common currency of the internet (which hovers around 0.99-2.99) is a lot to ask.

Waterstones founder to launch Spotify-like service for books in 2013

If you recall from a previous news post, Waterstones was experimenting with adding “in store/book only” copy to their in-store books.  This sounded like a measure to try to drive people back to their stores to buy books.  Now it appears they’re jumping into serials as well. 

All well and good, I wish them well. I’m fairly sure that Amazon’s success along with a lot of media profiling of serials end of 2012 and in early 2013 is going to mean more folks entering into the marketplace this year.   Hopefully this is good news for the rest of us independently serializers 🙂

Self Publishing Podcast talks Free Serials

Several of the podcast’s hosts are serializers on Kindle. They have done it both ways — releasing “episodes” of a season as different books as well as participating in the formal Kindle Serials program.  I mentioned their experiment in a previous post. In this podcast, they reflect on their free episodes experiment.

It sounds like the experiment has had some mixed results, including a disappointing lack of reviews.  This spurs a conversation about their readers and some pondering about what direction they should take for future episodes. I think this is a great podcast, but if you can’t spend the hour to listen or watch on Youtubetake a look at the show notes at the youtube channel.  Warning for moderate language :p.

I still wonder had this run as a donation model off their website if this might have resulted in folks simply providing money out of their good will as opposed to it becoming about reads for reviews or motivating other sales.

Admin notes / online-novel.com

So folks, the Blogger UI is kind of irritating me with its tendency to code clunky html.  So I will be experimenting with a WordPress version of this site.   I apologize for the confusion and encourage those of you using RSS feed trackers to use https://theonlinenovel.wordpress.com.

Two – as I said in the last post with Najela Cobb – if you are a serial writer with webfiction cred doing something new and are interested in being interviewed, please contact me with your name, URL (of your past or current work), and briefly describe what you think you have to share with other readers (current and future) of this blog.

(Bi)Weekly Discoveries, ending 1/24

How the Amazon Kindle Serials Program Works (with Roberto Calas)

Roberto Calas guest blogs about his experience in the program. From what he reveals, the pace sounds brutal for the duration of the program, but thankfully it appears to have a finite end. Better yet, the carrot of having a “completed novel” promoted heavily at Amazon is really promising.   It is not impossible for some of the indies I’ve watched to match this pace with the right schedule, but man…  it’s not for the faint of heart either. 

Some of the comments reveal that there is still resistance to the serial concept.  The fact that this many months in people are still trying to educate readers-at-large how the program works may show that there is a need for better education.   AKA: I think Amazon needs to put out some FAQs.  

I have a few serials already and my favorite so far is the Kurt Vonnegut short stories collection.  But the interface is nice.  More or less the app syncs and adds new pages to the back. The bad news in this is that I don’t know where the breaks are if I’m not keeping up with each installment. (Therefore I can’t tell you about how the authors break each installment up. In that sense actually it is exactly different from Wattpad or JP or other “serial apps.”) 

Roberto also just posted a follow-up at his own blog at http://robertocalas.com/?p=600

And also check out comments at The Passive Voice  


Caelum Lex: Origins (an interview with the creators of the sci-fi serial)

Caelum Lex’s creators get featured at an indie book blog site.  I like this article as an example of what good can come out of serializers/webfiction folks looking for common ground with independents.

And this author found the story at Reddit! I don’t know if it’s thanks to /r/webfiction but HEY, Reddit! 

Why online book discovery is broken (and how to fix it)

The basic question this article is trying to address is whether seeing something “online” actually translates into a book purchase.  The graphic in this article is hard to understand but at least it throws some of the idea of this all social networking being part of a sales strategy back at authors and agents to show otherwise. The bad news is that no one knows how people got to Amazon in the first place right?

I still think reader discovery comes back to trusted peers and reviewers.  I’ll be honest, I would rather hear from a bunch of people who like the same books I do on what they think I’d like than rely on random things like Facebook and Pinterest to offer something up.  

Stranger Than Fiction: The Humble Start of ‘John Dies at the End’

I’m guessing folks who are in today’s current batch of online novelists/webfiction writers have little idea of who preceded them.  But yeah – web novels have been around a long time (and having failed at my first one ten years ago, I know), but this one seems to be the first one to transition to the silver screen.  Google “David Wong” and find his wiki or main blog.  But yea, the film is coming!  

Weekly Discoveries: November 16-23

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the U.S. It’s a few hours early, but I figure since I missed a week WHY NOT? 😀

Will Kindle Serials Transform Anthology Publishing?

I suppose the real newsworthy part of this post is the Vonnegut estate releasing stuff from Vonnegut through this platform!  Oh man! Oh man! (*insert fangirl screaming*)   I love seeing literary people like Atwood and Vonnegut on this “serial” bandwagon.

A quiet time for webcomics?

El Santo at Webcomic Overlook is one of my favorite webcomic reviewers.  He has a serious commitment to giving thoughtful reviews and talking about story and substance.  In this article he asks if readership/discovery at the most popular webcomics are down.  It’s hard to say given the metrics that are being used to examine site traffic. The comments alone are worth reading as well, for you can see how people disagree with his question and how different metrics tell creators different things.  Just as an aside, I’ll tell you that Project Wonderful and Google often don’t agree, with some reporting under and others over.  That said, I think as an estimate of “scale” it’s not terrible. I’ll blog about PW/Google soon.  

Where Europe’s subscribers are — and aren’t

A short article that links/summarizes a few points of the larger 134 page report , “Building the digital single market — cross border demand for content services” that describes implications for subscription based models. The report itself is a large summary of demographics and attitudes and beliefs of those demographic groups. Much of the “content” described really comes to audiovisual products and such, so the application of these findings for online novels is tenuous. However, those creating and marketing webserials in the multimedia dimension might be able to glean some points from the report.

The Revival of the Serial (an “oldie” but a goodie)

Romance is the biggest genre out there, and admittedly I’m a soft romantic at heart so I watch the “Dear Author” blog for the reviews and news.  While I am not a fan of much of the romance genre today (as I find sometimes that there is too much of a formula applied to “getting two people in bed together” and not enough Victorian moral conflict otherwise), following this site has been educational. This article actually precedes the last Amazon inspired rush of news on serials and as such, must be given credit for discussing serials before they were “popular again.”  

I highly recommend reading the comments. They are important because they represent a cross-section of opinions from readers and writers. Writing a novel online is tough stuff because not everyone enjoys serialization.  So as you all plan/write your serials, have an end game in mind that can touch those readers who need an “all in one” experience.  If you’re not thinking about compilation, you absolutely must if your goal is to capture as many readers as you possibly can :).