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Publishing in Installments?


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
I was thinking of writing a novel in installments. With two kids at home I don't have as much time to write as I would like, and I want to get started without having large gaps between works and lose an audience.

So my question is, how long should they be? What would you consider a minimum wordcount for the 2.99 price point?


Felis amatus
I don't think I'd pay $2.99 for an incomplete novel. If you go that route, you may want to have at least some of the conflict that gets wrapped up in each installment. Subplots, you might call them, on the way to tying up the main plot in the overall novel.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
I don't think I'd pay $2.99 for an incomplete novel. If you go that route, you may want to have at least some of the conflict that gets wrapped up in each installment. Subplots, you might call them, on the way to tying up the main plot in the overall novel.

I'm also thinking about how to make each installment rewarding in and of itself, but I need an idea of how long a story I should be looking at before I figure that out.


I think I would call it something different than a novel in instalments - maybe a mini series, or something similar. People could assume if you don't have time to write a novel, that the releases aren't as polished as they should be - even if you say how long it's had since the first draft was finished and publication. I've seen some cruel things said on self-publishing sites :(

Just make it seem that you're publishing in that length and that often through want for the format, rather than due to lack of time.

I'd agree that 30k for $3 would be reasonable.


I'm writing The Wandering Tale a little like that, except the individual pieces are complete stories. I do intend to gather them up every five stories or so into a larger volume (maybe with an additional story to tie them together a bit more), but the ideas are slightly different.

I'm pricing the entries at $.99, and it's hard to say what I would pay for ~30k words. It all depends on quality, for me. If I read a sample and want to read more, yeah - I'd pay 2.99. Anything above that would push it, though. 1.99 would probably be a safer bet if many readers are like me, and think that we get lots of good, self-published full-length novels at 4.99.

Pricing is hard to talk about, really. I'm currently opting for the "put some shorter stuff out there for cheap" strategy. Though I do think you should start high - you can always lower the price later, but raising it seems like it might gain more negative notice (if you do it after lots of people have already bought the books).
Check out these guys:
Amazon.com: Yesterday's Gone: Episode 1 (The Post-Apocalyptic Serial Thriller) eBook: Sean Platt, David Wright: Kindle Store

An interesting concept. And a series which has consistently stayed in the bestseller range. The segments are about "100 pages" - so we'll say about 25k words or so. Which is apparently QUITE reasonable for a $2.99 price. The first two are on sale as freebies as I write this, probably as loss leaders to get folks to buy the other ten episodes.

I actually played with this idea last NaNoWriMo, but although I was very happy with my opening, I wasn't as happy with the execution of the rest. Putting more work on the idea on hold for a bit while I push ahead on another project.

I'd shoot for one of two routes, for pricing: either $2.99 per episode for novella length (20-40k words), or 99 cents, maybe $1.9, each for novelette length (about 10-20k words). And of course, price drop the first one as soon as you have 4-5 episodes out, so it acts as a loss leader to draw people into the others. Repackaging them as collections of 4-6 episodes would be strong, too, say for $5-6. That way, people who want the next section NOW get it at the premium price; people who are OK waiting til the segement (think "TV season") are done get it cheaper.

The season one compilation of the above work continues to sell very well, for instance.

A couple of caveats (YES, I have given this a lot of thought, why do you ask? ;)):
- Once you start, a season needs to come out rapid fire. That means an episode every two weeks, tops. One a week would be better. If you cannot meet that production pace (and most writers cannot, I suspect, although TV script writers do just that all the time - something to consider), then get the entire season done before you publish any episodes. Readers will be OK with a wait between seasons. Not so OK with months between episodes.

- Each episode should probably end with questions unanswered. Not necessarily a cliffhanger - those can annoy people, as well as draw them. But you need to HOOK readers with enough powerful, unanswered questions that they are burning to read the next segment. Note: some very good TV shows don't do this. Stargate. Star Trek. It's possible to not use a hook, but tougher.

- Keep length consistent. If readers start out with a 30k story, don't feed them a 10k story next. You'll lose them. A 10% difference probably won't be noted, but keep the stories all in the same range.

- Covers should represent the series, but be distinct. Look at the example above: they did it right. You don't want readers being confused about which they bought; you DO want readers visually identifying each episode with your story.

- In the description, be very forthright about what you're doing. Again, check the example above (I read the first section, not bad, btw). They did a good job informing readers what they are getting for their $2.99.

In a world where almost everyone identifies with TV series and understands the format intuitively, this sort of story works WELL. It used to be popular back in the pulp era. I suspect it will be exceptionally popular today, perhaps even moreso than it was then, due to the TV-ization of the populace. People are primed and ready to accept this sort of content.

And consider, too: back in the pulp era, writers used to pound out those stories weekly. Some would burn out multiple manual typewriters every year, writing. Likewise, many TV shows today have writers producing each new episode only weeks before the show is filmed, with perhaps a week to work on each episode. The writer who could produce, revise, and edit one episode of a story per week, every week, and sell a few thousand copies of each for $2.99 would be very well off indeed.
The medium where serial books is done the most often is podiobooks.com - where authors release audio versions in installments. Most readers don't start a book that is unfinished because a) it might never be finished b) they don't want to wait between episodes so the "big bump" comes when the full book is posted.

I don't think there is enough of a track record of success with serialization that I would want to dip my toes in that water. I suggest instead you write complete stories (with their own start and end) but do them as a series. There is nothing to say you can't have a series of 'shorter works' for instance novellas - but to give a "portion" of the story - is a recipie for disaster - IMHO.
If I were doing this, I'd be inclined to run with an episodic as opposed to soap opera model. In other words, think "Star Trek", not "Grey's Anatomy".

Actually, I'd probably do a melding of the two. Star Trek did some two-part episodes, but most of the stories were one hour about the same characters in a new situation. You didn't need to catch every episode to keep up. "Stargate" was the same way, but added some core "story arc" elements in each season - so did "Buffy". Each episode was enjoyable by itself - but each had links to the other stories in a way which made the whole more entertaining if watched sequentially.

What I'd avoid, and what I think you're talking about, Michael, is "soaps". Alias ended each episode at a cliffhanger, and launched the next week's show by resolving the cliffhanger in the first five minutes. Soap opera style shows have deep connections between them. Grey's Anatomy is a very popular show that is basically a soap. It takes those connected elements to an extreme which makes the shows difficult to watch out of sequence.

So, what *I* would do for this, which incidentally is very different from the ultra-successful "Yesterday's Gone" series, is:
- Each episode has the same cast.
- Each episode begins and resolves a new problem.
- Each episode has some linkages to story-arc issues which carry from episode to episode.

This mode has been popular for...well, for a really, really long time. If it wasn't Dickens doing it, it was the pulps of the teens, 20s, and 30s in the 1900s. Or TV shows since the 60s.

It's the *dominant* mode of storytelling in the world today, and has been for at least a century. It's been absent from printed stories for a while simply because of economics; I can't think of a single reason why there won't be a massive resurgence. Actually, there already is an ENORMOUS resurgence of this type of writing thanks to digital, but it's in China, where episodic ebooks are the dominant form.

Caged Maiden

Article Team
It's so interesting to hear what you guys are saying about this, because for a few months I've been thinking about a novel I wrote that I really love.... and I don't want to write a follow-up novel, but I couldn't help thinking it would make a great TV series..... I love the great information you have posted, and it has given me a lot to consider.....

I don't know a lot... well much of anything really, about the business side of writing, but I write quickly and am pretty creative and witty. If anyone else has considered doing this sort of project and would like to team up in the spirit of mutual support and for fun, please send me a PM. I'm pretty easy to work with and open to writing about anything. I think a collaborative mini-series would be just the sort of thing I'd love to work on right now.