The Haanta Series is the longest ongoing fantasy series on the internet. As of September 2011, the series covers twenty-nine books and over nine-hundred short stories. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with its author, Michelle Franklin, about the joys and challenges of writing an online series.
How did the Haanta series get its start?
It was 2010 and the winter holidays. The recession came around and I was laid off at Christmas. By that point, I had given up on a previous series I was writing and hadn’t published a short story or article in six months. When I was laid off, my friend and editor said to me, “You know, you haven’t written in a while because work has been killing you. Why don’t you take this time to write something new?” I felt that she was right.
I began writing short stories about a clever woman farmer and a petulant giant, and then I decided I wanted to write books about them. I gave myself six-months to write a series worthy of publication, and in that time I wrote five books and over seven-hundred short stories. I then took a few freelance jobs and gave myself another six months to get an acceptance letter.
Within one month I had a few rejections, but I caught the interest of one major publisher and two agents. I played the classic waiting game while the agents went to work, but when the agents decided not to push the first books any longer, I looked them over. I realized they weren’t where they should have been and took a month to completely rewrite them. I sent them out again, got five acceptances, and chose the press that I felt was best for the series.
How did the series find its way online?
Having taken a six-month break from writing (before being laid off), I wanted to work on rebuilding my audience. I made a simple blog to begin my experiment, and just from posting two stories a day, the site garnered over fifty-thousand views in less than a year.
Writing five books and seven-hundred short stories in six months is remarkable. How do you keep up this breakneck pace?
I have the opposite problem that many writers seem to face: I have a habit of writing many things at once. It may seem complicated, but writing four or five books at a time saves me from writer’s block, as I only feel overwhelmed when I try to hinder myself.
I tend to write in patterns: I follow a few characters for about a week, write out their story arcs, and then continue with the next. If I write two or three story arcs at once, everything always feels new to me. The more I write, the more excited I am; the more excited I am, the more I want to write. I do have lulls, like everyone else does, but I just write through them as well as I can.
How much time do you spend writing each day, and what is the typical word-count of each session?
I spend ten to sixteen hours a day writing, rewriting, revising and editing. I tend to work in thousand to three thousand word stints. If, however. I’m writing out the outline to a new novel, I tend to write in eight-hundred word stints. I walk around my neighborhood in between sessions while listening to audio books to keep my mind fresh for the next session.
How are the stories on the site connected with your novels?
The stories on the Haanta Series site involve all the characters from the books. They are either short stories involving various characters, extensions of chapters from the books, excerpts from books, character introductions, or chapters from the novellas. Everything is from the world of the Two Continents, and many stories come with a small introduction
Once you created the site, how did you build an audience?
I had a very small audience from various writing communities. They were the ones who pressed me to begin a site for the series. Before the site was created, I had a small email list, but once the list grew to about a hundred readers, I gave in and made a site.
How do new readers usually discover the series?
Through various different avenues, really. Some through the dreaded social media lines, some through book recommendations on Goodreads or Amazon, some merely looking for a quick fantasy read while they’re on break at work.
How has feedback from your readers shaped or influenced your stories?
Some comments from readers actually become stories on their own. One reader commented on her liking Alasdair’s “uniform”, and this ended up in a three-chapter story about how serious Alasdair is about his jerkins. Almost all of the feedback I receive is not for me; it’s for the characters. Many people ask questions about their quirks and mannerisms, and the response is usually given in a story.
Is it daunting for new readers to jump into a story in progress?
Some new readers have asked me, “Where do I start?” I always say, “Anywhere you like.” I try to keep the short stories on the site non-contiguous unless specified at the beginning of a certain piece. I do my best to give introduction where requisite, but readers are generally savvy and will keep to the characters they like and disregard the stories about the ones they don’t.
How long do you anticipate this series going on for?
When I arrived at book 5, I said, “Well, what now?”, and then books 6-10 came. When I finished book 11, I said, “I wonder what happens next.” Then, I began writing standalones, and during which books 14-17 and the novella arrived. Now, I simply don’t look at the end; I do not know if there is one.
I noticed that the series features some remarkable artwork. How did this come about?
All of the artwork on the site and in the books is done by Twisk. She was the very first reader I ever had. She sent me a message one day, asking if she could create a few images for the stories. I said of course. She warned me that she was not an artist. I said it didn’t matter. She returned with the most incredible mural of two characters from book 3. I said, “You told me you couldn’t draw!” She said, “I can’t.” I have learned to ignore her self-disparaging assertions and since then she has been the artist for the series.
What has been the most rewarding thing about writing an online series?
Gaining almost immediate readership, as opposed to waiting six months for a book to be published and then another six months to garner a decent following. Publishing is an industry notorious for its languid pace, and publishing an online series means something written can be published immediately. It’s much harder to attract thousands of readers on one’s own, but a constant flow of posts and stories brings new readers every day.
Conversely, what are some of the biggest challenges?
Posting a story every day when I am otherwise engaged with writing the books and writing articles to help other authors in their writing journey. I love writing short stories, and many of them do become chapters in the Haanta Series novels, but when I’m in the middle of writing a story arc, writing a short story for the site can sometimes break the flow.
What advice do you have for someone who is interested in starting a new series?
Just write and write every day. Treat the series as something everyone is going to read. Be certain to post your best.
If you write every day, if you show yourself how willing you are to improve and learn and succeed, everything that you work for can and will happen. Be generous with yourself when you fail. Do not be afraid of criticism. Do not be afraid to show your work to others. Be proud of yourself. Write as if no one is reading. Write because you love to write. Most importantly, write because you have a story to tell.
To discover Michelle’s stories, be sure to visit the Haanta Series site.