Isn’t it funny how we as writers experience a kind of collective tunnel vision? It makes George Orwell’s “groupthink” look like a gross understatement. Our acceptance of the “Great American Novel” as the benchmark of literary success has become so deeply engrained in our creative minds, that it feels like there is no second place. Well, the little tidbit of self-publishing help I am eager to share with you is that, at least in some cases, thinking smaller may be wiser.
A novel is a work of original fiction over 50,000 words. That word count standard has loosened up some. Anymore the novel has sprawled out a bit longer than that, but because NaNoWriMo defines a novel as 50,000 words, the number will work for our purposes.
For this discussion, we must separate writing from how it’s published. They are unrelated. An album of music is a collection of songs, but it’s not like you turn on the radio and hear all twelve tracks in a row. You hear one.
Why is that?
Because that one song is being played to encourage you to buy the whole album. It’s interesting to think of the singles we hear on the radio as a vehicle for marketing an album, or an artist, but that’s what they are.
Wouldn’t it be great if writers had a similar way to reach their audience? I’m here to tell you that you do.
What Is Serialized Fiction?
Generally speaking, to “serialize” a work of fiction means to release it in small episodes or installments over an extended period of time.
The idea of serializing fiction has been around for quite a long time. An easy example of serial fiction is comic books. A story line debuts and then over a series of issues, it plays out until its culmination.
Charles Dickens, among the most famous and identifiable authors in the English language, serialized many of his well known works. Books like Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers didn’t come out as the massive, door-stopping tomes we know them as. Instead they were released in drips, piece by piece, to audiences that practically climbed over one another to read the next episode.
Serialized fiction largely vanished in the mid-twentieth century. Fewer newspapers and magazines offered fiction. Television and radio filled in the need for cliff-hanging, episodic story telling content. With competition and mainstream subscriber demand ebbing, serialized fiction became antique.
How Can Serial Fiction Offer Self-Publishing Help?
Most of your readers don’t rely on newspapers… for anything anymore. They do, however, use their phones, iPads and other devices to read short snippets, articles, blogs… and now, more than ever, serial fiction.
Most writers didn’t notice, but over the last few years, the site/app Wattpad became one of the biggest global fiction providers in the world. The secret of Wattpad’s nearly overnight success has been deceptively simple.
All of the numbers seem to tell us that book sales are down. Barnes & Nobel is closing. The news is grim.
People still read though. What and how they read may have changed, but the core reality still remains. A great deal of what becomes a cultural phenomenon starts out in the form of a book. Just take a look at Harry Potter and Twilight and The Outlander (and Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead…). Netflix and other streaming video content providers like Amazon, Hulu and YouTube have proven that people love episodic content.
The resurgence of serial fiction is a natural.
A platform for serial publication like Wattpad isn’t just a way to get a bazillion potential readers to your writing. Wattpad can also be a backdoor way to impress an agent. You want to talk about self-publishing help? Go into your next pitch meeting with that agent or publisher as a Wattpad star and you may very well be calling the shots.
Self-Publishing Help Beyond Wattpad
Wattpad may be in the hands of a billion people everyday, but is not the only way to self-publish your fiction.
Maybe the most valuable way for an author to serialize their work is through their website.
Most authors struggle to find relevant content. We are told we should blog… but about what? For most of us the choice between sending out one more Instagram picture of our favorite banh mi sandwich in a desperate attempt to reach an audience, and a one way ticket back to day job land may not be as easy as it seems.
Recently, I decided to publish my debut fiction novella through my website. My goal had always been to self-publish the book, and ultimately to give it away for free, but I wanted to do more than put a book on my site to entice my readers with.
My objective? Create a little buzz.
Instead of publishing the novella, The Lies & Truth Of Doctor Desmond Brice in a single chunk, I chose to use a serialized publishing strategy. Once a week, usually on a Wednesday, I self-published an episode and distributed it to my readers.
What did I get for that work? My mailing list has grown five fold since I started the project… and as of this writing, I am only three of seven episodes into my project.
Outside of the considerable bump in recent mailing list activity, I have finally had something to talk about on social media. I know that may sound ho hum, but if you spend any time in writer’s circles, the overwhelming mantra is that we need to start and engage in a conversation about our writing. It’s tough though, and often those conversations can feel abstract.
When you’re putting a book out every week, you have something to talk about.
Self-Publishing Help For NaNoWriMo
The NaNoWriMo measurable goal is a novel in a month. What do you do with 50,000 words when you’re done though?
Maybe what you have on December 1st, based solely on word length, counts as a novel. Maybe it’s a book you should develop through the winter into a fully fledged piece of work.
Maybe though, it’s a piece you can break into installments then self-publish and deliver to your audience slowly.
One of the most valuable things a writer has is their subscriber mailing list. Every time you release content to your readers, whether that content comes through Wattpad or your website, you are building up your authority.
The biggest point of self-publishing help I can give you is, write. Do what NaNoWriMo is there to do. The project was designed to get writers over the hump and through a book. When you’re done, not only do you have a book, but you get that all-too-rare feeling of accomplishment. Relish that.
When it comes to answering the question of what to do next, be open. Your website is a vehicle. Readers love content. Your readers are no different. We know that 50,000 words is a whole book.
What to do with that is up to us.