The one where I decide to make serial novels a thing (again)

As you well know by now, after I finished writing my first novel, I spent an inordinate amount of time researching this article on the best way to publish it.

What I found is that the current model—publishing through a Big Four publishing house—is still the author’s best bet for attracting readers and earning a living. But even that outcome is highly unlikely—and there could be a better way.

There are starting to be platforms that could disrupt the publishing industry—like Substack—where writers can build a following and then monetize it, perhaps even by selling their followers a subscription to their book as they are writing it. This idea deeply appeals to me because most classic novels were written as serials—think The Count of Monte Cristo, Great Expectations, Sherlock Holmes—and they were wildly successful.

There’s just one problem: it hasn’t been done in the modern era—yet. Thus far, there are very few authors who have built a following on a platform and then published novels serially on that platform. The only two worth mentioning started that way, then attracted the attention of a Big Four publisher and went that route instead. (Andy Weir who originally published The Martian as a serial on his blog before attracting the attention of Random House, and N.K. Jemisin who published chapters of her novels for her Patreon followers until she attracted the attention of Orbit.)

This is an experiment in publishing

That’s why I’m going to run an experiment. In the fall of 2021, I’m going to publish my novel as a serial for my newsletter subscribers, releasing one chapter per week until it’s done (42 weeks). My newsletter is free, but I will charge $5/month for those who wish to subscribe to weekly chapters of my novel. Once the book is complete, I will offer a hardcover collector’s edition of the book for superfans, and then I will publish it to KDP and Wattpad to expand its reach. My hope is to publish my next book the same way and build my following as I go.

This is an experiment. I may get 200 subscribers and earn $1,000/month. People may read the first four chapters and not like it and quit reading the next month, cutting that in half. Or maybe I will get 2,000 subscribers and earn $10,000/month. More than likely, my first book will start out looking like the former scenario, and as I start to attract readers who are into the kind of thing I like to write, my second or third book will start to look like the latter scenario. And $10,000/month is a nice living for a writer!

With an untested market

But it’s an untested market. We don’t even know if there is a market for serial novels. There is no guarantee, for instance, that a reader will be interested in paying $5/month to read four chapters of a book each month when they could buy a whole book on Kindle for $1.99. This is why there are plenty of writers writing novels on Patreon earning $200/month (and plenty of Kindle authors earning $200 total).

And yet, it doesn’t seem implausible to me that a writer could have 2,000 true fans. Just a small devoted following who are loyal to a writer’s work and want to follow them in real-time. Call me an optimist, but there are several writers I can think of who I would love to follow in real-time, instead of waiting two to five years for their next book to come out.

I have a long way to go. According to Substack, 10 percent of a writer’s newsletter list will become paying subscribers. This means I would need 20,000 newsletter subscribers to get my 2,000 paid fans and earn $10,000/month. Right now, I have 1,800 newsletter subscribers. This means, optimistically, 180 of you will pay to read my novel (that’s $900/month), and even less of you will like it. (Books are subjective after all!)

But I have a plan

That’s why I’ll be spending the next two years building my audience in three phases. The first phase is now through August of 2021, when I will attempt to grow my newsletter list by guest posting for other newsletters with similar audiences. I have also invested in a referral program (see the bottom of this email) in the hopes of getting my existing readers to refer my newsletter to their friends.

Phase two begins in September of 2021, when I will debut my novel as a paid serial that will run through June of 2021. I will attempt to grow my audience for the book as it is coming out by using Substack threads (think: how fan fiction gets an audience) to create discussion around each chapter and develop a community, as well as collaborating with various online book clubs. Once the book is done, I will host a launch party where we can talk about the process and sell signed copies of the hardcover book.

My hope is that by the time I debut my second novel in the fall of 2022 (phase three), I will have developed a following for my fiction writing that will only build as I continue to write and publish novels as serials, and, who knows, maybe even earn a living doing it.

Want to know more? Let me introduce you to my book.

As I head out on this crazy adventure, please feel free to leave me a comment, talk with me on Twitter, or reply to this email with your thoughts, ideas, and inspiration. I would love to know what you think about this idea, as well as any insight you might have that might help me along the way.

And hey, if you happen to have a newsletter, podcast, or other type of internet thing you do, please consider me as a guest poster or interviewee. If I have any hope of making this crazy dream a reality, I need to figure out where people who might read serial novels online hang out and get in front of them as much as I can.

Every little bit helps, and I need all the help I can get!

Thank you so much for your support!

Until next Sunday,

Elle

Other things that happened this week

Remember the week where I quit my job? Well this week, I unquit it. It’s a very complicated story about my dream job becoming even more of a dream job and me getting the very exciting opportunity to take Utah Business to the next level as editor-in-chief.

I’ve been the editor-in-chief of this magazine for three years, and as I’ve mentioned before, I have LOVED this job full-heartedly. So I’m very (very) excited to be able to stay on in a new and expanded capacity with a lot more opportunity to grow this magazine to new heights while still having some personal freedom in the working-remotely category.

I will remain, of course, intensely ingrained in the Utah community, which is what led me to attend a pitching competition for women on Friday night. I thought I might meet some other creatives in Utah, and find some more startups to cover for the mag, and I did, but I also threw my serial book idea into the ring while I was at it. Just to see what people would think (this is the testing phase after all).

Let me just say that I loved going to an in-person event. I got all dolled up, put on some red lipstick, and listened to some live music and poetry—it was heaven. Then I got really starving and left to go get sushi and that’s when I learned that I actually made it into the final eight! What????

Anyway, this is how I now find myself in the position of having to pitch my serial book idea to a ton of other people, and also having to compete against other creatives (which is strange because we actually aren’t in competition). Anyway, wish me luck (and feel free to attend the events if you’re into that sort of thing).

I’m hoping, at the very least, that this helps me to refine the idea and learn more about if there really is a market for serial writing. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Other things I wrote

This startup was after immortality—then COVID killed it for Utah Business. This was a really fun story to research—until all my sources went dark. Then it became even more fun.

Quote of the week

A famous pianist once said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know. —Ray Bradbury in the book Zen and the Art of Writing.

Currently reading

I finished The Mermaid from Jeju last week and let me tell you I am spellbound. That ending will haunt me forever. Think: magic, the sea, abalone, the men from the mountain, and a

Now I’m reading The Midnight Library which I had to wait 12 weeks for in the Libby library line. We’ll see if it lives up to the hype!

Still reading Utopia, but I got another round of magazines last week so it’s competing for my non-fiction time with the latest Kinfolk and Interview.

If you like the same sort of magical oddities I do, you can follow my complete reading list here. (I’ve kept track of every book I’ve read since 2017).

Writing goals this week

Book one: I entered my book in a pitch competition, wrote out this plan, pitched it to some creative folks in the means of creation discord channel, and made a list of potential book clubs I could be part of. The promotion strategy is ON.

Book two: Worked on chapter three.

Articles: Wrote this newsletter. Published an article for Utah Business. Sent out one pitch.