Wednesday, March 06, 2013
Serial Killers....or Killer Serials
But the last proposal came back from my publisher with a "we want it but..." and the "but" turned out to be a wild ride through the new world of publishing.
For those of you who haven't witnessed my recent manic Facebook posts or emails, my publisher asked me to write my proposed novel as a serial. Since serials seem to be making a comeback, I thought I'd share some of the mechanics of how the process works.
EPISODES. The novel is written in episodes. For STORM FORCE, I was asked to write nine episodes of approximately 9,000-11,000 words each. At the end of the ninth episode, the reader will have a complete novel. For some authors an episode might be two chapters. I tend to write shorter chapters, though, so for me, 10,000 words is four chapters. So each episode is four chapters.
CLIFFHANGERS. Each episode, or every fourth chapter for me, has to end on a cliffhanger. I'll admit I'm being a bit liberal in my interpretation of what constitutes a cliffhanger, but I'm trying to end them on a moment of high tension. Of course, as authors we try to do that with our chapters anyway.
FAST TURNAROUND. Three weeks after I signed the contract, the first three episodes (about 30,000 words) were due to my editor...and I hadn't started. After that, an episode is due every two weeks through May 13. (Which happens to be my birthday, and if you think I won't be hoisting a cold one on that day, think again, sisters!)
WRITE IT CLEAN. The usual process with this publisher is that my manuscript goes to a developmental editor, who works with me on revisions, and then to my acquisitions editor, who shepherds it through production. (With my other publisher I work with my acquisitions editor throughout the process). But the fast turnaround of a serial means the developmental/revision stage will be skipped. That puppy goes straight from me to copyediting. Gulp.
THE 'LIVING NOVEL.' The idea of the serial, as it was explained to me, is that it is a "living novel." When the first episode of the novel is released to the public, I'll only be writing episode five. A discussion group will be set up where readers can talk about the book as it develops, theoretically influencing how the book ends (in other words, if everyone hates the hero I need to do some work on him, or if everyone guesses the mystery, I better throw in some red herrings). I can't tell you how much this idea freaks me out!
WHAT THE READER GETS. This serial will be released beginning on March 19 and will run through July 9, with a new episode released every other week. A reader will "subscribe" for $1.99, and that will be the only price she ever pays--each download will come automatically to Kindle as soon as it's released, and she'll get an email saying it's there. If a subscriber signs up on the day episode four is released, she'll get the first four episodes and then receive the rest as they come out. Once the serial is done, on July 9, the price will go up and it will be released in print, digital and audio just like any other book. At that point, it will no longer be exclusive to Kindle or Amazon.
Yowza! I'm working on Episode Four right now, with a deadline of March 15. This format plays to some of my strengths. I'm a dedicated plotter, and I think anyone trying to pants their way through this--with no chance to go back and revise--would have a breakdown. I work as an editor, so my copy is usually pretty clean, although I do find proofing my own stuff hard. I've also worked as a journalist for years so deadlines motivate me rather than paralyze me (within reason).
Will people want to read my serial? I honestly don't know. I'm not sure it's a format that particularly appeals to me as a reader, since I like to bury myself in a book and plow through. Fans of the format liken it to a TV show where a story line carries over from week to week, and you can't wait until the next episode airs.
All I can say is, hold your breath. STORM FORCE (a loose spinoff from my Penton Legacy series) is coming!
BIO: Novelist currently living in Auburn, Alabama. Author of the Sentinels of New Orleans series (urban fantasy, Tor Books) as Suzanne Johnson. Writing as Susannah Sandlin, author of the Penton Legacy (paranormal romance) and Collectors (romantic suspense) series from Montlake Romance. See my author website for more info!