Serializing Your e-Novel: Pros and Cons

I read an article today which about authors Sean Platt and David W. Wright whose self-published post-apocalyptic serial, Yesterday's Gone: Season One has just surpassed the 100 customer reviews mark this week. Until reading this article, I only thought about writing a novel in the more traditional way: uploading it to CreateSpace and then sending out the various digital versions.  Now I am rethinking everything.  I can't help but think that my book could easily become a serial on Kindle and all the other e-book formats.  Once a series is complete, I could upload it all to CreateSpace and make a complete printed edition.

The benefits of this are as follows:

1.  Speed of Content to Reader - Rather than my readers waiting until August 1st for my book to release as a complete novel, I could release it in segments with cliff-hanger endings.  In this way, readers would be anticipating the next installment, wondering what will befall the characters when the following sequels roll out.

2.  Better Marketing and Sales - If you charge for your installments, (Yesterday's Gone is completely free) you could make more money on the consecutive issues than selling the one shot novel that will see declining sales over time.  Releasing a new serial episode every two weeks or so would be tough to do as a writer, but it would work well for you if people who catch the series in the middle go back to buy all the past episodes in order to catch up.

3.  Broadening Your Audience - This would in turn broaden your audience as more people caught on to the series.  This format has the greatest potential to travel through word of mouth, but hopefully you have written a real pedal-to-the-metal barn burner or people will lose interest fast.  The trick will be creating cliffhangers for each series so to entice readers to buy the episodes that follow.

Some problems I see with this:

1.  Work, Work, Work - If you plan to write the first installment and then write the rest later without serious outlining, you will be backing yourself into a corner with your own pen.  What if the unforeseen happens and you get sick or get in an accident or can't write the next installment by the deadline?  Waiting a month to release a new episode is way too long because readers will soon lose interest.  You will have to write the completed book first or at least create a very good outline so that you know where your serialized e-novel's plot is moving.  Consider the amount of time you will have to spend editing and revising the episodes so that they are straight to the point, powerfully written and structured to deliver a cliffhanger ending believable enough to drag the reader back for the next one.  It will take a mountain of work.

2.  What If You Throw A Party and Nobody Shows? - Probably the biggest fear I have is writing a serialized e-novel and then only one or two people buy the book.  Yesterday's Gone is completely free, but I have issue with just giving my work away for free.  The problem is that writing is indeed hard work.  If I were a plumber, I wouldn't run water pipe under a house for free.  Why should a writer work for free?  If I created something, I would want to be paid for that work even if I have selected 35% royalties on a .99 cent e-book.  .99 cents is not much to pay for entertainment.  I don't really care if authors say "it's a way to get my name out there."  Your name is still going to be "out there".   If people want to read it they will pay the minuscule buck and read it.  Good grief, it's only a buck.

3.  If You Can't Plan, Then Forget It - If you are one of those writers who relies on your day to day writing to drive your productivity or a writer who thinks outlines are for musty old fuddy-duddies or English teachers, you may find yourself hitting a brick wall when you reach the third installment of your series and run out of ideas.  To pull off an e-serial, you will have to write a detailed outline and then stick to it.  It will take careful planning on your part.  You may lead your readers down a path and then leave them in the lurch because you will take another month or so to come up with the next installment.  Installments need to come out on a regular basis, once a week or once every two weeks.  Any longer than that and readers will lose interest and move on.

I am not sure if I will turn my current novel into a serial, but I am thinking about doing something like it for my next book.  It will be fun to try something like this, but I will have to plan it like an architect writing blueprints for a skyscraper.  It will be a challenge, but I think it will be one that will help me grow as a writer.