Friday, January 18, 2013

Kindle Serials: Yes or No?

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries and thrillers

Amazon has a new—or more accurately, revamped—program called Kindle Serials. The idea is to write and release a digital novel in 10,000 word chunks every two weeks, and for readers to discuss the story as it's being written and give the author feedback.

Amazon is putting a lot of promotion behind the books in the program, and for some authors, it's helped build a readership. Author Roberto Calas blogged about his experience, which seems to have been good for him. Other authors have released books, as serials, that were entirely written first and have reported mixed results.

My eighth Jackson novel is completed, and my Amazon editor has suggested that I release it this spring and summer as a serial—rather than wait until next February to release it in a traditional format.

As much as I hate waiting, the serial aspect makes me nervous. Even though serial books are clearly labeled—so readers should realize they're only getting chunks of the story at a time—the books often get bad reviews. Many readers hate waiting for the next episode and give the novels one-star ratings. They also use much of their review space to criticize the format.

My editor thinks it's an opportunity to take advantage of advertising avenues that aren't offered to other Amazon books. He thinks it could expand my readership. I like both of these ideas. And I love my editor. He's been right about many things. But I’m worried about my current readership. They like to read my books in a couple of big gulps. And I like them to rave about "not being able to put it down."

Of course, readers don't have to buy it as a serial. They can wait until all the episodes are released and buy the whole book in the fall. But that still means waiting three months to buy the book, knowing that some, or most, of it is already available. If you buy it as a serial, it's only $1.99. I believe you pay full price ($4.99) if you wait.

But my biggest concern is that many readers will not understand the serial process. I've never released a Jackson book that way, so the sudden change will be unexpected. Readers might just see the new story and buy it—without reading all the disclaimers. Lovely, loyal people that they are. But two or three chapters in, the book will stop, and they'll have to wait two weeks for more.

I don't like to read that way, and I suspect my Jackson fans don't either. So I'm leaning toward saying no.

Readers: Does the serial idea appeal to you, especially if you'll get the story sooner? Or would you rather wait and get the book all at once early next year?

Writers: Have you released a Kindle Serial? What was your experience?


  1. I read The Green Mile as it came out. I couldn't stand the wait, but it was also very exciting to wait. The bookstore called me the minute the shipment arrived and I was there within the hour to get my next 'fix.'

    If done right, serials aren't all that different from the old serials one saw weekly at the theater. It's frustrating and exciting at the same time.

    Unfortunately, we now live in an instant gratification world and I'm not so sure there's a place for a serialization of a book anymore. I know many who wait until the end of the season and then watch in one or two days, all of the episodes of a favorite TV show because they didn't want to wait.

  2. I think you'll have some people who'll love it, some who'll tolerate it, and some who'll hate it. Then you'll get the percentage of people who, despite all the disclaimers, won't understand it. My short story on Amazon has a one-star review from a guy who didn't notice it was labeled a SHORT STORY and complained it was too short for 99 cents.

    If you didn't have much of an audience, it might be a great way to suck in more readers, but you sell well and have some devotees, so I'm as suspicious as you are of a serial's success.

    Perhaps you could poll some of your readers?

  3. What a great question. I'm all for change, but in this instance I'm inclined to side with you and lean towards no. The idea might take off, but I can't imagine I'd ever enjoy reading a book this way. By the time the next in the series came out, I'd have forgotten where I was and feel the need to read the previous installment again. I might even lose interest.

    I don't mind waiting for books I want to read - I always have so many on my list, so waiting for one gives me chance to read others. It's a smart idea to poll your readers before you decide.

  4. When I shared this post on Facebook, I led with the question, "if your favorite author released a book in serial form and you could buy it for $1.99 but would have to wait two weeks for each installment, or you could wait three months for the whole book and pay $4.99, which would you choose?"

    Four people have commented that they'd wait for the whole book. No one wants to wait for the next installment, but they'll wait for the whole book.

  5. I've been polling my readers, and most of them hate the idea. They also don't want to wait until Feb. for it to come out either. So it's a no-win situation. :(

  6. They may not want to wait until Feb, but they will. The less patient ones might download the instalments. It could work, but I think instalments work better with movies.

  7. A.K. Alexander and I explored the serial possibility for our upcoming thriller, The Killing Rain. We were excited by the concept and the possibilities after talking it over with Amazon Publishing. In the end, however, we decided to pass. Not because we think it's a bad idea--more, the price point (I believe it was $1.99 per book) is a bit cost prohibitive (or, rather profit prohibitive), considering we would be splitting the net sales.

    Also, I'm not sure I'm the kind of writer who can put material out weekly. I like to add layers to my stories, and it's a timely process--maybe not conducive to a serial format.

  8. I agree with Jenny. I would probably lose interest having to wait and I would definitely lose my place and have to go back and refresh. I do get a little antsy when I know a favorite author is writing something new and I want to read whatever he/she has written so far, but as a regular practice, I have to say no. The idea might take off and be a smash, but I doubt very seriously I would buy or read a book this way.

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  10. Hmm. Definitely an intriguing idea, but as both a reader and an author, I tend to side with the others who have commented here. Readerly-speaking, I'm a big fan of cozying up with a great book and devouring the whole thing in one sitting. nightmusic makes a great point on the subject: While serials were hugely popular once upon a time, I do think folks today don't have the patience or the attention span for that kind of delayed gratification. I know I don't, anyway.

    And as an author, I would be very leery of the possibility of annoying existing fans of my work... Much as I can't wait for the next Wade Jackson outing, my vote is to wait. And if your editor wants to hook new readers, perhaps there's a way to do some kind of extended release/discussion promo for one of the earlier novels in the series as a build-up to the new one? Just a thought.

  11. nightsmusic mentioned the old movie serials - the shorts that came before the main feature. I remember those, and some were better than the main feature. They certainly brought some people back to the theater weekly.

    A better analogy, though, may be comic books. Extended story arcs began, if I recall correctly, in the late 70s. Chris Claremont's X-Men made them famous. Nowadays, you rarely see a self-contained story in a comic. Either the plot extends over several issues - serial fashion - or there are several plots going simultaneously, so that Plot A is concluding while Plot B is just getting to the middle and Plot C is starting. And there can be more than three going.

    The success of Amazon's serial idea with prose will depend in part, I think, on the nature of the story. Dickens wrote most of his books as serials for the magazines first. That's how it was done in those days. Wilkie Collins did that with some of his most famous mysteries - The Moonstone, the Woman in White. It made for long books, and sometimes choppy stories when put together in novel form. And one has to have a particular bent for convoluted plots and the ability to juggle multiple casts of characters. Even with today's writing software...

    It sounds to me like the Jackson novels might not be a good fit for that format, but that another novel or character might. It's not just the current readership; it's also how the book is conceived. The inner structure often dictates all kinds of formatting stuff.

  12. Although I tend to agree with you (and all of the comments here), we live in an exciting and changing marketplace. It might be worth it to experiment. After all, you've been experimenting for many years and it's brought you to this point. Have your editor show the markup for the Amazon site and see if it would be too confusing to your regular readers. Plus, you're good at getting the word out. Just a thought for the "other side of the fence."

  13. Jen and David, thanks for your thoughtful comments. If I were starting a new series, I'd be more tempted to try a new format.

  14. Chiming in late here, as I've been away with very limited internet. I like to sit down with a whole book and read it at my leisure, in grabbed moments here and there. I would hate to have to wait for two weeks to continue. Maybe by then I'd pick up a "whole" book and get absorbed in it instead! Just my two bits' worth.


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