Thursday, May 8, 2014

Publishing a Novel Manuscript as a Serial...What?

"I'm writing the first draft of my new novel manuscript as a serial, see?"

Louis Shalako

If writing a serial is challenging, then writing one and publishing it piece by piece before it is complete is more than challenging.

It’s fraught with peril, in fact downright dangerous.

There is always the possibility of failure, of missing a deadline, or just running out of ideas.

Since I have a rough idea of how the thing ends, I don’t worry too much about that.

Now, to write a novel—and publish it, bit by bit, in serial fashion, as I go along, is more than just dangerous. 

It’s just plain mad, going by established, traditional value systems.

And I know that very well.

However, as noted (somewhere) in a previous blog post, it slowed me down. I took a month and did a quality-control audit of my entire operation. I needed that time. I didn’t waste it, I merely did other important things.

If a writer can’t produce two to three and a half or four thousand words, once a week, what are you doing calling yourself a writer?

Where the real danger lies, is in the fact that this is the first draft of my thirteenth novel. And I’m publishing it as a serial…bit by bit, as I go along.

Then, when the serial is done, I get to take the first draft of a manuscript for a full-length novel and then go through it as many times as necessary, in order to bring it up to standard as a stand-alone novel.

Some readers are probably dying to point out that the traditional publishing world would not be interested in such a manuscript submission. The well has been poisoned, etc.

That’s fine. They have their concerns.

But years ago, I predicted, in a conversation with my mother, that…listen closely, “In the future, people will be able to look over my shoulder and watch as I write a novel.”

And people like authors. They like them to be good guys—accessible, and interesting, and stuff like that…they be like all interested.

It’s a pretty simple concept. I’m already writing clean copy, in the bare-bones, skeletal form, with illustrations, and no, it is not a comic book or illustrated novel. It’s a serial, illustrated with free, minimal images that help to carry the text and the story and do substitute in some ways for the threadbare nature of it.

The completed novel won’t have any illustrations. I experimented with pictures in Love, Money, Sex and Death in the 21st Century, and it’s okay up to a point, with flowing text and running on a multitude of reading devices. I’m not really ready to attempt anything like that yet with a serious work of literary art. That one is non-fiction, a series of essays, and I wanted to make that particular experiment at that particular time…not now.

If I was to do that with Betty Blue, I probably wouldn’t even want those particular images anyway—I’d want much better ones.

"Hey, I got an idea. Why don't I disguise myself as a door?"
And yet the people can still watch me work. They can see how it’s done, (or at least how I do it) and they can come back and have a look from time to time, and/or; if they are so inclined, they can just wait and read the full novel at a later date.

It’s a much more convenient form, for the sort of lying in bed reading we all enjoy; the ebook or the printed trade paperback or pocketbook. It will be a richer, more rewarding reading experience. 

That’s not to say the serial doesn’t have a place in modern writing, because at this point we just don’t know. Yet you could read an episode coming home on the commuter train, or on a bus, or on your lunch hour.

As a writer, doing a serial, it’s interesting. I’ve never written a serial before, and in fact I never thought I would. I never, ever dreamed of writing a serial, not until now. But when I dreamed of it, now—I just went ahead and did it.

That’s the real revolution here, ladies and gentlemen.

As a kid, I used to stay up late and watch everything from Charlie Chan to the Lone Ranger and the Bowery Boys, there was all kinds of weird stuff on late at night. Lately I’ve been checking out the Three Stooges on Youtube, as they tend to run about 18+ minutes. It’s an interesting length.

I don’t even have a TV now, but it’s interesting to experiment with cliff-hangers, mood, setting, pacing and character development. The fact that someone is going to see this week’s work this week has its own peculiar demands, not the least of which is that it has to be good.

As authors we can learn something from shows we loved when we were little kids. As a kid, I loved The Rat Patrol. As an adult in his mid-fifties, I can safely say it was pretty bad TV, even by the standards of the day. 

But at the time, fantasies of raiding patrols in the desert were pretty standard fare and ruled my daydreams. 

Such is childhood.

Childish daydreams, brought to fine focus and actualized by modern technology.
We’re looking at about twenty episodes for Betty Blue, at which point we shall wind it up. As a manuscript, with section nine done, it’s over twenty-five thousand words, and a novel is a minimum of 60,000. 

I don’t want to come up too short, and there’s not much point in going to 130,000 words. This takes some intuitive sense of the material to be covered, the amount of time and space left ahead of the writer, and basically how long it takes to run a certain kind of scene in terms of word-count. If it came in at 55,000 words, seemed complete and I had no other ideas, then I guess we would label it a ‘novelette’ and price it accordingly…’nuff said.

My style may be more ‘cinematic’ than some other writers, (whatever that means) although I do tend to think in terms of ‘what is the next scene?’ I usually do that when I’m done the last one!

That stems from watching a lot of old films and old TV, rather than any formal training in creative writing or screenwriting.

The storytelling is much more simplistic in the Three Stooges for example. It’s a hell of a lot easier to be objective, if you’re not all that interested in it. The structure, the stereotypes, the archetypes if you will, are all more readily apparent.

You couldn’t get away with that in modern, serious television—unless it’s good. By that I mean Married with Children good, or The Trailer Park Boys kind of good. That’s a half an hour per episode. It doesn’t have to reflect reality. It merely has to be entertaining—it has to be interesting.

It’s an entirely different discipline, one where I don’t have the luxury of time.

The thing is to get it right the first time.

Speaking of cliff-hangers, that’s it until Friday evening at eight p.m. when you can read Part 9 of The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue, right here at Shalako Publishing.

This link takes you to Part 8, where you will also find links to the preceding episodes.

Until then—ciao, Baby.



  1. Among self-published authors, it seems the most successful are those who have multiple novellas in series, telling the story of their protagonists in serial form.

    Many classic science fiction novels were originally written as serial stories in magazines before being reworked into novels. Heinlein's "Citizen of the Galaxy" appeared as a serial in Astounding Magazine before it was reworked into a novel. Anne McCaffrey's "Dragon Riders of Pern" and "The Ship Who Sang" were originally serials. James Schmidt's "The Witches of Karres" was also a collection of serials that were combined to make the novel.

    It is my opinion that the majority of people that read ebooks are commuters and travelers needing to kill time during lulls in the travel, and don't want to be lugging around heavy books. This would mean that they would prefer quick, light reading that they can set aside quickly. Getting too deeply involved in a serious novel could cause one to miss a connection. Whatever the reason, short, serial stories seem to be the most popular among ebook consumers.

    So, writing serially makes a lot of sense for a writer wanting to get a firm position in the book market.

  2. Excellent points every one. Thanks for commenting, William. While I read for pleasure, on the couch or in bed, an ereader works just as well as a book. In fact heavy hard-covers cause some pain in the arm and shoulder. Reading habits are definitely changing, and people read more now, not less. In some cases they might not even realize it, but where someone might have subscribed to a monthly magazine in the past, they can now visit a website every day, for example Crack'd or The Onion.


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