What are you going to do with your long weekend? Maybe you’d like to read the first ten short chapters of a serialized novel about a twelve-year-old girl who suspects something funny is going on in her small town of Gale Harbour, Newfoundland. If so, you will find this novel, Nellie and the Coven of Barbo, over here.
So far, the process of serializing a novel has been 1. inspiring and 2. discouraging, in about equal measure. I’m considering taking a break from the serial in order to reassess my decision to self-publish in serial form. Here are some of the considerations.
1. Publishing in installments, giving myself deadlines, and knowing that someone is reading what I write as I write it: this is an approach that works very well for me. Having struggled with long manuscripts throughout my writing life, I know that I become easily bogged down and demotivated. A slow and steady pace, out where people can see me working, is ideal. Blogging here on Classroom as Microcosm taught me this, and for some time now, I’ve been wondering if blogging a novel would have the same effect. It has.
2. It is hard not to be a bit disappointed with the lack of response that an online novel receives in contrast to, say, a blog about education and pedagogy. To give some perspective: when I was publishing posts weekly on Classroom as Microcosm, hits averaged at about 10,000 views a month; even now, the blog receives about 300 random views of archived posts per day, despite the fact that new posts are rare. This is a drop in the bucket in the blogosphere, but it’s enough for me to feel that the blog is meaningful to others and not just me. In contrast, when I publish a new chapter on Nellie and the Coven of Barbo, it receives about 30 hits that day, and a sprinkling in the days following. The novel has 30 subscribed followers, most of whom are family and friends. I am extremely grateful for these views and followers, and for the occasional encouraging messages I get through email, Facebook and face-to-face conversation. At the same time, I feel that there MIGHT be other people out in the world who would enjoy this little story, and I have no idea how to get it to them. Yes, I’ve built Classroom as Microcosm over many years and I’ve been blogging my novel for only a couple of months, but I realize now that I was expecting a bit more cross-pollination.
3. This leads to the question of promotion. I am not comfortable with self-promotion, and I know I need to just suck it up and do it. I share the links on StumbleUpon, Facebook and Twitter, and I’ve tried listing the novel with curators of serials, like Muse’s Success, WebFictionGuide, and Tuesday Serial. Some friends have kindly shared and retweeted links to the novel, and this has brought in some new readers, but none of these methods have been successful in increasing readership very much. I have searched in vain for blogs that review self-published online serial fiction; they must be out there, and I’ll keep looking. I’m even toying with the idea of starting my own, but I can only stretch myself so thin.
4. For the above reasons, I’m considering moving my online novel to a platform like Jukepop or Wattpad, forums that exist exclusively for publishing, promoting and communicating about serial online fiction. It’s fantastic that sites like this exist, and I know a lot of writers get a huge boost from them. Here’s the catch, though: I have explored these platforms and browsed their offerings, and a lot of what is published there is…just not my thing. I click on book covers and summaries and I have not yet felt the impulse to read more; when I’ve made the deliberate decision to read a first chapter, it’s felt like a duty rather than a pleasure, and I’m struck by how different the aesthetic is from mine. I’m not sure my story fits in these places. On the surface, there’s no reason why not: it is, or will be, a genre novel, a YA/middle-grade adventure novel with a fantasy bent – but it’s quiet, slow and character-driven, in contrast to the most popular Jukepop and Wattpad stories, which seem to be big on plot and not so concerned about, say, the quality of the prose. I’m SURE there are stories I’d love on these platforms, but I haven’t found them yet, which suggests that they may be…hard to find.
5. On a similar note: I should be reading lots of serialized online fiction, to get a sense of that community, but as a writer, I can’t invest my hours in reading fiction unless it’s really good, and finding the really good stuff seems to take an enormous amount of time. I have a coffee table and a Kobo full of awesome library books; I need someone out there to put all the terrific online fiction in one place so I don’t have to waste my reading hours combing through everything ever published online. Again: if I were a better person, this would be me. It probably won’t be me. Has someone else done it?
6. Why don’t I just submit the novel to a traditional publisher, you ask? Don’t even get me started. Well, do, if you’re really interested; I’ll be happy to get into it in the comments if you want.
7. One response to all this could be: why are you so concerned about who is/how many people are reading? Why not just write because writing is fun, and audience be damned? Well, that’s a good question. The answer is: I have spent many years writing stuff and putting it in a drawer, and it is NOT satisfying, it is NOT fulfilling, and it is killing my desire to write fiction at all. As I tell my students sometimes: the tool of writing did not arise so that people could indulge themselves in self-expression in their own little isolated caves. We learned to write so we could communicate.
8. Of course, it’s possible that the novel is just not all that good. The positive feedback has mostly been from people who know me, and anyone who makes art knows to take “Great job!”s from loved ones with big grains of salt. That said: my friends and family are intelligent, discerning and artistically accomplished people. I take their good opinions seriously. This novel is flawed, for sure; I would love to have a professional editor polish every chapter before it goes up. That said, I think there’s something there. If you read some of it and you agree, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you read some of it and decide it’s a big pile of garbage…well, my skin may not be thick enough to take that kind of commentary right now, but I’ll let you know when it is.
Do you have advice? If you’ve self-published online, or know something about that process, or have any thoughts at all about what to do with a novel like mine in the bizarre world of publishing today, or know of terrific online fiction that is well worth the investment of my and your precious reading hours…please give us your thoughts on any of this. Even if you have read some of my novel installments and think they’re terrible (again: please don’t tell me), I’m sure there are other fiction writers struggling with these questions who would like to hear your ideas. I feel like there are terrific opportunities about to open up in the world of online fiction, but they aren’t quite there yet, and I want to know which direction we should all face so we can see them as soon as they blossom.