Just as I promised, I have a guest post from R.J. Blain today on serializing novels. For those of my awesome, wonderful, perfect Readers who don’t know what it means to serialize a novel I’ll go ahead and explain. Serializing a novel would be sorta like when stories were posted in the newspaper week after week. (Think Jo in Little Women, she did that for a while.)
Since I’ll be serializing Persona (that’s the WWII project I’ve been talking about and yes, I know I changed the title like five different times. I’m a writer. Until it’s published it’s subject to change.) But because I’ll be serializing Persona starting in June I asked the lovely and talented (and slightly crazy) R.J. Blain to talk a little bit about her experience serializing novels.
R.J. Blain has not one but TWO novels being serialized at present (which really blows my mind), and she has some great things to share.
There are a lot of things a writer needs in order to be successful. Having the ability to put words on the page is just the start of the journey. Reaching out and connecting with those who want to read your stories is almost as important as the words that you’ve put on the page.
It’s also a lot harder.
Let’s face facts: Most writers are introverts. Some of us are introverts with extrovert tendencies, and there is a reason for this – those who spend their time writing aren’t spending their time socializing. An extrovert often finds this process uncomfortable. Introverts find this process uplifting.
For some of us, it just caters to our special brand of insane, but that’s a different story altogether.
I have two different novel serializations on my website, and AJ asked me to step up to the plate and talk about the process of preparing and releasing a serialized story.
I might have winced a little when AJ told me of her plans to serialize a piece. A hundred and one thoughts fluttered through my head, and each subsequent one unsettled me even more. Then, after going through a gauntlet of eulogies for her sanity, I started to grin.
A post on the process of serialization? I can so work with that.
My name is R.J. Blain. If you spot my sanity anywhere, please return it to Montreal, Quebec. I’m sure someone from my household will retrieve it. Eventually.
I started serializing my story, Zero, (http://rjblain.com/zero-a-science-fiction-web-serial/) in January of 2013. Almost six months in, I was 5-10 minutes late on two updates, flirted with the devil many more times than that, and had posted two bonus scenes. I update every Wednesday.
When I set out to write Zero, I went in trying to accomplish three things: High-quality writing, consistent updates (every Wednesday), and telling a good story. That last point is important: It’s the manifestation of wanting to connect with people who want to read things I write.
The rule of three quickly crashed down on me. I had the updates in the bag. I’m pretty good about sitting down and doing what I need to do. I don’t work with a buffer, and I get quite the adrenaline rush when I realize it is 5 pm on a Wednesday afternoon and I haven’t even started my update for Zero.
I drove myself to epic-levels of stress trying to accomplish the quality I wanted. I want to write a story that people enjoy reading, and the requirement and desire to produce quality writing was equivalent to wearing concrete shoes while skydiving over the Hudson.
So, I admitted defeat and crossed high-quality off of the list. I just couldn’t spend the amount of time editing fresh draft. In exchange, I am having a lot more fun with the story now that I’m not as worried about the quality. Knowing myself as well as I do, I’ll never be able to totally abandon my desire for quality.
This is a good thing.
Songbird (http://rjblain.com/serial-a-romantic-fantasy/) is another experimental piece I’m serializing because of a dare. Terrible reason, but a fun story, and one that plays by different rules than Zero. When I went into Zero, I knew I wouldn’t be updating Songbird consistently. It’s a fly-by-night, pop out of a dark corner and shout, “I’m BATMAN!” at unsuspecting victims type of story. Like Zero, it’s an experiment: Could I write a traditional fantasy with strong romantic elements?
On the surface, these two stories aren’t that much different. Zero is a soft science fiction. Songbird is a romantic fantasy. One uses political sciences and some futuristic tech, the other includes magic. To me, most science is magic because I don’t understand it more than half of the time.
Realistically, these two stories are completely different. I don’t write them the same way. I don’t prepare them for serialization the same way. I didn’t even conceptualize them the same way. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned as a writer over the years is that while there are a few elements of my method that carry over from project to project, no one novel is the same as another, and these two stories are my proof of it. (Every writer is different, so this is commentary about me and me alone.)
Zero started with three days of plotting, planning, prepping, and world building. When I started scene 1, I had a good idea where I was going. I even had some ideas on how to get there. I had the main characters, and I had a rough idea of how they’d meet despite coming from such different worlds. I had Easter eggs prepared, puns planned, and a roadmap complete with a set of directions.
Songbird started with nothing. I sat down, picked up my pen, and I started to write. I knew nothing of Kara, even less about Ranik, and I really don’t know where they’re going or if they’ll make it to the same destination at the same time.
It took me three or four updates before I started loathing Zero due to how I was writing it.
I never fell out of love with Songbird.
I feel back into love with Zero, and I feel that the story has a whole-new dynamic because of it.
I don’t get to write on Songbird even a quarter of how often I’d like to.
Zero is a patient friend and companion, showing up for a date every 7 days, whether or not the weather is nice. It’s that guy, you know. The one that sits outside at a café on a rainy day waiting for his girl, who shows up disheveled and several hours late.
I’m convinced Songbird is staging a revolt as the result of neglect.
Zero is drafted directly to the computer. Songbird is written by hand in a moleskine journal and transcribed to the computer scene by scene.
One author, two stories, and two very different writing processes to bring these stories to life.
If you’re planning on releasing a serial, I strongly recommend that you do so knowing what you’re getting into. If you’re going in without a buffer, expect stress. Expect needing a hellish amount of dedication and enthusiasm to push through the bad days. Expect the strong desire to burn the project with fire when you are forced to work on it when you don’t want to.
Don’t expect the process to be easy. Don’t expect a high number of people coming back to your site week after week. Even if they do, most of them aren’t going to comment, aren’t going to notice you, and they aren’t going to hold your hand. Expect to have a silent audience, one that you engage only through the words you’ve written.
Expect to get a glimpse of the world of publication, where you are forced to forge connections with people without ever having the chance to talk to them directly.
Even if you only have one person who sees the story through to the end, that is one more person you have supporting you, even if you aren’t aware that they are there in the shadows. This was one of the hardest things for me when I started serializing Zero and Songbird. I’m an introvert with extrovert tendencies. I want to be noticed. I want my readers to reach out to me. I want to forge those connections.
I want people to read my stories.
For me, this was the most valuable lesson I’ve learned so far serializing my stories: I write because I want to be read. I want to entertain someone.
I want to forge connections with people.
The hardest lesson I’ve learned so far serializing my stories is that most of the time I’ll never know for certain if I succeeded at making these connections.
That’s okay, though. It’s okay because I don’t need to know that it’s happening to be aware of the fact that it is, even if I’m not told this is the case to my face.
In a way, novel serialization is a leap of faith. It’s a risk. It’s a challenge. Success is hinged on the will of others and my ability to connect with people I’ve never met.
Is novel serialization right for you?
Only you can answer that question. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that knowing one person’s method (or lack thereof) will give you the keys to the universe and to success. It won’t.
If you decide to serialize, make your own way. Forge your own path, and never stop writing.
~R.J. Blain (http://rjblain.com)
(Special thanks to R.J. Blain for luring me into a guest post with chocolate. I totally dove into the trap when she promised Godiva’s. And, just as a side note, I’m sooo glad I’m not crazy enough to jump into serialization without a buffer. I have no idea how she does it, but I would have slammed my head into a wall by now.)