Note from Jane: This piece first appeared in the January 2014 issue of Scratch, a digital magazine about writing and money. I am delighted to run it here at Writer Unboxed, where it can be publicly discussed and shared.
Two commenters on this post were randomly selected to receive a free annual subscription to Scratch, starting with the first issue. They are Felipe Adan Lerma and Marcy McKay. Congratulations!
In September 2011, I received an e-mail from Sean Platt, who requested a meeting to ask for publishing advice. I had never heard of him, but he had significant experience in online marketing and copywriting, and I agreed to meet with him.
At Coffee Emporium in downtown Cincinnati, Platt showed me his unpublished children’s verse, which he was passionate about, but had a low chance of commercial success. Then he outlined a highly strategic plan to self-publish a continuing story in episodes and seasons, like a TV show, that would build suspense with a fast-paced thriller plot and cliffhangers at the end of every “episode.”
What he was describing was a serial. At the time, serials were most often found on the edges of the traditional book publishing industry, at fan-fiction sites and other niche communities. They were also primarily written and given away for free. I advised him on what I knew about self-publishing, but the serial aspect I privately had doubts about.
However, Platt struck me as a high-energy, creative person who was going to do well with or without my advice. He had all the qualities of a shrewd entrepreneur, which later resulted in me inviting him to guest lecture at my university classes. The students hung on his every word because he spoke with enthusiasm and without bullshit.
Inspired by his project, I researched and wrote a piece on serial fiction for Publishing Perspectives in December 2011. Platt’s project, which had launched by that time, was mentioned, along with a few start-ups and the over-reliance of publishing types on the example of Charles Dickens as the ideal serial author.
[pullquote] What first struck me as a fringe activity in 2011 is starting to look more like a potential driver of author discoverability, as well as how we consume stories. [/pullquote]
Since that article (and certainly since the Victorian era!), a lot has happened. Amazon has gotten into the game, and new services like Wattpad are affecting on how writers and readers interact, with participation from mainstream and niche authors alike. What first struck me as a fringe activity in 2011 is starting to look more like a potential driver of author discoverability, as well as how we consume stories. It’s time to take a fresh look at the form of serials: what’s happening with the trend, how authors are using serial publishing services, and why it matters to the future of publishing.