Rhiannon Frater is the award-winning author of the As the World Dies trilogy.


FAQ Repost and Update: Why Am I Writing a Serial?

This is a repost of the blog entry for July 3, 2013. I wanted to bump it up on my blog and also address one more point about the serial I am currently writing.

The additional information is at the end of the post. Enjoy!

–Rhiannon

Today’s post is another FAQ. I received a post on my author Facebook page today from fan Heather Hinson, and decided to answer her questions on my blog. Some of her questions have been asked by others, a few are new, but they all concern my serial IN DARKNESS WE MUST ABIDE.

Here is Heather’s post:

I finished “episode” 7 of IDWMA last night and it was fantastic. I wanted to ask you a few questions that have been on my mind since I started reading this one. Ive read all of your other works except one or two releases you have that are kid friendly. I have the intention of reading those as well but am waiting on my son to get a little older so I can read it with him. I love your work and your writing style and in a sea of books in the Zombie genre yours is the only one to stand out to me and have me re-reading it over and over again. (and I’ve read hundreds of Zombie works) but reading the IDWMA series made wonder why you chose to release a book in this format. It makes obvious financial sense because clearly if people read book I they are going to be along for the ride( Ohhh you should give book #1 away free, like those old drug commercials where the guy would give the first one free to get you hooked! LOL! ) For whatever reason I just assumed it had nothing to do with the financial side of things. I do want to point out I have NO issue with the fact it’s costing me more to read the book this way. Having said that I can confess I absolutely HATE the whole installment thing. Are you writing as we go along? If so do you take feedback from your readers into mind while you’re writing? How do you feel about this type of format? Have you ever read a book in “installments”? Has the overall response been positive? Are there people who have issue with the cost? As I said before I have no issue with it and feel its worth the cost and more but it wouldn’t surprise me to see readers complaining about the cost. Especially if the book ends up with more than 20 chapters. Lastly, if you are writing this as you go do you enjoy the process more than writing a traditional novel?
I guess my dislike for the format is based solely on the fact I want to read more and can’t. Impatience, Is that a valid reason?
I’m sorry for the long post. I hope you don’t mind my asking these questions. I was originally going to just email you but I thought other readers might be wondering the same things.
Much Love to you!
Heather

Here are my answers:

1.  Why did you choose to release a book in this format?

I love episodic television when done right. Dexter, Breaking Bad, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, LOST, and Spartacus are just a few of the shows that have enthralled me with their story arcs, character development, and season long plots. I have always wanted to write in a similar format, but for the television in my reader’s mind.

I also love the old penny dreadful, or serial format from long ago. Fiction used to released in installments that could be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Readers anxiously looked forward to the next part of the story and the serials continued until they lost steam or ended. Varney the Vampire is a very famous serial that lasted for a very long time.

I absolutely love discussing my favorite shows with other people and getting into long discussions about episodes and anticipating the next one. I hope to inspire that same sort of fervor in my fans for this serial.

In Darkness We Must Abide is my first full-length original work. I wrote it years ago when I had no real idea about word count limitations, story structure, or had the life experience to address some of the deeper, more adult themes. When I found it buried in the depths of my hard drive and started to read it, I was struck at how episodic it felt. It reminded me a lot of Dark Shadows in that regard. I also realized how immense it was, how much it needed to be revised, and how I had fallen short on several points of characterization and plot. I saw an article about taking a full length manuscript and making it into a serial. That was my a-ha! moment. All the missteps of my youth made it immensely plausible to do a serial.

To give you an idea of how large this story is, the first complete season is 98,000 words long. Most novels come in between 70,000 and 90,000.

This is one big baby!

2. Are you writing as we go along? 

I have a very rough draft of In Darkness We Must Abide. The story that is being revealed in the serial already exists, but is bare bones. But it’s a very, very rough draft. Therefore, every episode is completely revised.

The beauty of doing the serial is that I can revise the old stuff into a much more dynamic work. Since I don’t have to worry about a word count, I can delve deep into characters and plot lines. It’s incredibly liberating.

Of course, the serial is additional work alongside the novels I’m writing, so the serial adds to my work load significantly. That’s why the last two installments are coming out further apart. I have to finish up the novel I’m working on.

3. If so do you take feedback from your readers into mind while you’re writing?

Absolutely! I’ve been listening to everything people have said about the serial. It’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Just as I hoped, people are talking about the serial and sharing their thoughts with me.

The fandom for Armando has definitely inspired me to expand upon his character and he has many more scenes than he did in the original. He still plays the same role, but the serial has enabled me to explore his character with a bit more depth.

Of course, sometimes one fan will say they hate something (for example: the inclusion of sexual themes), while other fans will tell me how much they love it. One fan’s favorite episode may be another fan’s least. It’s just how it goes.

What I try very hard not to do is make filler episodes. Each episode is layering on top of the previous one to build to the major events later on.

How do you feel about this type of format? 

As a writer I find it to be a challenge, yet liberating. It creates a unique set of problems (such as the cost of publishing it), but it also allows me to give my fans something to read EVERY month. I love that. They don’t have to wait for six months or a year to read something new from me.

Have you ever read a book in “installments”? 

I have and I do! I love serials that are done well. I can always tell when someone just chopped up a book. It reads just like a book that was chopped up. There isn’t an episodic feel to it at all and usually it just ends abruptly with no sense of suspense. I drop out of those quickly. Other serials read like a favorite TV show and I eat those up.

Also, I read trilogies and series, which are often just one larger story distributed along multiple books. I find those a bit aggravating because I have to wait so long read the next installment, yet, I know a writer can only write so fast.

I have the wrist and finger pain to prove that.

Has the overall response been positive?

Overwhelmingly, so. It’s been so encouraging. I wrote As The World Dies as an online serial years and years ago and really missed the interaction with the fans. I love that constant feedback. I notice I’m much happier as a writer right now.

Lastly, if you are writing this as you go do you enjoy the process more than writing a traditional novel? 

They are totally different beasts and serve totally different purposes in my creative mind. I can’t pick one over the other.

NOTE: Since Heather went on quite a bit about cost, I left this question for last, because this will be a long answer. 

Are there people who have issue with the cost? 

I have only had it mentioned twice.

I’m going to break down several of your comments about cost
.
It makes obvious financial sense because clearly if people read book I they are going to be along for the ride( Ohhh you should give book #1 away free, like those old drug commercials where the guy would give the first one free to get you hooked! LOL! ) 

I wanted to give the first episode away because I knew that some of my long term fans might be wary of the new format. I also had hopes of drawing in new readers. Setting the first episode as free took a lot of work and haggling with Amazon.com, but it was worth it. The only problem with free books is that there are so many it may take a very long time before someone reads that first installment. Hopefully when they do finally read it, they’ll purchase the rest of the serial. But that could be a month from now, months from now, hell, even years from now. Writing a serial and making the first episode free is not a make money quick scheme. It’s more like watching water come to a boil.

For whatever reason I just assumed it had nothing to do with the financial side of things.

The serial demands the same behind the scenes work as a full-length novel. It needs a cover, editing, copyediting, and formatting. Just because the episodes are 20,000+ words long, doesn’t make it that much cheaper to produce. A serial is actually a quite expensive endeavor.

Example:
Cover artwork: $50 and up (some as high as $500)
Editing: 1 to 5 cents per word
Coopyediting: 1 cent per word (unless you get a budget deal)
Formatting: $25

Now, I’m lucky enough to have a husband who can do my covers for me. We have paid $50 so far on the stock art he uses for the covers. Other writers who are doing this may be paying that for just ONE cover.

I’m also lucky enough to have a support system that helps me put out the serial for a very low cost. Without them I couldn’t afford to do the serial.

I’m writing the serial because 1) it’s fun 2) the fans love it.

I do want to point out I have NO issue with the fact it’s costing me more to read the book this way. 

This is actually where you are quite wrong. The first season compilation is $3.99 in ebook. The first season when purchased individually costs $3.96 (including the first free episode).

The estimate on the second season episode arc is set at five installments right now. The cost of the second season compilation will be $4.99. The individual episodes will cost $4.95.

The paperback compilations will be priced at $12.95.

Now to break this down as to whether the episodes or the compilations are more beneficial to my pocketbook.

I make .35 an episode. 
If someone buys all 4 episodes of the first season individually, I make $1.40.
If someone buys the compilation of the first season, I make $2.74.

So far the episodes far outsell the compilation. This might change in the future. I’m watching the sales very carefully.

As I said before I have no issue with it and feel its worth the cost and more but it wouldn’t surprise me to see readers complaining about the cost. Especially if the book ends up with more than 20 chapters. 

I have had two readers complain about cost, but I have pointed the cost is nearly identical.

In Darkness We Must Abide isn’t a book. It’s a serial. The structure will continue to be episodic and it will be laid out in seasons. There will be three seasons in total. Each season will be released as a compilation.  When the seasons are finally done, I suspect the total word count will be the equivalent of 3 to 4 complete novels.

Several fans have told me how much they like the episodes because they can read them during lunch or before bed. The episodes are quick, short reads that they can fit into their busy days. Which is exactly what I wanted.

Once the entire serial is out, people can either devour it in one big gulp, or take small bites.

It’s like television shows nowadays. People can watch during the original broadcast or marathon the season.

Edited to Add:

Susan Kaye Quinn pointed out something to me that I originally missed  when answering Heather’s questions. She basically suggested that some readers may think of the 20+ episodes that will make up the entirety of the In Darkness We Must Abide serial as one complete book, instead of realizing its actual length is the equivalent of 3 (possibly 4) complete novels. Therefore paying .99 for 20 episodes is translated as being .99 per chapter in a book in the mind’s of some readers.

I can’t speak for other serials, but In Darkness We Must Abide‘s shortest episode, the pilot, is over 10,000 words long. That’s about the size of 3 to 5 chapters in a regular Rhiannon Frater book. The complete first season is 98,000 words long, which is much longer than most full length novels.

Because In Darkness We Must Abide is written in episodes that make up complete seasons, and not in a novel format, it doesn’t have actual chapters. In fact, when we compiled the first season for the paperback edition, we didn’t even try to attempt to chop it up into chapters. The flow of the story doesn’t work in the regular chapter format. Therefore, we kept the episodes intact within the paperback.

My point of all this is that readers aren’t purchasing “chapters in a book,” but a completely different format that is akin to television.

I hope that clears up any confusion!

I already have plans for a serial after I finish In Darkness We Must Abide. The next one is apocalyptic/zombiesque.