Bite-sized fiction

WHEN Roz Morris shopped her novel, My Memories of a Future Life, to publishers, they said: “It’s beautifully done, but too eccentric for the market.” They urged her to change her tale of reincarnation to be “like the bestsellers already on the lists”.

Morris, who wrote the novel on and off over many years, decided to self-publish it instead.

It’s a typical story, but Morris decided to publish the book in parts or “episodes”. She released an episode of 25,000 words every week.

She got her idea from TV series like Lost, which had such buzz that it got everyone talking about plot twists at the watercoolers. She wanted the same for her books.

What helped Morris, however, was that she already had a platform. She writes a popular blog on writing and has thousands of followers. She informed her readers via social media each time she released a part.

However, she also believed that people were willing to buy her. Morris priced each bite-sized part at US$0.99, and once all the episodes were released, bundled them into a book and set a competitive price.

“Although My Memories of a Future Life is literary in nature, I wanted to demonstrate that it’s also a fast-paced story. The serial format is perfect for this. If no one is interested, they don’t come back for Episode Two,” Morris said via e-mail.

Serialising the novel created buzz and interest. Her inbox was full of emails from readers who wanted to know what happened next.

“Once they read Episode One,they were hooked, and they spread the word. Because they couldn’t finish the book immediately, they encouraged friends to read it so that they had someone to talk to about it! That must have increased sales.”

Some where annoyed by the delay, however.

“There was one guy who wrote a review about how he really enjoyed the story but was irritated that he couldn’t gobble it up all at once. And some people told me they wouldn’t start reading until they could have the entire story in one shot,” she said.

What did you like about serialising your novel?

Serialising made the launch more of an event, and I had a sense of a crowd gathering behind me, creating momentum. It was great fun to have that episode-by-episode contact with readers, to read what they thought might happen and to see what they were anticipating. And quite nerve-wracking too! With a standalone novel you don’t hear from the reader half-way through or share their experience.

It also helped me raise my game as a writer. There’s a risk that readers will drop away, so I had to make sure that they wanted to come back for the next episode and that the sample would grab them all over again. That really sharpened my storytelling instincts. It was also a lot of fun – I gave each episode a title, which gave me more chances to be creative with the book. The titles are The Red Season, Rachmaninov and Ruin, Like Ruby, and The Storm.

Also, it meant I could keep the launch campaign going for longer, because I had something fresh to offer. We’ve all seen the tweeters who send out the same message week in, week out. Launching four times gave me more natural ways to offer new material.

Are people still buying the parts of your novel since you’ve released the compiled version?

Yes they are! And that surprises me. I had intended to retire them because they take up a lot of space on a Kindle display. But people still find their way to the first episode, and buy it because it’s cheaper than the complete book. I think certain readers load up their Kindles with interesting material at low prices, then work through their purchases and buy the other episodes. Obviously the tactic is good for reaching those readers.

If an author decides to do what you did, what would your advice be to them?

Make sure you can split your story into equal, interesting parts. As I said above, that’s a real test of your plot structuring skills. My Memories of a Future Life fell naturally into that structure because it’s the way I write. At the end of the first quarter (Episode One) there was a turning point. The same for quarters two and three. If your story doesn’t have these natural break points where the reader is extra-curious about what happens, it won’t be easy to keep them on tenterhooks.

Also, make sure the reader understands that they are episodes. Leave no room for confusion in the online store. I had to be pedantically clear in my Amazon listing that each part was not a whole book. No one got confused, thankfully, but I lived in dread of a snarky review from someone who thought the book was rubbish because they read Episode Three before any other parts. Readers are very unforgiving, even if the mistake is theirs!

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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Roz Morris , books , episodic fiction


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