Wednesday, May 1, 2013

LITTLE VICTORIES: Or, The Serial’s a Killer


Today, I'm happy to welcome my publishing house sister, Stephanie Wardrop. She's the author of Snark and Circumstance, which released February 5, 2013 through Swoon Romance. Stephanie and I found ourselves in the same position of having to take a novel and break it up into a series of novellas. Stephanie's here today to tell you about her experience.

 Hi, everybody! I’m Stephanie Wardrop, author of Snark and Circumstancechecking in with my Swoon Romance serial sister Kelly Hashway about the subject of serialized e-novellas.


Like Kelly, I never set out to write an e-novella series. I did not, in fact, know such a thing existed. Because I am a 
I mean, I wasn’t even thinking about e-books at the time.  When I was writing Snark and Circumstance, I was thinking about NOVELS.  I was thinking Snark would come out looking something like this 
something you would open up and then close and it would sit all nice and neaton a shelf somewhere, waiting patiently for you to open it again.

So when an editor at Swoon Romance called to say she was interested in the book but wanted to publish it as a series of e-books, I was like this
But then I thought about Jane Austen, whose Pride and Prejudice inspired Snark, and whose books, like most nineteenth-century novels, came out as TRIPLE DECKERS : one novel was divided into three books coming out months apart and each ending on a cliffhanger so that every reader would be counting down the days until they could buy the next installment.  And I thought 
BRILLIANT! I’LL DO IT!

Now all I had to do was figure out how to cut the thing into four pieces, all equally engaging and action-packed and hilarious.
Right.

There are some definite advantages to serializing. For one, you get not ONE cover reveal, but FOUR!  I wish I could show you my second cover, because it is, as my publisher says, SASSY, but publishers guard unreleased covers the way Coca Cola guards its formula, the way 
Colonel Sanders guards his eleven secret herbs and spices, so I can’t.

On the other hand, four covers means four titles. It took me three years to come up with the title of Snark and Circumstance, so to hear I had about forty-eight hours to come up with three more set me into a state of paralytic frenzy.  (Trust me – this term sounds oxymoronic and impossible, but I bet any writer who’s faced a deadline knows what I mean). I could fill the New York Public Library with all of my rejected titles, but I eventually came up with three more that didn’t totally suck!

But for me, the biggest challenge has been that four separate texts means four not-so-separate but individually complete narrative arcs.  Because each story has to simultaneously – and paradoxically, perhaps –

*further the plot and characterization from the previous installment
*be able to stand on its own as a separate self-contained text
*not bore anyone so much that they don’t want to read the next one!

How do you manage all of those things at once?  How do you catch new readers up to speed about who the characters are and what they want and how they feel about each other (and where they live and what they look like and how old they are) without boring the readers who were with you in the first installment(s)? How do you balance exposition (the background for the current installment) without falling into an information dump
It ain’t easy. But no writer worth reading shrinks from challenges, right?
Most of us remember this from ninth grade, the dreaded PLOT DIAGRAM:

If you recall, this is the arc of the whole novel, so in a regular novel, all the really exciting climactic stuff would be happening in the middle (well, in actuality, it’s much more likely to happen three quarters of the way through, if not even further in. Think about it. You’re not going to read another hundred pages AFTER the epic battle, after Harry Potter finally defeats the forces of darkness or Romeo and Juliet are both found dead. That would be like sitting in the movie theater so you could watch the kids in their uniforms sweep up your popcorn tubs and throw your discarded drink cups into garbage bags. Pointless.). At any rate, following this standard narrative arc in a series would mean that the middle two books would be nonstop action and the last one would be horrendously dull. But again, that’s not quite true despite what this little graph above says. In actuality the middle books of a series, if they followed this proscribed arc of a novel, would be kind of tedious. The main character would get themselves into all sorts of trouble, dig themselves in deeper and deeper, and there would be no relief for them at all until they got to Book Four.  Which wouldn’t work.  Even if you HATED the main character, you wouldn’t enjoy the experience, essentially, of seeing them flogged for two whole books – and you wouldn’t pay to see that happen (or to read it happening).

So the trick, for me, is to work with LITTLE VICTORIES in Books Two or Three.
I’m learning that I have to get my main character into all sorts of smallish troubles -- misunderstandings, arguments, humiliations that don’t feel smallish at all to her – and get her out of them in each installment. (And in Books Two and Three my main character, Georgia, gets into some trouble involving  charming drunks, sightings in the family planning section of CVS, and scarlet letters.) But she cannot resolve the BIG TROUBLE that has gotten her into all of the smallish troubles in the first place until the end, Book Four. Such big troubles for main characters are often defined by fancy ninth-grade literary terms like HUBRIS, meaning excessive pride.  Or they may suffer an inability to a have sense of humor about oneself or a major lack of confidence that prevents them from emerging as the superhero they need to be until the last volume of the series.

So in Book Two I might resolve one or two smallish troubles. I may end it with two sisters no longer fighting like dogs or
But the sisters won’t come to appreciate each other for who they truly are yet.  Not until Book Four:

Halfway through the serialization process for Snark, this is what I have learned so far, through the process of writing and revising.

But I have also learned, as you can see in this post, that there is nothing NOTHING that cannot be best illustrated on the web by pictures of kittens.

41 comments:

  1. Wow, I love serials but don't think I have it in me to do one all by myself. Can't wait to check out.

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  2. I actually like the ideas of serials. Sometimes I tend to think of my novels as smaller serials. However, it would probably be difficult to cut them up into smaller parts as well! And I'm such a huge fan of print books, I'd probably be kind of sad my book wouldn't get released in print. So I'm not sure the serial route would be something for me, but it sounds interesting all the same.

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    1. There is something about holding your own book in your hands. ;)

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  3. It's great to see you here, Stephanie! I really enjoyed this post and your mind process. The way you think of or 'see' serials is smack on. You've really made me think about trying it.

    Thanks for having her, Kelly!

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  4. I agree with Sheri - I'm sort of interested in seeing if I could make a serial story work. The idea is intriguing and in the e-book world, they are proving to be a BIG victory for the authors. Congrats!

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  5. Wow! The title thing would get me too (coming up with titles that fast). I have a series coming out, but I knew it would be a series from the get-go, so I had lots of time to come up with the right titles. I love the title Snark and Circumstance, BTW!

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  6. Challenge is what drives me. If a publisher asked me to do something, no questions asked, I'm just happy you decided to make me an offer. :D

    If the readers love your character, they want more. I can see where a serial would be the first thing that crosses someone's mind, especially when the character is so lovable.

    One sad thing here, I can't see any of the graphics. It could be my work's firewall. I hate being blocked from so much stuff at work.

    Great post!

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    1. I'm not alone about the photo thing! Yay.

      I'm at home now, and I can't them either.

      While I can agree with the spirit of what Diane's saying, there are times when it's not always possible.

      I still think you have to be really honest with yourself when taking on unfamiliar territory.

      For instance, there are some things I just can't do (YET, okay...) and it would not be fair or honest to say yes anyway, but didn't deliver. Some of us find deadlines far more panic-inducing than positively motivating, we just try to live with them.

      While the desperate part of me would want to say yes to any serious offer from an agent or editor, the practical part of me has to have a say here.

      After all, we can get rejected without ever knowing why, so it stands to reasons that writers have to make that choice, too.

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    2. You know the graphics were there originally and then they went poof! No idea why and I can't seem to fix them. :(

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    3. I can see them now. Hope others can, when they're not on strict work-related networks.

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    4. I fixed them. :) Glad you can see them now.

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  7. Well, I unfortunately can't "see"any of the photos used in this post. Am I alone here?

    Anyway, as others have said, I don't think I have either the patience or skill to pull this off myself. I'm not saying the N word (By which I mean NEVER...), but I'm tired of saying "Yet" because it's becoming a not so funny running gag.

    I'm just too much of novelist that way. I have a hard enough time already making conflict in an non-serialized story work, trying this now will send me to the nut house, no squirrels required.

    (Deadline or NOT. Period.)

    That said, Stephanie, you are braver than I to not only go through with this, but essentially rewriting the book to make it work in separate serials, and while unlike you I like coming up with titles (and it doesn't take me years), it takes MORE than 24 hours to really come up with ones that at least are relevant to the book, if not in the realm of "Gone with the Wind" or "War and Peace."

    I knew Dickens serialized his work a lot, but I didn't know Austen did? Did she do that for ALL her books? Where they all retooled when they were later made into WHOLE books?

    Can any Austen devotees help me out here?

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    1. I'm not an Austen devotee but maybe someone else will know.

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  8. Great post, Stephanie. I think this is something that can help all of us in plotting our novel. Even if it will stay as one book, adding in small victories and a definite arc to 3 or 4 sections of the book can keep readers engaged.

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  9. Everything on the Internet goes better with kittens. Interesting that you're writing about series, I just blogged about them too, only full-length books. It would be VERY hard to split one novel into four novellas, but I love the way your explained it here.

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    1. LOL Stephanie did a great job explaining them.

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  10. Whoa, Stephanie, that sounds so hard. I can't imagine making 2 novellas out of my novel much less 4! But it seems you have it all figured out. Yay you! Huge congrats! :-)

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    1. It's definitely not easy. I've done it.

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  11. That is amazing. I write series and I never saw it this way. Thanks for sharing

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  12. Wow, can I just say this is a spectacular post! Kudos to Stephanie and Kelly :-)

    I love the title and I can't imagine having to come up with three more that were just as snappy in such a short period of time.

    But I heartily enjoy the recent reemergence of the serial format. I can tell how difficult it is to craft from a writer's perspective, but as a reader it always leaves me wanting more...like now. Which is a super good thing for establishing a fan base :-)

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    1. I enjoy it too. Quick, fun reads. :)

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  13. Wow. This sounds difficult, I mean four novellas out of one novel. YIKES! Well, for sure after doing this, novels will be a picnic to write. Having said that, I want to do one too. :) Good luck Stephanie and great post Kelly.

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    1. It is tough to do. Glad you enjoyed Stephanie's post.

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  14. Four cover reveals sound exciting.

    Plotting a series of novellas sounds interesting. Seems like a lot of planning.

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  15. Medeia, it's a lot of rearranging and replotting I think. At least it was when I did it.

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  16. Sounds intriguing and interesting but I bet it's a lot of hard work too!

    All the best!

    Nas

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  17. It's so hard coming up with titles anyway, I'm amazed you had to come up with three other ones in TWO DAYS!!! And making one novel into four novellas? Wow. Just... wow. Both of you. I think I'd go crazy coming up with subplots and everything. :)

    Congrats on all the novellas, though. How much fun!

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  18. Yes, congrats to both of you from breaking through and making it happen.

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  19. Love the kitty pictures and the fun tone of this post. Congrats on the novellas. I've always thought coming up with titles is just about the most delightful part of writing and publishing. But coming up with 3 more with a deadline pressing is crazy!

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  20. I wish I liked titling stories, Claudine. Good for you!

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  21. Stephanie, a terrific post, and a pleasure to make your acquaintance!

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    1. Thanks for checking it out, William!

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