Question: How does the independent publisher maximize their writing output and maintain fresh exposure in the market?
Answer: You have two choices. You can quit your day job and spend every minute writing or you can release episodic novels.
According to several independent publishers that I've listened to over the past few weeks, releasing a novel in parts might be the best option. While there is some logic to this method, there are some potential drawbacks too. I'd like to explore the idea here to give you something to think about for your own books. Hopefully writing this out will also help me wrap my head around the idea too.
What is an Episodic Novel?
Let's say you wrote an amazing novel of about 75,000 words. In a standard novel, you release the whole thing at once. The story succeeds or fails in the market and you move on to the next project. This method has worked for books since Gutenberg launched his printing press start up and is a completely viable method today.
But the same story could also be an episodic novel. You could take the 75,000 story and break it into several smaller segments. It could be three sequential 25,000 word novellas corresponding to the beginning, middle and end of the story (See Build a Better Novel: The Narrative Framework). In extreme cases, you could have one release for each chapter, breaking your 75,000 word book into 20 or more short story releases. The final configuration is up to you and the appetite of your readers.
While it might sound strange, episodic story telling is standard in certain types of media. Television and comics are just two media models based on a story that develops over several episodes and then sold as a collection when the story is done. Movies also had this format in the past, where a hero would jump from one ten minute cliffhanger to the next. Many independent publishers are also starting to embrace this method, creating different positive and negative results.
The Benefits of the Episodic Novel
The Downside of Episodic Novels
My Approach to Episodic Novels
- You increase the size of your catalog without having to write any faster.
- You create multiple points of entry in the market for potential readers to find you.
- You create anticipation among your established readers as they anticipate each new release.
- You can generate several revenue streams for the same story.
- You constantly have new product in the market which raises your chances for sales.
- Each shorter story can be priced lower than a full novel
- The cost of producing each novel increases, since you need to pay for marketing (See Marketing the Independent Novel) and cover design (See Judging a Book by its Cover) for several releases instead of just one.
- Your potential audience may shrink with each subsequent release if the narrative doesn't maintain the momentum to keep people coming back.
- Your writing style might not be conducive to natural breaks needed in episodic writing
- Your readers might balk at having to pay several times to get one story.
My writing style lends itself to episodic writing. Working for companies like Marvel, and organizing my stories into a detailed plot structure (See Building a Better Novel: Plot Construction) works to my advantage here. I write so that each chapter and each act is a story in and of itself. It's connected to the larger narrative, but I try to make them able to stand on their own.
- Have the novel edited as one unit to keep some of the costs fixed (See How Much Does It Cost to Publish a Book)
- Separate the novel into three different books, making it clear in the subtitle that the books are related
- Release the first book for free to attract new readers in February (See Selling Books like a Drug Dealer)
- Release the next two books one month apart (in March and April), focusing my marketing budget on one book at a time
- Release the entire story in print and e-book as a full novel, one month after the third book comes out. As an extra incentive, the full novel will be cheaper than buying all three books and will include an extra bonus short story.
So what do you think as a writer? Does it make sense for you to release a standard novel or an episodic one?
P.S. If you'd like to get updates on the business, craft and lifestyle of independent publishing, please sign up for the Independent Publisher newsletter here!