Friday, July 19, 2013

It's New! A Crunchy, Whole-grain Serial

A few years ago I whiled away a great deal of time reading stories about the War of 1812, which, by the way, we are still in the bicentennial of, seeing as how that war didn't end until 1814. The conflict fascinated me because it was the Americans fighting the Canadians. My forebears were Canadians. We weren't told much about the War of 1812 in American public schools, other than vague references to Manifest Destiny, which as near as I can tell is the notion that God wanted the White Americans to have everything.

But I didn't come here to discuss politics. I want to talk about serials.

The result of my studies of the War of 1812 was the meticulously researched BUCKER DUDLEY, a long, rambling historical novel about a young orphan girl who dresses as a boy and goes to sea, a common trope or meme in the age of sail (is it a trope or a meme? What's the difference? Do I care?). Polly is caught up in the war, sees action, has astonishing adventures and at last finds true love and her place in the world. I thought it would be great if it could come out for the bicentennial.

The New York publishing community was profoundly uninterested in this book.

Well, shucks, my friends all liked it, my sister liked it, and I liked it. But, alas, it was commercially dead. I put the manuscript in the bottom desk drawer, along with the sixties mad housewife novel and the high school reminiscence I wrote before I got into crime writing. Then last year about this time the New York publishing community started talking about online serials. Like Charles Dickens, you know, how he published his works in pieces in magazines, how everyone flocked to the newsstand to catch up on the latest installment. Once again the serial is hot. (Stephen King tried that without noticeable success a few years ago, but he was just ahead of his time. Right?) Amazon is doing it now. It must be commercially viable.

BUCKER DUDLEY is a natural, I said to myself.

My agent sent me an email saying that St. Martin's Press wanted to offer serials, and was I interested? I said I was, but somehow he never got back to me. Then Amazon put out a call for proposals. I responded with a description of my project. They replied with a request that I send my submission through my agent. By that time I had no agent. I thought, who needs your silly bureaucratic tinkering with my story, anyway? I can put sections of BUCKER DUDLEY up myself.

So I did. The third of five episodes went up on Kindle this week. But I'm not doing it right, as it turns out. The knowing ones are working out rules for success in this endeavor. As I find out what these are I thought I'd share them with you, along with links to various online articles that I should have read before I set out to do this. Who knows? Maybe you'd like to write serial fiction too. Anyway I'll tell you some more about it next week. Meanwhile here are some links:

A WSJ article by Alexandra Alter, "The Return of the Serial Novel"

The Amazon invitation to submit a proposal for a serial novel

Plympton, a site that publishes serial fiction for reading online

Jane Friedman's post on Experimenting with Serials for Fun and Profit

Sarah Kessler's article for Fast Company Amazon Changed Reading, Now it Could Change Writing, on how analytics may change what you write about (I should live so long. Hardly anybody reads my work)

And, of course, links to the first three episodes of BUCKER DUDLEY:
  • POLLY AT SEA, where she ships out on a man'o'war, dressed as a boy,
    and fights in a famous battle,
  • POLLY AT SACKETS, where she serves as a lady's maid to a young woman of ill repute, and they encounter what passes for Society on the Northwest frontier, and
  • POLLY AMONG THE INDIANS, where she goes to live with the Mohawks and begins to discover the secret of her parentage.

Kate Gallison
image by Mike Licht


  1. I wouldn't feel too bad about any rejection of your serial by Amazon, I bought one of them. I guess I didn't read closely enough. I thought I was getting some medieval history tale and then all of the sudden zombies appeared. I believe zombies exist. Their look would probably kill me (that is if they weren't all staring at their iphones). I just don't want them in my fiction. Bucker Dudley, here I come!
    May I also point out (sorry, I've just had my first coffee) that I was one of the 500 people who bought "The Cuckoo's Calling" when everyone thought it was written by Robert Galbraith. It was prominently displayed at The Mysterious Bookshop when I was in NYC.
    I'll shut up now. Thanks for listening.

  2. Your medieval zombie serial may have been a bomb, Steph, but if you have a first edition of The Cuckoo's Calling you have a hot collectible. Not that you care about stuff like that, but I read someplace that a dealer is asking $900 or so for an unsigned first printing.

  3. Stephanie, that's terrific - I'll look for your being interviewed by Charlie Rose on Ch. 2!!!!! TJS

  4. I have not seen or heard Charlie in a very long time. My memory of him is that he talks more than he listens. I was hoping for Terry Gross. She's local, she's an astute interviewer and I wouldn't have to fuss with my hair.
    And Kate, I"ll need to check to see if I have a first printing and keep it pristine for a rainy day.

  5. Ordinarily I would not make another comment, but I happen to watch him as often as I can on Ch. 2 in the A.M. with Nora O'Donnell and the friend of Oprah..( I'm not up with TV, so forgive omits.) and he may have gotten a mouth-lift because he is charming, witty, knowledgable and gets along 200 % with the two ladies. Anyhow, you are wise to hold on to your copy - you might hit a jackpot with it re $$$$! tjs

  6. Kate, in your usual self-deprecating way, you claim to be relatively uniformed about things but I would not have known thing-one about any of this If you hadn't said. You are a font of information, for which I thank you profusely for the vmpteenth (the next larger after the umpteenth) time.

  7. Annamaria, my plan is to find out enough about making and selling ebooks to actually do it successfully, either as serials or as plain old ebooks. As I fumble my way through this process I mean to blog about how it's going and what one has to do, so that other people can profit from my struggles. I know a lot of stuff about the mechanics of formatting books, and I flatter myself that I write an entertaining book, but I have trouble connecting with readers and finding an audience. So we'll see how it goes.

  8. I just read Jane Friedman's article. Her comments and those of C.H. Christian are excellent for readers/writers of serial fiction. I believe that with the pace of current/future publishing there will be a bigger market for this kind of literature as the world turns. Thelma Straw