FRIGHT COURT – Nuts and Bolts

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Last month, I wrote about how I came to publish my thirteenth novel, FRIGHT COURT, as a reader-supported, serialized novel.  Several Magical Words readers had questions about the specifics of my publishing venture, so I decided to take this month’s post to provide some “nuts and bolts” details.  Feel free to chime in with questions, comments, etc. below!

1.  Finish the novel: As an initial step, I finished writing and editing FRIGHT COURT.  Due to this novel’s peripatetic journey through the wilds of publishing, it had been completely written, and it was edited by professional editors in the traditional world of print publishing.  It had not, however, been copy edited.  Therefore, I took a couple of weeks to weed through the entire manuscript, with my Strunk & White in one hand and my Warriner’s in the other, digging out my known writing flaws (e.g., overuse of “to be” as a helping verb, and the word “that” as a filler) and discovering new ones.

2.  Formatting the novel:  As originally drafted, FRIGHT COURT had 39 chapters.  I knew, though, that even the most dedicated readers would not stick with a serialized project for 39 weeks.  Therefore, I re-formatted the novel, dividing it into 19 chapters.  This decision required me to make a few tweaks to the writing, so that chapters ended with appropriate levels of “oomph.”

3.  Designating rewards:  A key feature in my quest to create a reader-supported serialized novel was providing rewards to donors who gave at certain levels.  Many of the standard handouts for my books (bookmarks, signed bookplates) had no real application for an electronic publication.  Therefore, I needed to develop and source other prizes.  I settled on several:  online acknowledgments, magnets, personalized postcards from characters, signed posters, Tuckerizations (naming a character or item after a donor), unique chapbooks, and a formal dedication.  Once I developed the list of rewards, I created a spreadsheet, so that I could track who was eligible for which rewards, along with whether the rewards had been sent.  This same spreadsheet allows me to track the number of each reward item, so that I can order magnets and posters from a vendor.

I also drafted a “thank you” email to send to all donors (with appropriate personalization.)  I make every attempt to respond to all donors within 24 hours of donation.

4.  Creating the website infrastructure:  I quickly decided that I wanted to run FRIGHT COURT off my main website, www.mindyklasky.com, so that readers could easily find this latest venture when they were researching my traditionally-published novels (and vice versa.)  I maintain my website, using a WordPress platform.  Therefore, I drafted a new static page for FRIGHT COURT (containing links to all the chapters, along with pages listing the rewards, and acknowledging the donors.  I also created a template for posting new chapters, remembering to include a link to the immediate previous chapter and a prospective link to the following chapter.

The website required me to incorporate a couple of widgets.  The first was the all-important “Donate” button, so that readers could actively support my project.  I used PayPal’s button-creation software for that.

I also wanted to promote FRIGHT COURT with an online personality quiz, answering the question “What kind of cupcake are you?”  To launch the Cupcake Quiz, I downloaded a free widget, fiddled with questions and and answers, and built my cupcake quiz.  I also located and purchased appropriate art (photos of cupcakes – yum!) to make the quiz results look professional.

5.  Creating cover art:  Being a confident, knowledgeable publishing professional, I decided to design my own cover for FRIGHT COURT.  I plowed through thousands of stock photos, hundreds of fonts, and eventually I mocked up a cover.  That design was roundly booed by every person who saw it, including the readers of my blog.

Then, I got smart and hired a professional.  The long, sad story of my initial attempt to find a professional artist is recounted elsewhere; however, I am *thrilled* with the artist I ultimately found, and I am over-the-moon about the actual cover design.  I negotiated with the artist to have all rights to the cover, so that I can use it for all possible promotional purposes.

6.  Promoting the project:  Without the muscle of mainstream publishing behind this effort, I attempted to “get the word out” to as many venues as possible.  I spent days poring over websites that were directed to readers of vampire fiction, romance, and fantasy, eventually sending “press release” emails to more than 50 sites.  I also contacted websites that address publishing in general, and e-publishing in particular.  I placed promotional posts on my own blogs, and I wrote substantive posts (such as this one) for other blogs.  All told, I’ve spent approximately 100 hours promoting FRIGHT COURT, with incremental additions each week.

7.  Launching the project:  I launched FRIGHT COURT on May 6, 2011.   Every Friday, I add a new chapter.  (Adding a chapter requires adding a page to my website, then changing links on the overall FRIGHT COURT page and the previous chapter’s page.  I also send an email to all donors as soon as the new chapter is posted.  The following day, I post a notice to my blogs, including the Facebook page that I created specifically for FRIGHT COURT.)

All told, I’ve spent approximately 200 hours preparing for, launching, and maintaining my reader-supported, serialized novel.  (Of course, that’s above and beyond the time that it took to write and edit the novel.)  This epub work isn’t easy, and I likely couldn’t have taken it on if I hadn’t had a convenient gap of a couple of months between contractual deadlines.

It is, however, rewarding to play with a new model for publishing.  So far, I’ve made approximately three times my costs (and, obviously, I expect that number to rise as more readers follow Sarah Anderson’s story through to the end.)

So.  Questions?  Comments?  Criticisms?  Tell me what you think!

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10 comments to FRIGHT COURT – Nuts and Bolts

  • 200 hundred hours. That’s five weeks worth of 40-hour per week effort. Obviously this was spread out over more than five weeks, but putting in that context makes it clear that you’ve put a ton of effort into just promoting this, to say nothing of all the time that went into writing it in the first place. This is not a business for the faint-of-heart. Congrats on getting it all done; I hope it’s a smashing success.

  • What Ed said! I have enormous respect for anyone who puts forth the time, effort, and money to launch his/her book. That’s love (and love is scary). I’ll definitely be checking it out. 🙂

  • This is fascinating stuff, Mindy, and just the sort of step-by-step breakdown I was hoping for. I have to say, though, that seeing all you’ve done makes me a bit reluctant to take on a similar project on my own. Not the self-pubbing aspect necessarily, but the rewards and the weekly task of posting a new chapter. Wow. Very intense. I’m awed by your dedication and work ethic. Not sure I could match it.

  • Deb S

    Wow, so much work! Thanks for the behind the scenes look. I haven’t read Fright Court, but I read The Glasswright’s Apprentice years ago and loved it.

  • Edmund – The time, of course, was spread out over multiple weeks, with some 12-hour days as I fought with some particularly frustrating technical details or visited dozens of websites in relatively rapid succession. I invested much more time in the marketing of this work, because it does not have the muscle of any mainstream publisher behind it.

    LScribeHarris – It’s love, or craziness, I’m not sure which 🙂

    David – The serialization has taken much more time and effort than I thought that it would, relative to the one-shot ebooks I’ve done in the past. Frankly, I had hoped for more buzz than I’ve received (although the Galleycat mention – specifically because of the serialization aspect – was sweet.) Now that I’ve got my spreadsheets and checklists, I expect to invest much less time posting the last several chapters!

    Deb – Thanks for the kind words about APPRENTICE. I still have a soft spot for that first novel 🙂

  • Mindy wrote: “It is, however, rewarding to play with a new model for publishing.”

    I agree! Thank you for the detailed explanation. I suspect you would spend quite a bit less time on the process now that you’ve optimized it. Next you can write the book that explains how to do it right, and sell that book to the rest of us!

  • D.R. – I like the way you think! Yes, I agree that I would be *much* more efficient if I did this again – assuming, of course, that the marketing research carries over. If my next serialized publishing effort is hard science fiction, though… (The chances of my *ever* writing hard SF are slim and none, so I’m probably pretty safe 🙂 )

  • Since this is a serialized novel, have you thought about making any changes mid release? That is, from feedback, or perhaps on reading a chapter prior to release you want to change some aspect of the story? Maybe in future having a slightly more dynamic story?
    I’m not sure how you’d go about such a thing, but with the interactive nature of the internet and with the kindle API (Application Programming Interface)coming out there would be the opportunity to have a reward level that allowed the donor some measure of influence over story line / character / setting details…

    Or, just a simple change, like put a character in a different outfit to the one they originally had on to reflect some world event?

  • That rewards chart is what some webcomics artists do to thank donors. It sounds great, Mindy!

  • Scion – Many thanks for the suggestions! One of my rewards is a character name (and I’ve made changes to my manuscript to accommodate one of those, since starting the FRIGHT COURT project.) I hadn’t thought of changing other details, like appearance, but I like that a *lot*. I once thought I would develop a business, writing romances with “fill in the blank” descriptors that changed to personalize the story…

    Laura – Alas, I suspect that some of the webcomics artists include *art* in their rewards. No one would want one of my stick figures!