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!