by Mark Hamner
One of the benefits of being an independent author is the ability to try new things. This has lent itself well to a recent experiment I’ve undertaken: telling a continuous, cover-to-cover story via a series of short story episodes – or, basically, serializing.
How did I come to the point of giving this a shot? It had been several months since I completed and published the final book of my four-part young adult series The Echo Chronicles, and I was ready to “get back on the horse,” so to speak, and begin my next book. I had already decided to go with a more adult-oriented theme this time around, and had dreamed-up what I hoped to be a rather disturbing psychological horror story.
So I sat down to write Recurrent, my dark story about a damaged man struggling with the boundaries between dream and reality. After completing seven or eight chapters, I found myself wanting to get some part of this story in the hands of readers sooner rather than later. That desire gave birth to the decision that Recurrent would tell its story via a series of short stories, which I’d release every couple of weeks.
With that decision made, a number of other questions presented themselves. How many chapters should comprise an episode? How much should an episode cost? How many episodes should make up the complete story? After some internal debate, I decided that each episode would be two to three chapters, and that I’d leave the question as to the total number of episodes for a later time, once the story had a chance to develop. The cost question was tougher. To keep things simple, I decided to publish the episodes only via Kindle for the time being, but that locked me into Amazon’s $0.99 minimum price. I didn’t want to charge more than that, largely due to the rather limited length of these episodes, and I resolved to use Kindle Select’s “free days” feature rather liberally.
With the key decisions made, or at least purposefully deferred, I began releasing the content I had to that point in short story episodes. The initial reaction to the story was good; the initial reaction to the mechanics of how I chose to tell said story were…mixed. A typical comment was something along the lines of, “Love the dark concept, but not sure about the serial approach.” Nonetheless, I pushed forward. Eventually the releases caught up with my writing, and I found myself in the rather unfortunate position of having dropped self-inflicted deadlines in my lap.
I urged readers to sign up for my blog notifications, so they’d know right away when a new episode was available. I’ve always found reader communication very challenging, and the fact that I was now enmeshed in a story-telling mechanism that depended heavily on said communication was doubly challenging. I relied on the standards – blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – but I still wondered if I was reaching my audience.
Somewhere around Episode 7, I realized that ten episodes would be sufficient to tell the story without it becoming overly long. I communicated this to my readers, which let them know an end was in sight. This also helped me with the price debate: if a reader paid for all ten episodes, they would spend $9.99, which isn’t cheap, but didn’t make me feel guilty by any means either. I plan on offering the entire series under one cover as a print book as well as an eBook, and will offer the latter free for a few days as a way of thanking all those who read the episodes.
After completing my journey, after telling my story via short story episodes, would I do it again? Probably not. I enjoyed the experience, enjoyed getting content out to readers sooner rather than later, but I didn’t particularly enjoy the fact that all of the overhead – the marketing, the communication, etc. – was also increased tenfold. Nonetheless, I’m glad I did it; it was a great learning experience.
Mark Hamner is the author of Recurrent, a serialized psychological horror novel, and The Echo Chronicles, a young-adult post-apocalyptic series. Mark lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife, his daughter, and his twin sons. You can learn more about Mark on his website and his Amazon Author Central page.