The serial as a feature, not a bug (The Kraken King FAQs)

faq1By emails I’ve received and just general rumblings on the internet, I’ve picked up a sense that some readers feel they are being punished by the serial release in some way — that if they are buying the serial, the price and format is their punishment. If they buy the compiled print version, the wait is the punishment. I suspect that some of this comes from the impression that print version of THE KRAKEN KING is being delayed so that the serial can come out first, and the serial was designed to milk everyone’s money.

So I feel that I need to clarify the timeline, because that’s absolutely not what happened. The serial is coming out first so that readers don’t have to wait two years (or more) between Iron Seas books, and instead gives them the option of early access — because in this case, the ability to publish a serial in electronic format is a feature of today’s publishing landscape. It’s not a bug.

This is what happened.

It took me a year to write GUARDIAN DEMON. Originally it was supposed to come out in May of 2013, but I didn’t finish it until early April of 2013. So my publisher crashed that book through production and by a miracle (because my editor was THISCLOSE to moving the date again) it was released in August. If you’ll remember, the fourth Iron Seas book was originally scheduled to come out in print in November of 2013. Obviously, that would be impossible. I hadn’t written any of it, I only had a glimmer of an idea for the plot, and I was burned out mentally and physically from writing the last Guardian book.

But this created a serious problem. Best case scenario, I would finish the fourth Iron Seas book in December or so. Getting a print book out six months after turning it in is really pushing it, so there was no way it could be scheduled before Summer 2014 (crossing fingers that I finished on time). So August 2014 was the second release date for the book.

I was really concerned, though, because the last Iron Seas novel — RIVETED — came out in September of 2012. The meant almost a two-year wait between books, and honestly, that sucks. It sucks for readers, it sucks for the health of the series, it sucks sucks sucks. And since I was already thinking of writing the book as a serial (because I like the serial format, and I thought it would be fun for Zenobia’s book to be one (because she writes serials!) and I knew my publisher was experimenting with them) I asked my editor if we would be able to get the book out faster if it was one.

She said it would be. And the reason is pretty simple: it takes less time to produce an ebook than it does a print book. Add to that, I can turn in the parts as I finish them — so that Part I and II can be edited and pushed into production while I’m still writing III and IV. So even if I didn’t finish until December, they could schedule Part I of the serial for January. Which meant less waiting time for readers, which I thought would be awesome.

There were, of course, other factors that went into this decision. I’m sure my publisher wouldn’t have agreed if they didn’t see it as a good investment and thought they would get a return on that investment. I can’t speak to their motives, only mine. And the truth is, even if THE KRAKEN KING was coming out only six months after RIVETED instead of two years, I might have written it as a serial anyway, because I like the format. This summer, there’s a 95% chance that I’ll be using it again, publishing INTO THE LIGHT in parts on my blog for free before self-publishing it. So I like serials. I understand why readers hate them (and why it sucks when a book is simply split up into parts) but for me as a writer, they are an awesome challenge to do something a little different, and also lets me mitigate the damage of my super-slow writing pace.

But there was a huge time gap, so the release date was a major consideration … and so I decided to exploit the serial format feature available through my publisher’s digital-first imprint to get it out earlier.

The compiled print version would still have been out in August. There was no change there. So readers who didn’t like serials or didn’t want to pay for it in parts wouldn’t be getting it any faster or sooner than they would have if the serial hadn’t been published. But those who didn’t want to wait and didn’t mind the format or the extra cost could get it earlier.

It didn’t happen like that because I was late again.

I was still writing the book in January. I’m still revising the final parts now. The typical book in this genre is about 100,000 words. THE KRAKEN KING is going to clock in right around 170,000. So it took me longer to write.

But the same principle still applies. If there was no serial, the print version would still be coming out in … December? (I don’t know yet, but it will probably be at least six months, because a print book just doesn’t go to the shelves that quickly.)

So the price? The serial format? That is the cost of getting it out as quickly as I can — it’s early access to a book that would otherwise have been a two year wait (longer now.) If readers don’t want to pay it, if readers don’t like the format, nothing has changed. The print version is still going to be released at the same time it would have been if it only came out in that format. If there was no serial, we would still be looking at December-ish for a release date because I’m late and I’m slow. This isn’t about punishing anyone for waiting, it’s about giving readers a choice: Either get it early in serial format, or get the book when it’s released as it normally would be.

This isn’t a self-publishing project. It’s a book bound by a contract, and the serial was the only option I had to get it out faster. YOU get to choose whether that early access is something you want. YOU get to choose if you can tolerate the format.

What I get to control is the story itself — by going into it knowing that I’m going to exploit this feature, and by making it the best damn story that I can. By making it something special. And by (hopefully) making it worth your time and money, whether you read it this month or in print or in twenty years.

TL;DR version: 

I’m a slow, late writer.
The serial was the best way to get the book to you before Winter 2014.
The serial format CAN be a feature in trad publishing. It’s not always an annoying bug.