Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Serial Experiment

When I was a kid, I had this cousin... no, wait, I still have the cousin, even if I haven't seen him in more than 20 years. Let's try again:

When my cousin was a kid, actually, when he was a baby, his mother (that makes her my aunt) had trouble getting him to eat his baby food. He would do that baby tongue thing and just push it all out of his mouth. It didn't matter what flavor it was, he just wouldn't eat the baby food. Somewhere in trying to get him to eat, they discovered that he liked ketchup, so my aunt took to mixing it in his baby food to get him to eat it. Growing up, my cousin thought ketchup went on everything.

I mean that. When we'd all be down at my grandparents for the holidays, say, Thanksgiving, he'd get his plate of food and pour ketchup over everything on the plate. On the turkey and the ham. On the mashed potatoes and green beans. On the dressing (also known as stuffing for those of you that don't know what dressing is, except they're not really the same thing) and the sweet potatoes. The only thing that didn't get ketchup was the pie. This was just how he ate, and everyone was (mostly) used to it.

Until one Saturday morning when he and I and another of our cousins were down at my great-grandmother's house. One of the few things that didn't get ketchup (other than pie) was cereal. Except, on that particular Saturday morning, he decided he was going to put ketchup on his cereal. Yes, my other cousin and I were entirely grossed out by this idea, and my other cousin tried to pull rank because she was the oldest of us (and could also beat him up at need) and threatened him all the way to Sunday (which was only  the next day, so I guess it wasn't that big a deal) about the ketchup, but he wouldn't be dissuaded.

Finally, the bargain was struck that if he put ketchup on the cereal that he would eat it no matter what, that he would not under any circumstances leave the table until the bowl of cereal was consumed. She was going to sit there and not let him up until he ate every last bite. He had no doubt that he would eat the cereal, so he made the deal readily enough.

I wish I could remember what kind of cereal it was, but I don't, but that's only secondary to what happened next. See, the ketchup went on, and the milk started turning pink. And so did the cereal. In fact, it turned into a bowl of pink mush. My cousin wouldn't eat it. He did manage to try it, but it was as gross as it looked, like a lumpy bowl of Pepto-Bismol.

We sat at that table for a long time. A very long time. It was one of the few times in my life that I remember being bored. But my female cousin wouldn't let my male cousin up from the table. We all just sat there being completely miserable. And, then, we sat some more. My cousin, the ketchup eater, outlasted the enforcer. That was probably somewhat due to me and the fact that I kept saying, "Let's go..." I told you, I was bored. Finally, FINALLY, we, the girl and I, left. We left Mr. Ketchup sitting there with his bowl of... whatever it was with strict instructions that he was not to leave the table until he's eaten every single bit of that cereal.

Yeah, right.

He hid the bowl, joined us just a few minutes later, and convinced my cousin that he'd eaten the cereal. He his the bowl really well, too, because she went back to check; she even looked under the table, and she ended up being convinced. The ironic thing there is that the bowl was under the table, just not on the floor. Later, Ketchup Lad and I sneaked back in and retrieved the bowl of cereal and dumped it for the dogs. These were farm dogs used to eating just about any kind of leftover you can imagine.
They didn't eat that cereal.

Welcome to my first post for Indie Life. Just click the link to find out more.
At this point, you might be wondering what that story has to do with being an "indie" publisher. You wouldn't be wrong to wonder that. It all has to do with experimenting with serials. Actually, it has more to do with the willingness to experiment. My cousin had these two things that he loved: ketchup and cereal, and he decided he needed to try the two together. It didn't work out for him, but he was willing to give it a try. He was willing to give it a try even though he was being told not to do it, that he was crazy, and it was just gross. Okay, so it was gross, but we didn't actually know that until after he tried it. My cousin learned a valuable lesson that day: ketchup doesn't go with everything.

As I was working on my second book, Shadow Spinner, I came across an article that stated  in no uncertain terms that serialized works are dead and that no one should attempt it. I wondered why. Many of our greatest author published many of their greatest works in serial form, and, with our growing fascination with things that are short, serialization seemed to me like it might be something to experiment with. I decided that I would start releasing Shadow Spinner a chapter at a time to see what would happen. The experiment isn't over, yet, but I think it's going well. Actually, I know it is.

And! AND! After I started releasing Spinner serially, Amazon started up its own serial arm of its publishing business. Amazon believes that serializations may be the wave of the future as far as book publishing goes. I was too late to with Spinner to get into that without removing everything I'd already released and starting over, which I didn't want to do, but I do have another idea for a different serial when I finish with this one, and I will try out their serial branch when I get to that one. Only without the ketchup.

The point is... the point is don't be scared to try new things, especially if you're just starting out. Sure, they might not all work, but you'll know what not to do next time, right? And you might just discover the next big thing, like peanut butter and peppermint. Okay, so that's still not big, but my kids swear to me that it's going to be.


  1. So glad for you that Amazon opened up a branch for this as you have been predicting that serials will be a new market.

    This story reminds me of one of my cousins. Always surprising people and never afraid to take a chance. We had a lot of fun growing up together getting into loads of trouble. Unfortunately, we were so rotten I don't dare blog about any of those stories.

    I do know the difference between dressing and stuffing. I prefer dressing, but never with ketchup!

  2. I've tried Caesar dressing on cookies before. I actually wasn't bad.
    Glad you you have an idea for another serial. Guess it wasn't so dead after all.

  3. I know John Scalzi just began releasing a serial. Actually, he serialized Old Man's War on his blog a decade ago and he was picked up by tor as a result. I think your timing was dead on - you're right at the front of a wave of serialized stories that are just now starting to hit the market.

    My sister was that way with mustard. Ick.

  4. Oh, man - is it wrong that your story about ketchup and cereal made my stomach turn? Anyone who can do that in writing is amazing in my book. Awesome post. I may have to get into the Indie scene myself. :)

  5. I love the way you brought this post together. That story was hilarious and tied into your point with such an elegant pun I must salute you. (Experimenting with "serials"! HA!) Indie Life sounds fun. I'll have to join in whenever I manage to accomplish anything even vaguely indie related. :)

  6. You know it's bad if the dogs wouldn't eat it...

    But this post is fantastic. I love the way you brought it all together.

    I like the idea of this group very much. If I ever get my act together, I'll be sure to join up. But until then, I will enjoy reading and learning.

  7. Serials are actually common outside the US. I guess we're just behind the times. :)


  8. Love the story...and its connection to indie writing. :) Funny. I am not one for trying anything new when it comes to food- maybe because most food makes me sick- but I'm up for attempting and trying out other things. It's great to know the rules...or what others think is right...but the best part is knowing how to break them and go for it. Thanks for sharing this great story.

  9. My sister put ketchup on everything, but I guess not everything, because I never saw her do that. of course, I might have just never seen it. She was big on ketchup and bacon.

    Anyhow! I think serials are really fun, and so is trying new things. One of the things I really like about serials at this stage is that there isn't one accepted way to go about doing it, so I see different authors producing serials in all manner of different ways. Very cool!

  10. I'm not wired to write serials myself, but I LOVE that it's an option. I'm a huge proponent of experimentation (of all kinds). In fact, if people say something is dead/impossible/terrible idea that just seems like an invitation to try it. #rebel

    Glad to see you're having success with it!!

  11. Keep saying I want to try to write a serial and then it turns into something longer. But maybe with the right idea I'll give it a try someday!

  12. Timely post for me. I read Treasure Island over the holiday break for the first time. Didn't realize it had started life as a serial story in a boy's magazine. RLS had never written a novel before, and TI wasn't even finished when he started publishing it in serial form.

    Thing is, RLS kept his copyright and decided to revise the story to tighten up the writing. Basically, he had published a first draft in serial form and then published Treasure Island as a more coherent novel later.

    But, yeah, I think the internet combined with short attention spans could make serialization more popular again.

  13. Anne: I prefer dressing, too.
    Growing up, it was mostly my cousin that got into trouble. He was 3 years older than me, still is, actually, so any trouble we got into was usually his idea.

    Alex: French fries in soft serve vanilla ice cream... surprisingly good.

    Rusty: Well, I hope it does me some good. I guess only time will tell.

    David: Not wrong at all. Actually, I think it's great! Wait till you read my upcoming cookie story!

    Sarah: I have to say that it's a lot better than treading water while waiting for an agent and, then, waiting for a publisher. A lot better.

    M.J.: Exactly! Dogs will eat pretty much anything. I mean, any animal that eats poop will eat pretty much anything, and they wouldn't eat that cereal.

    Lauren: I haven't heard that before. I'll have to look into the foreign market.

    Rebecca: No food! What do you eat?
    Rules? Where we're going, we don't need rules. Hmm... I think that's a post waiting to happen.

    Faith: My oldest son sometimes puts ketchup on pancakes. So disgusting.

    Susan: I agree with that. I'm really bad about being the person to do something because everyone else is saying it can't be done.

    Laura: Longer doesn't mean it can't be a serial. Most of Dickens' work was originally published serially.

    Luanne: Treasure is often considered to have failed as a serial due to the way RLS structured the book. He never really generated an audience for it. Of course, it went on to become a classic as a novel. And he learned from it, because Kidnapped! was a huge success in its serial release.

  14. As a reader, not a writer, I am not very keen on serials. I want to be able to read a book all at once. One author who was sending out a book in serial form, I decided to save all the episodes until the end. So, personally not keen on the idea, but if it works for you, go for it.

  15. I think serialization will grow again in popularity and you're on the forefront. I'm thinking about it for one of my prequel books.

  16. Ooooh, nice post!

    I agree, trying new things is crucial for growth. You never know what'll happen (exciting), you may flop (but you learn something anyway), and you may have a hit (bonus!).

  17. Jo: The good thing is that Shadow Spinner will be available as a complete book at some point... as soon as it's finished.

    SG/K: I think more independent authors should try it out.

    Laura D: Yeah, it's like I tell my kids with trying food. The worst that can is that they won't like it.

  18. Yuck! Ketchup on cereal! Yuck! LOL

    Writing a story as a serial is great, in my experience. They do tend to get away from you, though. I wrote two novels as serials, thinking (in both cases) they'd run novella-length, about 40K words. Both of them broke the 100K mark in the end. One of the two, White Pickups, is available on Amazon and most other eBook stores. I've also blogged several short stories and (part of) a novella as serial fiction.

    On the other hand, if you write a few scenes and start blogging, you have a strong incentive to finish. You get feedback from readers, and sometimes you can incorporate that feedback into later installments.

    I ended up on the staff of TuesdaySerial.com, a site that collects links to ongoing web-serials. We had a huge uptick in traffic last year, when Amazon announced their Kindle Serials program, and even got some attention from St. Martin's Press. Anyone interested in serial fiction, as a reader or writer, is invited to come visit. (It's all free, I'm just plugging it as a way to give people another avenue of publicity.)

  19. Larry: I haven't had a problem with this one getting away from me, but I tend to know where I'm going most of the time, so I stay mostly on target with my projections. The only real exception to that was my recent Christmas story, which I initially intended to be just a short story, but my concept changed, and it quickly grew into a novella.

    I stopped by the site. Looks pretty cool, but I'll have to actually go back when I have more time to get a better idea of everything there.