There is a difference between a series of stories that all tie in to one major conflict, and an incremental release of excerpts. It’s a fine line to walk, but painful when a reader spots the difference.
A couple of nights ago I read a book that wasn’t a book. It started out great. Based on the writing alone I’d have given it four stars. The characters were a little unbelievable, but if the story and writing are good, I’ll let it slide. I was really getting invested in the characters and enjoying the pace and all that good stuff when it just … ended. At a pivotal moment in the book, about 70% in, I found out that if I wanted to continue reading this story, I’d have to buy more books. Not just one more book, but four. Apparently, this is a popular new trend among publishers. Writers are producing novels, and publishers are releasing them in increments and calling them serials. They aren’t, and this practice is, I believe, detrimental to the industry.
Am I being a bit dramatic? Maybe. I’m a writer, it’s kinda what I do. But as a reader, I was furious! And the more I thought about it, the more pissed off I got as a writer, too. This gimmick makes every single one of us look bad. Because these excerpts (and that’s what they are) are being labeled as books in a series, that whole section of the industry is now questionable. Amazon’s review system is already becoming something of a joke, a way for authors to barter for reviews. The industry keeps sacrificing it’s work ethic, and this is yet another example of that.
Not only does this make writers and publishers in general look bad, but it also encourages this bad behavior in new authors as well. This is who I’m writing for right now. If you read an article that advises you to write a book and sell it in increments, DO NOT LISTEN. That’s bad advice. NYT bestselling authors are doing it, sure, but they can afford the dozens of 1 and 2 star reviews they’re getting because of it. You can’t. Your career will end before it even starts if you do this.
I typically offer a “This is just my two cents” disclaimer when giving advice. Not this time. Selling a book in increments (not a series of shorter stories, either – there is a difference) is a great way to boost your visibility, to have your name and the name of your book turn up multiple results in a search instead of just one. Every cover reveal and guest blog post boosts the chances a reader will find out about you via Google or Bing. Sounds pretty good, right? It’s a marketing gimmick, and many readers can see right through it.
Again, NYT bestselling authors can get away with it because they have (and continually gain) a solid readership. It sucks. It’s not fair. But that’s just how it is. If you’re an unknown author pulling this shit, you won’t make it far. We all do what we can to gain visibility, and there are certainly ways to go about doing that without putting your morals or work ethic in question. A good rule of thumb is do unto others as you would have done unto you. Seriously, how pissed would you be if you bought a book, got to a really good part, only to find out you have to buy more books to get any kind of resolution? A series will carry a main thread throughout a collection of books, but each will contain a complete story within the larger whole. That’s why comics and TV shows work. Each episode contains its own points of conflict and resolution.
As a writer of short works, I am incredibly disturbed by this new trend in publishing. I write short stories that offer a brief glimpse into other worlds. Each one of them introduces conflict, and resolves that conflict at the end. If I choose to revisit that same world and those same characters again in the future, I certainly can, but I will NEVER write a book and sell it to you in pieces. I promise. I’m so adamant about this because the publishing industry is already gaining a questionable reputation. How many times have you heard, “Anyone can write and publish a book,”? That’s bullshit. That right there tells me that readers in general (not all, though, thankfully) have a very low level of expectations.
That. Is. Bullshit.
It’s up to each and every one of us to produce the best we can, and offer our efforts humbly and honestly. Hold yourself to a higher level of expectations, no matter what you’re doing in life, even if no one else does. I might end up a cashier at the local Dollar General, and I might not be the best there ever was, but I’ll be the best fucking cashier I can be. I might not be much of a writer, and I may never be among the best, but I will be the best writer I can be. I will give you my best effort, every time, whether I’m offering a blog post, flash fiction, a short story, or a novel. All I ask is that you do the same for me. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. I’ve made my fair share, and will continue to do so. No one’s perfect. Just be straight with me. I’m not a dollar sign, I’m a person.
Below is the initial rant I posted at Facebook yesterday, because even after reviewing the book at Amazon and Goodreads, I still couldn’t let it go. It was my first negative review, a 2-star rating, and I don’t like being put in a position wherein I feel it’s necessary to share my thoughts if they aren’t presented in a positive light. I certainly don’t like the position this gimmick puts all of us in. Question the advice you’re given, always. Use your own morals and ethics as a mental compass, and do what’s right, even if you disagree with the majority. You might be the only person holding yourself accountable, and at the end of the day no one cares more about whether or not you succeed than you do.
Best wishes in your every endeavor,
Dear Readers, Writers, and Publishers:
The difference between a short story and these chopped up novels authors and publishers are putting out these days is in the conflict resolution. It’s okay if the main conflict is threaded through every book in the series, as long as each book contains its own conflict that is resolved at the end.The first of Joriah Wood’s Five Lead Slugs is a perfect example of a series opener that holds the main thread open while closing the door on the first “chapter” of the series.
These books that are chopped up novels being sold in increments are not books. They aren’t stories. They are excerpts. And a “series” of excerpts is not a series, it’s a book sold in increments to boost the author’s (and that book’s) SEO ranking, and (in the hopes of the publisher) their sales. It’s a cheap tactic to get that author more visibility in the charts. Instead of their names being displayed in search results once for each book, the search returns three or four results. This wouldn’t be so bad if they delivered complete stories. Since they aren’t, it’s bullshit.
I am speaking out against this new trend in publishing because it gives authors like me, those of us who are fond of both reading and writing shorter works, a very bad name. I love Clive Barker’s Books of Blood and Edgar Allen Poe’s collection of shorts. Those are the short stories I look to for comparison when reading and reviewing a short work, or for inspiration when writing my own. Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth novels and Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels are good examples of series. Each novel within both series carries a main thread, the major conflict, while offering a new challenge within each to be resolved by the end of the book.
Woelf Dietrich’s Seals of Abgal, the first book in his Guardian of the Seals tales, is another good example of a series. Seals is not a short story. At 130 pages it’s an almost novel length novella, but my point stands. It tells a story complete with a beginning, middle, and end. The main thread, however, is revealed at the end and will continue the series. But the conflict introduced at the beginning and delineated throughout was resolved by the end.
I sincerely hope readers don’t take all short stories or series as equal. They aren’t. Some of us write with the same purpose a novelist has; to entertain you, educate you, or inspire you. Some want to see just how much money they can milk from you.
Please take the time to read the book’s description carefully. If you purchase and read a book and feel you’ve been mislead, that the book itself was misrepresented in its description, leave a review so other readers know what to expect. By sharing your thoughts on the matter, you’ll also discourage other writers from putting out bits of books and calling them parts of a series.
Thanks for reading, especially if you made it all the way through my little rant.
If you want to read the comments to this post at Facebook, you can do so here.