books, writing

A writerly reckoning: Was a patron-supported, serialized book release a good thing?

“She jumped.” Nora Edinger, “Suspended Aggravation”

 

Me in January promo shot, a couple of weeks before Suspended Aggravation began posting as a serial release in Weelunk magazine.

Other than a season at home with our children, I have had the mixed blessing of writing professionally since I was 23. (“Mixed” in that the work has been quite satisfying, but the pay not so much. So it goes.)

Most of this writing has been for newspapers. (Remember them?) But, I have also written magazine articles, Sunday School lessons and a mix of public relations materials ranging from garden brochures to college press releases. In 2015, in a mid-life fever dream, I began adding a trio of romance novels to the mix.

I self-published my first novel (Dune Girl) on Amazon in 2018 when it became clear that my contemporary Christian content was not going to lead to a traditional publishing contract — in spite of some serious assistance from an industry insider. I made some money on Dune Girl, but not enough to want to do that again.

So, late in 2019, when the opportunity came to re-imagine the setting of my second novel in a hyper-localized way, I jumped on it. Suspended Aggravation released through Weelunk magazine from February through October in a series of Sunday posts. Funded by an arts patron, I did the writing and a team of editors and photographers did everything else.

Was it a good thing? Here is my honest evaluation after nine months of telling a story in slow motion.

The pros

  1. My work actually saw the light of day. Every writer’s dream.
  2. I got paid reasonably well. About the same that I would have made had I sold the book to Harlequin. This is important as writers need to eat as well as dream.
  3. I did not have to “sell” the book. This is important because I hate selling. I did some interviews, blogged about the book and linked all my social media to the weekly chapter posts. That was it. The team did everything else. Go, team!
  4. Speaking of teams, this is my preferred method of working. I’ve nearly always written in a newsroom. It felt really good (until it didn’t…)
  5. I got to interact with my home city in a new way. I am relatively new to Wheeling, W.Va. It felt good to connect my work to places that are dear to my friends and neighbors.
  6. It was satisfying to reach new readers in my own region and offer something fresh to longer-term readers from here and there — for free.
  7. A serialized release was a fun throwback, especially in an electronic venue. Writers, including personal fave Jan Karon, have been doing it for centuries.

The cons

  1. The book has probably seen all the light of day (and income) it ever will. Even if I self publish the book as a complete work — which I made sure to maintain the contractual right to do — I have already saturated my reader base and my home region. It likely wouldn’t sell many copies.
  2. Teams can change — and this one did. Weelunk magazine, a venue that is connected to the National Park Service of all things, underwent a mission shift mid-way through the book. By late summer, a key editor was out, I was in the process of exiting my journalistic relationship with the magazine and Suspended Aggravation was being “shadow banned” as off mission. With posts suddenly hard to find, readership that wasn’t “mine” plummeted and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
  3. My work was really out there in an odd way. It’s one thing to write about news where you live. It’s another thing to write about kissing in the same venue. This is especially true when one has teens, who have teen friends and so on. It has required a sense of humor.
  4. Having my inner thoughts on Christianity and the sanctity of marriage on very public display in a secular magazine during an election season in which “religion” is a flashpoint was also quite interesting. And, that is all I will say about that.
  5. Serialization went really well during the heart of the COVID quarantine. Really, what else was there to do on a Sunday morning? But, as life returned to a new normal over the summer, the pace felt too slow. A similar release done over a single month by the Boston Globe seemed like a better way to serialize/localize a book in 2020.
  6. Because of the slowness of the release, the story is a little wonky if read from start to finish. For one thing, I floated the story through the seasons to make it feel of the moment. And, while COVID stayed out of the story, some news couldn’t. The death of George Floyd while in police custody and the expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement prompted the elimination of a character’s nickname, a situation I wound up working into the plot.

My conclusion

While not without problems, getting to release Suspended Aggravation the way I did was a blessing from God. I’m glad I did it and I’d love to do it again with my third novel, Stand Still & Chill.

So, fellow writers, be bold and be willing to consider out-of-the box venues. There’s more than one way to get your work out there and get paid, too!!

Blessings on your work!

17 thoughts on “A writerly reckoning: Was a patron-supported, serialized book release a good thing?”

  1. Thank you for sharing your reflections on this experience. I feel like I’ve had the perfect sandwich of reads these last 7 months starting with Dune Girl back during the spring lockdown which in turn inspired me to reread Karon’s Mitford series and ended with the conclusion of Suspended Aggravation. I look forward to reading “Stand Still & Chill” when the Lord times its release.

    Liked by 1 person

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