I started this newsletter as an experiment, and I have been experimenting with it ever since. Now, as I prepare to publish The Wistful and the Good in book form, I need to decide where to take it next. Hopefully you, it’s subscribers, can provide some guidance.
I actually started the newsletter rather reluctantly at the behest of my was-to-have-been publisher. I am a blogger from of old, and didn’t see a reason to change. Nor could I see much difference between the two forms. But no, I was told, newsletters sell books. Blogs don’t. So I started this newsletter and kept on doing what I had been doing on the blog. And it turns out that the rate of growth of the newsletter has greatly exceeded the growth rate of the blog, so clearly there is something to it.
And then my was-to-have-been publisher and I parted ways and I had a new problem to solve. What then to do with the novel? I had basically run out of agents to query and I could not identify another likely-looking small press. Then I read Elle Griffin’s post on serializing a novel on Substack.
I have never been a fan of self publishing, and certainly never intended to do it myself. But I was beginning to understand the traditional publishing industry better and what I understood was that it was no longer the place it was when I first aspired to join it. Agents are notoriously reluctant to say why they say no to things, but keep besieging them long enough and you can begin to put the pieces together. In my case, it was not that my writing or storytelling were not good enough (I was several times assured that they were), but that my themes and subject matter were not what the industry wants today (as I was told obliquely in several ways, and twice with welcome bluntness).
No amount of persistence on my part is going to change that, and I am not going to change my themes and subject matter (unless my interests change). My options are to find a small press that wants what I write or publish myself.
But my prejudices against self publishing were still strong. (In many ways, they still are.) Following Elle Griffin’s lead and serializing the novel on Substack seemed like a way to dip a toe into self publishing without the risk of getting my hair wet. So, for the last 16 weeks, I have been serializing the novel. And perhaps that is what you are here for.
But I have also been writing about other things — about literature and culture and history and genre and craft, particularly as it is found in certain books I admire. What I have to say on these subjects is consistently different from the mainstream (like my fiction) — my approach is more analysis than advice. And these posts consistently perform better than the novel chapters. Elle Griffin reported finding the same thing in her newsletter. The fiction performs okay, but the non-fiction performs significantly better. So perhaps that is what you are here for.
What I have heard consistently from people who read the novel, though, is that they would prefer to be able to get an e-book and read the whole novel straight through instead of waiting for 39 weekly installments, which is what it will take to get to the end. Perhaps you are one of those. Or perhaps you prefer to get the book one chapter at a time. After all, if you were happy with the way things are, why would you complain? But now I need to know your preference.
What I have learned from this experience is that a serial and a novel are two different art forms, just as a movie and a television series are two different art forms. You can certainly serialize a novel, or a movie, and you can bundle a serial into a novel or TV shows into a movie, but the results are seldom as satisfying as the original format.
Also, I have been reading a few serialized novels, and a couple of true serials, and finding that the experience of the former is not to my taste, and the substance of the latter is not to my taste either. In other words, if I were a reader, I would want The Wistful and the Good as an e-book or a paperback, not as 39 weekly newsletter posts. But that’s just me. I need to know what you think.
I am definitely going to publish the novel as a whole, in e-book and paperback. Probably as soon as April. Perhaps just on Amazon. Perhaps more broadly. It is the form of publication I have always wanted. I just needed to get over my psychological block about self-publishing, and now I have. And since I have two more books in the series completed (St. Agnes and the Selkie and The Needle of Avocation), I intend to publish them this year as well. So the publication is happening. The question is, where to take the newsletter from here?
The issue is this. From what I read, enrolling a book, particularly the first book of a series, in Kindle Unlimited is a great way to build readership. But the conditions of the program are that you can’t publish the book anywhere else as long as it is on Kindle Unlimited. That means I would have to remove the novel chapters from the archive on Substack and stop serializing the rest of them.
The alternative is to publish non-exclusively on Amazon with a lower royalty rate and no Kindle Unlimited, at least until the serialization is complete. And this is where I need your feedback.
The newsletter would continue even if I removed the serial. There is a concept that I have been developing for a long time that I call the “serious popular novel.” I intend to write about that, starting soon. And there would be more of the sort of articles I have been writing all along, including stuff on the historical background of the novels.
So, I need your input. Do you want to see the serial continue or would you rather have the e-book or paperback? What would you like the newsletter to be about? I can’t promise to please everyone, but it would be enormously helpful to know what you would like to see. And if you have any advice for how to further my career as a novelist, I would love to hear that too. Thanks!
You can reply in the comments or reply directly to me by replying to this email. Your reply will get to me through the mysterious machinery of Substack. Thanks in advance for your comments and advice. It means a lot to me.
I began receiving your newsletter only a month ago because I liked your writing, and I haven't read your serial and have no idea what it is about. Therefore, I'm not the right person to answer your question merely to state I'm a book reader, not a serial reader, if that helps at all.
I will start by saying I am enjoying The Wistful and the Good. Although I have been busy these past two weeks and am now two chapters behind. My problem with serials is the wait. I hate waiting a week for chapters. But if you published daily, I would probably have trouble keeping up. 🤣 Perhaps two or three chapters per week is a happy medium? Who knows? Which is why most people like ebooks. No waiting.
Although I would have never read The Wistful and the Good if it had been released as an ebook initially. It was only through discussing your newsletter venture on Discord that I discovered it. So...
I tried Kindle Unlimited when I published my first novel. I only got one full book read from it totaling 76 cents. I think KU works best for genres with voracious readers, like romance. And you have to crank out the books regularly. For me it wasn't worth the exclusivity.
I see no reason you can't continue publishing the serial and offer the book for those who don't want to wait (unless you plan to be tied to Amazon exclusivity that KU requires.)
As far as your newsletter, I am asking myself the same question. What do readers want? My most popular newsletters are my short humor and fiction. Then in December I did one humorous non-fiction newsletter about eggnog that is now my most popular post. My serials are the least popular. I have no sage advice.
But I will continue to read The Wistful and the Good as long as you continue to publish it. Honestly, I have too many unread books in my Kindle library. So reading your serial is working for me. Knowing my track record, if I buy it, it will probably go unread. Too easy to put it off. But when I see a chapter in my Substack app, it is a reminder.