For reasons good or bad, I decided to serialize Moby Dx, and once I did, I discovered that I faced a bunch of challenges above and beyond those of just publishing an e-book, or is that ebook? In a series of posts, I don’t know how many, I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned, in the hope that these will be useful to other people. I’m choosing to begin at this moment, the release of Volume 1, Max Ebb, on Monday February 10, because I feel I’ve solved enough of the problems to have something worth sharing.
A place to start
First, for anyone wondering how to publish an eSerial, and maybe for some others who have already been giving it a go, for my money, the best place to start is APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur): How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. I own the print book. I have the book on my iPad. I use the website. I heard Guy in person. I’ve spoken to him and exchanged email with him. APE and Guy have been and continue to be a great resource. Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, hour for hour, Guy delivers more than anyone else I’ve encountered.
But no book, print or otherwise, in a fast-moving field like this one—the production and distribution of digital books—can keep up with all the changes. No one website could either; there’s too much going on.
Second, if your goal is making a beautiful a book, this is a topic that transcends ebooks and is just about books. According to two friends who teach book design, the fastest entry to this is a reference book, Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, and your own personal study of a fine book by a Knopf, a recognized leader in the production of beautiful books. I’ve been studying Americanah. It’s no joke. Knopf knows what they’re doing. I’ve also been studying Arion Press’s Moby-Dick, designed by Andrew Hoyem and illustrated by Barry Moser, a book that’s been recognized as one of the most beautiful designs of the 20th century.
Why it is hard to serialize on Amazon
Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller and e-book platform, and the platform you must be on in order to execute the #1 element of Guy’s distribution strategy, cover the Earth, does not support serialization. OK, that’s not true. You can serialize a book within Kindle Serials, a relatively new program at Amazon, but there are two critical problems. First, the only allowed price for a book in this program is $1.99. Most authors, or authors of serious books embodying years of effort, will not find that acceptable. Second, Amazon is exercising editorial judgement as to whether a book can be admitted into the program, in a manner something like the way Apple reviews apps prior to admitting them to the App Store.
An alternative on Amazon might be to offer individual episodes, chapters, bundles, releases—call them what you will—as individual products. I don’t like this for two reasons. First, the lowest price you can charge on Amazon is $0.99. That might be high for a chapter, but worse, Amazon discourages $0.99 pricing by offering only 35% royalties, as compared to 70% for books priced at $2.99 to $9.99. (The exception here is for Kindle Singles, where both lower pricing and higher royalties are available, but there’s editorial review with several week turnaround.) Second, it’s not my idea of serialization when the reader has to make a purchase decision with each new episode. I want to buy a subscription to the series.
A further alternative might be to work around Kindle Serials’ restrictions, and offer a book on Amazon’s primary platform which you, the author, update by adding content with each new episode. But Amazon will only notify book customers of an update on a schedule that is weeks long, and there’s no guarantee they’ll accept a change at all, and there are problems, or challenges having to do with book identifiers, like ISBN numbers, when book content changes a lot, whatever a lot means. This route puts successful delivery to your customers at too much risk.
Why it is hard to serialize elsewhere
iBooks? Kobo? Smashwords? Bookbaby? $0.99 pricing is OK without the penalty of 35% royalties. Smashwords, which is a great site with abundant useful information and services to writers, says, and I paraphrase, “we accept only complete works.” Bookbaby, another important site, does not permit major content changes that are part and parcel of serial novels. As on Amazon, a writer could put up individual volumes of a multi-volume work, but that is not serialization, IMHO. There is no provision for updates of the sort serialization demands.
One way to view the update problem is that in the case of each one of these platforms, the author is once removed from the customers. The platform owns customer relationship. Updates or new releases are in their hands.
How to Publish an eSerial: Gumroad
Gumroad is a SF-based e-commerce platform. Guy recommends it. Grammy-winning singer songwriter Sara Bareilles uses it to distribute .mp3 files. Still, it’s almost unknown. But what sets it apart is that it let’s you the seller own the relationship with your customers, whether you’re selling digital or material products. Want to send all your existing customers a new episode? Do it. Want to update an existing book file with new content? Do it, and tell your existing customers, or not. Want to inform your fan base of a new project you’re working on, without amending book content? Do it.
Clearly, you don’t get the exposure that you’d get on the big ebook platforms, but if you want to serialize, I know of no other platform that comes close to giving an author what he or she wants and needs in terms of customer relationship. You’ll need other ways to cover the Earth, but until things change, this is the best place to start for serialization.
In a future post, I’ll explain more about how I use gumroad; the options available, the choices I’ve made, and why.