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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Kindle Serials

The New Kindle Serials Program

Before we leave this series of articles on how to publish with Kindle, someone has asked me to say a few words about the new Serials program that Kindle announced in September. Here's Jeff Bezos at that conference:

The idea is not complicated: Amazon says: "Kindle Serials are stories published in episodes. When you buy a Kindle Serial, you will receive all existing episodes on your Kindle immediately, followed by future episodes as they are published. Enjoy reading as the author creates the story, and discuss episodes with other readers in the Kindle forums." You pay a set and final $1.99 for the first episode, and then, about once a month, a new episode appears automatically on your Kindle or other reader.

Nor is the idea new.  In the 19th century, publishing serially was all the fashion -- and followed by some well known authors, such as Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, and Harriett Beecher Stowe. Will it work in the 21st century? Well, you have to look no further than your TV set to see that we spend lots of time with serialized fiction.Think of a program like "the Mentalist" or "Castle" for example. Each hour-long episode is a "complete" story in itself, with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end.  But the episodes have continuing threads that encourage you to come back for more. Will the Mentalist ever find and kill Red John? Will Becket and Castle ever . . . ?

If you're a reader, where do you find these new serials? At the moment, there are only 8 or 9 of them, listed here.

If you're thinking about writing one, here are the instructions:

"We're looking for previously unpublished, well-written stories by authors interested in engaging with readers through the unique nature of serialized publishing. To submit to Kindle Serials, send an email to kindleserials@amazon.com with the following:
• A brief pitch of your story including why you think it works as a serialized book, the estimated total number of episodes, and the estimated total final word count.
• A minimum of two episodes in a Word or text document. We want each episode to be a length that provides a satisfactory read. The right episode length will vary from book to book, depending on what's right for the story. The complete book doesn’t need to be already written.
• A one-page synopsis of the complete book.
• A one-page biography."

What do I think about all of this? Well, the first think I noticed was subject matter.  If you're into cop shows and thrillers, you might enjoy reading one of these. But there are drawbacks.  Unlike TV shows that usually come back week after week, these episodes are published monthly, and there is no guarantee that the wait won't be even longer. There's no real guarantee that the author will ever finish the story, because the first episode is published before the others are even written.  You take your chances.

Is it an advantage for the author?  I'm even harder pressed to find anything that would make me do this.  First, the pay-off is pretty slim (a set one-time price of $1.99) for tying up months of your writing time. There's also a requirement that you participate in the related forums and discuss your story with your readers as you go along, which could be a real time drain!  Finally, after the original announcement, the flurry of excitement has died out almost completely.  It took me almost 20 minutes to find the rules I listed above.  Amazon does not seem to be pushing this idea at the moment. It may take off -- or it may die a natural death like Kindle Singles did.  I'd wait a while before getting heavily invested.

On the other hand, if you're really dying to become a "best-selling author," you might give this a go.  It shouldn't be hard to write a chapter or two, ask your mother to buy it, and find yourself at #10.