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Publishing a book online in serial form

I’ve recently published a fiction book, first in serial form on my own website, then as an entire book on Amazon.com. Publishing the book in serial form, chapter by chapter, was an interesting experience. It was an experiment. I wanted to see the pros and cons from an author’s point of view and from a reader’s point of view.

The book is A Word If You Please, featuring Trilby Trench and a collection of friends and foes. Trilby Trench is a technical writer who likes a bit of action. As Trilby’s friends know, adventure stalks Trilby and she stalks it right back. The serialised book is online on the Trilby Trench site (free of charge). You can also download the book from Amazon.com as a Kindle ebook (USD $3.11) and a paperback (USD $6.99).

Why serialise a book?

I’d been wondering about publishing in serial form for a while. What would it be like for me as author and for the people reading my book?

For example, would publishing the book in serial form be a good way of getting feedback from readers? In my case, the answer is yes. More people have sent me comments about this book than about the other fiction books I’ve published. The comments come in on Facebook, the Trilby Trench site, and other social media.

For an author, publishing a book chapter by chapter can be a challenge. Once you’ve published a chapter, you can’t go back and change it. That’d be breaking an unwritten contract with your readers. Actually, it’s a written contract, kind of! So, if your plot goes awry or you forgot to include something in an earlier chapter, you have to work around that. Before publishing the first chapter, you need a very good plan for the entire book. I like to have it mostly written, though not necessarily polished and complete.

This way of publishing made me think a lot about my readers.

What do readers think of the experience? Some may find it fun to have to wait for the next instalment. The suspense may increase their interest in the book. Others may find it annoying to have a break artificially imposed on them, or may lose the thread of the story. Perhaps a serialised book would stick in people’s memories longer than if they’d read it all in one go. Perhaps some people simply wait until all the chapters are available!

Where to publish a book in serial form?

I took a look at a few options for where and how to publish the book online.

Wattpad is an online community for readers and writers. If you publish your work there, you have a ready audience and a medium that’s well designed to bring authors and readers together. I wasn’t too sure that the primary Wattpad audience was right for my book. The most popular genres there are science fiction, young adult, and fantasy, and my book doesn’t fit into those categories. Also, Wattpad keeps popping up requests to log in, even if you’re a reader and not an author. I think that’s a barrier to entry for readers.

I also like the look of Inkitt. It has a clean UI, and it focuses on readers rather than authors.

After careful consideration, I decided to publish the book on my own blog or site, so that I could have more control.

One option was to publish the book on this blog (ffeathers.wordpress.com, where you’re reading this post). One the one hand, the focus of this blog is fiction as well as technical writing, so it’d be a good place for the book. On the other hand, this blog is primarily a blog, whereas I wanted a site that focused on the book rather than the blog posts. So, I needed a different layout, and I didn’t want to mess with ffeathers.

After weighing up the options, I decided to create a new website for the book. In fact, the website is for the character, Trilby Trench, as I plan to publish more than one book with Trilby as hero. Hence the site name and URL, trilbytrench.com. The site runs on WordPress, hosted by Bluehost. I’m using the Author theme, with some CSS tweaks to change font sizes (the default size was too small) and colours.

What do you think about serialised fiction?

If you have any comments from your experience as a reader of serial fiction, either my book or others, I’m keen to know what you think. What are the pros and cons of reading serialised fiction? Comments from authors would be interesting too!

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Book review – Non-Mortuus by Zola

Book coverI’ve just finished reading a new book called Non-Mortuus, by Zola. Are you a fan of vampire fiction, villains who turn out to be heroes or vice versa, and fast-paced action interspersed with thought-provoking otherworldliness? Then I think you’ll enjoy this book!

What’s it about? Vampires and vampire hunters. That seems straightforward. But the going gets a bit murky when you and the characters discover it’s hard to draw the line between undead and hunter.

It’s a good-sized book, coming in at nearly 450 pages. A good length to get you fully engaged in the characters and the world that the author sets up. And Zola has set up a very convincing world for you and the characters to make your own.

The book is full of detailed descriptions of locations, such as the streets of Lisbon in chapter 2, and the busy sidewalks of Calcutta (Kolkata) in chapter 25. I found these descriptions very interesting, and they add to the feeling that you’re in a real world.

Here I’d like to make a quick disclosure: Zola is a friend of mine. I bought the book because he wrote it. I read it with ever-growing pleasure.

The book is written in three parts, each narrated by a different character. The first is Aníbal Ferreira Silva, a trained hunter in the Order, and sworn to track down and kill the non-mortuus (vampires) of this world. The second part of the book is written in the voice of Eleanor, also known as Elle. She’s a non-mortuus. And the third narrator is Billy Ray, another of the hunters.

The author, Zola, is writing in his second language. His first is Croatian. This leads to an odd turn of phrase every now and then. It adds to the atmosphere of the book, especially in the first part where the narrator is Aníbal, who is also not English. I’d recommend a little more proof-reading to fix some grammatical and spelling errors, especially in the parts where Billy Ray, an American, is the narrator.

Billy Ray’s section is quite different in pace and style. There’s much more swash-buckling action as the book comes to its climax. I loved the characterisation in the book. Aníbal is very human in his foibles and strengths. Elle is cute though a little cold…

I recommend this book for its authoritative voice, sound theming, engaging characters, and good placement in geography and time. Zola cleverly introduces new plot elements throughout the book, with well-timed revelations about the Order and non-mortuus alike.

So, suspend your disbelief (I found that easy, right from the start) and enjoy the ride with Zola,  Aníbal, Eleanor and Billy Ray. Let me know if you survive. Mua-ha-ha…

Things Unseen – introducing my new novel

Things Unseen - introducing my new novelI’ve published a novel! It’s called Things Unseen, a psycho-romance, available in eBook format from Amazon.com (Kindle) and Smashwords (Kindle, EPUB and other formats).

Yes, I’ve joined the ranks of technical writers who write fiction, following in the footsteps of the indefatigable Dave Gash and the irrepressible Patty Blount. (And more, I’d guess.)

What’s the book about?

Dirk and Elise meet in Cape Town in the mid 1980s. They fall in love. Things happen. Well, you’d expect that! But some of the happenings are tragic, scary, or just plain weird.

Dirk and Elise bump heads with lovable rascals and with more complicated people. Evil people, supernatural beings? That’s for you to find out.

What do I think of it?

I am delighted with this book, and proud of all it represents. A love story. African and European cultures meeting, competing, and merging to produce something new. The results of careful study of African culture, language and stories.

Is there a link between African witchdoctors and Carl Jung? Read the book to see what Dirk and Elise discover. In this, I am indebted to M. Vera Bührmann’s book, Living in Two Worlds, Communication between a white healer and her black counterparts.

I think you’ll enjoy Things Unseen. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do.

The artist

Ryan Maddox designed the cover for Things Unseen. He’s the talented artist who created the illustrations for my technical book, Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate, a wiki as platform extraordinaire for technical communication.

I’d love to know what you think

If you read Things Unseen I’d love to know what you think of it. If you can add a review on Amazon.com, that would be awesome. Or add a comment on this blog post. This is exciting and just a bit scary!

Here are the links again:

How long does it take to write a book

A number of people have asked me how long it took to write my book, and how much of that time was spent on the actual writing. Luckily I’d thought it would be interesting to know that myself, so I recorded my time from the very beginning of the project. Thank you to Peter Maddox for helping me to turn my dry figures into a pretty chart!

The time tracking starts from mid May 2011, when I began planning the book in earnest. I stopped tracking my time in mid February 2012, when the book became available on Amazon and B&N. The figures include only the work I did myself. Other people put a significant amount of time into the book too. In particular, Richard Hamilton at XML Press did the copy editing and publishing of the book, the illustrator created the cover image and the five images that introduce the parts of the book, and six people worked on the technical review. It would be interesting to know the total time spent by all of us, but I don’t have that information.

Summarising the time I spent on the book

Elapsed time: 9 months
Total time spent on the book: 620 hours
Number of hours spent actually developing content (words and diagrams): 376 hours

So, the time spent developing content was approximately 60% of the total time. I wonder if that’s about average?

Assuming a 5-day week of 8 hours flat-out per day, 620 hours would have taken 16 weeks. That’s approximately 4 months. I did it all while holding down a full-time job – an exciting and challenging one, at that. So, I spent all weekends, all public holidays, and a number of days of my annual leave, on the book. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed it, except that I have a wonderful family who supported me all the way. And it was worth it!

Time per task

This chart shows the number of hours spent per week, on each task. The vertical axis shows the number of hours. The horizontal axis shows a nine-month period by week, from mid May 2011 to mid February 2012. The colours show the different tasks, with a colour-coded key running along the top of the chart.

I’ve totalled the hours per week, since that seems a logical boundary and makes a nice smooth chart. (A daily chart is interesting but very spiky. A monthly chart does not have enough detail.)

Here’s a bit more information about each of the task types. I’ve rounded the figures to the nearest hour in this list:

  • Preparation (39 hours): Choose a publisher. Prepare and discuss the initial outline with the publisher.
  • Writing (376 hours): Map out the structure of a chapter, write it, do my own review, draw any diagrams necessary, develop test data and take screenshots – everything that goes into developing the content.
  • Administrative and technical tasks (66 hours): Sort out the IRS, set up the technical environment, correspond with various people.
  • Design (12 hours): Liaise with the publisher and illustrator about the illustrations, book cover, and other design matters.
  • Technical review comments (34 hours): Discuss and incorporate feedback from the technical reviewers.
  • Promotion (23 hours): Write blog posts, tweet, plan webinars, liaise with companies who may buy the book in bulk. This encompasses just the work done before publication. Promotion ramps up significantly after publication, and is not shown here.
  • Index, captions, footnotes (36 hours): Develop the index for the book, add the image and table captions, and formalise the footnotes.
  • Copy editing and final proofs (35 hours): Incorporate feedback from the copy editor, and review the final proofs and galleys.

The book

Of course, the amount of time it takes to write a book depends on a number of things, including the size and nature of the book. Here are the vital statistics of my book.

Title: Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate: A wiki as platform extraordinaire for technical communication

Available: Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble

Publisher: XML Press

Illustrator: Ryan Maddox

Number of pages: 488

Number of words: Approximately 130,000 (excluding the table of contents and the index)

Number of diagrams: I created 11 diagrams to illustrate various concepts. (These are in addition to the drawings created by the illustrator, and a large number of screenshots.)

Dimensions: 9.2 x 7.4 x 1.1 inches

Nature of the book: Technical – see the outline of the book

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