Monday, January 21, 2008


I've been having a sidebar discussion with Leigh, who's written a novel but despairs at ever selling it to a print publisher. Leigh's current idea is to put the novel out there on the web as a serial, under the terms of the Creative Commons license, and asks:
How might I vector more eyeballs to my story?
Well, that's the mystery we're all trying to solve, isn't it?

The Baen Free Library is one approach that's proven to work — sort of. If you're already a published author and if you've got a new book to promote, giving away your backlist for free works quite well. It whets the readers' appetites for the new book; to a certain extent it stimulates sales of hardcopies of your backlist titles. But it is kind of predicated on the assumption that you're already Lois McMaster Bujold, and that a significant number of readers are already willing to go out of their way to look for downloadable work by you.

If, on the other hand, you're more or less unpublished and unknown, the question remains: how do you pull yourself up by your bootstraps?

I like the approach Chris Muir has taken with his "Day by Day" cartoon. If you like the strip, you're free to put it on your web site, provided you do so by dropping in the one line of HTML code that Muir provides. No advertising or pop-ups tag along; your readers have to click through to Muir's site to appreciate the barrage of ads and Cafe Press tschottkes that apparently make the strip worth Muir's while.

But I question whether this approach is transferable to print fiction. "Day by Day" is a soap-opera presented in three panels and six lines of dialog daily. It plays to the strengths of the web; it's short, witty, cynical, colorful, and easily assimilated in a glance. More importantly, Muir posts something new daily. In the three years I've been doing this blog, I've really come to appreciate the value of that concept. The web is very much of the moment; very devoted to ephemera. In the world of the web, if you don't encourage your readers to make a daily habit of visiting your site, your readership dwindles fast, and it can take weeks to recover from a three-day hiatus.

So in a world where reading even a 750-word column is a chore, how do you take a full-length novel and turn it into something that attracts a steady readership? Should we even be thinking about "the novel," or should we be talking about some new episodic form of story-telling more akin to radio theater?

Beats me. I'm open for suggestions. What do you think?