Up! Up! And away! Marion G Harmon leaps tall buildings in a single bound.

David Gaughran is skiving in Portugal this week, and in a moment of madness invited me over to take the helm at his Let’s Get Digital blog for a day.

David Gaughran

Given David won’t be about to disagree I thought I’d dispel a few classic writing myths and expand on my thoughts on collaborative writing as the way forward for some novelists. All part of the New Renaissance theme I’ve been trying to develop these past months.

I’ll also be poking around behind the scenes to see if I can borrow that cool hat of his, presuming he hasn’t carted it off to the Algarve with him.

Meantime I dragged in superhero novelist (as in a novelist who wrotes about superheroes. not a novelist who is a superhero) Marion G Harmon to explain how he’s not just juggling the figures and making his crimes pay, but is taking full advantage of the freedoms of indie publishing to experiment further.

Without further ado, here’s Marion.

* * *

Hi everybody. I’m taking over Mark’s blog today because he has asked me to talk about my past and continuing adventures in e-publishing.

Marion G Harmon

I met Mark online when he gave a very flattering review of the first 7,000 words of Wearing the Cape. In desperate need of critiquing, I had submitted it to Youwriteon.com for other writers (a chancy crowd at best) to comment on and throw bricks at. Mark’s review wasn’t exactly detailed (to quote: “LOVED IT! LOVED IT! LOVED IT!”, plus pleading to know where the full manuscript was).

Since his bio mentioned having at one time been a professional journalist, TV writer, and teacher of creative writing, I took shameless advantage of the offer and sent him the complete draft. It turned out, from our subsequent correspondence, that Mark thought I was a professional writer trying out an unusual genre-story under an assumed name. But then, he also thought I was a girl.

I never did get a full critique of WtC from Mark, but our back-and-forth was enlightening and also acquainted me with the new world of e-publishing. I found his co-author success on Sugar and Spice exciting and inspiring, and since I’d sent out close to 100 query letters without finding an interested agent, I decided to self-publish Wearing the Cape for Kindle. Mainly so I could stop obsessing about it and move on to the next book.

For those who are still engaged in the traditional publishing vs. self-publishing debate (maybe you have a book you’ve put out there and gotten back the “I am sorry, but this book doesn’t meet our publishing needs at this time…” response once too often), consider this.

The market for new writers is tougher than ever. If you’re good enough and lucky enough to find an agent, who then finds you a publisher (a very, very, very big IF), then after a year of staring at blank computer screens, whimpering in a corner, and maybe hitting the bottle while crying about your fickle muse, you are probably looking at no more than a $7,000 advance, if that. The agent gets his 15% cut, so you’re really looking at closer to $6,000, and since most printings don’t completely sell all of their first run anyway, that’s probably all you’re ever going to see.  And you won’t see it all at once, either (a third on signing, a third on completing the editor-approved draft, and a third upon publication some time later). Scant return for neglecting your health, career, and family.

Wearing the Cape has been available for going on four months, and is now selling 100+ copies/week at $2.99, with royalties of $2.00/copy. If my numbers continue to improve, and they’re currently climbing at about 10% per week, I’m going to make my “writer’s advance” by Christmas. And I still have an infinite print-run stretching out ahead of me, as all ebook publishers do, so for me self-publishing was definitely the right decision.

But what lies ahead? Here Mark was interested in my second great self-publishing adventure—an opportunity only made possible by the new e-publishing industry.

Did you know that Charles Dickens was an installment writer? This was a dirty little secret I didn’t even learn even in college. In hindsight, I suspect it’s because literature professors have a gag-reflex at the thought of writers writing for, I don’t know, money. It’s not like great authors are professionals, after all.

But it’s true; Dickens’ most influential works were written and published in weekly or monthly installments.  This made his writing cheap and accessible, and his use of the cliff-hanger episode style meant the reader couldn’t wait to put down a few tupence to find out what happened next. By serializing his stories, Mr. Dickens maintained public enthusiasm, and got a lot of feedback from fans. He even tweaked and changed the story as he went.  Also, although he started out publishing his installments in other’s magazines, he eventually started his own—making him one of literature’s great self-publishers.

Who am I to argue with the author of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield?

Please, Sir, I want some more e-books.

The internet and ebook publishing offers indie-writers an unparalleled chance to reach a wide audience, in a way that hasn’t been open to novelists since Mr. Dickens’ day. But how do I know the installment model can still work? Because there is one genre in which it is still used extensively: superhero comics. The Watchmen and V for Vendetta were both limited comic series, bound and re-released as graphic novels once finished.  They, along with other titles from both DC Comics (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc) and Marvel Comics (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, the Avengers), set the pattern of telling multi-episode superhero stories anywhere from four to ten issues long, then reprinting them in graphic novel form.

Now, with a book called Wearing the Cape and a sequel called Villains Inc, who do you think my core audience is?

So now I have both Charles Dickens and Alan Moore on my side. I’m neither Dickens nor Moore, but at least I’m not sailing into uncharted waters, and since half of my Amazon reviews seem to end with the sentiment “can’t wait for the next one!”, now I can give it to them.

How is this going to work? From now until Christmas, I am polishing up and releasing my second novel, Villains Inc, in episodes. The first one, Villains Inc. Episode One: Preemption, is available on Amazon.com for $.99—and there is now a link to the Amazon page at the end of Wearing the Cape. Each episode ends in a climax/cliff-hanger, and I intend to release each subsequent installment at intervals of 4-6 weeks. The complete novel will be available in time for the Christmas season.

How do I expect the numbers to work out? I have no idea, but if most of those who buy Wearing the Cape get to the end and just have to read on, then I can expect VI:1’s weekly sales numbers to start in the double digits. I will also very likely pick up a few new readers who impulse-buy it for $.99, then come back and buy Wearing the Cape to see how it all began. I only really hope for two things; continued enthusiasm as each episode comes out, and feedback; I think I know how Villains Inc. ends, but who knows what readers will focus on along the way?

In any case, it will be an adventure.

* * *

Thanks, Marion.

Marion kids you not about my enthusiasm for his first book, and the first volume of the new one lives up to all expectations. Highly recommended.

Marion blogs here.

Wearing the Cape is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

Villains Inc. Vol 1 is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

Are  you experimenting with new approaches to marketing? Or writing? Le us know!

  1. Villains Inc …. what a fabulous title! And a fabulous article to match, great work! 😀

    • Oh No! Don’t get Charley going on Villans. If she starts giving feed back the Villan might win! *grin*

      Actually posting on Protagonize is a bit like serial posting. I’m still learning how to do the clif hange part, But I”m taking lessons from Charley…

      Now if only I had my Kindle I’d see if I couldn’t learn something from Marion. I’ve got a Science Fiction novel I’d like to write in a serial method.

      :} Cathryn leigh

        • Miriam
        • September 1st, 2011

        Ha ha, I second that about Spook and villains! I reckon the Dagda should talk to her for a while. Actually, not in his current state, he’s too distracted by the baby… (I said nothing!)

        I agree that Protag is like serial posting! It’s one of the reasons I’m so bad at it, because I don’t tend to leave on cliff hangers, or I don’t think I do anyway.

      • Serials have their pros and cons, and I’m still figuring them out. The biggest pro for me seems to be it imposes regular deadlines–my daily productivity has jumped tremendously.

    • Fabulous story, too, Charley. If you haven’t read Wearing the Cape you really need to make time. It’s about this wonderful character called Artemis.

      Marion thinks the MC is Astra, but he just doesn’t get what a great character Artemis is, although I’m slowly convincing him.

  2. Quick update; Villains Inc: Episode One has been out for only six days as of the month’s end–and it has sold 68 copies. At least some readers are finishing the last page of Wearing the Cape and going right to the link to buy VI:1. I guess this is what indie-authors call the second-book bump…

    • Pretty impressive. I said many many months ago this was going to be huge, and I wished I was your agent / manager on a percentage. Still do!

  3. Villans Inc = sheer genius! Brilliant title, brilliant strategy…Another reason epublishing opens so many avenues of creativity.

    • Not forgetting a brilliant story, Ruth!

      I haven’t actually read superhero comics for *cought*ty years. but pretty much from line one I was addicted to Wearing the Cape, as Marion’s quote of my initial response shows.

    • The title was chosen for its history; check Wikipedia for Murder Inc., a fascinating piece of criminal history.

  4. What a superfab, superhero, cape-worthy post, Marion and Mark!!! This is just terrific!!!

    I’m a huge fan of all serialized stories and was sooo amazed to learn in college that that’s how Dickens did it too!!!

    I’m also focusing on short stories now…that I’m releasing between the longer books in my Cozy Cash Mysteries. I’m calling them The Mom Squad Mini-Mayhem Mysteries, and they’ll feature all the secondary characters my readers and fans tell me they want to hear more about.

    It’s a great way to treat your readers between the bigger, longer books.

    That said though, the length of my longer books are also getting shorter too to match our multi-media world of shorter attention spans!

    I also think there’s this huge, untapped niche of readers who love short stories to read during their commutes, during the lunch breaks and other breaks throughout their days.

    So cheers to you both, and thanks for another wonderful post at MWi!!!

    • Thanks, DD!

      It’s always great when readers latch on to secondary characters and they get promoted to their own series. Yet another idea frowned upon by the gatekeepers (but common in other media).

      The issue of “our multi-media world of shorter attention spans” is an interesting one. Clearly there exceptions like fantasy and sagas where enormous length is expected, but by and large readers want to be entertained, not lectured to.

      No question short stories and novellas are making a big come back thanks to e-books. The thing is, how much is this due to readers wanting more short stories, and how much simply that until now there was no real choice, because the gatekeepers didn’t let us write short stories and novellas?

        • Miriam
        • September 1st, 2011

        Oh, those minor characters … they are so DESPERATE to be important, aren’t they? I had one who was just the main character’s little sister in the first book, and then she got the other two in the trilogy for herself. Well, thanks Alys … um, did I say you could do that? *sigh*

  5. Miriam :
    Oh, those minor characters … they are so DESPERATE to be important, aren’t they? I had one who was just the main character’s little sister in the first book, and then she got the other two in the trilogy for herself. Well, thanks Alys … um, did I say you could do that? *sigh*

    Tell me about it; Artemis was intended as a simple side-character, but she started grabbing scenes before the end of the book. And Mark isn’t the only one who identifies Astra and Artemis as the TWO main characters of WtC. So Artemis is getting her own title after I finish Villains Inc. It will be interesting to see if the public can get into a book about a vampire who hates vampires (for a sneak-peek, go to Youwriteon.com for the first 7,000 words).

    • Well if Angel from Buffy the vampire slayer could get his own show as the Vampire fighting off deamons I’m sure you’ll find a crowd for Artemis. In fact I’d guess by Mark’s comment you probably arelready have one. *grin*

      :} Cathryn leigh

  6. Mark inspires a lot of us, doesn’t he? Just today he’s kind of turned my career around. (More on that later. Much more.)

    Love the Villains Inc concept.

    I wrote my first novel as a serial for a California entertainment weekly. It ran for 30 weeks and I got paid $70 an installment. More than I made off my two traditionally published books. But I hadn’t thought of selling episodes on Amazon. What a brilliant move.

    • Thank you, and we’ll have to see if the concept proves itself in execution. I won’t really know, I suppose, until December when I publish the complete novel. The proof in the pudding will be how it affects sales then.

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