Monday, October 6, 2014

George Sirois: The Serialization of "From Parts Unknown"

Guest Post by George Sirois

It wasn't supposed to be a serial.

From Parts Unknown - a five-part science-fiction sports serial now available for the Amazon Kindle (Parts 4 & 5 will be released on November 5 and December 3) - started out as a video game concept conceived in 1994 and written in 1998, then a film treatment, then a screenplay (over 10 drafts), then a novel in 2002. When I wrote the novel, I could have sworn that I would never write this particular story again. Even when I did another draft of the screenplay in 2005, I was content with giving the screenplay a few extra elements that the novel didn't have.

But then, iUniverse called, and I kinda sorta owe what's happening now to them.

When I first published From Parts Unknown through iUniverse, eBooks hadn't caught on yet. The only formats they had available were paperback and hardcover. Eight years later, I got a call from iUniverse's sales department. They told me that if I bought 25 paperback copies of my book at half-price, then they would give me an eBook upgrade for free.

I took the plunge, got my 25 copies two days later, and waited.

And waited.

And continued to wait for almost an entire year. Meanwhile, Excelsior was released through Infinity Publishing in paperback and through me as an eBook, and I became involved with some fellow indie authors who offered support, encouragement, and advice.

One of those authors was Carolyn McCray, who has since become an indie author superstar through her involvement with Amazon. (It doesn't hurt that she's driven enough to keep churning out one book after another. I'm still in awe of her catalog.) When she asked me about any other titles I had, I told her that I was developing a sequel to Excelsior, but other than that, there's From Parts Unknown, but it's tied up with iUniverse. She told me that I could get the rights to that book back and release the eBook on my own.

What a great idea! Once I get the rights back, I could do whatever I want with it. I could release it at a much better price, I could do whatever touch-ups I felt I needed to do, and I could even incorporate the extra ideas that were introduced in the 2005 screenplay.

I called iUniverse, got the rights back, and started reading what I wrote almost ten years before.

And I could have thrown up.

Wow, I thought. This doesn't hold up at all, does it? While I still believed in the overall story, and felt that it had potential, I knew that what was released in 2002 needed to be blown up and put back together. So in September of 2011, I started the long and painful process of rewriting.

Something interesting happened during the months of work. I really started to like what was on the screen. The basic storyline from the very beginning was still there, but now the world in which it took place was no longer occupied by cardboard cut-outs masquerading as people. They had dimension, they had their own personal issues, and they were fun to explore. In fact, I was having so much fun that I reached the page number where the 2002 novel ended and I wasn't even 3/5 of the way through.

Here is where everything changed. I knew that this particular storyline was a hard sell to a lot of people. I knew it ever since I sent it to an agent I knew at the time and he recommended that I self-publish it since it caters to a very niche market: wrestling fans who would enjoy reading a comic book style of story about a fictitious promotion set in the future. (I'm sure there are many here who are tempted to x out of this page right now just by reading that.) However, I knew that once they get to know these characters just as I had in the past year, they would at least be willing to see where the story takes them, but I didn't want the book to come off as intimidating, length-wise.

Then, just as the original "what if wrestling wasn't pre-determined" premise did almost twenty years ago, an image suddenly popped into my head. The image was of me in my pre-teen years, watching "G.I.Joe," and enjoying the five-part miniseries that opened each season. The format freed the writers from the restrictions of a typical episode (a beginning, middle, and end in just 22 minutes), and the stories were always better because of it.

That was when I realized the best possible way to tell this story: as a five-part serial. Some stories just work better as a series of smaller bites rather than one big one, because it doesn't seem as daunting a task for less experienced readers. They can get through the first part, and if they get to the cliffhanger and they don't want to go any further, they can just stop right there, no worries, and they only spent 99 cents on the book. Plus, the eBook format is an ideal way to tell a story in a serialized way since you're not setting up five smaller paperback books.

Once I decided to go with the serial format, the pacing picked up, and I had a new objective: to find the ideal spots for the cliffhangers that would end each book. It gave "From Parts Unknown" a whole new life, and it's been a true joy to discover this whole new way to tell this story that's been in my head for so long.

Now that I knew how to tell my story, where was I going to put it? There was only one answer for me: Amazon. I was asked about why I didn't submit it to Wattpad, and all I can say is that I wasn't as experienced with them as I am with Amazon. (But I am intrigued by them and may use that site in the future.) Also, I gave some thought about Smashwords, so all the different eBook formats would be covered, but Smashwords wouldn't publish serials. So I took the plunge and, when Part 1 was edited, polished, and ready to go, I sent it out into the world on August 6, my birthday.

With all this in mind, how have the books been going sales-wise? Honestly, not too well. But at the same time, only the first three parts have been released so far, Part 4 comes out in November and Part 5 comes out in December. (You can buy all five parts as an eBook gift for someone who's getting a Kindle for the holidays) It's possible that the sales could pick up once all five parts are released, but I'm not really worried about how From Parts Unknown will do. Obviously, I want everything I write to be big sellers, but this story's not for everyone. I get it. It's Rollerball meets RoboCop meets No Holds Barred. To say it's for a niche market would be an understatement.

However, everyone who read Parts 1 & 2 really enjoyed where the story was going and they wanted to read more. They're not wrestling fans, but they are invested in the characters. That gives me hope for From Parts Unknown to find the audience that I believe it deserves, and a big reason for this is because I chose to go with the serialized format. It's given the story, as well as myself, a much-needed boost, and I'm very proud of how it's developed after all this time. It's exciting to know that this December, I'll finally be done with writing this story, and I'm glad to have chosen to go with this particular format.

Oh, and as an added bonus, Rocking Horse Publishing - the same publisher that re-released Excelsior in November of 2013 - will be releasing From Parts Unknown in March of 2015. It will be all five parts combined into one paperback, so here's another reason for you to try writing a serial. You present your readers with different options. They can read the first part and then choose to either continue buying the rest of the story on eBook, or they can wait for the "omnibus edition" to be released on paperback.

I hope that those of you who are curious about whether or not to try writing a serial gives it a shot, and I also hope that you find it as fulfilling as I did.

Part 4 will be released on November 5, 2014.

Part 5 will be released on December 3, 2014.

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