Authors debate digital-first publication

Authors debate digital-first publication

Publishing digitally first can help authors to learn about the publishing process, make writers more critical of their own work and help reinvent an author. However, the author Stark Holborn warned that the format should only be used in the right context as there is “a difficulty in marketing something that has no physical presence”.

Authors who have recently had work published digitally first in serial format said there were benefits to the format for both readers and authors. Cathy Bramley published Ivy Lane with Transworld as a digital-first serial in 2014, and her second book for the publisher, Appleby Farm, is currently being released in monthly instalments of 10 chapters each, with the final section out this week.

Bramley said publishing in serial format “enabled me to raise my profile and keep my books visible for a longer period of time”.

She added: “I also enjoy a lot of interaction with readers via Twitter and Facebook who finish one part and can’t wait for the next. I think having a low price point is a huge benefit to a new author; readers can look at my Amazon page, see the positive reviews and try for themselves at a low- risk [cost] of 99p.”

Bramley’s editor at Transworld, Harriet Bourton, said the publisher’s aim “was to find a way of introducing digital-heavy readers to new authors and building a relationship with them from there”, with a digital serialisation acting as a literary equivalent to a television series.

“A four-part serial seemed the right balance to me and Cathy, and by releasing in digital format first we had total freedom. There was no dependency on a retailer to stock it in order for readers to discover it,” Bourton said. “We are still releasing the serials as complete paperbacks, so we have two chances to grow a fanbase for Cathy: via the digital route and the traditional one. Cathy and I have always been very mindful that the serialisation wasn’t just a gimmick. We really wanted the reader to enjoy the experience of reading a story in instalments, and so the structure of the individual parts and the novel as a whole has always been forefront in our minds.”

Harriet Evans’ A Place for Us was initially released by Headline in four digital parts, although it was written as a “whole book that just happened to have four parts with cliffhangers”.

“I was so completely thrilled with the whole serialisation of A Place for Us and the way it was pitched, marketed and designed, and how the sales went,” said Evans.

Headline publishing director Mari Evans said the publisher wanted to reinvent Evans in a “meaningful, engaged and reader-focused manner by encouraging as much early review feedback as possible and by generating excitement around the reading experience by serialising it in four parts”.

The digital-first publication meant that Headline could “keep the noise up for almost six months before we published in paperback”, meaning that when the paperback was released there was already a number of online reviews.

“Anyone uncertain as to whether Harriet Evans was an author to their taste could see the overwhelming approval from readers,” said Mari Evans.

Holborn’s Nunslinger was published as an original digital serial by Hodder—12 novellas, released three at a time every three months— before being released in paperback.

Holborn said she was writing the novellas as they were being published. “I essentially went through the whole editorial process, in miniature, 12 times: the books often went from first draft, to editorial notes, to being copy edited in less than two weeks,” she said. “It was exhilarating, terrifying, overwhelming and damn fun. Overall, being published digitally in the first instance hasn’t only taught me to write and edit faster, it’s made me more ruthless with my own work: when you’re on a deadline, you can’t afford to defer decisions.”

Holborn said she would “love there to be more of a culture of digital serials . . . I think the trick is using them for the right work. The format suited Nunslinger because it recalled serialised pulp and dime novels, like the old yellow jackets published by Hodder in the 1950s. It’s true that there is a difficulty in marketing something that has no physical presence, but in the right context that could be a strength, not a limitation. Of course, there is nothing that beats the thrill of seeing your work printed and bound as a real, honest-to-God book, but I would certainly love to explore digital serialisations further in the future.”