Almost exactly one year ago, I had the idea to write my fourth novel as an e-book serial – a book published in installments, every week for a set number of weeks. As a lifelong soap opera junkie, I couldn’t imagine a better idea – the marriage of my two favorite things, trashy television and commercial fiction.
I didn’t anticipate that the process would soon feel more like a crazy creative experiment than the writing of a novel.
As a former literary agent, I’d heard whispers that publishers were looking to take advantage of the e-book format to publish novels serially – you know, the way Dickens used to publish. (Not the e-book part, the serialization part.) I met with one of these publishers, St. Martin’s press, and while they liked the premise of my novel – a romantic drama set in 1920s New York City called The Gin Lovers -- they weren’t completely sold that it had the plot to sustain six twenty-thousand-word “episodes” or installments. While every publisher or self-published writer has their own parameters for what an e-serial should be, my task for St. Martin’s was to craft a story that would unfold over a hundred and twenty thousand words, with enticing breaks - cliffhangers – every twenty thousand words.
I spent many days and nights brainstorming and outlining with my agent and creative partner, Adam Chromy. Sometimes, the story just seemed like a round peg that had to fit into a square hole, and I wanted to give up. But finally, we mapped out six episodes with one primary romance, multiple subplots, and five cliffhangers. St. Martin’s was on board, I was ready to write, and the clock was ticking: I would deliver the final episode five months later.
I was daunted, but I soon realized that I had done the most difficult part of the job before I even had the job: the outline was solid, and it proved to be my trustworthy roadmap to the finish line. For anyone embarking on an e-serial, I can not stress enough how important it is to have at least a bullet-point outline of where you’re going and how to get there.
Usually, when handing in a novel, the writer finishes the book and then submits it to his or her editor for notes. With the e-serial, I submitted the novel to my editor, Vicki Lame, in pieces – 80 – 90 page pieces. She would then give me notes – usually along the lines of pumping up character motivation or making the cliffhanger more of a, well, hanger. And so I would revise the previous episode while writing my current one, hand that off to her, and start the whole process over again. Then, when the last episode was complete, we went back over it again from the beginning for continuity issues and anything else missed during the broader episode-by-episode edit. It really began feeling like the Mount Everest of novel writing, and I’m sure my editor thought it would never end. I know I did.
But by the summer, The Gin Lovers was finished. As the publication date approached, I saw another major challenge ahead: It was difficult enough to convince readers to buy a novel once. For The Gin Lovers, we were effectively asking them to come back and buy six times. I made this daunting realization when I started asking family members to buy it. I also have to hope that readers will enjoy the delayed gratification that comes with serialization – and that I wrote the novel is such a way that they have those, “I can’t wait to see what happens next!” moments.
The Gin Lovers published on October 8, and only time will tell whether or not readers will embrace the e-serial format. In the meantime, my publisher has planned the publication of the series as one complete e-book, followed by a paperback publication next year. As for me, I’m completely hooked – a glutton for e-serial punishment: I’m already halfway through writing the first episode of my next serial.
Jamie Brenner grew up in Main Line Philadelphia on a steady diet of Judith Krantz, Jackie Collins, and Aaron Spelling. Her latest novel is The Gin Lovers, published as an original e-book serial with St. Martin’s Press. Jamie is the author of the erotic romance trilogy Blue Angel, published under the pseudonym Logan Belle. Also writing as Logan Belle, her upcoming erotic romance Bettie Page Presents: The Librarian will be published by Pocket Star/Simon & Schuster. Jamie has worked in book publishing for over a decade as a scout, publicist, and agent. She lives in New York City.