I write a web based serial entitled Railroad! and have for some time now. It’s a serialized steampunk adventure set in the American old West. Some call it weird western, some call it steampunk light or steampunk flavored. Either way, I have enjoyed the hell out of the stories and the characters and hope it will continue to be enjoyed by the handful of fans it has acquired. Many of you already know all of this about me, but some of you may not. And that, my friends is the point of my blog post today. No, not the blatant advertising of my story, but the simple fact that I have been posting it for 42 weeks and some folks I see and speak to online every day still do not know I even write the thing. (I emphasize online because the folks I see in person are sick to death of me talking about it! Haha!)
Did you see that little number up there?
Yeah. 42 weeks.
Secret of the universe aside, that’s ten and a half months baby. Ten and a half months of posting a free story, once a week, every Monday morning for your enjoyment. Not to mention the months it took to write, to work with my editor to get it ready, and the time to set up the website, design it (myself!) and promote the material almost every day. That’s a lot of hard work. Work, I would like to point out one more time, I do for nothing.
Nothing. It’s all free to you, the reader.
You think that’s work? Some folks have been on this train for YEARS. Lori Titus has been at it with her web serial The Marradith Ryderseries for almost three years, with updates almost every week and an ongoing cast of unforgettable characters. And, to top this off, she writes it on the freaking fly! Week by week she writes this stuff. Here’s what she has to say about it:
The Marradith Ryder Series
“I usually write ahead, but lately, I have been going week to week. When I first started writing Marradith, I gave myself about a month or so cushion of already written stories. That said, I know the characters and the story well enough now that I feel comfortable writing them the weekend before they go live on the website. Once I started working on other novels, I couldn't plan on stocking away six or seven episodes for her as I did before.”
My hat off to her because there is no way I could do it by the week. It’s not that I lack the confidence she has with her characters, its that I tend to write in a weird, retrofitting way that finds me going back to the beginning of a story arc and changing it 50 times before I’m satisfied. One line of dialogue here can change entire pages of description five chapters earlier.
You can’t change it like that once the material is out there for the world to see.
Some see it as cheating, some see it as being prepared, but the truth is I write Railroad! by the volume. Roughly 30k words at time, sort of novella sized bites of the story. The idea of the whole serial was to create a setup that would allow me to have a cast of characters I could manipulate into a practically endless set of stories. And it worked! Dodger and the crew of the Sleipnir come together through the first three volumes, making the first book length’s worth of material. Now I’m working on volume four by featuring a new story while continuing the overarching main tale. I’ve plotted volumes five and six, and even have story ideas all the way to volume nine. It’s glorious. I’m tickled pink that the whole thing worked out like that. Now I can jump about with stories, introducing new characters in new towns, but still get to move along each regular cast member’s back history and current interactions.
It’s sort of like writing a soap opera.
With more guns.
I suppose the main reason I’m writing about this because a man whom I have an undying amount of respect for, Gregory Hall, asked me recently just exactly why I give away Railroad! to the masses. Why did I write the entire first volume of well over 100k words, have it edited professionally, and then instead of shopping it out to an agent or publishing house I gave it all away?
I had the idea for the story of Railroad! about this time last year, after watching the remake of True Grit. I got hung up on wanting to write a western, which evolved into a steampunk weird western, which evolved into a web based serial just for funsies. I think Mr. Brown suggested posting it online first. His exact words were, “Why not post it online in the spirit of the old fashioned serials of the Victorian era? The internet is the new dime store, so why not use it to publish your dime store fiction?” Why not indeed! And considering that during the Victorian era it was considered the professional and superior route to release by serial first, then by packaged volume, I decided I just about had to serialize it.
So as you can see, I set out writing Railroad! with the expressed purpose of posting it online. Even as I finished up the first book length, and sat there with enough material in my hand to send to a publisher or agent, I still wanted it online. I guess I supposed it would build a good reader base. And perhaps part of it was just the excitement of sharing the story, and giving it away online certainly is the best way to do that without waiting on publishers. I think a large and ashamedly part of it was that old attention whore in me rising up for some air. All in all it sounded like a good idea at the time. There aren’t a whole lot of steampunk web serials, so I figured it was a good niche. When I asked his advice, my agent even recommended posting it as a serial just to draw attention to my writing.
You can’t argue with Nick. That man knows what he’s doing.
That said, I spoke with the web serial veteran Lori Titus why she did it, this is what she said:
“Marradith started out as basically two short stories. Like a lot of things with me, I got an offer from Tony Smith, who was the editor over at Flashes in the Dark, to make it a serial. And I said yes. That said, I had no idea I'd fall in love with this cast of characters or that I'd be happily writing about them years later.
Why do I still do it? It's a great way to make people familiar with my work, and has also exposed me to fan and editor feedback I would never have gotten. A lot of the people that read Marradith have purchased Lazarus or Green Water Lullaby on the strength of the online serial.
Also, Marradith did two things for me none of my other writing did---it imposed strict deadlines on me, which I had to learn to meet. And it also gave me a creative space to call home, a story I can play with no matter what other projects I have going on.”
Very different origins, but essentially it gets at the same thing. I love the discipline that Railroad! imposes on me as well. Granted I don’t write on the fly, but I have to maintain my site and post weekly and address comments as they come across. Also, I have released each volume as a Kindle book as they are posted online. (Which I format and covert all by my onesies.) I run a contest to coincide with each release giving away everything from train whistles to key chains to a pocket watch. I intend to format the first full book for paperback and release it through Createspace after it is posted online. Again, more work, and yes this time there is a payback, but that’s not the only reason why I am doing it. Funnily enough, I want to put out the paperback to draw folks to the web serial, because even after the book goes on sale the web serial will still be free to read.
As for Lori and her serial, here is where she is going with it:
“I am actually working on making Marradith into novels. The books will be self-published, but they will be edited to give the stories some added depth. I'm working on getting the proof completed for Hunting in Closed Spaces, which I hope to have done soon.
The online version will remain on Flashes in the Dark.”
Again, we worked on different routes with similar purposes in the end. I wrote mine as novels, serialized them and intend to self-pub the full novels. She writes hers as weekly updates and then packages them as novels. As they say, whatever works!
In the end, I suppose even if no one ever read Railroad! ever again I would still be compelled to keep writing it. Why? Because I enjoy the hell out of writing it. The stories are super fun to work on and I have complete and total creative control, which satisfies my ego to no end. That said, to those of you who do take the time to read it, I can’t thank you guys enough. The continued support, comments and kudos I get really keep the whole train moving along. And those of you who don’t, I understand how hard it is to keep up with an online serial, so I don’t fault you. Keep in mind that the book will be out in January.
And yes, I would be glad to sign your copy.