Publishing… Chapter by Chapter

chapter-1This week, Publishing Perspectives highlighted the publishing company Leanpub which offers ‘in-progress’ publishing services for self-published authors and publishers. In-progress publishing allows an author to publish their book chapter by chapter as they write in order to gather reader feedback and assess what is working and what could be changed in future chapters.

 Leanpub’s creator, Peter Armstrong, urges authors not to write in ‘stealth mode’ and that in-progress publishing could change how we consume books to resemble how we watch TV: one episode at a time. He even asks us to imagine what popular books like Harry Potter would have been like had it been published a chapter at a time while being written – I can only imagine even more hype and overpriced chapters.

 I think in-progress publishing is a terrific idea for nonfiction books because authors can gauge which chapters and subjects are most interesting to readers in their target market and then tailor their final publication to best suit their audience. For instance, an author writing about chicken farming might discover that their readers are devouring chapters about basic chicken caretaking and ignoring chapters about the biological evolution of the chicken; in this case, the author might decide to change their book to a beginner’s guide to chicken farming. This type of tailoring is particularly useful for authors interested in working with a traditional publisher because in-progress publishing allows them to refine their work and build a target market to prove to publishers that their title will sell well.

 However, I think in-progress publishing would be disastrous for fiction. Too many voices can kill creativity for a fiction author (unless you’re someone like Charles Dickens who did publish in-progress). That’s why many tend to write, as Armstrong puts it, in ‘stealth mode’ – because they need the time and distance to allow their creativity to develop naturally on its own. Imagine if JK Rowling had published Harry Potter in-progress? Would readers’ outrage over Dobby’s death have convinced her to miraculously bring the character back to life in the next chapter? Wouldn’t that have drastically changed the book’s emotional poignancy and plot? In-progress publishing could be a slippery slope where authors begin catering to the whims of the masses and neglecting their own creative license. In my opinion, fiction authors should write for themselves. Hopefully a fan readership will grow, but not because they were pandered to by an author greedy for sales, but because the author was authentic and true to their work.

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5 thoughts on “Publishing… Chapter by Chapter

  1. hey Jenny, have you looked at the Scotland Street series by A McCall Smith. it was Serialised in the Scotsman then published as books….I am not sure what the creative process was for them but they were immensely popular both in the paper and as books…

    1. No I haven’t Miriam, I’ll have to look into that! I definitely think in-progress can work well for some authors (such as Charles Dickens!) who aren’t daunted by readers constantly having their input for their story lines. But for many, I think that would be very difficult and could potentially alter how they write. It would be a shame to have a great story changed just to please the public.

  2. I know this is an old post but it struck me while reading this that Leanpub is no different from places like Wattpad or Tablo, or even WriteOn by Amazon where writers are basically serializing their works chapter by chapter and building a readership that way in hopes that when they do publish, the same thousands of readers will also pay for the book (90% don’t). The difference with Leanpub is that the readers have the option to purchase the book before you even finish writing it, and this I mean for fiction books. It just struck me how it’s no different from those platforms that basically are social media platforms in a way because authors are basically building a readership. But while majority of readers on sites like Wattpad may not like having to pay for something they get for free (which is basically the same on Leanpub if readers just read and not pay) it’s nice to have the option that they will pay for the same thing on Leanpub.

    1. That’s definitely true Liz. It seems there are so many different websites and companies now that support self-publishing and serial publishing. I imagine for many authors the decision to charge readers for access to their work is a difficult one. On one hand, free access gives many authors the chance to grow their readership, but on the other hand, it may be undervaluing their work.

      1. I think with Leanpub it’s not such a bad idea to charge because it’s also a storefront for your novels, fiction or nonfiction, though right now it’s perfect for those writing and developing code as that is ever changing and benefits from testing from readers themselves. For fiction, it’s still something worth looking into though because one can only offer their work for free on sites like Wattpad and Tablo for so long especially for those who don’t treat writing as a hobby. But their output (pdf, epub and mobi) are worth looking into and they’re actually quite good compared to other sites that charge for it.

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