Indie authors are disrupting e-book publishing by writing episodic fiction. They are primarily distributing the titles through Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle lending library. This is providing a financial boon to authors who write 60 page novels in a serialized manner. This method of writing is quickly becoming more profitable than simply writing a single feature length novel.
Serialized fiction first gained prominence in Victorian England and it first appeared in newspapers. It was practiced by such literary giants as Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and Joseph Conrad. It fell out of favor in the last fifty years, but is now making a rebound, thanks to Amazon.
Things have been fairly static in self-publishing and traditional publishing for decades. An author writes a book and has it distributed through specific sales channels. They promote a single title and get paid when readers purchase it. Now we have Amazon picking up the tab when a book is read and the reader pays virtually nothing.
The Kindle Lending Library was first established in 2011 and allows members who opt into Amazon Prime to read one free book a month. This has proven to be a lucrative method for indie authors to garner sales. Kindle Unlimited is a similar program, but instead of a Prime membership, users pay around $10.00 a month and read as many e-books they want.
These two programs have Amazon paying an author each time their book is read. The amount paid per borrow is independent of price and depends instead on how much Amazon funds a shared pool. In the months where Amazon releases new devices or for specific holidays, the fund increases. The rate per borrow has averaged around $1.62.
In order for authors to enter these two programs that have to enroll their titles in Kindle Direct Publishing Select. This basically prevents the author from selling their e-books through rival stores and locks them down into the Amazon ecosystem for 90 days. In exchange, you can take advantage of episodic fiction which basically allows you to triple dip the sales cycle. You can sell the book on the Kindle, have to available for Unlimited subscribers and the Lending Library.
Susan Kaye Quinn author of 18 Debt Collector novellas said “I never intended to write Debt Collector in the first place – the idea came to me in the midst of writing another book – and originally, I thought I could get away with writing a novella about it. You know, get the story out of my head. Well, the story refused to stay small! So I wrote another novella. And a third. By the time I was plotting out the fourth in my head, I knew this story wouldn’t let me go until I wrote all of it. And as I wrote, the story very much wanted to be told in an episodic format. At the time (and even now) there weren’t many SF serials to follow as models for publishing this work (Hugh Howey’s Wool being a notable exception, but that story also grew organically, starting as a novella; Sean Platt and David Wright are making a career out of SF serials, but not many others follow their all-serials-all-the-time model, in SF at least). Regardless, I decided to follow where the story was leading… not only writing in episodic format, but writing and publishing almost real-time, building a small (but fervent) audience as I went. Readers really engaged with the story, following along, scooping up each new episode every two weeks.”
She went on to say “Romance readers are ravenous, in general, and many subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. In romance, serials allow authors to get material out quickly to their fans, and KU lets romance readers gobble them up without breaking the bank. But not every romance reader is enrolled in KU, so there are, in effect, two audiences for a romance serial – KU readers and non-KU readers. Understandably, the KU readers read episode-by-episode, taking advantage of the fact that each episode is free to them. They get the excitement of serial-reading (the episodes are generally fast-paced) for free. Non-KU readers tend to wait for the box set. Pre-orders are actually perfect for serials, as they allow readers the choice: pre-order the next episode, or skip ahead and pre-order the full box set. Readers then have the best of both worlds: read-as-you-go or get the full story, depending on your preference.”
Science Fiction Episodic writer Nick Jones does not have his books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited or the Lending Library and approaches writing e-books as a hobby “Episodic books are an experiment for me. I think the e-book audience have become spoiled for choice and are used to getting full-length books for free. If they read book 1 for free and like the author then they seem happy to buy subsequent books at $3.99 without thinking too much about price.”
Amazon is aware of this new way of writing episodic fiction and sought to capitalize on it early with their Kindle Serial program. You will hardly find any content on the platform though, as Amazon does not accept unsolicited titles from indie authors, it’s invite only.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.