Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Can Serials Work Via E-publishing?

I Retweeted a post on twitter and got into a discussion of the Question titling this post.

First a quick primer on basic Twitter which, if you know how twitter works, you may skip. If you don't "do" twitter, please read this.

-------Writer's Tutorial On Twitter -------------

Even if you don't plan to join twitter, you should be aware of the potential use of tweets in your narrative writing to shatter your Expository Lumps. Tweets work in drama because you can optionally set twitter to tweet to your phone, not just in a browser. News Services and TV News Shows twitter breaking news and even Amber Alerts and CDC alerts. Twitter is THE bulletin source for moving plots fast forward.

People in different parts of a theater can tweet or text during a show and discuss dialogue lines, or plan dinner, or plot an assassination (because tweets can be "private" and even coded.

On Twitter, RT means "re-tweet" meaning that you copy a tweet from someone you follow, paste it into your 140 character tweet box at the top of your page, put RT and an @ sign in front of the person's handle, and trim to 140 characters, then send it out. Your own handle gets auto-added so people who follow you and thus get your tweets will see that you are forwarding what someone else said. Only the tweeple who follow you will see what you posted. The tweeple who follow the person you're RT'ing will NOT see your RT unless they follow the person you're RT'ing too.

Twitter is one-way communication unless you make it two-way. But tweets are "public" and can be sorted by keyword, so strangers can converse.

If a RT is interesting, the people who follow you might follow the person you RT'd.

So when you "talk" by tweeting on twitter you have to be aware that readers will see only what you said, not what you're responding to. Like listening to half a telephone conversation. There's an art to including kibitzers gracefully and your Expository Lump suffering readers are kibitzers.

On Twitter, clicking a twitterer's handle (@something) sends you to their homepage where you can find out who they say they are and what they've been tweeting lately.

That's on the crude interface supplied by Twitter. There are "clients" you can download that present twitter data more neatly.

I wrote a long post about Web 2.0 recently,
and Twitter is just one of the newer and more popular components of Web 2.0. Twitter can be RSS "syndicated" so you can follow your twitter traffic on friendfeed.com or just follow me on friendfeed.com (scroll down the right sidebar of this post for my friendfeed box). And you can put your tweets in a box on your blog, so your blog always shows what you've just been talking about, with links). Simplify and organize your web-life.


So I (who follow KFZuzulo and "hear" all her tweets) retweeted a retweet sent by KFZuzulo where she starts with her own comment, then supplies the comment she's Retweeting.

It looks like so:

@KFZuzulo Or by "episode"=Serials!! ->RT @kriheli prediction on where publishing is heading chapter by chapter publishing #followreader

So KFZuzulo was answering kriheli's comment that publishing is headed for chapter-by-chapter presentation, and KFZuzulo said that means "episode" or "serials" which I know is in fact already successful with certain readerships online.

The hashtag #followreader was in @kriheli's original post. These hashtags are used to let strangers sort the whole twitter feed by subject and find people saying interesting things in order to follow more interesting tweeple.

Frankly you might want to follow @kriheli if you're interested in the E-book business model that Margaret Carter discussed here

So in response to my RT of her RT, @KFZuzulo asked me a question that looked like so:

KFZuzulo @JLichtenberg Do you think serials can work via e-publishing?

And I replied with a #followfriday hashtag because it was Friday and thus the hashtag was "allowed" by protocol. #followfriday means I recommend that other Tweeple should follow @KFZuzulo who is Kellyann Zuzulo who supplied us with a Guest Post here on this blog
My reply to her looked like this:

@KFZuzulo Serials working in E-publishing? THAT's a blog topic not 140C's I'll try to cover it #followfriday @KFZuzulo

Another feature twitter has is that you can sort the feed so you can see any post with your handle in it. I'm @jlichtenberg and you can find me at

Though twitter allows for private Direct Messages, all these posts I've mentioned went to all our followers, in aggregate, probably over 3,000 tweeple.

So my answer is much more than the 140 characters limit on twitter.com

1) My answer is related to the difference between Knowledge and Wisdom (oy, she's waxing metaphysical again!)

2) My answer is related to the history of the media in all its glorious forms.

3) My answer is related to the 4-generation rule (unto the 4th generation); it takes 4 generations to effect a basic cultural change.

4) My answer is related to my blog post here "I Love Web 2.0"

Let's do those points in reverse order.

4) Technology is the natural place to start since this is a question about E-publishing, a new form of delivery system for fiction.

We've finally got handheld screens that are legible to most people, and not most but a lot of people are used to cell phones with some "features" like web access (called smart phones). I read e-books on a PALM TX which has wi-fi access to the internet if there's a hotspot. But it's not a phone and doesn't have wireless access to the internet. I have a phone that does have wireless access to the internet, but it doesn't have a download for mobipocket reader which is the one I use.

And of course, we now have the electronic paper display used by Amazon's Kindle that pleases a lot of other people. Sony and others are making readers, and building in wi-fi or wireless capabilities to make it easy to download e-books and newspapers.

Some new, lower-energy-consuming chips are revolutionizing the palm top market, (with more innovations on the market next year) so we are very close to solving the tech problems and dumbing down the machinery so anyone can use it. At the same time smart-devices like smart-phones are smarting-up the users. Generally, you like what you're used to and you like new things that are easier than you're used to.

I covered a lot of the Cloud Computing and interactivity on the web in my "I Love Web 2.0" post, so we won't go over that again. Just remember it and think about the rising tide of CHANGE sweeping over us. At the same time, think about why Science Fiction is a shrinking genre while SFRomance is a growing genre.

(Though I have to admit EUREKA's use of smart-roads and boson-clouds as a landing field for a crash-down of a space ship is pure SF at its best! TV Shows like EUREKA (on scyfy channel) are also smarting up the users.)

Smarting-up the users is where the 4-generation rule comes into play.

Here's where you should either read or remember Alvin Toffler's first book, FUTURE SHOCK. The point he made is still valid, and much of what he predicted has already come true (the rest seems on the way).

Humans are hardwired to tolerate only so much change. A person can make only so many "decisions" (a brain function as much as it is a mental function) per day. As you age, you can tolerate change less and less, make fewer decisions per day. Read Toffler's book for the full explanation. And trust me, to understand the e-book publishing potential, you need to read FUTURE SHOCK. It's not out-dated (yet).

The result of this purely physical nervous system limitation of humans to make major changes in the way they think and do things during a single lifetime is the 4-Generation rule. It takes nearly 80 years at the very least to make a major change to a culture.

A recent study revealed that multi-tasking (the tempo of the modern world) actually chips away at efficiency and productivity.

Here's an article:

The measurements revealed that for all types of tasks, subjects lost time when they had to switch from one task to another, and time costs increased with the complexity of the tasks, so it took significantly longer to switch between more complex tasks. Time costs also were greater when subjects switched to tasks that were relatively unfamiliar. They got "up to speed" faster when they switched to tasks they knew better, an observation that may lead to interfaces designed to help overcome people's innate cognitive limitations.

---------END QUOTE---------

So the last word on the tech underpinnings of the new Fiction Delivery System has not been posted! But the culture is changing.

3) The 4-generation rule (unto the 4th generation); it takes 4 generations to effect a basic cultural change.

In the last 20 years with the advent of the Web and now Web 2.0 and even 3 and 4.0 starting to show up, with the digitalization of TV broadcasts, and other fundamental infrastructure changes especially integration by "aggregators", we have made several of these fundamental changes in the whole way "the world" works, all at once within one generation.

As a result, there are those of you reading this blog who shudder and flee at the idea of opening a twitter account. You don't know what it is and you don't want to know. You want it to go away, and you can't see any reason why the TV News shows give it so much attention and credence.

Your grandchildren will cling to networks like twitter (it's losing money and may not survive, but microblogging probably will; there's now a micro-blog that lets you use a lot more than 140 characters) and those grandchildren will likewise shudder at the thought of opening a something-else-account.

Through the middle-decades of life, humans embrace these new tools or major changes, shift career direction, experiment with new brands etc. By age 40, advertisers have lost interest in you. By age 50, you've lost interest in advertisers with NEW NEW NEW things to offer. By age 70 you actively resent anyone changing anything.

That's not wrong, or evil, or anti-progress. It actually is progress to resist change! It's progress toward stability, and valuing what progress has already been made more highly than progress that might (or might not) yet be made.

The 70-something's aversion to rapid change is nature's way of stabilizing society because at a certain rate of change, all society will disintegrate. Humans can't tolerate it.

And, according to Alvin Toffler, we're right at the edge of that rate of change.

What happens when a society disintegrates?


The portrait of a disintegrated society has been painted before our eyes by CNN in these last few decades. Bosnia. (Ireland almost got there) Afghanistan. Iraq. Everyone for himself and devil take the hindmost. Then non-combatants aggregate themselves under the protection of "strongmen" who bears arms to protect, to ferociously exact revenge so his group will be feared and left alone. (Hatfields and McCoys to the 4th or 5th generation).

When the social glue fails, there's blood in the streets (literally) and starvation at home. Foreign countries see an opportunity to seize the disintegrated region for its raw materials and labor resources. Conquest is the result of social disintegration. Starvation. Poverty beyond belief.

So "society" a nebulous, almost indefinable thing (try explaining "social networks" to someone who's not online!) has a use and a purpose, as well as a structure!

So where does society come from? How do we stabilize large groups?

2) That question brings us to the HISTORY OF THE MEDIA IN ALL ITS GLORY.

When society disintegrates, there is no education of the young except in how to scavenge enough to eat today, and build a fire for tonight.

Our vertical integration of generations is what stabilizes society. Lore. Campfire morality tales. Cave paintings. Faith. History. And maybe above all technology, and the science that goes behind it. Technology gave us flint knives and which berries are edible. Today it gives us e-books, a new medium, and "social networks" which are currently "destabilizing" society while they form a totally new platform for stabilization.

But all this change takes time if it's not to be destructive. For a serious tutorial on the hows and whys of that time-requirement, read

C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner Series

Yeah, read SF about a non-human society to understand what humans create and use for "society."

Vertical integration of the generations is why the resistance to change built into the human brain during aging is GOOD. The job of youth is to innovate. The job of age is to discard innovations that are destructive to the stability of society -- because without society we're back to every-man-for-himself-and-devil-take-the-hindmost.

So it isn't improvement or progress toward a better world that elders resist. But they do resist.

They resist INSTABILITY caused by running experiments in change in society at large when such changes really need to start on the lab bench, and proceed to the pilot plant and field testing before being released. But youth is "impatient" with methodical testing. It's the nature of youth, and that's not bad unless it is not restrained by age. Not STOPPED, mind you, but RESTRAINED (slowed).

What the elders understand that youth does not is just what is at stake in their madcap pursuit of "progress" in all directions except stability.

If society disintegrates to hand-to-mouth again, and if two generations don't get book-learning educations, continuity is lost and society disintegrates even further. With climate change threatening famine, sword-rattling threatening mass destruction, and free-travel mixing up the genes of viruses and bacteria, bedbugs making a come-back because of hotels not changing sheets every night, and bedbugs being a prime vector for bubonic plague which is mutating and making a comeback, -- those who have lived long enough to learn to see "4 moves ahead" in the chess game of life want to avoid any innocent looking first move that could lead to destabilization in a 4th move.

Elders can see that we can't afford to be off-balance taking a step forward just when we must face one of those major threats (threats that youth discounts as something that will never happen because youth is immortal).

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

What we have today is the result of vertical integration of the generations - the elders teaching the youth, and restraining youth until they get some sense.

OK, this resistance to change analysis is very simplistic, and you can easily argue against my thesis here, but just wait a few minutes and think about these points as a skeletal outline in the subject of serialization as the future of the fiction delivery system.

So "the media" started around campfires in caves, then minstrels roving the countryside singing for their supper (advertising business model), and continues unbroken to Radio, TV, CNN, satellite feeds, and RSS feeds. (do subscribe to this blog; you won't regret it, and if you don't know how to subscribe to a blog, click one of the SUBSCRIBE icons to the right. Try GOOGLE and it'll lead you to the Google Reader setup.)

Ponder Margaret Carter's post on the business model of the e-book again.

And consider this treasure of a post titled Traditional v self-publishing: a false comparison by Alasdair White (who isn't the famous musician Alasdair White, but rather the famous business management consultant Alasdair White). I met him on LinkedIn where he answered a question on publishing with the following totally brilliant analysis:


Note that "e-publishing" is synonymous in some people's minds with "self-publishing" which couldn't be farther from the truth. But the e-publishing industry has grown up from scratch in about 10 years or so. Nobody knows what e-publishing IS, least of all the e-publishers, except that it's a big change. Just as TV started by copying the business model of Radio, e-publishing started copying publishing, and has now diverged markedly.

After reading Alasdair's analysis, I pointed him to Margaret Carter's post on the business model discussion among Romance Writers of America members and he wrote me back with the following illuminating insight which I'm quoting with permission:

----------------FROM ALASDAIR WHITE------------------
Alasdair White has sent you a message.

Date: 8/31/2009

I read through the post you link below and it seems to me that there are still some fundamental misconceptions as to the relationship between author and publisher (no matter what form the publisher takes). The author, publisher, bookseller and reader form a value chain (in business terms). The author invests their time in the creation of a manuscript. The publisher invests their skills (and adds value) to the manuscript and turns it into a saleable product. The bookseller invests in facilities and stock and takes the product and sells it, The reader invests in buying the product and 'consumes' it.

Each part of the value chain is investing time, skill, and/or money in their part of the activities of the value chain. Each is taking a 'risk' with their investment. Each receives a reward for risk taken once the value chain is completed. Except when the author is commissioned by a publisher (who then effective buys the time and skills of the author who then has no investment in the product) there is no valid reason for an author to assume that they have any relationship with a publisher other than that of supplier.

Normally, if a product is supplied to another part of a value chain, then the supplier is recompensed at a fixed value - but very few authors simply want to be paid a fixed price for their manuscript - they want to garner the rewards of the sales (hence the royalty system). Thus, in exchange for a greater potential reward, they risk their short-term recompense.

BUT, and this really irritates me, authors then want an advance against the royalties - so they are now expecting the publisher to become a bank and to lend them money- which is possibly OK (although poor business management) because the publisher could set up the contract in a way that the author has to repay the advance proportionately if the sales fail to reach a certain break-even level. But can anyone name an author who would accept that?

No, the author wants an advance (fixed amount payment) AND a royalty and consider those publishers that don't pay advances as exploiting the authors and trying to avoid the risk. Now that is pure unadulterated greed speaking - but I bet the same complainers are criticizing those bankers who were paid bonuses in the good times but don't have to repay them in the bad - but it is the same argument.

If authors are paid an advance, then they should receive no royalty whatsoever until the sales reach a break even point which is determined by advance+in-house investment in bringing the manuscript to print+production costs (designers, printers etc)+marketing spend+lost opportunity cost (return that could have been generated had the money not been used as it was). This would, on an average novel push the break even sales to around 3000-5000 copies - which, for most novels is fantasy.

The fact that e-publishing does not have the printing costs (usually less than 30% of the final production cost) means only that producing an e-publication is marginally less costly than doing it as a hard-copy. And authors who feel hard done by need to take a crash course in the economics of publishing.

Even with our parsed down operating model it still costs a lot to link the first part of the value chain with the last part and authors need to consider whether they wish to take a risk of greater rewards (royalties only) or to be paid for their work at a fixed price. Personally (as both an author and a publisher), I feel that the combined advance+royalties model is unworkable and essentially unfair as it penalizes the publisher. If authors want the greatest return then they simply have to be willing to share in the risk.


----------------------END QUOTE FROM ALASDAIR WHITE--------------

What has this to do with "Can Serials Work Via e-publishing?"

Well, that question is actually a complex question. First you must understand what publishing is/was. Then get a good grasp of the Web 2.0 model of cyberspace -- and anticipate where Web 4.0 will take us.

Alasdair is teaching us some things about "Media" as an industry that writers don't generally internalize. He's showing us "what" we as writers are actually doing. And his posts reveal a world totally different from what any creative artist would envision as the delivery mechanism for their art to their end-consumer.

Understanding the infrastructure of the fiction delivery system, and the meaning to "society" of the madcap pace of CHANGE in that delivery system over the last few decades, we can turn our attention to the really difficult part of this Question: What exactly is serialization?

In the history of the MEDIA, when did the SERIAL arise?

I honestly don't know.

But I think the origin of the Serial relates to my post on the Medium Is The Message:

Fiction has always been a for-profit endeavor by the fiction creator. The shaman was supported by the tribe in exchange for Wisdom conveyed in a form they could understand and use. The Minstrel brought news and got fed for it. In the Middle Ages, Church copyists copied older documents and were supported by charity gifts to the church, and by their scribe function. Think about it in terms of a business model - the fiction-delivery-system and the news-delivery-system.

The printing press, of course, is the evolutionary step in "The Media" which is comparable to the leap into electronic distribution.

But this one, Web 2.0, social networking, and gaming (interactivity between the consumer and the story), is much bigger even than the printing press or even "motion pictures."

If words are to be distributed FOR PROFIT, they have to go down a delivery system that has a pre-determined size, shape, delivery point and most especially that "value chain" that Alasdair White tutored us in.

The delivery system is the "business" and the words are just the commodity being purveyed by the business.

This is something new writers trying to "sell" their work have a very hard time grasping. They think of editors as "gatekeepers" who favor one person over another rather than African hunters spearing fast-moving antelope in a jungle to supply meat to a Packer shipping to South America.

I wrote a lengthy reply to a Question on a LinkedIn Group I'm on (LinkEds & Writers). I'm going to insert that Answer here because most of you won't be able to access it inside the Social Network and INSIDE a "Group" within that Social Network. Most readers can skip this insert. I'm mostly just sending the new writers to absorb Alasdair White's post on publishing as a business.


Q: I just distilled and posted an email I got from a very disgruntled young writer. It's a rant about the industry - what would you advise this writer?

Here's the transcribed email

A: (by Jacqueline Lichtenberg - there are well over 30 Answers so far -- I'm editing mine down)

I have encountered this "beginning writer's rant" that has echoed down the ages.

Beginner Commercial Artists are both right and wrong because they don't understand what they are doing or what the "industry" does or should do, but they do understand that what the industry is doing is wrong somehow, inadequate or philosophically askew.

I'm in a discussion with another LinkedIn member who answered a question on self-publishing with a marvelous analysis of the business models of publishing of all sorts.

His name is Alasdair White (but he isn't the famous Scottish musician).

I saw his answer to a question on LinkedIn and urged him to post it on a blog where anyone could get at it so I could point people at it. I mentioned it on twitter and made White a new fan out of a publisher.

The blog entry is here:

Then I linked to White's post in a blog I will post on Tuesday Sept. 1, 2009. I'm a writer and co-blog with other writers on the craft and the industry, with a lot of beginning writers among our readers. My day to post is Tuesday.

I told Alasdair White that I would post a link to his blog, and pointed him to a post on the co-blog about an argument among Romance Writers of America members regarding the status of e-publishing.


Alasdair kindly read that entry by my co-blogger Margaret Carter, and emailed me a lengthy and brilliant answer which I am going to ask if I can insert into my blog with a link to his. But I found this question first.

I think this discussion and analysis of publishing as a business from the management point of view that Alasdair brings to it (and his exemplary articulateness) is just the vision that new authors in the "rant" stage need the most.

Armed with this view of art as commodity, and understanding publishing (or video or TV or other media) as a business that must be managed, a new writer in the throes of The Rant may be able to found his own publishing business and serve his own target audience, or perhaps become the dominant player in the entire Entertainment Delivery System.

I am convinced our Fiction Delivery System is massively out of kilter and about to break. I think it should break. We are entering a new era and need an entirely new Fiction Delivery System.

However, the principles Alasdair so succinctly gives us in plain layman's language, will prevail. Nobody who attempts to create the new Fiction Delivery System can succeed without a full grasp of this picture.

Alasdair gives us the view from outside that artists need to make the leap from Art to Commercial Art.
-----------------END QUOTE FROM Q&A-------------

So again, what has this to do with where Serialization came from and where it's going?

We have serialization because the STORY we want to send down that value-chain delivery system channel is larger than the channel, so we have to break it into pieces (just as an email or web-page is broken to be sent across the internet then reassembled).

A cave dweller's campfire only lasts so long, and dawn's chores come too soon. Stories had to be SHORT -- or serialized.

Dickens serialized his novels in newspapers, same reason. Reach more people, don't try their patience with long involved exposition, leave them wanting MORE, serialize the story.

Magazines, especially genre ones like Action, Mystery and Science Fiction, relied on the Serialized Novel to bait readers into subscribing (back when a magazine cost 25 cents and that was a lot of money).

Radio brought the radio serial, and soap opera serialization which became the story-arc I've discussed here at length along with story structure and how to create and place climaxes, though I didn't address the issue of how to structure climaxes to allow a novel to be serializable. (yes, there is a craft technique for that, too.)


Radio serials like The Lone Ranger and Superman translated directly to early TV. Yes, though made in anthology format, The Lone Ranger (also running as a comic strip in newspapers), actually had a story arc, the story of the man who was the lone survivor of a Ranger compliment ambushed by the Cavendish band. The Lone Ranger had a story-arc mission -- nail Cavendish. He wore the mask so Cavendish would not know he was a survivor of that battle, and would drop the mask only after Cavendish was dead.

And of course, don't forget Dr. Who just because it was only in England all those years before we imported the TV show.

And early film resorted to the Serial installments (Buck Rogers etc) to get people into the theater to see the A and B pictures even if they really weren't that interested -- and that loyal audience then made superstars out of actors like Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant, Bing Crosby. The weekly serial installment was the value-added along with a few cartoons.

So serials exist because the delivery mechanism is too narrow for the entire story as one piece, and as bait to get an audience for some other product.

The "delivery mechanism size" issue includes the problem of the audience's attention span.

Cave men couldn't sit by the fire for 6 hours every night. Today's audience won't sit in a theater for 4 or 5 hours to watch 2 movies, 2 serial installments, and 4 cartoons (an afternoon like that used to cost $0.50 -- $0.25 if you were under 12).

So today's theaters offer 2 hours and COMMERCIALS. But films are more and more often becoming series if not actual serials!

Meanwhile, we have a trend I've been documenting in my review columns for the beginning of 2010, reviewing many many books which are parts of long series or beginnings of new series.


Series and serials have one thing in common -- cliffhanger climaxes. It's only the placement of the climaxes and story-arc shape that differs. But they both accomplish one thing. They break a story into short chunks that can fit into the commercially driven business of delivery and parse into that "value chain" that White is tutoring us in.

Although the e-book and blog-posting format doesn't limit the size of posts (except for the technical issue of how long it takes to download which is largely solved), the person who reads the e-media limits the practical length by simply not having the attention span, or the actual time to read, or possibly the interest. (Yes, I know, this post is way too long and very boring, but it's a complicated question!)

The generation raised on Sesame Street has been conditioned to the commercial-break sound-byte length installments.

So though the actual e-medium can carry 6 or even 10 hours of reading in one download, the longer the piece the smaller the audience.

One thing all writers agree on. The objective is to reach a larger audience, the bigger the better. That's why microblogging like Twitter is burgeoning and the quality of a tweeter is measured by the number of followers, and their followers rather than the information density of the tweets put out.

The children of the Sesame Street generation and their children now, are jittery nervous wrecks compared to readers of the Elizabethan era.

The expository lump was regarded as richness in the Elizabethan era, and practiced as an artform (really! I studied it as an artform in High School where it was revered!) Today the expository lump is anathema.

So serialization leaves you with the problem of "What Has Gone Before." The e-serial can solve this with a hyperlink! But most readers won't follow the link.

Which leaves writers with this problem I indicated in my first point.

1) My answer is related to the difference between Knowledge and Wisdom

Can you tell me what that difference is and why it's related to the issue of whether serials can work via E-publishing?

Let's try this easy thumbnail, micro-blog size definition.

Knowledge is facts; Wisdom connects facts into a pattern.

That's wholly inadequate, but let's run with it.

I've talked a lot about pattern recognition on this blog, because it's a basic component of art. Here's one of my posts which is about the key question any Romance has to answer, "What Does She See In Him?"


Notice how I keep tossing in links here to other blog posts? To answer the question Can Serials Work Via E-Publishing?, I have to arrange those little but convoluted points I've made in previous blogs into a pattern you can recognize.

What have I been talking about here since I launched into my 20 posts on The Tarot?

See: http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2007/12/10-pentacles-cake-comes-out-of-oven.html
and follow the links back to Ace of Swords.

The overall objective of my many posts here is to figure out why the Romance genre in general, and maybe the SFR and PNR sub-genres too, are so scorned.

This question, Can Serials Work via E-publishing holds a clue to the answer if you can see the pattern behind these 4 points I'm highlighting.

The solution to a problem lies in the formulation of the problem. How you ask the question determines the answer. You can't solve an algebra problem unless you can state it properly.

KFZuzulo has given us an opening statement that could lead to the solution.

20 years ago, Romance genre publishing shunned the sequel, the series, and the story arc. Each novel had to be self-contained, (have very little if any sex), and end with an HEA.

Each story would have to start with the couple meeting, and end with them deciding to settle down together.

That's a tiny slice out of a story-arc of life, and it's the slice where more than likely Neptune is messing both of the characters up with some transit or another.

Usually, the Romance Novel would cover a time-span of weeks, months at most -- some maybe a year so you could do two Thanksgiving Dinner scenes.

The couple would meet, forget the rest of the world exists, and settle down to live HEA. The background, setting, world news situation, career goals, supporting cast, and everything else was incidental and often not well done. The Historicals, Regencies, etc broke through that mold and gave us richly researched detail from the real world history, showing that the typical Romance reader was educated and curious, and could enjoy learning useless trivia just for fun.

But the main story was still largely without conflict, without combat to the death, without a town or corporation or enterprise that was more important to the couple than their relationship. And most especially without challenging the premise: Love Conquers All.

The general reader would see the Romance as too easy, too comic-book, too facile. Too obvious.

In the old fashioned comic book (not the graphic novel mind you!) the characters would CHANGE the instant they hit epiphany, saw the light, understood who the villain really was, and would act without hesitation or introspection -- and all this would happen within a ridiculously short time frame.

For a real person to undergo serious spiritual enlightenment, character change at a basic level, major maturation, takes TIME. Years, not months. Decades not years. The bigger the lesson, the longer it takes to go from the mental insight to actual behavior.

The Romance often turns on an issue of the commitment-shy, on previously burned lover who just can't be sure this isn't a rerun of that failure.

Other plots use various reasons why one lover can't give her/ himself completely to another person, and use that instead of real conflict. (that's an internal conflict, not enough to turn a plot)

Romance has always explored the deepest psychological urges, wishes, aspirations, and vast issues of self-image, self-esteem -- massive psychological issues.

But 20 years ago, the genre required an author to invent new characters for each book, and resolve that character's deepest (hardest) psychological issues in 400 pages (or less).

These novels would span a few days, weeks, months, and chronicle personality changes that in reality take years, decades, or several lifetimes of karmic progress.

And the characters would walk away from these life-long problems scott free into HEA, as if they would never have that problem again.

This compressed time-frame and abbreviated page-count created a story that most people just couldn't decode. It would seem that the characters were cardboard puppets manipulated by the authors through unrealistic gyrations.

Today that's all changed. (well, not in all branches of the field).

Today though, the Fantasy field has produced the super-sized long novel sometimes spanning decades and generations. Some characters are hundreds of years old already (I do love Vampire novels).

The SFR can span decades of a character's life.

Women in Romances are expected to have a career, hobbies, interests, and an eclectic education. Some women are corporate bosses, and still have Romance in their souls.

Both women and men can be deeply involved in the issues of their world. That means that the internal conflicts that take a lifetime to work through can be REFLECTED in the external world the writer builds, and those conflicts can be tackled and partially resolved externally, or even symbolically, and thus the resolution and character-arc can seem far more realistic to readers (because that's how life actually works as explained in my Tarot posts).

Which means there can be, and usually has to be, a sequel or three.

With more room, the writer can tell you a much more realistic story about the stages of maturation and soul growth any human must go through in order to cement a love relationship that has a chance to last HEA.

Which brings us to the ultimate point.

KNOWLEDGE of what happened to a couple can be conveyed in one of these old fashioned Romance novels. The reader can add the details and stages of development by imagining it all on a more realistic time-frame. The novel only has to convey the KNOWLEDGE of what happened and who it happened to.

But if a reader is not already in the context of the Romance field, ready to imagine the years and years of character arc that are not detailed in the story, and picks up one of these old-style abbreviated novels, and absorbs the KNOWLEDGE of what happened the story makes no sense. And they discard the whole genre because of the "shallowness" of the characters.

The Romance author has given KNOWLEDGE (facts, actions, feelings as facts) but no WISDOM.

The reader outside the context of Romance can't see the PATTERN. They can't see there is a Wisdom to be acquired.

The main theme of the Romance Genre is LOVE CONQUERS ALL.

"Love Conquers All" is WISDOM, not knowledge.

I can tell someone that love conquers all with a straight face and they'll just laugh and shrug it off as inappropriate hyperbole.

They get the FACT that I said it. They have the KNOWLEDGE of what it means. But the WISDOM escapes them totally because they can't see the pattern made by scattered bits of knowledge that I have but they don't.

You can't convey the meaning of Love Conquers All, or the realistic-ness of it, in 400 pages. That's too small a chunk to contain wisdom, though it can contain knowledge.

Artists (and as Alma Hill taught me; Writing Is A Performing Art) reveal those patterns that people with scattered bits of knowledge can't see.

What art is for is to convey WISDOM, not facts.

To convey Wisdom vertically down the generations, binding society together and stabilizing it so the children can grow up secure in self-knowledge is the mission of the Artist.

The old Romance Genre was constrained to eschew Art and thus could only suggest a sketch of the Wisdom that Love Conquers All. To enjoy reading that old genre, you pretty much had to engulf the Wisdom that love conquers all before you started reading.

The new Romance Genre has had the shackles taken off by competition from e-publishing, just as women threw off the shackles of second-class citizenship in the 1970's. That was nearly 40 years ago. 2 X 20 years ago. We're HALFWAY through the 4 generations needed to make this change.

The new Romance Genre may lead us through the second half of this transition because of the advent of (#4 of my points) TECHNOLOGY.

Web 2.0, interactivity, RSS feeds, blogs, all these tools of distribution and publicity, are a new delivery system constrained by the audience to the short-take and the sound-byte. The YouTube video says it all in 90 seconds or less. Usually much less.

Structure the story into SCENES as I described in

The Love Conquers All romance novel SERIES or SERIALIZATION is uniquely suited to convey this intangible, unbelievable but vital bit of wisdom to younger generations because now you can tell your whole story, raise understanding of the rich complexity of identity and relationship, and then connect your data points into a pattern your artist's eye sees.

That pattern seen by the artist, encoded into fiction, and conveyed to the non-artist is Wisdom. And that Wisdom is the "Value" you contribute to Alasdair White's "Value Chain."

So with online technology you can tell a story that spans a long enough time-frame that the psychological changes your characters undergo seem realistic, convincing, maybe inevitable. You can do that by serializing Flash Gordon style -- or maybe invent an entirely new style.

With the 6 tricks of scene structure, you can block your scenes and connect them into neat chapters that will each start with a powerful narrative hook and end with a cliff hanger fraught with questions about what will happen next. Somebody please remind me to do a Part 3 to the scene structure series covering serialization.

With serialization giving you enough space to develop the details of step-wise psychological change, you can tell a Romance to anti-Romance readers and make them believe every word.

It's all about enough space to tell the story, and as our ancestor storytellers have taught us, the way to get more space is to serialize and serialization turns knowledge of isolated facts into the rich tapestry of wisdom.

Love Conquers All as knowledge is worthless. As wisdom, it is priceless.

You can deliver that payload of wisdom, even or maybe especially, in the e-published serialization, whether it's self-published, or in a newsletter or e-zine, or by a volume e-publisher or a big trade publisher.  But whatever method you adopt, Aladair White's wisdom about the "Value-Chain" has to be applied. 

That Value Chain concept is an Ancient Wisdom we all need to grasp. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! I read it with great interest.

    Question: What might be the optimal time span between serialized chapters in order to keep readers engaged?

    Or does it even matter as long as it's consistent (e.g., daily, once a week, once a month)? Or is it a moot point given that at some point, the story will be archived?

    (Or...or...It's late for me, so I hope my question makes sense.)