My latest short story "The Night the Lights Came On"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Releasing Our Fiction in Bite Sized Portions

A couple of websites I've stumbled across lately have confirmed something I've been thinking about a lot lately. With our device toting busy culture, doesn't it make sense to deliver our fiction in small bite size portions? Something a reader can consume while on a break, in line, or waiting at the doctor’s office? I don't think curling up with an entire novel (paperback or eReader) will ever go away, but in many situations I think this makes a lot of sense for writers these days.

Daily Lit distributes free eBooks in short installments which you set up. I signed up and the site has been sending me emails, which come right to my phone, every M-W-F & Saturday. They take about 5 minutes to read. Even I can find time to read The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe with this method, it's great, because it caters to my busy lifestyle. Much like Phil Rossi's Guerrilla Writing, this could be considered Guerrilla Consuming. Getting stuff done in the slivers of time we have here and there.

Most titles deliver a 30 to 45 minute audio installment of a novel, which is the average commute time. This is a great model for audio fiction delivery. I think for text, people will move to small portions of stories that they can consume in a short amounts of time on their device of choice. I am going to try and write my long form fiction to suit this, as Michael Lee has with his great online YA novel The Hidden Kitchen. He is posting it, one chapter a day until it's done, and you can read these chapters in a short amount of time. Each one has left me wanting more, but if you're caught up you have to wait. It keeps the reader's interest in you and your work in their mind for a longer time. That's what I mean when I say writing to suit this smaller chunk serialized format, make my story a series of one small arc after another that leaves the reader wanting more at the end of each installment. Cliffhangering them, as J.C. Hutchins fans would say.

What do you think about this? Will this only work well with certain genres? What about a 110K word epic fantasy novel? I'd love to hear your comments.

UPDATE - Just had to plug one of my favorite writing podcasts and an article that describes exactly what this post is talking about, from the mouth of bestselling author Michael Stackpole.

Writing Excuses recently put out episode 4.6 called "Pacing with James Dashner" where they talk about writing shorter chapters to pull the reader along. Michael Stackpole talks about this, even breaking it into a word count suggestion. The quote below is from an article called "The Best Way To Break Into Science Fiction Writing Is Online Publishing."

Rather than simply changing the method of delivering stories to readers, Stackpole believes digital formats will change the nature of the stories themselves. At the very least, authors should tailor their work to these new mediums. He cited what he referred to as "the commuter market," people who read two chapters per day on their half hour train ride to work. It's an ideal market for fiction broken into 2,500 word chapters, and could presage a resurgence of serial fiction. "It's kind of like a return to the Penny Dreadfuls," he said. "But the readers today are more sophisticated, so we as writers need to put more work into it."


  1. There's little doubt that it can -- and does -- work, Dan. You cited one of the masters at the end of your piece!

    But "bite sized" may be incorrect. I look at serialized content in one of three ways:

    Meal Sized: Longer things (20 - 40+ minuts of audio) are part of my routine, but I can only fit a finite number of these in my schedule. That means I have to evaluate everything I already consume of this length before I add something new to my regiment.

    Snack Sized: Shorter things (10 - 15 min) can probably be squeezed in without as much thought as before. At a minimum, they can be tried out for a while before I have to make tough decisions.

    Bite Sized: Very short things (under 10 minutes) that I have an almost unlimited appetite for. Easy to try and easy to keep without forcing me to make tough decisions at all. If I like it, it's a snap!

    You also asked if serializing works for certain genres than other. My answer: no. Though writing style, plot and pacing do seem to matter. Everything works, but things that cliffhanger throughout the story tend to work better. But not always. See "Nathan Lowell" for the exception to just about every rule.

  2. Evo! Thank you so much for posting a comment on my humble blog. It is an honor. When I saw the post pop up on my Blackberry I got really excited. It's just now I've had time to get on here and respond.

    Thanks for your comments, it's great to hear another voice on these ideas. I like that you site there's less hesitation to get into something shorter, I think there’s something to that. I’m highly anticipating The 33 by J.C. Hutchins, it sounds like a great idea - where someone can just jump in on any episode, not having to commit to all the previous episodes to catch up. For Bite Sized I was only referring to releasing text in this way, portions you can read in less than 10 minutes as you said, but I loved the way you broke it down for audio too. I think you’re right that genre wouldn’t matter, if each installment holds your attention, people would probably love reading a 110K word epic fantasy, one bite sized portion at a time; and with audio as well, one commute/errand at a time. I think your sage comments speak to what I’m trying to get at, the commitment level is lower with a small portion, so people are more likely to take the plunge and give it a try because they can see it fitting into their day.

    Great comments, I really appreciate them. I've become a huge fan of so many authors on Many thanks to you and yours for making it possible, and for free to the authors as well! So amazing. It's easily my favorite website on the internet. I plan to release my genre fiction there once it's as polished as I can get it.

  3. It's a topic I enjoy speaking on, Dan. Would love to see what others think.

  4. I would as well. The world of storytelling is an exciting one right now, and I think it's forms of distribution are expanding as we speak. If only more people I meet would like to sit and talk about it :)

  5. I've updated my post with a quote from an article where bestselling author Michael Stackpole confirms my musings and a link to a great episode of the podcast "Writing Excuses" which also mentions how having shorter chapters can help your book be a better page turner.