Serialized stories have been around for a long time. Many beloved characters like Aladdin, Sherlock Holmes and Oliver Twist started off as serials. These days, authors are once again experimenting with the serial format and growing an audience along the way. One such author, is Kristan Hoffman.
I know you wrote the web serial, Twenty-Somewhere, as an experiment. What were you trying to accomplish?
Mostly I was trying to have fun. For years I had been trying to write Serious Literary Works, but I was struggling to find motivation, to find joy in my writing. So when my best friends and I began emailing back and forth about our lives, and joking about how we could be a new Sex and the City, I thought, “Hmm, that’s not a bad idea…” My friends were all for it, and I thought that writing weekly episodes could be a great way to establish a productive routine while also breaking out of my rut.
Twenty-Somewhere (20SW for short) turned into a lot more than that, but of course, I had no idea in the beginning.
How often did you post episodes? Were you more motivated by your self-imposed deadlines or the fact that people were actually reading it?
Oh, sorry, knee-jerk reaction to the term “self-imposed deadline.”
At first I posted a new episode to my blog every Wednesday. Then it slipped to Friday. Then Monday, because I could cram over the weekend. Then it fell to every other week. That’s as bad as it got, but I still felt guilty about not being able to stick to a schedule.
Unfortunately I find it very hard to do something if I’m thinking about it too much. So if all that’s running through my head is, “Gotta finish this episode today, gotta finish this episode today, gotta finish this episode today…” then it’s pretty much guaranteed that I WON’T finish that episode today.
What did motivate me to keep writing was (A) my love for the 20SW girls, (B) my friends begging for more stories about “their” lives, and (C) the wonderful reader responses. I received the most delightful comments/emails about 20SW, from friends and strangers alike.
Were you surprised when St. Martin’s Press asked to see a proposal based on Twenty-Somewhere? How did they discover your writing?
Surprised? Oh gosh, yes. But was it out of the blue? Not exactly.
In late 2008, St. Martin’s Press editorial assistant Sarah Jae-Jones (aka JJ) was running a contest through her blog. She and her boss, editor Dan Weiss, were looking (and are still looking) for “New Adult” books. In a nutshell, New Adult books are for/about 18-26 year olds, transitioning out of school age and into “real life.” (I explain New Adult in greater detail in this article on the Guide to Literary Agents blog.)
Anyway, I entered the contest (which required a 2-3 sentence pitch) and was one of 18 winners. The winners were asked to submit partials of our manuscripts, and out of those 18, five of us were asked to submit fulls.
Long story short, St. Martin’s loved my characters and story, but they didn’t think 20SW would work in a traditional marketplace. They were highly complimentary of my writing, though, and even invited me to submit future manuscripts to them. So it was a rejection, but with a pretty solid silver lining.
Would you self-publish an e-book again, or do you plan to query agents/editors with your next novel?
After finishing the 40 episode arc of 20SW, I decided to run a little experiment and turn it into an e-book. Screenwriter John August, whose blog I follow, had published his short story “The Variant” through Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (you can read all about that here) and it seemed like a fun thing to try. Plus I think it’s important for writers to keep abreast of new technologies and opportunities (even if we ultimately choose to ignore them).
Would I do it again? Maybe, but I hope I won’t need to. I want, and have always wanted, to go the traditional route with an agent and a big publishing house and all that. However, I did learn a lot from the experiment. My sales are modest but steady. I do no real marketing, but I have participated in forums at Amazon.com and KindleBoards.com and discovered a lot about what readers like/don’t like.
What do you think has been your most important take-away from this experience?
I’m awful at singling one thing out as a most or a favorite (color, food, song, you name it) so I have to do a list, sorry!
1. 20SW taught me to focus on writing what I love. What moves me. That is truly priceless.
2. The experience with St. Martin’s was my first taste of the publishing ride, and it connected me with some potential agents. Hopefully I can finish up my current ms and query them before I fall off their radar!
3. As I mentioned, publishing 20SW as an e-book got me to interact with readers and learn about their preferences. That was enlightening. It also taught me about what aspects of the biz I enjoy, and what aspects I’d prefer to let someone else handle. Publishing is like an uphill battle, and self-publishing is like fighting that battle alone. I never intended to get into that, because personally I’d rather have an army of people who love and believe in my book fighting along with me.
(Note: I do think once authors hit a certain level, like Stephen King or JK Rowling, self-publishing probably isn’t a battle. Needless to say, most writers are not at that level.)
4. Last but definitely not least, 20SW reminded me of how wonderful my friends and my family are. Yes, it’s fiction (it really is) but emotionally it’s grounded in reality. I think it brought me and my girl friends even closer together, and that’s worth the world to me.
Anyway, that’s my story, about my story. Hopefully I’ll have many more to come!
Thanks, Kristan, and best of luck on your publishing journey!