My novel, The Wistful and the Good, begins serializing on Substack tomorrow, November 27. You will be able to read the first chapter at https://gmbaker.substack.com/p/wag1 and you can subscribe to receive a new chapter by email each week. Besides the novel, I am also serializing a series of backgrounder posts discussing the historical background and literary issued behind the novel. (But feel free just to read the novel!) There is an index of both the novel and the background posts here.
This is an experiment. It comes about because my deal with my intended publisher fell through, something I documented in a newsletter here. Starting a newsletter was actually the publisher’s idea and I struggled for a while to figure out what to do with it and to figure out what to do with this blog. You may have noticed that there has been nothing other than my occasional travel posts on the blog for a while, as I was putting most of my thoughts on the state of our literary culture into newsletter posts. But, for now at least, because this is all an experiment, that stuff will come back here and I will use the newsletter to serialize The Wistful and the Good and its sequels.
Why serialize a novel? There is nothing new about the practice. Dickens and Dumas both did it, as did many of their contemporaries. Salman Rushdie and Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk have both signed up with Substack to serialize their next projects. It is no secret that the economics of publishing are changing. People are looking for new models to distribute fiction and for authors to earn money for their work. Substack represents one such new model, and so far it is doing well for itself. Other authors are doing what I am about to do.
This is, of course, a form of self-publishing. I am not a fan of self publishing. It is not something I ever wanted to do. Publishing should have gate keepers. Not only are such gatekeepers needed to sort the wheat from the tares, they are needed as custodians of our literary culture. Unfortunately, our current gatekeepers are falling down on the job. They have little care for literary culture, a pursuit now left to academics in whose hands it becomes an effete pursuit producing fiction of little popular appeal. But worse than this, the gatekeepers of publishing today are deliberately trying to narrow people’s reading tastes rather than to broaden them.
Fiction gets rejected for one of two reasons. Either because it isn’t very good, or because it does not fit any of the niches that the industry is currently serving. It is not possible to be certain whether one’s work fails the first test, but if you study the industry enough and send enough queries to enough agents and publishers, you can begin to get a pretty good read on whether your stuff fits the current niches or not. And you learn that you don’t have to be off by much to not get considered.
There are, of course, many niches, some of them served by obscure publishers who can be hard to find, and there is always the possibility that niches will shift in a way that suddenly makes your book publishable, or that someone will like it enough to take a chance on it and try to develop a new niche for it. Many of the niches that publishers are serving today started with a single book that someone took a chance on. So there is always an argument for keeping on assailing the bastions of traditional publishing. And yet time goes on and the unpublished novels accumulate in my OneDrive.
And there is this consideration too. One of the ways into traditional publishing is to build up a social media following that provides a guaranteed audience for your book, and to demonstrate success with self-published books. Several notable works have found their way to the bookstore shelves like this, the book and movie The Martian being a prime example.
And so it is possible for me to frame my serialization experiment, at least to myself, as a new tactic for seeking traditional publication. And it has the additional benefit that I may pick up some readers along the way. Indeed, if that is all it does, I will be okay with that.
Part of publishing a book yourself is that you need some of the things that a publisher would normally take care of. Going the serialization route means that many of these can be postponed until I decide to publish the novel as a book after serialization is complete. But one thing I needed right away was a cover design. The advantage of serialization, though, is that it gives me time to play with several designs. If I develop any kind of following for the book, I may decide to hire a designer for the final cover, but for now I have put my very modest design skills to work to create this using Canva:
The interesting thing about publishing a newsletter is you get feedback on things right away. One correspondent immediately suggested something like this:
Another correspondent suggested that the black and silver motif was not appealing enough and that the graphic did not represent the novel particularly well. This got me digging a little deeper into Canva’s stock photo selection (which, as you may imagine, is not heavily weighted towards imagery from the 8th century). However, illuminated manuscripts do play a significant role in the novel as a catalyst for several of its conflicts and attractions, so I searched for those and came up with this:
Which one would you be more likely to pick up on a bookstore shelf or click on in Amazon?
Anyway, The Wistful and the Good launches November 27 (tomorrow). Please check it out then at https://gmbaker.substack.com/p/wag1 and/or subscribe.