72 Days of Serialized Hell: PART 5

Saint Andrews_-13

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I guess the only thing that eventually saved my sanity blog-publishing the world’s first free daily serialized coffee break novel over a period of 72 days was this…

It was already written.

If it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t be writing this at this moment. I’d be locked away in a padded cell somewhere counting molecules in the padded walls. I mean it.

Serializing a novel online as you’re writing it might work if you publish once a week. But 72 days without being Stephen King? Nope. For one thing the writing would likely be atrocious. When I finish a novel, I put it away for several months and don’t even think about before I start the editing and revision process. I went through the entire process with The Weekly Man and considered it ready for publication before it was rejected by over 200 agents. The very first page had the word “noticed” twice in a row. And I never noticed it. The agents did though. And that’s when they stopped reading (if they actually got past the covering letter) and sent the “this does not meet our current…” letter. I’m sure they weren’t trying to break my heart. They just didn’t want to read a manuscript any further that looked like it would be page after page of typos, misspellings and other things the writer didn’t notice.

As I wrote in a previous blog, the novel naturally broke into 72 episodes that were about enough to read during a coffee break. I made each episode into a Word file and put it into its own folder along with any jpegs for the emails in the blog posts and a PDF for the website posts. I numbered each of the folders (144 in all) and included the date of publication for each of them.

Here’s what I did each day.

Post the novel to the blog, including any email jpegs.
Publish the episode’s PDF file on my personal website to get the URL.
Go to my website and link that day’s thumbnail to the PDF.
Write a short blurb about the episode just below the thumbnail.
Post a thumbnail and short description on all the social media sites I used (several Facebook pages, Reddit groups, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, et al).

Since I’d already spent months creating all the PDFs, jpegs, Word files, thumbnails, episode announcements and other components, the process was pretty much streamlined. Only one episode folder had the wrong episode file and, since I had another folder with all the episodes, it took just a few minutes to get the correct one online.

I even arranged the social media site icons on my browser (MacBook Pro) in the order I would post them so that I had a clear, unconfused routine to follow each day.

Everything was looking good.

Until interesting things began happening…things like the formatting and page layout in my blog going berserk occasionally because of some programming quirk in MS Word. There’s something about using technology for the same routine over a long period of time that technology doesn’t like. It’s a safe bet that things will go awry for mysterious reasons and you’ll be spending time talking to someone in tech support or waiting for a reply to an email request for support. Surprisingly, none of these things caused me to miss my daily midnight deadline, though they did waste a few evenings. Given that most people read blogs in the morning…during their coffee break, of course…I published the following day’s episode in the afternoon. That gave me extra time to deal with those unexpected problems.

There’s an understanding that you should offer something of value if you expect people to come to your website…and come back. I figured a free coffee break novel was something of value but I went a bit further and posted a bunch of freebies on my website…things like short stories, mini workshops on writing…and even a couple of photo albums I created in Adobe Spark. These turned out to be popular on Pinterest. But they added to the daily load.

There’s something about having to do something every day for a long period of time. It creates a sense of angst that you can feel in your stomach…a tight, quivering ball of anxiety that haunts your innards every day…even after you’ve met each day’s deadline. I started feeling that ball about a week before I posted the first episode and it continued for the entire 72 days of the serialization and for a week or so after.

This is something I already knew how to handle, having worked as a radio station copywriter for three years somewhere in my long ago youth (Yes, I was young once.) when I had hair. I had two daily deadline, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Miss three deadlines in one year and they threw you out of the station after stripping you of your dignity and self-esteem.

I knew what I was in for, but that didn’t stop the angst.

One of the things I took away from this, probably the main thing, was a keen regret that I ran the serialization for so long…especially for something on a daily basis. The stats on my blog affirmed this: readership started to drop off in the last few weeks. I think the readers were becoming inured to the story. Just as I had to post every day, day after day, they had to read every day, day after day. And newcomers had a lot of catching up to do…scrolling up and down a blog over a two and a half month period or opening 72 separate PDFs from the website.

This also created a problem at the marketing end. I posted a graphic every day with a message that the most recent episode was ready to be read. After about 30 days, those messages were beginning to look like spam and I did one complaint from one of the Reddit groups. I mean, they were beginning to have the same effect on me. I felt like I was spamming myself.

Again though…that was the way the novel was written…every episode was a day of the week from Monday to Sunday. Maybe I should have serialized a different novel.

I think one month is probably a good time frame for a daily serialization.

But was it overall a success? The right column of the blog had links to my published novels. I won’t know until my next royalty statement from my publisher (Double Dragon) if anyone bought one of them. The website version showed a link to my books in the top bar menu that would take people to a page with links to my other novels. But then, I didn’t do this as a means to sell anything. It was something I’d thought about doing for years…and I finally did it. And didn’t go crazy.

I’ve almost re-written the novel since the serialization with a view to self-publishing a print and ebook version for people who don’t like serialized novels. That’ll come out next Fall but it won’t be free. I’ll try to keep the price down, though, so that I recoup the publishing expenses. And I’ll leave the free version up for people to read on their coffee breaks. I spent a lot of time building both platforms for it and I’m finding it hard to tear all that down.

I’m also thinking about a sequel. I’d like to tell you about it but that would give away the mystery in the current book.

I did feel a sense of personal satisfaction after starting this project and completing it with me as the only rule maker and slave driver. It’s something I can be proud of…having done this without going crazy. And would I do it again?

No bloody way.

However, according to the stats on the blog, it had over 6000 views and that was just the blog version.

So…I built it…and they came.

72 Days of Serialized Hell: PART 4

Bridge July 14 2019-23

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Getting people to do things in the 21st Century, especially getting them to read a novel in short episodes over a 72 day period, is just short of miraculous…unless you have a budget of millions of dollars, celebrity endorsements, friends in global media and your picture in the living rooms of every household in the world…just for the sake of having your picture.

I did not have, never have had and never will have any of these. My only claim to fame is having the world’s most boring entry on Wikipedia. Apparently, doctors recommend it for patients with insomnia.

And remember, this is something I was giving away free.

But, years ago, I wrote a book called eMarketing Tools for Writers and it was a bestseller in the business section at Fictionwise (at that time, the world’s largest distributer of ebooks) for over a year.

I wasn’t a complete stranger to marketing, and marketing was what I needed to get my picture in the living rooms of…

…sorry…phased out for a moment. What I had to do was market the project starting well before the first episode saw the glorious questionability of the internet.

I re-read my marketing book and was kind of pleased at how well it was written even though just about everything was out of date and most of the links didn’t work, victims of tenuous web life.

The single most maddening problem was that the novel was free, available in episodes online and nobody had ever heard of Biff Mitchell. (OK…so that’s two things.) Almost everywhere you can market books they want a link to where you can buy them, generally this is Amazon. I thought: Jeez, I’m screwed.

All I had was an ISBN.

Friends and co-workers implored me to turn it into a podcast. Like I needed a whole new technology learning curve. I was loosing hair that I didn’t have anymore just working with the technologies I was already using.

I’ll keep the marketing part simple because it really deserves an entire book documenting all the things I did wrong in sprite of re-reading my best-selling book on marketing.

I wrote a media release. This is pretty much a waste of time unless you want to spend a fortune trying to penetrate an audience that, for the most part, doesn’t really exist in the realm of free online book announcements. Also, most of the free and low cost media release sites I mentioned in the marketing book were no longer free and no longer low cost.

I created a Facebook page for the novel and invited all two of my FB friends to like it. Astonishingly, over a hundred strangers liked it. I also joined a few writers FB groups.

Which brings to an aside on sites for writers…they’re mostly a waste of time for marketing your books unless the book is specifically for writers. Almost all the other writers are there to sell their own books and they don’t give a damn about your book. Check it out. Do a search for writers’ sites and take a look. What you’re going to see are splashy covers and links to where you can buy their books. Some will invite you to read chapters or short stories and get back to them, but they’re not the least bit interested in your book. Now, this isn’t a criticism of online writers’ groups. Some of them are actually great resources for writers. But don’t waste your time marketing your books on them. Save those efforts for READERS’ websites…those places where people who’re looking for books and, if they’re interested in your book, might actually buy it.

Of course, in my case, I was giving something away free but that doesn’t make a difference. They’re not there to read anyone else’s books. You’re better off blogging about your book or about topics related to your book (with links to your books, of course) on places like Goodreads.

OK, so I had a Facebook page, my already existing writer’s page, plus the novel’s blog site and a website page where the novel was actually published.

Months before the release date, I started posting announcements…really pushing the “nothing is as it seems” theme. Because the novel relies on the reader not knowing exactly what’s happening until almost halfway through, I couldn’t say much about the actual story. For this, I had to rely on a PDF that people could download with brief descriptions of the characters written in such a way as to generate interest in the character as apposed to the story. I’m not sure if this worked, but I’m not sure if it didn’t work. But that’s what I was stuck with.

I posted announcements on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest and Reddit. The first announcement on Reddit brought nearly 200 hits on the blog and requests to send notices to individuals once the serialization started.

Things were looking good. But I had a feeling that I needed something more. I pondered this. And pondered. I pondered until I almost pondered my mind to death and, just as my head was about to die, the pondering paid off.

I needed to give people incentives other than the novel (which I couldn’t talk too much about) to get them to go to the blog. This initiated a brief spell of further pondering which didn’t hurt my head much because I was pondering a new topic.

It came to me in a brilliant flash of realization…something I hadn’t experienced since the first time I turned 29. I had already created a bunch of those incentives. They were part of a writing workshop I taught through the University of New Brunswick for just over a decade and from my writing over the last 150 years (while still maintaining my age of 29).

I had resources for writers and readers. All I had to do was turn them into downloadable PDFs. For writers and aspiring writers I had mini workshops (complete with exercises) on revising a novel, writing a novel, finding a publisher, writing difficult subjects like sex, violence and humor. For readers, I had short stories. The most popular was the one on writing a novel. I guessing those were readers who had dreams of someday writing a novel and I hope that some of them are doing that as I write this.

Everything was ready to go. I was ready to go. I was optimistic and looking forward to publishing the world’s first free daily serialized coffee break novel.

Little did I know.

To be continued…

 

 

72 Days of Serialized Hell: PART 3

Halifax April 21 continued-29

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Blogging the world’s first daily serialized coffee break novel is no small feat. It takes months of planning and preparation. It takes groaning and swearing and long periods of staring at walls with your mind blissfully blanked out. But it had to be done.

After dividing the novel, The Weekly Man, into 72 coffee break sized episodes, I set up a schedule in my daily planner. The serialization would begin on September 7 and run every day until November 18…72 days, including weekends.

Now, you might say something like, “Biff, you bearded buffoon, people don’t go to work on the weekends, not the ones who have coffee breaks. They sit at their desks five days a week and do important things deserving of a coffee break. On weekends they do unimportant things that don’t earn them a coffee break.

I was getting death threats from extreme know-it-alls on an hourly basis…and I hadn’t even started the serialization. My final solution: Start working seven days a week, slackers!

Or they could just take unearned coffee breaks on Saturday and Sunday.

It’s the way the book unfolds…from Monday to Sunday. Each of those days was a logical episode. If you ever decide to read it, you’ll see why.

That done, it was time to do other things, like figure out how to publish the novel. I published the 31 day photo project on my personal blog, Silence Says It All, but this was an entire novel, deserving of its own platform. So I settled on a blog just for the novel and decided to call it The Weekly Man, which seemed more manageable than The World’s First Free Daily Serialized Coffee Break Novel.

I started testing it well before September 3 and discovered that the blog would support just one font, unless I wanted to get into a shit pile of technical stuff. Nothing drives me crazy faster than technical stuff. The problem here was all the emails in the story, lots of them, were Arial 10. And the rest was Times Roman 12 except for one really weird email font used by one really weird character.

I spent days under my bed, drinking wine, crying, worrying, complaining about my lot in life until I came up with an idea. (Yes, I have ideas.) I decided to publish the novel somewhere where the fonts would unfold faultlessly. That turned out be my website, biffmitchell.com. So I went back to testing, posting and reviewing, and seeking perfection. But perfection didn’t come. I ran into more technical problems.

But then, I thought about my original idea for the novel. I was going to do it every day for 72 days, like the 31 day photo project. It had to be on my blog. So I did screen cuts of every email, all 345,253,346 of them. Well, maybe less. I turned them into jpegs that could be inserted into the post wherever they appeared. Given that there were no more than five or six emails in any one post, I figured this would be manageable.

And then I tested it on my phone. The blog wasn’t going to work, at least not on phones. Back to my website with a new idea: Convert the episodes into PDFs and put them on my website as cell phone friendly downloads. Of course, that meant creating 72 PDFs and 72 button graphics for people to click on to get the PDFs.

The horrifying truth was becoming apparent: I would have to publish everyday on both platforms: my blog and my website. This was becoming complicated and I was spending increasingly more days and nights under my bed, running out of wine. But I still had over a month to prepare, so I ventured out from under the bed more frequently.

Next came the cover art. No novel is complete without a cover, even if it’s not actually published with several hundred pages of words between the front and back. I needed a header image on the blog and website, something visual that would grab people’s eyes and permeate their brains with a dire need to read the novel.

There’s a park in the novel that plays a key symbolic role. I figured the entrance to the park would make a great graphic but I didn’t have any photos of park entrances that matched the idea and to tell the truth, I couldn’t settle on any one type of entrance. I worried about this until my hair fell out. About an hour later, I was looking at pictures that I’d taken during my last trip to Cuba and I came across one that practically screamed to be a cover photo. Plus, wonder of wonders, it was at least loosely connected to the novel…very loosely…but connected.

Here’s what it looked like….

Book Cover Verticall

There was something about this image that reflected the mood of the novel and it was easily resized and cropped for any number of graphical needs, like thumbnail buttons and page headers.

So…I had a cover graphic and a novel. What I needed now was a hook, something that would make people say: “Hey! What the hell is going on here? I need to investigate!” Something like that.

The best way to do this is to grab the potential reader’s sense of mystery. I asked myself, “Is there a mystery in The Weekly Man? And the answer was…yes…and more than one…and they could all be summed up with a phrase everybody in the entire world already knows: Nothing is as it seems.

And nothing in The Weekly Man is as it seems.

The only question now was: If you build the world’s first daily serialized coffee shop novel, will they come and read it?

To be continued…

 

 

72 Days of Serialized Hell: PART 2

Beach

I’ve written five novels, several novellas, tons of short stories, a few poems and hundreds of blog postings and articles in coffee shops. I have this thing about coffee: I love it. It gets my brain perking and gives me a sense of boldness with words and phrases that I don’t get when I write at home. I love everything coffee…including the morning coffee break, especially when I was working in government and the morning coffee break was practically in my job description.

In most places the morning coffee break is around 15 minutes of freedom from the grind…and this just happened to occur to me one evening while I sat in my favorite coffee shop playing with words. I’m not sure how many layers of inspiration, realization and revelation my mind raced through before I reached the horrifying conclusion that it was time for me to test my sanity as I had done in 2014 with a 31 day project that almost drove me nuts.

I quickly Googled a few things and came to another conclusion: no one had ever written the world’s first free daily serialized coffee break novel. No one. I was going to be the first. My eyes glazed over at the thought of eternal greatness, being remembered forever for something to do with coffee. And coffee breaks.

Of course, this is how I remember the occasion. I might disagree with myself at a later date.

So…there I was with an idea, a much hated novel (see Part 1) and a horrifying conclusion: I was going to do it all over again but, this time, for as many days as it would take me to serialize a novel.

Now, about the novel. I can’t say much because it’s a sort of mystery/family story/magical realism/humor/etc story that would fall flat on its face if you knew too much before reading it. Let’s just say that it’s about seven people who unknowingly share a stunning secret, something that will change their lives forever. But you don’t find out what it is until about halfway into the story…and then things get really weird.

Given the number of main characters, I decided to create a character profile PDF in case readers became confused and disoriented navigating their way through so many lead characters during their 15 minutes of reading. Click here to see it.

And now for the horrifying part: the novel naturally broke into 72 episodes. I shriveled inside. I barely survived 31 days…how was I going to make it through 72 days? I felt a deep pit in my stomach, a pit ending in a tight ball of existential fear. But, damn it, I was going to give the world its first free daily serialized coffee break novel, whether it drove me crazy or not.

To be continued….

 

Click here to read the October Project blog.

Silence says it all

 

72 Days of Serialized Hell: Part 1

South Path Macro-12 copy

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In the Fall of 2014 I I came close to driving myself insane with a personal project: for the entire month of October, I posted a photograph that I took that day along with some writing about the image or something inspired by the image. I had to post them on my blog (Silence Says It All) before midnight every day for 31 days. 

After 31 days, I swore I’d never do anything like that again. 

It didn’t seem like such a bad idea at first…one picture and some writing. I’m a writer and a photographer. What could go wrong? 

Other than a few technical glitches that were easily remedied, it wasn’t so much a matter of what could go wrong as it was a matter of when the hell is this going to end?

Here’s the thing; I work a full time job five days a week, I teach writing workshops one evening a week and I almost always have some time-consuming project going on (like an exhibition opening with one more artists’ collectives). What really hit was the full time job. It limited me to evenings and weekends to get the images and sometimes those images were almost impossible to get. That month, I traveled more than in years. I drove to wilderness places outside town and down country roads to rivers and lakes and parks and walkways around the city and begged friends to pose so that I could write something about them. 

Getting those images every day for 31 days turned out to be a lot trickier than I thought. There was the travel, taking the picture (up to an hour if I had to walk a lot), processing the picture in Lightroom, writing something (usually a few paragraphs) and putting it all into the blog and clicking Publish…sometimes, seconds before midnight. Weekends weren’t so bad; weekdays could be a bitch, especially if I was tired or if it was raining or…

Anyways, I was jubilant as hell when the month was over. I’d captured some of my best images ever and though the writing (not even proof read some days) wasn’t the best, some of it was actually worth the bandwidth it’s stored on.

I thought I’d feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment but all I felt was glad it was over and I would never do anything like it again.

And along came 2019.

I had a novel that took over ten years to write. It had been rejected with extreme prejudice and death threats by over 200 agents. Admitted, I took a few years off from the novel to study photography and I was working on a few other projects at the same time. And I’m guessing most of the agents stopped reading when they saw the word “noticed” repeated twice on the first page…a typo I didn’t notice but the kind of thing an agent sees and thinks, And that’s about as far as I read this. Always get someone else to read your first 30 pages. Always.

I’d just finished writing another one (revising that one now) and I was about a third into still another one when I thought Holy mackerel, I should do something with that novel I wrote a few years ago…the one that hordes of agents hated.

OK…so it might not have happened exactly that way. In fact, I have no idea how it happened, but I was suddenly outside myself, watching myself dividing the novel into parts that could be read in five to ten minutes. Enough to read during a coffee break. I was screaming at myself, “What the hell are you doing!” 

I couldn’t believe it. I was doing  it all over again. Only this time, it wasn’t a 31 day project…it was 72 days and it was called The Weekly Man: The World’s First Free Daily Serialized Coffee Break Novel.

To be continued…

Click here to read The Weekly Man.

Click here to read the October Project blog.

BTW, the image at the top of the blog is just there to get your attention; plus, I like it.

The Weekly Man Presents

Presents White

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It’s been over two months since I completed serializing The Weekly Man: The World’s First Free Daily Serialized Coffee Break Novel and after spending 72 days, every day, including weekends, upwards of three hours posting and marketing the novel…being at the mercy of the daily technology hurdle and building my life around the serialization, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll never do anything like this again.

At least not for 72 days. I think that was the biggest mistake: it went on for too long. It became a draining process after the first month. I’m sure that the daily announcements for new episodes started to look like spam in social media outlets. They started to feel like spam to me.

I’m working on a series of articles inspired by those 72 days of joy and hell and at the same time, I’m working on a print and ebook version of the novel. One thing I learned is that you can never finish re-writing a novel. But I’ll get into that in one of the articles. The print version is turning out to be almost a full re-write but it should be on sale sometime this summer or fall.

I’m going to leave the free one up, both the blog and smart phone versions, for those who don’t mind scrolling up and down a blog or opening 72 separate PDFs.

And to top it all off, I’m starting a newsletter to keep people informed, throw a few contests and give stuff away under The Weekly Man Presents logo. That should be ready early to mid-spring.

In the meantime, get through winter as best you can and remember…somewhere on this planet, at this exact moment, a warm wind is caressing the fronds of a palm tree.