So a few months ago I set out on an experiment. I had a novel, The Vanishings, which had been accepted by two publishers but in both cases I had to take it back because of various reasons. Honestly I thought both me and the manuscript had had enough and we needed to do something different. I decided I would serialise the novel around the internet, two chapters per week.
My main objective was to have the book read. The biggest frustration I have since the bulk of my books are published in Southern Africa is distribution. So many of my books never leave the subcontinent, some seem never to leave the publisher's storeroom. I just wanted the book to be read. My hope is for this to be the first book in a series, so I also hoped the more people who got to know Delly and Dambuza in this first book, for free, the more who might be willing to buy the second book in the series, that, of course, is yet to be seen.
Initially I received three offers of spots interested in being part of the experiment: two blogs run by Batswana (something I had been specifically looking for) and an online African magazine from Kenya (Afrikan Mbui). Along the way one of the blogs had to opt out since the owner did not want swearing on her blog and there is a lot of swearing in The Vanishings. Every Thursday the chapters appeared on the blog (lo-blogs) and the magazine site as well as here on Thoughts from Botswana. On Fridays the same two chapters appeared again on the Facebook page set up for The Vanishings.
On this blog, the lowest number of visitors on a Thursday when the chapters appeared was 48, which is slightly higher than normal posts. The highest was 151, with an average of about 70. It is hard to tell if the posts were read as there was only one comment on this blog throughout the experiment.
The Facebook page was problematic. Because of how Facebook does things not every post on the page is seen by every person who has liked the page (there were 186 likes). I tried to up the traffic there by re-posting posts on my own Facebook page and occasionally on the Maun Bulletin Board page since the novel is set in Maun. There was more interaction from readers on the Facebook page, more comments etc than on the blog.
I also tried to push people to the various sites using Twitter and Facebook.
It's hard to tell what sort of success the experiment was. Visits on the internet do not necessarily mean that the person has read the chapters. I had hoped more media on and off line would get excited about the project. I sent out a few press releases. Short Story Day Africa was very supportive, but that was about it. During the experiment, I had a short story published at Lawino that featured Delly and Dambuza, Playing Games in the Delta. I had hoped that would drive traffic to the experiment, but I'm not sure if it did.
I would say I'm marginally happy with the experiment. I was expecting more from it, I thought giving a novel away free was something that might be appreciated. I guess, as has been proven elsewhere, free things are sometimes undervalued. I thought too that a detective mystery is a good book to be serialised since the dramatic tension by its very nature is high. At the same time, the people who enjoyed the book and the experiment seemed to really enjoy it and that made me happy. So for that it was a success.
I did get a comment from a person saying that they didn't like reading a novel in parts, they'd rather read it all in one go. In response to that, I have now put the entire novel up at Amazon. You can find it here.
I'd be keen to hear what everyone thought of the experiment. Thanks for being part of it!