What do you think about posting a story as you write it, chapter by chapter, or section by section, and then self-publishing the completed work, as opposed to finishing the whole thing and trying to publish it then? Drew Hayes did this w/ Super Powereds, Landon Porter did this w/ Rune Breaker, and there are numerous other examples.
Hey Dave L, great to hear from you again!
As you’ve pointed out, there are a number of authors who’ve found success with posting their stories in segments over a period of weeks, months, or even years. This is reminiscent of fiction’s serialized past, where authors would often publish their novels chapter by chapter in third party-magazines. Charles Dickens is probably the most famous example, but this was a common practice in the 1800s, and it may even have contributed to novels of the time being super wordy, as authors were paid by the word for each chapter.
That said, there are a number of obstacles to doing this now, even as the internet makes it easy for anyone to post whatever they want. The first issue is money. Dickens was paid by the word, but modern authors will likely be publishing their work for free. This can be useful for building an audience, but it also raises the question of how many people will pay for the final novel when they can already read the whole thing for free online. Clearly this model works for some authors, but it’s a difficult road to walk.
Second, there’s the issue of output. Putting your story online commits you to a set schedule, since nothing loses readers like missing an update. And if you set your updates too far apart, even enthusiastic fans will lose interest. Web comics have this problem too, and I suspect novelists will find it even more difficult, as the time it takes to write a chapter of prose is super variable.
In addition to writing, you also need to factor in time for revisions and editing. Of course, you could simply publish each chapter raw, but I wouldn’t advise that, as even the best wordsmiths among us need a copy edit or two. If anything, putting out rough prose is likely to make it even harder to sell your novel once it’s finished, or future novels, as readers will have a bad impression of your writing.
Finally, there’s the question of what effect this will have on the story itself. Most importantly, this format makes it more difficult to maintain a coherent plot, since you’re publishing the story in chunks instead of writing the whole thing first. You can alleviate this somewhat with strong outlining, but even the best planners usually find a few things changing once they transition from the outline to a full draft.
If you’ve already written the protagonist killing their aunt in chapter 3, it’s a real bind when you realize you actually need the aunt alive in chapter 20. At that point, you can either struggle through without the aunt, or put in some contrived explanation about how she’s still alive and hope the readers don’t notice. This is a problem in any continuous story – many authors wish they could go back and change what happened in book 1 when writing book 2 – but it can potentially be a lot worse if you publish each chapter separately.
You could always write the book first, go through the normal editing process, and then release it online in chunks. This would take a long time, but it would at least avoid the problem of output schedules and planning. Then you’d still have to deal with the question of whether readers will pay for a story they’ve already read online for free.
All of that said, while I think this is a viable strategy for some, I don’t recommend it for most writers. There’s a certain allure in publishing each chapter as you finish it; it promises instant validation from readers instead of the years it often takes to finish a novel. But for most of us, that’s a false promise that will only lead to churning out bad fiction and setting our careers back in the long run.
Hope that answers your question!