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Daniel Willcocks talks to Will about his experience and strategy for short stories and serialized fiction.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

Interview Transcript – Daniel Willcocks

Will: Welcome back, Daniel Willcocks. We’re so glad that you agreed to come back on the show.

Daniel: Thank you for having me again. It’s a genuine pleasure. I’m surprised.

Will: We had you on a couple of weeks ago talking about your book about collaboration, which is amazing. Jeff and I have both read it. We highly recommend everyone check out “Collaboration for Authors.” But the reason that we’re having you back here today is because I wanted to pick your brain a little bit about your experiences with serialized fiction and short stories, and for some reason I’m morbidly curious about them, partly because I think there is common knowledge, an awful lot of people say that you can’t make any money anymore with short fiction or serialized stories. And I’m interested in finding ways to prove those people wrong, and I know that you Daniel have had experience with both of those things, and I know that actually right now as we are recording this episode at the beginning of July you are serializing a story, a horror story. Is that correct?

Daniel: Yes, it’s essentially a…it’s gonna be a large horror novel but it’s broken down into sort of episodic chunks.

Will: How are you delivering this book to your audience?

Daniel: Okay. So essentially this idea came to me off the back of a conversation with another wonderful author called Jon Cronshaw, and he had success with this format in a series that he ran called “The Ravenglass Chronicles,” which is a fancy series. So my problem is that I write horror, and in terms of trying to generate reliable income that keeps giving back it’s very difficult to serialize horror or to create any kind of series base because obviously a lot of the main characters tend to die and things don’t tend to work out that well. Some people do it in terms of creating post-apocalyptic series with a horror twist or there’s a lot of things with a horror twist, but I really wanted to just write some horror. So essentially what I’ve done is I’ve taken a story that I’ve been wanting to write for a while and I picked apart Jon Cronshaw’s brain.

This is not to put any pressure on him as to whether or not this succeeds or not, but how I’m approaching this is that I am writing…the first episode is 30,000 words so it’s not a full novel, but it is a hefty chunk of writing, and that 30,000 words in theory keeps you out of the short stories charts and keeps you within longer work novels and that kind of thing. So episode one happens. Episode two, three, four, however many you wanna do after that, they’re 20,000 words, so they’re considerably a smaller chunk but still a bit of hefty story. And what I’m doing in terms of structuring those is the first episode has a nice cliffhanger as you’d imagine, but it’s got its own arc, and each episode after that has its own arc, but I’m treating it literally like a Netflix TV show in that I’m not getting bogged down in too much of the old bringing this closure around. Obviously it’s all gonna happen towards the end and I’m just having fun as I write it.

Now in terms of how I’m delivering that to readers what I’ve done is I’ve set up a Patreon account in which every time I write a chapter I deliver that straight to my patrons. If people wanna get on board for like a dollar a month, two dollars a month, they can jump into there and they can support the story, get early access and feedback in sort of real time on the chapters and whether or not they’re enjoying the story, and then once an episode is complete that gets wrapped up, edited, everything else and then put out on Amazon, and the idea is that once all the episodes are done…because at the minute they’re only released on Kindle because for the people who don’t know, if you released a paperback you cannot really take that property back down off of Kindle. It remains there forever and I don’t really want a messy dashboard because I may not like that. So once all these episodes are done I’m then gonna box-set them all, bring them all together, turn that into a paperback, that into an audiobook and hopefully people who’ve come along for that journey will go for that finished article. And there have been a few people that have seen it work. I’m actually gonna plug a book that I’ve not read yet but I’m aware is written based off of that model and it’s from… Are you guys familiar with Paul Teague?

Will: Yes, yeah.

Daniel: Yes, it’s Paul Teague’s “The 5-Figure Fiction Formula” I think it is. I might be getting that wrong but he…

Will: Yeah, I got that on my TBR right now actually.

Daniel: The same, yeah. And yeah, that’s pretty much from what I understand taking this model in terms of finding a way to deliver shorter chunks to people and just keep yourself writing but also making money along the way as well. So I mean full disclosure, as a point, I don’t know how well it’s gonna work for myself. My launch of episode one has gone kind of as I’ve planned, it wasn’t a hit out of the park but at the same time it’s done modestly well. Episode 2 comes out in 10 days. Episode three is gonna come out two weeks after that and then I’m gonna stick to a monthly formula. So I’m rapid-releasing the first three episodes and then going into a monthly release schedule after that. And it’s useful for accountability, particularly with Patreon, because you have people waiting for this story. Now that I’ve got a review team all put together and they’re fantastic and people are actually reading this story there’s obviously more of that just to keep writing. And as we kind of touched on a little bit in the last time I was on is that I do have quite a busy schedule. I’m doing quite a lot, so being able to cut out my own little bits of fiction just steadily along the side while I do everything else it’s encouraging and keeps you going. So it can bring in good money, but I’m personally at the point where I’m not yet ready to yield those results.

Will: You’re still on the experimental phase. You’re figuring it out.

Daniel: Yeah, absolutely. I think going into it knowing what to expect I think one thing that was made very clear to me on this method is that you don’t expect big results along the way or, like, in the beginning because…and again I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say so I’ll try and be very general, but with some of the other examples it wasn’t until books seven or eight came out and then they box set it up then they started really seeing that income because what you’re really doing with this is playing into the Kindle Unlimited system, so I’m not sure if this would work right. By all means feel free to try it but particularly with Kindle Unlimited because once you’ve got, you know, 7, 8 episodes, that’s 160,000, 170,000 words worth of stuff that people can then catch up, read through and start really bringing in that income for you. I’ve seen it work for people. I’m optimistic in how it goes so far but my caveat with that is that I don’t know how it’s gonna perform for horror. I’m hoping it will be as, you know, worthy as the others.

Will: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I think the serialization offers a lot of different opportunities and there are lots of different ways you can tackle it, but there are also pitfalls like you mentioned. The Amazon algorithm can be unkind to 99-cent books and things that are shorter. It can be difficult to find an audience for that. There are some authors that I follow that have taken older books and then chopped up the chapters and essentially serialized them for their newsletter or for Patreon, and then I also know some authors who are doing something similar to what you’re doing using Patreon as sort of an accountability to make sure that you keep the work steadily coming.

Daniel: Yeah, it’s good and it’s…

Will: Yeah, thank you for explaining that. I think it’s really interesting.

Daniel: No. Like I say, it will be interesting to see how it pans out for horror, but I’ve seen models work, so some people make it happen.

Will: And something that I also wanted to ask about is that you’ve been collaborating almost from the very beginning of your author career, and something you have experience with is short stories and a podcast called “The Other Stories.” So I’d like you to explain a little bit about what that project was all about and how short stories figure into that?

Daniel: Yeah, so originally back in 2015 I actually released my first novella, and I’ll give the short version of this. I got introduced to three other writers who had created a story studio called Hawk & Cleaver and because of the success of my first novella they invited me in and said, you know, “Let’s…” Because we were all writing similar things together. It was a whole rising tide raises all ships ethos of, “Let’s pull together, make stuff happen.” So that was really my first big collaborative experience there. But we got to our first main conference conversation around December 2015 and we were throwing around ideas of things that we could do together as a bit of a collective project. And I came up with the idea of what if we put out an e-magazine once a month onto Amazon and that would be… There were four of us. We need to write a 1000-word short story and we were at least putting out content regularly that people can pick up and it just keeps us present. Luke, who had had experience in the podcasting world before and saw its potential to be turned into an audio form, basically went, “Let’s turn this into a podcast.” And I went, “No.” I didn’t say flat out no. I was very, very skeptical in the beginning because obviously podcasts involve a lot more work that just editing a short story and throwing it up on Amazon and my big worry was I knew from other things I’ve done in the past that consistency was key.

So if we committed to making it a short story released every Monday then we best be ready to make that happen every Monday. Yeah, so we turned those 1000-word short stories. We basically collected into themes. So every month we’d have a theme. The first one was like alien invasion and we did social media. We each contributed one short story, so that took one week each and that was the month. We started putting those out and then within three months we were hitting…we hit sort of 10,000 downloads on the podcast and we had sort of people contacting us to sort of represent us and people over at iTunes America and we kind of just kept pushing along the little engine that could as you mentioned in the last podcast, and it’s now at the point where we’ve hit over 5 million downloads and we get sort of around about 10,000 every Monday.

Will: For those of you listening, that is a whole damn lot.

Daniel: Yeah. I know. It’s kind of bizarre to think of, you know, how many people that realistically is, but, you know, it’s changed over the years. We upped the word count. So originally it was 1000 words, and about 8 months in we turned to 2000 words because we figured we could give a bit more. I think we were coming in between sort of 5 to 10 minutes of audio and now we fit about 15 to 20 minutes so it’s more for the commuter journey. It fills more of that slot and that seems to work really well. We’ve already put it up to guest submissions so it’s not just us four anymore. Other people write. We have professional narrators who are narrating every single episode. It’s not audio drama. It’s basically audiobooking stories and just we’ve got an absolute audio wizard called Karl Hughes. He does all the magic and makes all the sounds work who’s actually got a helper involved now, Duncan Muggleton as well is involved. So we’ve got this whole team of people that are basically just helping us produce this stuff and put it out and just people who love listening to those short stories. So yeah, it’s fantastic for building an audience and gaining a reputation and it’s worked well so far. It’s still going.

Will: That’s fantastic that you’ve had success relatively quickly and that “The Other Stories” is still running today. I think that’s amazing.

Daniel: Thank you.

Will: I think the audio fiction market is something well worth exploring and something I’m very, very interested in. Can I ask how else do you…I was going to say exploit but that’s not the right word. What other formats do the stories take? Is it just audio only or are they in that magazine that you previously mentioned?

Daniel: So we originally experimented with doing both. So we get the podcast and then every…so every 3 three themes, which is about 12 stories, we put them together and it’s the little novelette things with the short stories in. And after three or four of those they were more effort to publish than they were worth because people just weren’t picking them up, and at the end of year one and at the end of year two we put together a full compilation of the previous years so they’re like big, thick tomes of short stories, and again they’ve not really sold that well to be completely honest. What we are doing at the minute is we’re currently compiling a “The Other Stories” best of which is gonna be a sort of limited edition, really, really nice, smart hardback, paperback, the whole works of the best stories over the past five years. So we’re gonna give that another go and see how that goes. One thing that we have found is that it’s very difficult to convert people who are happy with audio into reading. We plugged our own books. We’ve done bits and pieces where…we’ve even had our own audiobook that we’ve tried to plug on the show and I think the people who come to listen to a 20-minute podcast they just want that nugget of fiction and then to get out.

I mean there’s a market still growing because I’m seeing all the time different…particularly in the horror genre, lots of different people popping up all over the time with different podcasts, and you got people like “The NoSleep Podcast,” you got “Welcome to Night Vale,” all these massive production studios that are just making these things and it’s something that I think if people wanted to jump into that arena there’s still room. I think you can still…if you do it right, if you release consistently, if you release quality… That was the thing that I think separated us most at the time was that there were a lot of people trying to do this but we paid very, very close attention to the quality of the audio and making the stories really shine. So yeah, I’m not sure how far I can go in terms of expanding. I’m sure there are ways that we’re probably missing, but at the minute we’re just playing around with seeing how we can push out more into our fiction either way.