A Legend of Ethshar on the Installment Plan
What is this?
This was the second in a series of reader-supported online serials. I started the first, The Spriggan Mirror, in April of 2005.
From April to October of 2005 I posted the first draft of The Spriggan Mirror, the ninth novel in the Legends of Ethshar series, chapter by chapter. The last two chapters, along with the epilogue and some endnotes, were posted on October 16, 2005. Each week, if I'd received enough in donations (as I always did), I posted another chapter.
The experiment was successful enough that I promised to do it again, and while I was busy with other projects for almost a year, I did finally make good on that promise. I wrote the first draft of The Vondish Ambassador, posting one chapter for each $250 readers donated. I finished posting the first draft of twenty-eight chapters and an epilogue, totalling about 82,000 words, on March 2, 2007.
Since then, the final revised and edited version has been published in a several editions -- two different trade paperbacks, a hardcover, and an e-book.
How did it work?
I started by posting the first chapter and the rules, and announcing the project in various venues, asking for reader donations.
Each week I would look at how much money had come in; if it was $250 or more, I would post the next chapter and subtract $250 from the running balance. If it was less than $250, I would announce the fact and wait. Invariably, the difference would be made up within a day or two, and I would then post the chapter.
If the money had ever stopped coming in, I would have stopped writing. Fortunately, that didn't happen.
Anyone who contributed $25 or more was promised that if the novel was completed, he or she would receive a copy of the eventual trade edition. When the novel was finished and a limited-edition trade paperback printed, I sent those out. If you donated and did not receive your copy, notify me immediately, while I still have a few left. (I'm only aware of a couple of people who moved and couldn't be reached.)
Due to the higher shipping costs, foreign readers needed to donate $30 to reserve a copy.
With my first serial I also did an e-book edition for $5 donors; I didn't do that this time, as it was a surprising amount of hassle, but an e-book edition became available later, and is still available from Wildside Press.
Anyone who made any donation had his or her name added to the mailing list for e-mail updates on this and future projects. (You could also opt out of the e-mails, if you preferred.) Donors were also be given access to a private area on the web where I posted a couple of maps I hoped would be of interest, and I may add other extras someday. Or I may not, but the maps are there.
One of the maps was also included with the limited edition, as an insert. I do try to give donors a little something extra; after all, they're taking a risk. The serial may flop, the book may go unfinished...
Are you going to do more serials this way?
Can we read The Vondish Ambassador here for free, even if we don't donate?
Not any more; I'm afraid the publisher of the paper edition asked me to take it down.
If and when I do more serials they'll probably be free while they're in progress, just as this one was -- but if the money stops coming in, I'll stop writing them.
How do we make donations?
Early on I offered several choices, but eventually I settled down to just using PayPal, because at least 95% of all donations came by that route. But if anyone has other methods to suggest, I'm still interested.
If I haven't read the other Ethshar novels, will this one make any sense to me?
I certainly hope so; every book in the series is intended to stand on its own, though there are cross-references and interconnections. If you haven't read the others, I'd be interested in knowing what you think of this one -- does it work without any background?
This novel does give away some of the plot of The Unwilling Warlord.
Why did you do it this way?
It let me write stuff that the big New York publishers weren't interested in, and it was fun.
You say this was a first draft; was there a final edition?
Yes. I revised the novel and had it professionally edited. The remaining copies of the limited edition can be purchased from my Books for Sale page, and the other editions are available from all the usual outlets.
My serials were posted in first draft. Although changes are usually relatively minor, the serial version was never the final text.
Please note that while I accurately called payments "donations," this was not a non-profit enterprise and they were not tax deductible.
If you have any suggestions, comments on page design or payment methods, or other things you think I should hear about, e-mail me.
Who are you?
I'm Lawrence Watt-Evans, author of some four dozen novels and hundreds of short stories, articles, etc. One of my best-known series has been the Legends of Ethshar, consisting (as of 2015) of thirteen novels -- six originally published by Del Rey Books, two from Tor Books, and five (including The Vondish Ambassador) that began as serials and were then published by Wildside Press. There are also several short stories that appeared in various anthologies and other places, all of which (so far) were collected into a book called Tales of Ethshar.
I've tried to answer all your questions about my experiment, but if I've missed anything, e-mail me and ask, or check out the blog I've created for discussing this project.
That's it; here's your list of handy exits: