I said in my last post that I was going to start a fiction serial on Substack and so I have. It’s called The Cryptic Branch, and here’s the blurb:
1900. Great Britain is the heartland of the greatest empire the world has ever seen. It is also a country of extremes — of wealth and poverty, of crime and punishment, of pragmatism and imagination, of overt power and hidden intrigues. And somewhere in this vast totality, clever ruthless men will stop at nothing to realize their ends…
Arthur Lock, recently returned from military service in India, and Peggy Lock, Arthur’s newly orphaned niece, become entangled in a conspiracy that could re-shape the world. What connects the theft of Peggy’s father’s research notebooks in Ireland with the disappearance of two gifted children in London? As Arthur and Peggy investigate, they come up against forces they cannot combat alone…
I’m publishing episodes each Saturday and have five up so far. I’ve yet to find an audience, but I won’t think about promotion until I have the art work sorted out. If you’re thinking of trying this yourself, be aware that as well as a cover you’ll need a few other images, such as a logo and an episode header. I wanted to get publishing as soon as 2023 started, so I didn’t wait until these are ready. That’s unprofessional of me and may be one reason I don’t have an audience yet, but getting the episodes out there is the most important thing to me right now.
The idea for the serial had been knocking around in my head for a while. In the three weeks before Christmas, I drafted the first ten episodes, so I had something in the bank for the first couple of months. All of them needed a lot more work before publication, as the story and characters were still a bit unfocused. I’ve never written like this before, and now that I’ve begun publishing, the project gives a very different rhythm to my writing week.
I’m enjoying it a lot — it’s satisfying to see your work out there each week, though I’m sure this is the honeymoon period. One occasional worry is that I’m going to paint myself into a plot corner I can’t get out of further down the line. It’s a chance I’ll have to take and indeed that’s part of the fun. I certainly don’t know how the serial will end or how I’ll get there.
I did some fairly superficial research on other serial fiction writers on Substack, and the consensus among them was that episodes should be no more than 2,000 words. Mine are nearer 3,000, even after what seems to me to be ruthless editing. Substack helpfully provides an estimated reading time for each post — mine are between 12 and 14 minutes each time. Is that too much to ask of a reader once a week? Time will tell.
The other fiction writers I’ve looked at also make the point that Substack is really designed for non-fiction at present. Each post is presented as a standalone piece of writing, and, if you’re publishing other (non-fiction) posts on your Substack (which I’m not) these will all form a single stream. One gripe I have is that Substack has only has a single fiction category, named ‘Fiction’ i.e. there’s no way to categorize serials by genre or even sub-genre. The platform is continually developing though, so that may change.
That’s all for now. I’ll publish another post on my progress, success, or otherwise, at some point. If you want to check out The Cryptic Branch, the link is here. Two other points to mention: the (broad) genre is speculative fiction and I’m using a new pen name, Valentine Wyatt.
[The image of Hilma af Klint’s painting Evolution, No. 13, Group VI is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, and is the art I’m using for The Cryptic Branch until I get my own sorted out.]