A cautionary tale for self-published authors

Even bestselling authors can stumble when it comes to experiments with self-publishing.

Diane Duane says that her experiment in self-publishing a new installment of her "Feline Wizards" series may be "the worst-managed online novel publication project in history."

So you want to be a self-published author? Take a cautionary look at the experience of bestselling fantasy-science fiction writer Diane Duane.

Duane, whose works include the popular “So You Want To Be A Wizard” and its sequels, also had a spinoff series called “Feline Wizards.” "Feline Wizards" attracted a cluster of very enthusiastic fans. But was never as successful as "So You Want To Be a Wizard" and Duane had trouble finding a traditional publisher interested in continuing the series.

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Fans of the "Feline Wizards" books, however, were not ready to let go. So they persuaded Duane to write a third book in installments, fueled by their pledges and donations.

That was back in 2005. Duane published several chapters of “The Big Meow” promptly, along with her other, more traditional works. Then, the book “went off the rails,” Cory Doctorow wrote in Boing Boing. A year passed between chapters six and seven. Another two and a half years went by before, last week, Duane put the final chapters online (along with a lengthy apology).

She said the past several years had been filled with one crisis after another. “This project will doubtless be the strongest candidate in any possible contest for the worst-managed online novel publication project in history….” Duane wrote.

“In particular, the lack of communication on my part was a major failing, and for this I’m particularly sorry.”

Grants and donations will be refunded, Duane wrote, and subscribers who want their money back can get it.

As Doctorow commented on Boing Boing, “This is an important – and underreported – problem” with such modern experiments. Writers are often late with their books, he wrote, and it’s usually a private matter between authors and publishers, not fans who have a financial stake in the work. “We're going to see a lot of this in the future, as more writers try this kind of experiment. Off the rails is the normal state for most books, and readers rarely get to hang around the sausage factory watching the ugly production cycle,” he wrote.

Some of the original mini-investors in Duane’s book commented on Doctorow’s blog entry. All said that better communication from Duane would have helped a lot.

“All I really wanted was an update on what was going on,” wrote one, adding that he was glad to get closure on the project.

As another commenter noted, no less a bestseller than Stephen King tried a crowd-supported novel in installments before abandoning it midway in 2000. Duane’s readers, at least, finally got an ending.

Interested in reading the book? Duane’s model was that subscribers would get the first look at each chapter, but it would later be available to anyone. The final “Big Meow”, she wrote, will be available on her website Feb. 12.

Rebekah Denn blogs at eatallaboutit.com.

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