As is well known, Dickens’s novels first appeared in weekly or monthly instalments, a practice largely abandoned today but which, according to Hillary Kelly of the Washington Post, could usefully be revived. One attempt to do so is Channillo, started by Kara Monterey about a year ago. For $4.99 a month (the cheapest of the three membership schemes), you subscribe to up to 10 series and the author gets 80%. Whether serialised literature is really making a comeback is debatable, but there’s now a considerable choice, ranging from poetry and nonfiction to fantasy, paranormal or mystery. Most of them are book chapters; some, like my own What a Life! What a Day! are self-contained pieces.
Channillo sensibly cautions authors that (unlike Dickens) they’re unlikely to get rich this way. All the same, if you plug your series properly, you might be able to buy a decent dinner out after a while. Unfortunately, that’s not my case – my promotion efforts have been limited to a half a dozen tweets and a single blog post at the outset. So WaL!Wad! has remained, well, let’s just say confidential. Not that my aim was to buy a dinner anyway – the proceeds, such as they are, will go to the Against Malaria Foundation.
I don’t regret doing it. So far I’ve got 33 pieces up there out of the 52 planned. Writing them is fun, even if I sometimes scramble to get them finished for the Monday deadline. And the initiative is laudable. I suspect that many of the subscribers are themselves Channillo writers – the site encourages mutual support. I should have signed up to lots of series but I didn’t – not the right attitude at all! But the one I did sign up for (at the time there was a single subscription option) was disappointing. Not the quality – it was entertaining and witty – but the quantity. The pieces only ran to about 400 words, which in my view made it dangerously close to a rip-off. So after that I was wary. The problem being that the samples you’re allowed to preview before subscribing are barely more than 100 words, far too short to know what you’ll be getting. So, Kara, if I had one suggestion to make, that would be it – let prospective readers see a whole instalment before committing. (NB: Update, April 2016 – this is now possible).
Maybe I was unlucky. Presumably book chapters are longer, so 10 for $4.99 could in fact be a pretty good deal. After all, since Channillo screens submissions before they’re accepted, there’s a guarantee of a certain quality which you don’t always get on Amazon. So all in all, the concept is daring and brave. Try and ensure that writers get paid? Whoever would have thought it?
In case you’re wondering, the Wal!Wad! pieces average around 1200 words. Did I mention, by the way, that just $3 buys a long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito net, the most effective way of combating malaria? Just saying.
Note: A more recent account of the Channillo experience, with input from other writers, can be found at the Writers’ Co-op website.