On serialising content


The PigeonholeThe Pigeonhole is a made-for-mobile digital book club, serialising their books in instalments delivered straight to a reader’s virtual bookshelf on the iOS app or website. Here Commissioning Editor, Sarah Ream, tells us what to consider when serialising content and shares insights into what works well.

When I began at The Pigeonhole, I naively assumed that there wouldn’t be much contrast between print and digital publishing in terms of commissioning, developing and editing books. Surely it was just the end format that differed?

I soon learnt that approaches differ from the outset when editing books for a mobile audience. Because our books are serialised, the potential success of one of our titles depends on careful consideration of not just who will read it but how it will be read.

Things to consider when serialising

  • A book may be truly amazing, but can it be easily divided into readable instalments?
  • Will serialisation actually benefit the book – are there cliffhangers to be had or pacing to be flaunted, so as to really drive a reader through?
  • Will the book spark discussion?
  • Is the author keen to communicate with readers? How long should the instalments be?
  • How often should readers receive them and what wording should be used for our emails and push notifications?
  • What extra content will best enhance the text – notes, interviews, photos, artwork videos, audio recordings, playlists?

One of the biggest problems in publishing is a dislocation from readers. But at The Pigeonhole we are able to learn new things about our audiences every day – where they are, what they want to read, when they read, what kinds of marketing will get them reading. For the first time in history, we can tell authors and publishers alike what actually happens to their books after they’ve left the (digital) shelf.

What works well

  • Frequent, shorter installments are more likely to spur engagement and lead to higher completion rates of a book.
  • In terms of genre and format, multi-authored anthologies and made-for-mobile non-fiction series such as our signature Letters from dispatches work very well
  • As do short story collections and novels with narrative drive.
  • And we’ve learned that our readers don’t necessarily want swift, easy reads as you might expect: we’ve had swathes of users committing a month to reading hefty classics such as Moby Dick and Middlemarch in short daily instalments.

Digital publishing has other very obvious conveniences: speed of turnaround, instantaneous global distribution, no printing or warehouse costs. Most exciting, though – and this is The Pigeonhole’s raison d’être, really – is the ability to create a dynamic, real-time collective reading experience. Serialisation is a very powerful tool for this; by setting a schedule for a book we synchronise people’s reading and influence how they read the book.

On experimenting

And now we’ve taken serialisation one step further. Today we launched Stefan Ahnhem’s Victim without a Face in collaboration with its publishers, Head of Zeus. All readers will receive instalments of this incredible Scandi thriller at the same time, and they will have no option but to keep up – each stave disappears 24 hours later, so a stave missed means a story lost. With this gamification element, readers will feel the tension that simultaneous time-pressure and time-delay add to an already compelling read – and they will be feeling it together.

This togetherness makes reading a book an event and, in these days of instant connectivity, perhaps the only thing better than being alone with a book is not being alone with a book. Amid the flurry of smartphone distractions, we reach out to readers in their spare minutes to offer them a story, or teach them something new. We put a community of readers at their fingertips and ensure a book is always in their pocket.

serialisationSarah has a decade’s experience as an editor of narrative non-fiction, fiction and poetry. She’s worked for Birlinn and Polygon, Versal literary journal and Poetry International Rotterdam. She also mentors emerging and established writers through the Scottish Book Trust. At The Pigeonhole, she is responsible for sourcing, editing and promoting  new titles for the list.

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