A New Approach To Writing In A Culture Of Distraction


Internet algorithms used on places like Amazon, Youtube, and Google always favour new content from active creators. The more eyeballs you get on your content, the more visible it’ll become, whether that’s placing it higher up in searches or featuring it in suggestions more often. It’s a system designed to reward good content, and it works well for those who are constantly creating.

But what if you’re writing novels? You can’t exactly knock those out in quick fashion, and an unknown author releasing one new book every six months isn’t going to get much love from the algorithms. After the initial spike at launch, the constant stream of newer releases will push the book down the rankings until it face-plants the bedrock of forgotten hopes and dreams, leaving little hope of making a living for the starving author.

So this got me to thinking. What could I do with my writing that lets me put out regular content while still writing the stories I enjoy? After all, I’m not trying to get a novel published in the traditional manner, so why not experiment with the format? The answer I came up with was releasing regular novellas or short story collections, something shorter and quicker to read, aimed at people who don’t have time for a novel. After all, most people don’t have the patience these days when they can just load up social media or watch a film instead. The unique spin would be tying the stories together by using a common universe, setting, or theme.

Good idea, right? I thought so. And for a brief, flashing moment I was as pleased as a girl who just discovered pumpkin spice and furry boots. Then I remembered that this is the digital age and anything you come up with has inevitably already been done before.


Enter best-selling author James Patterson and his BookShots, ‘all-new, original stories that feature a complete, cinematic storytelling experience in 150 pages.’

To quote this Independent article from back in March, ‘The Alex Cross author has announced he is to target those who never pick up a book by releasing up to four short novels – all readable in a few hours – every month, which will be available from Amazon and local shops.’

So my idea isn’t original, oh well. I think it has potential in this culture of distraction though, where everyone has their eyes glued to their phone in Wall-E fashion, and clearly millionaire author James Patterson thinks something similar. Everyone I’ve bounced the idea off has told me it’s promising, and I’m genuinely excited about giving it the old college try. I’m still figuring out the details, like deciding what sort of release schedule I’ll set myself so I can still dedicate time to writing novels (I’m not a team of writers like Patterson, after all).

So, good idea? Stupid idea? Is shorter fiction making a comeback? Or does the idea make you want to vomit? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Train photo by Phil Dragash licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
BookShots photo by MichaelMcLean licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

5 thoughts on “A New Approach To Writing In A Culture Of Distraction”

  1. “I was as pleased as a girl who just discovered pumpkin spice and furry boots.” I got a good laugh out of that one.

    As for the idea, I think it’s sensible. Shorter fiction seems to be a thing that plenty of people enjoy. I personally prefer a full-length novel, but there are some shorts and anthologies I have paid a care to. If you go about it right, I think you have a fine plan on your hands!

    1. Yeah, most readers I know prefer novels, and the publishing industry does for sure. But it seems that self-publishing these days opens up some interesting possibilities when it comes to short fiction, especially for unestablished authors.

      Thanks for the input anyway, and I’m looking forward to reading that exchange between Clarence and Kairi if it wins. Using a poll is a clever way of interacting with your readers, I like it (and may have to shamelessly steal the idea one day).

      1. I understand what you mean. Self-publishing does provide the means to put out work on a regular basis for an (ideally growing) regular readership. It’s smart thinking!
        And I’m glad to hear it! Right now it looks like that selection is winning, so your prospects are hopeful. Definitely use the poll idea, it switches up the dynamic and it’s easy. I had to switch to the old WordPress editor to put the poll in, but it’s no hassle.

  2. I’m currently following two serial novels, one on Serial Box, one on Patreon. I was drawn into both because I knew and respected the authors. The Serial Box series is Tremontaine, set in the fantasy world created by Ellen Kushner in Swordspoint and subsequent novels and stories. Most of the chapters are contributed by other writers, all excellent, under Ellen’s supervision. For that one I pay US$1.99 each time a new installment is published. The one on Patreon is the project of Melissa Scott and Don Sakers, both of whom I like a lot. I’m a little behind on that one. I pay US$5 a month for that one. I really like the idea, but I have to admit that I’m not especially willing to take a chance on writers I know nothing about.

    1. A serial novel is similar but not exactly what I’m going for. It is something I’d like to try sometime though. I think I’d approach it like Andy Weir did with The Martian – releasing chapters for free, getting feedback to improve, and then only charging for the book when it’s a finished product.

      Unfortunately, it seems not many people are really willing to take a chance on an unknown writer. Though it’s hard to blame them when places like Kindle are saturated with low-effort rubbish.

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