When Regan Keeter offered me a review copy of Part 1 of his novel “Probability Chain,” I did what I usually do when I’m offered an ARC: I accepted. (I rarely turn down free books unless I know there’s no chance I’ll read them.)
I recently wrote about cliffhangers and how indie lit readers seem to have an angry mob mentality about them as a literary device, despite irrefutable evidence of cliffhangers’ recurrent success in pop culture and classics – and in multiple media: TV, film, books, video games, et al. And I expressed fear that great indie writers, their work, and our collective ability to nurture future generations of critical thinkers are threatened by the current mob-minded trendiness of attacking cliffhanger-based books.
I was especially eager to read “Probability Chain” because I was so intrigued with Keeter’s risky format for his work. “Probability Chain” is a serial novel. Basically, you buy the novel in pieces. My review copy was eight chapters and 92 pages in hard copy format. Kindle downloads are 99 cents; hard copies are priced a bit higher.
I love the way Keeter’s serial model celebrates the cliffhanger. When I finished Part 1, I was invested and ready to read Part 2 (which isn’t available yet – Part 1 was just released in September). I say, “Great! Leave me hanging!” And I mean it!
In the world of indie lit, we’re all taking chances and experimenting with what works and what doesn’t. I talked to Regan by phone, and he explained that his serial novel approach is an experiment. He’s trying to find the model that works in his own niche of indie lit. I think that’s brave and necessary. We’re all trying to find a silver bullet in this new age of indie publishing. Indie authors are pioneers!
The serial approach has its pros and cons. Pros: If you like it, you’re willing to buy the next installment and excited about its release. You can think about it in the meantime. You can re-read it (topic of a future post!). “Probability Chain” is not brain candy that melts away when you finish. It’s not Hershey bar lit. For the author, it’s a chance to snowball a growing fan base. Fans tell others about it and generate buzz. If successful, maybe the author can even make a little money on it. Published work is a business as well as a passion, and it’s fair for an author to profit from hard work and a product that others enjoy and that provides value to them.
The cons: It’s a format that can be abused. Readers can be duped into paying for new installments of a never-ending novel. Installments can end on frustrating notes that anger eager readers. Also, serials can frustrate readers with low attention spans and compulsions for immediate gratification. It’s a buyer-and-seller-beware approach: readers know up front that they won’t get the full story in a single installment, and there’s a great chance that, despite this knowledge, they’ll bitch about the cliffhanger and moan that they received exactly what they were promised. And authors should state up front, in the interest of trust-building, how many installments of the serial buyers can ultimately expect.
The gifts Keeter gave me went beyond the ARC. He furthered my thinking about innovative approaches to marketable indie lit. He pushed me out of my default comfort zones of fiction and led me into genres I rarely venture into: fantasy, sci fi, and metaphysical fiction. He kept me thinking about his story and its characters after I read the last page. He left me looking forward to more. And he let me watch him take a risk.
This blog was never intended as a place for book reviews. There are plenty of other blogs that do that, and you can check out descriptions of “Probability Chain” on Amazon (where I did write a review) and Goodreads. But I’d recommend this book as a good investment. My ultimate question when I finish a book or a movie or a concert or a ball game is always, “Did it pay for itself in the joy I received from it, and was it worth my time, which also has a lot of value?” After reading “Probability Chain Part 1,” the answer for me was a definite yes.