A “story cycle” is how Russell Galen, agent of bestselling author Cassandra Clare, describes the new project she’s just signed to do with Simon & Schuster. Clare, who wrote the YA series Shadowhunters (which has sold over 13 million copies globally), inked an unusual deal with S&S’s Margaret K. McElderry Books imprint. She has agreed to do a series spinoff that involves two coauthors, an e-only component, and a profit share. As for that story cycle descriptor? Galen (of Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary) said the model, in which a series of stories are released digitally month-by-month and later bound in a single print volume, is based on the episodic TV show structure.
The new series is called the Bane Chronicles and is being written by Clare and two other YA authors: Sarah Rees Brennan (Unspoken) and Maureen Johnson (13 Little Blue Envelopes). Brennan and Johnson both have separate representation—Brennan is with agent Kristin Nelson at Kristin Nelson Literary and Johnson with Kate Schafer at KT Literary—making the “co-publishing” deal slightly more intricate. Galen would not discuss the particulars of the deal, but it is structured so the authors receive a higher portion of the proceeds of sales from the books in lieu of a lower (or no) advance. He did, however, confirm that the three authors are "all participating" in the co-publishing element. While co-publishing deals are not new—they were the linchpin of now-shuttered imprints like Bob Miller’s HarperCollins project, HarperStudio, and Roger Cooper’s Vanguard Press (which was part of Perseus)—they have been less in vogue. Galen said the agreement is a calculated risk: “It is possible that if the project runs at a loss, the author will never be paid a single penny. But if the project is successful, it will earn more money than a conventional royalty deal.”
Along with the unusual nature of the deal, the Bane Chronicles is also attempting a new delivery model that, while not reinventing the wheel, attempts to tweak it. The series, which follows a popular character from Shadowhunters called Magnus Bane, will build up to the forthcoming Sony Studios adaptation of book one in Clare’s series, The Mortal Instruments, which is set to hit theaters on August 23, 2013. The Bane Chronicles stories—there will be 10 of them—will be released on a monthly basis starting in February. A publication date has not been set for the print volume that will bring the stories together, though Galen said S&S is planning the book for 2014, after the movie comes out. (The print and e editions will be available at all major retailers.)
Galen said that Clare will be writing “one or two” of the stories, with Brennan and Johnson penning the others. The stories, released digitally, will be between 8,000 and 10,000 words, and priced at $2.99. Each story can be read individually or taken together to form a larger whole. As Galen explained, it is “the literary equivalent of an episodic TV show, as opposed to a miniseries like Game of Thrones.”
The novelty of this approach is new enough, Galen said, that S&S is having to do some things “on the fly.” Unfamiliar with this type of schedule, which invokes Aaron Sorkin more than Charles Dickens, S&S is, Galen explained, still working out “the whole process of delivery, editing, and distribution.”
Also being worked out, albeit in a different way, is how readers will take to this model. Given the growing number of options to deliver staggered content in a quick manner, projects like the Bane Chronicles are cropping up more frequently. In October, the transmedia shop Ying, Horowitz & Quinn unveiled an app/digital story called the Silent History (PW, Aug. 31). The app delivers an overarching story in volumes and allows readers to buy in bits, at one price point, or to buy the whole story at another, higher price point. That story, like the Bane Chronicles, is intended to be something that can be read in parts or as a larger tapestry. This model is also what Amazon is hoping to tap into with its subscription-based Kindle Serials program. While some models, like the Bane Chronicles, are built on one-off purchases, as opposed to buying a subscription, they all raise the same question: will readers want to read books the way they watch TV?