MALS Alumna Rebecca Munsterer Publishing Online Serial Novel
For almost a year now Rebecca Munsterer, a 2005 graduate of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program, has been publishing a novel, The Stonehouse Caper, online, one page at a time.
Publishing fiction serially is not a new idea. Charles Dickens released all his novels in installments, often in weekly or monthly magazines. Munsterer studied Dickens and other Victorian era writers as an English major at Colby College, where she focused on creative writing. After earning her certification to teach high school English at Colby, Munsterer wanted to continue her education as well as work on her writing. She sought a curriculum broader in scope than what is normally available in traditional Master of Fine Arts programs and chose MALS at Dartmouth.
About her experience in the MALS program, Munsterer says she especially enjoyed the small workshop-style classes and an opportunity to experiment with a variety of genres: journalism, creative non-fiction, and screenwriting. For her thesis, she wrote five thirty-minute screenplays, comprising On Campus: Creative Non-Fictitious Television for the College Bound Audience.
“Learning to write well also makes you a better reader,” she observes, “and the critical reading skills I developed in the program have been particularly useful in my work in the Admissions Office.” Hired part-time to read applications while still a MALS student, Munsterer is senior associate director of the Office of Admissions at Dartmouth, reading an average of one hundred and sixty undergraduate applications a week in the busy season. During other parts of the year she recruits prospective students in New Jersey, Florida, and abroad.
After completing the MALS program, Munsterer wanted to experiment with composing fiction online and searched the web to see who was working in this domain. “There were blogs to follow and some people who were posting via email, but I didn’t find anyone who was writing serially online.” She believed in the idea enough to put up her own money to create a logo and website, and subsequently launched Novel Nibble, with a goal “to promote literacy and entertainment—one page at a time.”
Initially, she thought an important element of her experiment would be interactivity that would allow readers to provide feedback and ideas—to “take a nibble.” She quickly found that readers just wanted an escape and were not necessarily interested in getting actively involved in helping to develop the story. She also discovered that readers were really interested in her and the writing process. “They want to know how I discipline myself to write every day, how I motivate myself, things like that. I quickly learned that there are a lot of people out there who want to write a book.”
After exactly one year, The Stonehouse Caper will end with the final installment coming on March 23. Noting some of the limitations of her publishing style, Munsterer says, “I don’t think the format is exactly what my readers want.” But what began as an experiment has been a huge success, with more than 15,000 visits to the website since it was launched and a host of loyal followers. The best thing that has happened is that it has led to a book deal.
In April 2012, Munsterer attended a media panel at the Greener Ventures Entrepreneurship Conference at the Tuck School of Business, at which she met Carey Albertine, co-founder of In This Together Media. Albertine began to follow Munsterer’s online novel and, subsequently, hired her to write a book. “They wanted a book about Christmas with strong female characters,” Munsterer says—so she wrote Mrs. Claus and The School of Christmas Spirit. Published in November 2012, the book sold well and for one week was the number one children’s holiday book.
About the future, Munsterer says the online experiment will continue as A Nibble a Day in which she will publish her stories, poems, and reflections in daily installments of less than five hundred words. But the big news is that the Christmas book was so successful that In This Together Media has asked Munsterer to write a second holiday book. Stay tuned!
by Michael Beahan