Why a Serial Might Be a Good Move for Your Writing
Most of us are aware that there’s a strong audience for serial fiction out there. It’s not new. Serial fiction was published in newspapers in the Victorian age, in magazines, and consumed regularly on radio and television. Any series that has a continuing story is, in essence, serial. And the written word serial is gaining ground these days. Some of those authors are famous, some brand new, some indie, some trad-published, and some hybrids. Essentially, authors across the board have jumped on this stage.
If you’ve seen any of the serial outlets, like Serial Box, Wattpad, and Tapas, then you know that there are a range of authors out there supplying this niche with ever new stories.
Paid those big heavy-hitters like Serial Box (Born to the Blade and Tremontaine, for example), Belgravia, and Bookshots (James Patterson’s production). In these, the authors (or groups of authors) are paid for their regular segments.
The next layer down is the sites hosted by a third party, such as Wattpad, Tapas, or Radish. These allow writers of all stripe to post pieces of their fiction, and often allow readers to interact with them (which can be good or stressful.)
There is also the option of hosting your own serial, via a personal web-site or blog. (A good example of this in the Innkeeper Chronicles by Illona Andrews.) I have friends who are on Serial Box and Wattpad, but most of my experience comes from running serials of my own. I currently have three running. Yes, three… and it’s awesome.
First, let me talk about the three I’m doing.
The first of my serials is for my Patreon. Once a month I post a segment from a book that I’m working on (The Truth Undiscovered), usually a chapter of about 3000 words. To keep this one limited to my Patrons, I password protect the pages on my website, and forward the password to my Patrons. The second serial is from a completely different book (In Dreaming Bound) that I’m working on but is posted on my Patreon blog FREE every month, so that anyone who wants to follow that can do so. And the third serial (The Black Queen) is hosted free on my website.
Although I do receive funding via my Patreon serial, I am unpaid for the other two. So why would I do that? Why give away my work for free?
Well, since I started doing this serial work (back in 2016), I’ve had time to analyze what value it has to me. And I have some strong reasons to continue doing it.
1. The serials challenge me to produce regularly.
In the time that I’ve been doing serials, I’ve managed to get the Patreon out on time every month. This means often setting aside my other WIP and digging in for a couple of days to produce and edit those 3000 words, but the fact that my patrons are waiting for it keeps me working. To a lesser extent, the free serials keep me bustling, too. I’ve been publishing two chapters a week on The Black Queen, and that means I have to be sure they’re ready to go up. (Now, these are drafts and will be edited again later, but I do try to get them into readable states before hitting “Publish”.)
2. The serials allow me to connect with readers from different ‘worlds’.
The Patreon series is related to my Golden City novels (a prequel), the Patreon freebie is the sequel to my Dreaming Death novel, and the online freebie is the next book in the King’s Daughter series, following The Amiestrin Gambit and The Passing of Pawns—both of which were also serialized. This keeps me actively engaged with different worlds I’ve created, and with those readers who liked each one.
3. The serials allow me to experiment a little.
Now some people who write serials plot and outline, but others don’t. My two free serials are plotted out, but my Patreon series has been pantsed from one end to the other. It was a choice I made up front—to try something different—and I’ve enjoyed that a great deal. And it’s taught me a lot about chapter structure and planning that I can use in the future. I’m learning some craft in doing this.
4. I get to connect with new readers.
Although my readers don’t often communicate directly with me (as is common on a platform like Wattpad), I do get input. On my webpage, I get to see when the regulars check in on the weekend…there’s Poland, there’s Norway, there’s Germany, there’s UK and Singapore…. I recognize those hits, and I know they’re coming back every week to read.
5. I get to publish my serials as books when I’m done.
Back when I first started my Patreon, I wrote a serial novella for that called “After the War”. It took about seven months to get all the chapters up, but this is the one that hooked me on serial writing. Once it was complete, I edited the manuscript, sent it off to my editor/formatter, and got my illustrator to make a cover. And then I had a book, a nice resolution at the end of the cycle.
But surely there are some downsides, right? Yes, of course there are. Here are some of the things that can crop up.
1. A serial, when published as an entire product, can have overall pacing issues.
There may be chapters that are slower than others. (Have you had a beloved TV series with those two or three episodes per season that you never re-watch?) And when you’re writing in serial fashion (particularly in monthly installments rather than weekly) it’s easy to miss those.
2. Continuity can be a bug-bear, particularly on the once-a-month schedule.
If you have gaps between writing sections, you may forget a description, a person’s name, and what day of the week it is. For my serials, I usually put the date and location at the top of each chapter (I don’t necessarily include those in the final product, though.) I keep a running Cast of Characters, and when I’m worried, I’ll go back and reread pertinent passages. It’s easy to make a mistake when you’re switching between WIPs.
3. Sometimes life knocks you off schedule.
When my dog had surgery recently, I ran a bit short on my Patron chapter. I published only 2/3 of the chapter, but I explained the situation to my patrons and they were very supportive. When I’m not going to get one of the free serials in on time, I’ll leave a note on my webpage.
4. You worry about plagiarism.
Well, as authors we have to worry about this all the time. It’s the backdrop against which we work. People will steal things off your website and repackage them as their own. So keep your posts with the appropriate dates on them, and make sure you have old copies of your files so that if there’s any problem, you will have those files as proof of your authorship.
For me the serials have been part of my over-all effort to write faster and to incorporate some new craft into my writing. I will be publishing five 90-100K novels this year, all of which will have been at least partially serialized. I will then start on 3 new serials (again, one for paid Patreon, one for free Patreon, and one for my website) and hopefully keep that ball rolling!
It never hurts to give new things a try.
By J. Kathleen Cheney
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