Thursday, March 3, 2016

Serial Offender: Writing serialized fiction in today's indie market

That blog title sounds crazy impressive, doesn't it? As if I'm the expert on writing serialized fiction. News flash -- I'm not. But I've been reading up on serials and trying to study the market because -- double news flash -- I want to write one.

What are serials? Serialized fiction is a story told in installments or episodes, usually each part being 15K-25K words. For some authors, a serial could mean a complete novel that they publish in parts -- preferably very quickly. For others, a serial model a TV show. Each episode features a cast of characters with a complete story arc with the entire season having a larger plot arc. Authors could release as many seasons as they like -- just like in TV.

Historically, serials have been well-received. Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers was a popular serial that made him a household name. In response, newspapers published their own serials to hook readers and increase circulation. Stephen King's The Green Mile was a serial published in monthly paperbacks in the 90s. Andy Weir first published The Martian in a serial format on his blog until readers begged him to release the parts together for Kindle.

Writing a serial isn't easy. It's certainly a commitment since authors need to release their installments in a timely manner or risk the wrath of angry fans. This means meeting deadlines. If fans have come to expect a serial published twice a month, then authors need to keep to that deadline until the season is over. As in The Good Wife is on every Sunday night, and when it's not, my husband gets cranky.

In addition, some authors complain of getting dinged in reviews for not meeting reader expectations. Some readers want more than a 25K-word story for their 99 cents or they'd rather pay for the whole story in one go. Fair enough, this may not be the format for them. Authors can always bundle a season and customers can binge-read.

The upside to serial writing is that it can be fun, energizing, and expand an author's platform. Also certain stories lend themselves to a serialized format. I'm working on a mystery serial set in the 90s -- a Veronica Mars meets My So-Called Life. Each episode will have my main character solving a mystery with a larger mystery being solved throughout the season. I can introduce a myriad of characters, kill off a few, and grow my protagonist. But boy, is this a bitch to plot. I need to outline each episode and then plot the whole season before I even begin writing. I have to make sure if I foreshadow something, I fulfill that promise. And if I introduce a character, I don't leave that character hanging around with nowhere to go. There's lots to consider here.

There's lots of information online about serial writing. If this is a format you're considering, I suggest you check out this thread on KBoards.

If you want to read an awesome serial, check out The Debt Collector by Susan Kaye Quinn. It's addicting, the way a serial ought to be.

Do you read serials? Are there any you can recommend? Do you write one? Advice for newbies? Sound off in the comments.



5 comments:

  1. Great post! I've considered releasing something chapter by chapter on Wattpad, which is kinda like doing a serial. Seems like a cool way to keep people coming back. Also, puts less pressure on launch day, since you have several chances to be like "hey, check out my series!"

    Of course, the downside is that if no one reads it, you'll just have this incomplete story...

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    1. The nice thing about using Wattpad for this is getting reader feedback.

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  2. Great post! I've also considered writing a serial. The difficulty I'm having is that the idea I have is very different than my novels. My novels are more mainstream or cross-genre and are emotionally intense, where this would be genre specific and more light/fun. It's remained a consistent thought in my mind, so I might have to at least just start plotting it out to see where it might go.

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    1. You could always use a pen name to take the pressure off your brand. Or just go for it.

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  3. Well, that's my plan, yes; and I'm self-publishing, so that whole side of it is under my control. What happens after that is up to the readers. But I'm writing full-length novels (~140kwds), so I reckon I'll settle down to one book per year. Not quite what you meant for this topic, right? Ah, well. :-)

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