Want to write serial fiction? I adore writing serials because the motivation is built in. It’s impossible to get bored; you have deadlines to meet.
I get lots of questions about writing serials; it’s challenging for authors to realize that there are no rules, as such.
If you’re not sure what serial fiction might be, here’s a quick definition: a SERIAL is a long story, which is published as a part-work. In the Victorian era, Charles Dickens and William Thackeray (who wrote Vanity Fair), published their novels as part-works: serials.
Today, many TV programs are serials. Sometimes they’re delivered in weekly episodes. Alternatively, the complete program is made available for viewers who like to binge.
Serial fiction questions: there are no rules
You make the decisions when you’re writing serial fiction.
Although I commonly write serials in ten episodes of 5,000 to 8,000 words, there’s no rule which says that you need to write ten. You may choose to write yours in three parts—go ahead!
Alternatively, if you want to write a dozen episodes or thirty, it’s up to you—and readers.
Recently a student asked: “is it OK to keep writing? I’m not ready to let go of the characters yet. I’ve got some great ideas. Will readers be annoyed? I promised them 12 parts… What if I write 20?”
Start and stop when you choose. If readers don’t want to buy additional parts, they won’t. If your serial is selling, and you’re keen to keep going, go right ahead. On the other hand, if you’re bored, or your latest episodes have stopped selling, stop writing.
Communicate with readers. (See: create a mailing list for your serial below.)
To repeat, your serial fiction is yours. Do what makes sense for you and your self-publishing program.
Let’s look at some tips to help you to get started, if you’re new to serial fiction.
1. Decide how you’ll use your serial (set a goal)
Before you started writing serial fiction, decide how you’ll use your serial. Will it be:
- A promotional tool? Serials make wonderful promotional tools. If you’re concerned that sales of your most popular title have slowed, why not write a serial set in that world? Each episode of your serial will promote your already-available title, and your entire publishing catalogue.
- To get known in a new genre? One of my self-publishing students had just completed his first novel in a genre which was new to him. While the novel was undergoing the editing/ beta reader process, he decided to write a serial, in that same new-to-him genre. Each episode promoted his upcoming novel, as well as his readers’ mailing list.
- Experimental. You may have an idea you’d like to explore, but you’re not ready to spend weeks and months writing a novel without feedback. With serial fiction, you get ongoing feedback; readers will tell you what they enjoy… Or what they don’t.
2. Prepare before you write: brainstorm ideas
Relax. Avoid putting pressure on yourself when you brainstorm. Tell yourself you’re just playing with ideas at this early stage. (You might have several serials in development at any one time.)
I like to start with the villain; the primary antagonist. Without a frightening villain who’s more than a match for your hero, you’ll struggle to create realistic conflict.
Additionally, I like to know the ending in advance. Once you know how your serial ends, you can create opening and final images which resonate with readers.
An example. Recently I reread Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy. The haunting closing image of The Mirror and the Light, the final novel, echoes the opening of Wolf Hall, the first novel. It’s masterfully done—days later, the final image still makes me shudder.
3. Two essentials: prepare now, even before you start writing
The essentials are:
- A mailing list for readers. If you already have a readers’ mailing list, start a new one, just for your serial. Send out a mailing when you publish each new episode, or if your plans for the serial change;
- Social media content. When you’ve finished writing your serial, the last thing you want to do is create social media content. So, create graphics and content snippets while your inspiration is strong—while you’re writing.
Make a list of social media content you could create now, even before you start writing. Consider:
- Your blurb: your blurb is an essential tool. Craft “working” blurbs while you’re writing.
- Graphics; collect images.
- Quotes: collect snippets from each episode to use as social media content.
If you've heard that authors are successfully publishing their fiction as serials, and are curious about how it's done, read on. Readers enjoy serial fiction today, as they've done for centuries.
This practical guide helps you to start writing serial fiction, starting today.
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.