A reader messaged me: “Although I’ve published four novels, I don’t have a mailing list. I realize I need one… Will writing serial fiction help to build my list?”
Serials are sometimes conflated with series fiction, so let’s look at what defines “serial” fiction first.
What is “serial” fiction?
Serials are ongoing stories, published in installments. In Charles Dickens’ day, novels were published as serials. Magazines ran serials. Today, TV and Netflix run episodic shows—and authors publish ebooks in episodes too.
When you write a series of short stories or novels each story is complete: boy gets girl, the sleuth solves the mystery, the bad guys are destroyed in a thriller… A serial on the other hand, has an over-arching plot which isn’t resolved until the final episode. That said, each episode should be a satisfying read.
Serial fiction tips: suspense above all
- Suspense counts in all fiction. If you want to sell, you must keep readers in suspense; wanting to know what happens next. In serial fiction, suspense is paramount: your aim in each episode is to win readers for the next episode;
- To deliver suspense, something must be at stake in your story. Pay close attention to your story question;
- Publish regularly: tell readers when to expect the next episode. Ideally, publish weekly, or every two weeks;
- Promote! Release with a launch: promote your serial before you publish the first episode. Then publish the first two episodes together, with episode three on pre-order;
- Outline your serial before you start writing, and stick to your publishing schedule. You needn’t outline every scene in every episode before you start writing. However, you do need to be aware of how your primary plot will affect each episode.
Your publishing goals: yes, you can use a serial to win readers
Readers are reluctant to commit to a novel from an author who’s new to them, even if it’s free. We’ve all got limited time to devote to reading. A short story, or a serial, isn’t a big commitment of time.
If you’ve been slow to build a mailing list, like the reader above, a serial is an excellent way to promote your backlist, as well as your upcoming novels.
An essential tip… Just as viewers like to binge watch, some readers like to binge too. After you’ve published the final episode, publish the complete serial in a collection immediately.
Prepare to publish: promote your serials before and while you’re writing
You may know that I’m a HUGE fan of writing your book’s blurb (description) before you start writing. In addition to providing a compass for your writing, your blurb helps you to promote your book (or serial fiction) while you’re writing.
In many ways, serial fiction is easier to promote than a novel. Curiosity sells:
When readers want to know what happens next, they’ll keep reading, long past their bedtime.
Your release of each episode is an opportunity to win more readers—and build your mailing list.
Have fun. 🙂
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.