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September 12th, 2012
Serials – An Old Idea Made New?

There has been a lot of talk about fictional serials during the last few months with both publishers and Amazon embracing the idea.

A serial is a single book broken down into instalments. These instalments go on sale one at a time with the ending hook of each serial prompting readers to purchase the next. According to Wikipedia, serials have been around for a long time, but they were at their peak during the Victorian era. Writers such as Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were two of the many successful serial writers during this era.

Radio serials were popular from the early 1900s. One long-running radio serial you might have heard of is The Archers, a British soap-opera. The first episode of the Archers ran in 1950 and they are still producing the show on a semi-regular basis. If you’re interested several episodes are available as podcasts on iTunes.

These days we’re more likely to get our serial fix on television, although as a child I read comics done in a serial fashion. Soap operas are a common form where we follow the lives of our characters and become invested in what happens next. We even have a local soap opera in New Zealand called Shortland Street, which has been running for as long as I can remember.

Author Beth Kery has written an eight part serial called Because You Are Mine, an erotic story along the lines of Fifty Shades of Grey. Her serial is currently available at Amazon etc.

Writing a serial is different from writing a book.

1. The process is a lot quicker with the serial coming to market, often before the writer has completed all the instalments.

2. Feedback from readers is a lot quicker too.

3. The writer can change the direction of the serial after reader feedback.

4. The writer can’t go back and change things in already published instalments. This would be a problem for me since I think about my plot and characters as I write.

5. There is a short period of waiting on the part of the reader, which can help build word-of-mouth. Readers are wondering what will happen next and where the story will go. The build of anticipation is present.

6. Pricing can be controversial. I noted on some of the Amazon reviews Of Because You Are Mine there were some unhappy readers who expected more “book” for their money. Each instalment is two chapters.

As a writer, I think writing a serial would present a challenge. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to stretch in this direction in the future.

What about you? Have you read a serial? Have you tried Beth Kery’s Because You Are Mine series? Would you like to write a serial?

20 comments to “Serials – An Old Idea Made New?”

  1. I think serials are pretty cool, but what stress on the writer! That first installment better be pretty fab or else the others won’t get bought!

  2. I guess that’s the challenge, Lydia, although the same applies with books, movies and TV shows. If we don’t enjoy the first one we’re unlikely to award a second chance.

  3. I haven’t read the one mentioned here. Sounds like it is pretty good if the author is several installments in. I can see why the pricing would be an issue. I can’t imagine how it would be priced, actually :-)

  4. I think Beth has written them all, but there are a couple yet to publish. At least I think so.

  5. I don’t think serials would work for me unless they arrived in a newsletter where I could bunch them up and read them in a couple of sittings.

    I’m afraid, I would lose track if it came in installments.

  6. They come out fairly close together, from what I can see. You could always buy the lot at once, but then you’re taking a risk that you might not like it.

  7. Did you notice that I post a serial on my blog every week? I’ve even set up a meme for people who write and post serials. It’s been going on for some time now. Not quite the same as the serials you’re talking about, but along those lines.

  8. Yes, I remember that now! I’ll add a link to my post.

  9. I know a lot of writers have some success with serials, but I don’t think I would like the pressure. And, as you said, not being able to edit as you go along would be difficult.

  10. Ah, but the challenge, Heather. A lot of writers thrive on the challenge. :)

  11. Not sure that kind of read would be something for me. I like longer books that are a part of a series but can be read as stand alone books. A lot of time I’ll wait until a few books in the series is out and then buy them all so I can read all of them back to back. That’s what I would have to do with serials.

  12. It’s a different mindset, isn’t it? From the writer and the publisher’s point of view the money would roll in quicker. Writing serials wouldn’t require as much of a time investment.

  13. That wouldn’t work for me, Shelley. I rewrite and edit as I go, and nearly always change something in the beginning chapters.

  14. LOL – I do too, Gerri. I learn my characters as I write. That would prove problematic.

  15. As a reader, I’m not sure how I’d feel about this. I don’t like ending hooks. I like to walk away emotionally satisfied.

  16. But if you only had to wait a week for the next installment would that work for you?

  17. I’m so glad you wrote about this because I’ve been thinking so much about it. I am reading Beth Kery’s serial and I’m living it. In an age where time is short, most people only have time to read a few chapters a week (not me…I read a book a day). Also, with the loss of several US soap operas, I believe there is a void needing to be filled. Good serials will get people excited and talking. As I understand it, Fifty Shades was fan fiction and appeared in a serial type format. That’s one of the reasons the book became successful-it already had a huge fan base before publication. The publishing companies will have to lower the prices to bring it more in line with what it would have sold at in it’s entirety. I think it wouldn’t be a crazy idea to purchase subscriptions in which you got more than one serial a week. Plus as a writer, I think it would be fun to engage and work with the readers. Thanks for writing such a great blog post.

  18. Even when I’m busy I like to get my reading fix, which is where serials would be perfect. I didn’t realize 50 Shades was a serial first. Interesting. I think the idea of serials is great for readers because of the immediacy. I only hope the pricing issue is settled.

  19. I think I’ve seen several blogger/writers embracing the serial. Did Stephen King do some or did I dream that up? I’ll have to google that.

  20. I think ou could be right. I need to google too.