You Want Your Book To Read Like A Serial – Even If It’s Not One

I remember reading A Tale Of Two Cities in school and being partly fascinated with it. I don’t pretend I grasped the complexities of the novel at that age, maybe eighth grade or freshman year in high school, but I remember it read a lot like a soap opera – and our teacher informed us that it had in fact been released as a weekly serial.

 

Obviously, I didn’t forget that.

curious-woman2
I just have that kind of mind

But why did a popular author like Dickens release it as a weekly serial instead of just release it as a regular book?

 

Well, if you compare it to soap operas or good, dramatic TV shows (say 24, or The Sopranos, but there are plenty of current examples), they solve a problem or two each week and start a new problem, then leave you with a cliffhanger – you have to tune in next week to see if Jack Bauer gets to the ticking time bomb in time!

 

Soap operas tend to the same thing. The husband comes home early and is about to walk in on the wife and her lover – tune in tomorrow to see what happens!

 

And, by the way, the chapters in our books are supposed to do that.

 

man-reading-book
This is amazing!

A writers we want to create a scene and write until the scene is done (the problem is solved) so we can stop and let the next day or next set of problems start the next chapter – but the story tends to be much better if we don’t.

 

For example, in The Water Castle, the Prince has to go meet with a local tribe of hostile Indians who keep attacking his castle. I set up a day long ride and off he goes with his friend.

 

Where’s the best place to end the chapter?

  • After he gets to the Indian camp and before the big meeting
  • After the big meeting, say they get on their horses and ride away
  • As they are riding into the camp and are met by a bunch of angry Indian scouts pointing spears at them?

 

Our natural inclination is to write the chapter and complete the scene, so we have them go to the camp, sit down, hold the meeting, and ride off into the sunset.

 

But… we’re supposed to put our characters up a tree and throw rocks at them!

 

And… we need some tension to turn a story into a page turner!

 

So the rocks will be: they are met by spears. Hmm. Maybe the meeting won’t go as planned. And the cliffhanger will be – they are met by spears, END SCENE

 

What?

 

curious-woman
I wonder what comes next?

Yeah, you have to start the next chapter to see what happens. Now, maybe the spears come down and the meeting goes as planned. Maybe the prince and his buddy get locked up. (Readers probably won’t think they get killed, but only because they’ve both been pretty integral to the story – but Game Of Thrones regularly killed off main characters). Doesn’t matter. By making the reader turn the page and start the next chapter to find out what happens, the reader is more engrossed in the story and less likely to put the book down. That’s a good thing.

 

So, you kind of want your book to read like a serial even if it’s not.

 

Dickens put out A Tale Of Two Cities as a serial to exploit the fact that he was popular, and he created a lot of buzz each week as readers were dying to know what happened next.

 

Certain current authors have done that with eBooks (Hugh Howie with Beacon 23, for example), and a lot of romance novels are written in serial format. Tons of comic books aka graphic novels are.

 

I have been toying with the idea of releasing my latest story as a serial because that’s almost how it was written. Putting a chapter a week up on the critique group site, their standard format, tends to cause that.

 

Dickens put out 45-chapters of ATOTC in 31 weekly instalments to help launch his new literary periodical titled All the Year Round.

 

Can you imagine Kindle readers having to wait 31 weeks to finish a book?

 

Could you?

 

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Maybe not.

I think the key to launching a novel as a serial would be to group several chapters and release it over maybe 6 installments (6 weeks). Maybe price each segment at 99 cents and have the composite – the whole book – available for a buck less than the total of the installments, so impatient readers like me could just jump ahead and buy the dang thing and read it. Also, you might make the installments available on KOLL but not the composite book, (so you don’t screw yourself out of your royalties).

 

Maybe have a preorder link in each prior book so readers could immediately get the next one…

 

But that’s all business plan stuff.

 

What’s really in play is whether a modern, lengthy book would be well received as a serial. Some have. (We all now understand the importance of writing a novel readers can’t put down.)

 

The big guys have marketing arms to help push whatever they want. A serial release might never go anywhere if it wasn’t marketed properly.

 

I barely know how to market a regular book, I can’t imagine marketing a serial is easier!

 

What are your thoughts? How many segments is too many for a serial? How long would you spread it out? Have you ever bought one/read one?

.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.

 

 

16 thoughts on “You Want Your Book To Read Like A Serial – Even If It’s Not One

    • There IS quite a resemblance in writing styles. I see that now.

      So let me ask you this: if I put up, say, a chapter a day here of the story (there are about 40 chapters) would it be too much?

      If on every day, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, a new 3000 word segment posted that was the next chapter in the story, that seems like a lot of daily reading. If they came once a week, I’m not sure readers would follow because there’s too much down time. Maybe once a week I posted three chapters for about 9000 words, say every Saturday, or posted a few segments a week, so readers could digest them at their own pace.

      Like you said, it would get feedback and help me tune up the story for its eventual release, and it would be fun to read the comments…

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      • So I am obviously chuffed that you see a resemblance, albeit a fairly distant one I would think!
        It’s very tricky. I post twice a week and keep the ‘chapters’ under 1,500 words (there is the occasional exception) as that is about the amount of time I would personally spend reading an individual blog – I can commit to that without any problems and catch up easily if I fall behind. A big chunk would be a bit off-putting to me as I tend to dip in and out of WP each day, as opposed to dedicate extended periods of reading time. But everyone is different.
        If it was me, I would post three times a week around 2,500 words at a time and see how it goes. The comments are always the best part! The comments have given birth to new characters and sub-plots left, right and center.

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      • That’s way too much reading. I would suggest editing your chapters down, throwing out anything and everything that doesn’t move the story forward. Cutting chapters too. Blogging is a different animal and readers come with expectations. Go for it!

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  1. As a reader, I despise serials. My money for books is very limited, and I don’t want to have to shell out more money to read the ending of something I’ve already paid for. Even at only .99 cents a pop, it can really rip through my book budget in no time if it drags out. I feel like the author is playing me, working me over for every penny he/she can get.

    As an author, I totally understand that it makes good business sense. But I don’t want to ask my readers to do something that I wouldn’t do. I admire writers like John D. McDonald, whose Travis McGee series had recurring characters and references to other books in the series, but could be read and enjoyed out of order. That’s what I try to achieve with my books. My sales would probably be better if I wrote serials, but I’m just not comfortable with it at this point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I agree. Authors who surprise you with a book that doesn’t end until you spend a lot more money, that’s not fair. I’m talking about a book that is stated up front that it’s a six-part serial (or whatever) and also is available on day 1 as a complete book, so there are no shenanigans.

      I put out a short story that didn’t explicitly say in the description that it was a short story and I got a bad review for that reason. I’m all about disclosing.

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      • I guess there are circumstances where I’m okay with it, as long as there’s full disclosure. If I know with Book #1 that I’m going to have to buy five more books to see how it all ends, I’m more likely to try it.

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  2. When I wrote my book, I ended each chapter with a cliff hanger. Then I paid a pro editor who hated that idea. After studying Patterson’s technique, I’d like to go through and make sure they end in the right place.

    I wrote a short serial on my blog. They were short flash fictions. The trick was to make them individually enjoyable and twisted for those just starting. I had thought about starting another.

    I’m not sure that it works with ebooking unless there is a way to pay up front and release weekly. I wouldn’t give them a choice. They could jump in anytime and catch up.

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  3. I seem to recall Stephen King and someone else trying the serial route back in the 90’s? early 2000’s? They did it once. I’m thinking it didn’t fly? otherwise more people would have jumped on that wagon. The book started as a serial thing was very common in Dickens time, which is why it worked for him. There was no TV to turn on, no internet to surf. People were used to waiting for stuff. Hence the building of suspense via a serial being an excellent marketing ploy back then.

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  4. A lot of interesting voices in the comments. I think if you were to do a serial, it would have to be a complete “book” or longer short-story, again referencing the dime-store novels of yester-year. Releasing the whole thing at the same time as the first chapter however, I don’t think that would do well at all. Maybe, at the end of the 6th part, release a compilation with added parts (artwork, and extra ‘background’ chapter, author notes, etc) might do well. Or switch that idea and make the completed work a stripped down version and make the installments have the benny’s.

    Liked by 1 person

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