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.

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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.

 

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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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Your humble host.

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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.