The Old is New Again: Serialized Novels
Posted by Kristen S. Walker
Serialized novels have become a popular way to publish stories in the past few years. Some of the advantages of publishing as a serial include readers getting new parts of the story on a regular basis as it’s being written, instead of having to wait a long time for the whole novel to be finished; and authors can get feedback (and sometimes money) for their writing while they’re still working. But serial novels aren’t a new invention that happened on the internet.
In the 19th century, most novels in the U.S., Britain, and across Europe were actually published serially. Famous works like Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin were published with a new chapter every week or month in magazines and newspapers. When the story was complete, all of the parts would be collected in a single volume, which is how we read these novels today. But when they first appeared, readers would wait for the story in installments, which could be spread out over an entire year.
This method of publishing fell out of fashion with the invention of broadcast radio and television. Today, we think of episodes in a television series as multi-part stories, but written fiction comes out in books once every year or two. Only a handful of novels were published as serials during the 20th century.
But when the internet made it easy for anyone to publish their stories, serialized fiction made a come back. It started with amateur writers posting stories on their own websites, forums, and newsgroups. Then sites sprang up for writers to share free stories more easily, like Fanfiction.net. Now there are too many of these communities to name, where thousands of free stories are shared, talked about, and rated by readers and writers.
With widespread ebooks distribution, professional authors gained the ability to sell these serials online. Unlike printing where there are limitations on the length of stories that can be economically printed and distributed, digital works can easily be shorter (or longer) than the limited range of traditional novels. Now serialized novels, or series of connected novellas or episodes, are gaining popular readership in stores like Amazon and Smashwords.
After seeing how well serials work for other authors, I’m starting to experiment with serials. Last year, I posted a novel, Witch Hunt, on Wattpad for free at the rate of one chapter a day for NaNoWriMo. I did get some feedback as I wrote, but I found that most readers couldn’t keep up with that pace, and I’ve seen that most successful authors on Wattpad write at the rate of one or two chapters a week. I revised that novel and put it on sale—and surprisingly, even after I gave it away for free first, there are still readers willing to buy it!
Then this summer, Holly Lisle challenged writers on her How To Think Sideways site to write and publish a monthly serial as part of her How To Write A Series course. Following her advice, I’ve started a series of novellas using characters from my established Wyld Magic universe. The first episode, The Voyage of the Miscreation #1: “ The Voyage Begins,” was published last week. I’m excited to see how the series turns out as more episodes come out. Hopefully, I can engage readers who look forward to getting a piece of the story every month.
Have you ever read a serialized novel? How did you feel about having to wait for the next part of the story to come out? What rate do you think is good for new parts to come out?
Information about the history of serial novels from Wikipedia.