The Old is New Again: Serialized Novels

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!

miscreation-ep1Then 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.

 

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About Kristen S. Walker

Fantasy author Kristen S. Walker dreams of being a pirate mermaid who can talk to sharks, but she settles for writing stories for teens and adults. Her new novel, A Flight of Marewings, tells the adventure of a duke's illegitimate daughter who must stop her father's murderers--by taming a dangerous monster. A Flight of Marewings is now available in print from Amazon and digitally from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and other ebook retailers. To read a sample chapter or check out Kristen's pirate pictures, please visit kristenwalker.net. You can talk good books, cats, or medieval cooking with Kristen anytime on Twitter (@KristenSWalker) or Facebook.

Posted on July 28, 2014, in about writing, Authors - Kristen S. Walker and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think a week is the perfect amount of time for releasing new chapters for most stories. Some are able to manage once a month just fine, but the longer between segments, the more likely it is that people will forget details. I’ve also noticed that the once a month serials tend to have bigger chunks of the story in their releases. Maybe that makes up for failing memories?

  2. Certainly the serial is the once and future writing form: excellent point that many tales were originally serialized, and I can include the works of many greats of heroic fantasy like Burroughs and Howard. The internet brings the perfect flexibility especially to us indies, to innovate and see what works best between the story and the readers.
    We probably should distinguish between “vetting” a story in pieces, where you’re still really getting feedback and input, as opposed to formal serialization. It’s all good, just not the same function or expectations.
    And then too, not many stories are true serials in the sense of those classic radio and TV shows of the Golden Age. Tense violins, someone screams- cliffhanger! In ninth grade I had to turn in a new piece of writing for English every Friday- and of course I forgot until homeroom that morning. I had enough sense to decide it would be a serial ahead of time- and each morning I furiously wrote out the next episode in The Adventures of Captain Plunger and Kid Flush. Earned an “A” every week! And later it became a serialized play at summer camp, a hit if I do say so.
    Fabulous post, Kristen! Long live the serial!

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