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Writer-Talk Tuesday: Are Serials Making a Comeback?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Charles Dickens is well known in the 21st Century for having written some very long classics of Victorian literature: Bleak House, Great Expectations, The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities. But when he wrote them, he did so and published them as serials: episodic writing published weekly or monthly in periodicals of the time. And because of this, he was able to adjust the stories based on the feedback he received.

Commercial fiction is no longer published in this manner . . . but with the rise of fan fiction sites and e-self-publishing, serial fiction may be making a comeback.

According to this article on the Dear Author website, the benefit that fan fiction writers have been receiving for years—feedback from readers that can help shape the direction of the story—is now being sought by self-published authors. Some writers are uploading and selling portions of their novels online.

One author who is burning up the charts is self published author Sara Fawkes whose series “Anything He Wants” sells on Amazon for .99, $2.99, and $2.99 for the published versions so far for a total of 111 pages of fiction. Serials can build anticipation and lead to increased word of mouth. The pricing for serials, however, is problematic. Even Fawkes’ fans are chafing about the wait and the price. Says Gina D on Amazon “I guess I wouldn’t be as annoyed if they were all out but I hate waiting. plus 2.99 is a little much for a quarter of a book, .99 cents probably would be more appropriate.” The first entry is #20 in the Kindle store, the second is #63, and the third is #79. It’s hard to say whether Fawkes will lose readership and part of the problem may be the lack of defined schedule.
~”Thursday News: Is the serial revival around the corner? Or a gimmick with a limited life span?”

There are obvious benefits to getting feedback as you’re writing a story. That’s why many writers work with critique partners. But there are also drawbacks to publishing in serial format before a story is finished—and that is the problem what a lot of people run into working with critique partners, which is the temptation to endlessly tweak what you’ve already written and not move forward and complete the story.

As a writer, would you want to publish serially? As a reader, would you be willing to pay for pieces of a serialized novel with no indication of when the final installment might be published? Do you see serial novels making a comeback?

  1. Tuesday, July 17, 2012 1:06 am

    As a reader, I’ve no intention of paying for a serial with no idea of how long it’s going to be (that could encourage the author to string an idea out for far too long, as has recently been done by a NYT Bestselling Christian author).

    But if it was finished, and I knew there were six to ten sections at 99c each? Maybe. At 2.99 each? Unlikely.


  2. Tuesday, July 17, 2012 1:57 am

    I think John Scalzi is giving this a try with his next book – and then publishing the completed work as a whole afterwards. I’m not a big e-reader person, so it’s not terribly appealing to me yet, but I’d certainly be willing to buy a serial story if it were one of my favorite authors who was offering it.


  3. Audry permalink
    Tuesday, July 17, 2012 7:34 am

    Interesting idea. I’m not a huge buyer of books, but in theory I might go for this if the installments were by an author I already knew I liked. I doubt I’d buy a a story in bits and pieces (and certainly not if only one or two of ___ pieces actually existed) from someone with nothing else published.


  4. Sylvia M. permalink
    Tuesday, July 17, 2012 10:49 am

    I might consider buying it in installments if the author is a must-have, must-read author that I am verrry familiar with already. Charles Dickens’ installments were published in magazines to which people would subscribe. With a magazine you not only would get the story, but lots of other good articles, comics, jokes, advertisments, etc. If several authors had chapters of different books in one magazine with a subscription I think people wouldn’t mind doing that.


  5. Tuesday, July 17, 2012 12:15 pm

    As a writer, no, I’m not interested in serializing my writing. I don’t see the appeal. I used to read a lot of Hardy Boys fan fiction, but there’s no way I’d pay for it.

    As a reader, again, I’m fine reading fan fiction like that, but no way I’m going to pay for it. If it was in a magazine I already subscribed to, sure. But not on its own.


  6. Wednesday, July 18, 2012 1:30 am

    I’ve seen this happening without intent, too, as some self-published authors misunderstand the concept of “series”. They end book 1 without wrapping up the storyline. It just…ends. Buy book 2 to finish the story! As a reader that ticks me off.

    And price is a consideration, too. I know someone who published a 20K word novel and charges $2.99. For self publishing I think that’s frustrating. Most $2.99 books are full-length novels (or at the very least, the length of a Harlequin novel.)
    I don’t mind it as much for a vetted author, though.

    As a writer, no…well, maybe. I’d have to have *very* dedicated readers. It would satisfy that need for more immediate feedback we all seem to have.


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