Serialized Fiction, How It Works
Serialized fiction has a long, prestigious history. In 1836, Charles Dickens’ first novel, The Pickwick Papers, began in serialization as nineteen installments over the course of two years. In 1893, Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson was also serialized, and, more recently, Stephen King’s The Green Mile was added to the list. Today, serialization not only takes place on paper, as with these classic books, but also as “blog-fic,” graphic novels, comic books, and serial fiction podcasts. Television, of course, is mostly serialized fiction.
In 2011, two of my novellas, Kiki’s Millionaire and Strong, Silent Type, were bought for serialization on Bethany’s Woodshed a membership site. Although published many times over the years, I found writing for serialization a new challenge. To sell these stories, I had to conform to a template for online serialization. It is not as simple as writing chapters 1-20 and offering them to readers on a regular basis. Each chapter had to be a certain length in order for the reader to feel like she was getting her money’s worth with that installment. They had to tell a satisfying segment of the story and provide a memorable lead-in for the reader when a new segment came out a week or a month later. And the whole book had to be complete before it was serialized, meaning that the publisher knew the end of the story would be delivered as reliably as the first chapter. No one wants to pull a Stephen King and offer a serialized story online only to leave it unfinished as he did with The Plant in 2000.
Kiki’s Millionaire is serialized bi-monthly, while Strong, Silent Type was serialized weekly, but that won’t be the end of them. When their serialization is over and they’ve been resident on the site long enough for most members to read them, in whole or in segments, they’ll be moved to Blushing Books, the eBook part of that publisher’s marketing program. This provides market diversification for both the publisher and the author, giving us a chance to reach readers of all types.
Jason Pomerantz, of Fiddle and Burn wrote that online serialized fiction has three facets, “brevity, frequency and navigability.” These are mutually dependent requirements. The segment can’t be so brief that the plot isn’t affected, nor so long that readers’ eyes get tired reading on the intense medium of a computer monitor. The frequency should relate to the length of the segment—too frequent, long segments might as well be a whole novel in paperback, while infrequent, short segments will cause a reader to lose interest. Finally, the reader must be able to navigate from one chapter/segment to the next and back again. Readers are accustomed to a chapter modality, as with a traditional book. They can move from one chapter to the next and back again to pick up something they missed or to remind themselves of details from prior segments. Skipping navigability means that the reader cannot access the work to follow it.
Understanding these requirements gave me a platform from which I might write stories that sell in the market I’m targeting. Just like any other kind of fiction, if you don’t know your market, you will not be successful.
Today’s reader has many options for obtaining fiction. Serialization is only one, but it is a tried-and-true method that has been a pigment on the fiction palette for many centuries. The written version is not likely to fade away in the sunlight of too many options, rather, it will fulfill a need for the modern consumer.
My suggestion, if you’re a writer, is to consider writing for serialization. It’s a worthwhile challenge. And, if you’re a reader, patronize sites that offer serialized fiction and you will find that you’re reading something differently satisfying. I might not be of the caliber of Mark Twain or Stephen King, but I find myself on the list of writers who have taken a chance on serialized fiction. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be here!