A Beginner’s Guide To Writing Serials

  • zero-hour-omnibus-dark-2Just over a year ago, I published a short story called Zero Hour. It was my first foray into publishing and through a combination of luck, star alignment, fate, or whatever else plucks obscure nerds out of the Amazon minnow farm, it somehow got noticed and sold quite well. My initial plan was to write and publish a few short stories and collect them later in an anthology. It was purely an experiment in toe-dipping to see if I could actually get anyone to read my work. The rest is history.

Then something unexpected happened – readers started contacting me asking what happened next. Truth was, I had no idea, but who was I to argue with discerning readers? So, I fired up my laptop and set down to continue the story. I had no real outline, but I had a fair idea of where I wanted the story to go. Thus began the Zero Hour serial.

Of course, one of the most celebrated serials in recent years was Hugh Howey’s Wool. He too had a similar experience and not only that, wrote two more works in serial style, Sand and Beacon 23. I really enjoyed the serial format on Sand and Beacon 23 (Wool was already collected in an omnibus by the time I had read it) and looked to these releases as a template of sorts to continue Zero Hour.

So, with that in mind, and with Zero Hour now collected in its own omnibus, I’d like to share with you what the experience taught me about serials. This is purely my experience. For others, it may be a completely different one, but I hope it does provide some insight to an often misunderstood format.

1. Know What A Serial Is

First of all, and most importantly, serials are not novels and shouldn’t be treated as such when writing. Serial parts are not mere chapters, they are episodes, and each needs to be treated individually. The biggest mistake I’ve seen people make with serials is trying to serialise an already written novel. This doesn’t work. Readers can spot it a mile away. It can most certainly be compiled into a novel afterwards, but needs to be treated much differently in the initial stages.

2.Part One Is King

Although it was a happy accident in my case, the first part should be able to exist as a standalone work. Think of it as a pilot for a TV series. It must grab the reader, drag them into your world, and make them not want to leave, but still leave them faced with the choice. You need to make a solid connection with your readers from the get go, otherwise you’re wasting your time, and it will show in your sales. The first part is your anchor, and the most important set piece in the overall work. It’s the part you need to concentrate on selling, and should always be the focal point for any reader.

3.Publish Consistently

I’ll be the first to admit I took a little too long in between parts for Zero Hour. I hope it didn’t lose me too many readers, but in my case as a first timer, I wanted to make sure I got it right. It’s up to you if you want to write all the parts first, and then release them on a schedule, or if you want to release them as you write, but decide beforehand and stick to it.

4.Know Your World 

Particularly if you’re writing on the fly, or pantsing as we like to call it, make sure you have planned out the world you’re going to be writing in as best as you can. If there’s a journey involved, either real-world or fictional, know the route your characters will be taking, even if you’re not going to be specific about the location.

5. Remember Where You Parked! 

Continuity can be one of the big pitfalls in serial writing. It’s easy to place an event, object or character somewhere and completely forget about it, only to be reminded when it’s time for that which you have forgotten to take its place within the story.  This is where good beta readers are a huge asset, so make sure you have a enthusiastic team that will follow the journey with you. They’ll often spot inaccuracies or omissions and help to avoid glaring plot holes.

6.Keep Parts Around The Same Length.

There is a good reason for this: Amazon have separate charts for shorter works, based on page length. If your parts are selling well, this has the advantage of having them all show in the same chart, In my case the first five parts were all around the same length and on a few occasions, it was nice to see them all in the top ten! It’s also easier to get into these charts initially, and if selling well, you have a better chance of hitting the number one spot and getting the coveted “Amazon Bestseller” flag.

7.Split Your Production Costs

One of the advantages of publishing a serial is that compared to a full novel, the cost can be broken down. You can pay for your editing and proofreading part by part, without having a huge outlay.

Cover wise, I designed a cover that could be easily altered for each part, just changing the colour for each, again saving money on separate covers. If you use a cover designer, talk to them about this, they will usually offer a discounted rate for serials.

8.Reviews

Reviews are important for any author, but if you publish a serial, expect the first part to garner most of the reviews. People will read the entire series, but often only review one part, so don’t worry if the other parts don’t pick up as many (see #2).

9. Follow Up 

It’s essential that your readers know what’s happening. With serials, readers can tend to be a little more anxious for the next part, so keep them updated with your progress, and if there are delays, let them know.

10. Serials Are Not For Everyone – Get On The Omnibus

Not every reader is a fan of serials. If they already like your work, then they may want to wait until all parts are collected in an omnibus. Give it a week or two after your final part is released to launch an omnibus, and try to add some value to it, whether it’s bonus chapters, production notes, artwork, or anything else that might persuade people to buy the entire collection. Of course, it should also be priced cheaper than the sum of the parts.

So there you have it. I hope I’ve covered everything, but if anyone has any questions, feel free to ask in the comments or find me on the social media links above.

Eamon

About Eamon Ambrose

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