Should you serialize your next novel?

It is no secret that Amazon gives a ninety day bump to new releases. They rank higher on lists and receive more exposure, especially if they sell well and get reviews during that initial period.

So why not take advantage of it and release your novel in parts?

I’ve seen and read a few books released this way and it can work to help an author receive better exposure. But it can be annoying to readers. Sometimes though, it can work out well for both the author and the reader. And that is what we are shooting for!

What to aim for

As an author the goal is to give a reader a great story and keep their interest so they become a fan and pick up the next book. When you are releasing short pieces of fiction, you want to give the reader enough that they bond with the main character but also want to leave threads of the story untied so that the reader wants to see what happens next.

It is similar to writing a novel or a short story. There should be a story arc that follows a brief introduction, problems, hurdles, a climax, some sort of resolution but also building problems at the end which will leave the reader wondering what happens to the character(s) and hopefully picking up the next installment.

What to avoid

This is the difficult part. There are a lot of things to avoid. Steep prices would be the number one thing and, related almost directly to it, the second is too many cliffhangers. This combination will kill a reader. Why?

I’ve heard, and had, readers complain about cliffhangers and a series. Some strongly feel that a series is simply designed to earn the author money. While there is nothing wrong with making money as an author (it is a job after all!), it should be done by giving the reader a good product and great experience.

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You might not make everyone happy, but chopping up a novel with each break ending in a cliff hanger and then charging the price for a piece that someone would pay for a full 100,000 word novel just to find out what happens next is … well it sounds and feels like a scam just to make money. You’ll piss off more people than you’ll please. So avoid high prices, and especially prices that escalate with each installment, and cliffhanger endings where few plot lines are resolved. And definitely don’t save the characters with luck rather than skill and then throw them back in the fire.

Keep in mind too that readers love long stories. Bundles are in. Weekend binge reading is in. So making mini-novels that add up to one novel might reach some readers, but others may pass it over as too short.

But if you are a new author with few books out, it may be a good way to attract readers to your work while build your mailing list. Or if this is a new series, it might be a way to attract fans. Just tread cautiously and with the idea of creating a positive reading experience and not as a way to get people to pay more for a story than they would if you bundled it into a full length novel.

When it works the best

The best example is when you have separate and fairly short story lines that feed into the same tale. Maybe there are three heroes and each has a separate beginning before they meet up for the ultimate goal of the story. This scenario would give you four novellas that feed into each other but might be too cumbersome as one large novel: Adventures and Trials of Hero 1, The Downfall of Hero 2, The Awakening of Hero 3, The Overthrow of the Dark Lord.

Each novella would be a complete story arc ending with a lead-in to a greater story, the final one where the three team up to take on a bigger problem that may have been mentioned but never dealt with in the preceding novellas. It is basically like writing a series but in less words, each novella hitting 7 to 13 chapters or 15,000 to 45,000 words (or more).

This is a best case example and would be a story designed to be written this way. Most often an author writes a book and decides to break it up after the fact. Or they write a prequel or even a small epilogue after a novel or series. If done well, this can also work but won’t be nearly as smooth as a story designed for short novellas.

Remember the idea is to have a story arc in each novella. Some events should be resolved while leaving open new problems or an overarching problem that has yet to be solved. Having some resolution gives a reader a sense of accomplishment. They like seeing a character succeed. They like to know the story is moving forward. If those things don’t happen, either because there is a resolution and no new, building problem or the story ends without reaching any resolution, a reader might not pick up the next installment.

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What I did

Last year I tried this technique with the release of the first book in a new dystopian story line. I’d established myself as a fantasy writer, but this series was to be a whole new direction and I had no readers lined up waiting for it.

I wrote book one as a series of eleven short stories and decided to release the first eight  individually two weeks a part. Most of them I launched for free as a means to attract readers. Then I launched the full book, which was the only place to get three of the short stories. After that, I released the individual novels in the series a few months apart.

Would I do it again?

Yes, but not the way I did! lol. Hey this blog, and my teaching, is a lot about learning by doing and helping you not make the mistakes that I did (and survived!). And I had a few problems with my launch and release schedule that you should avoid. And the first is that I was in a rush.

Never publish anything if you feel rushed. It means you are not ready. It means the book isn’t ready.

The craziness of a new release will always make you feel like you need more time. But if you feel like the book should have been out last month and you are going to fling it out because it is overdue, put the brakes on and take a deep breath. Publishing is not a one time event. It is not a sprint. It is a marathon. You want to build for the long haul.

The position I was in was that I had signed with a small publisher in August. In September I sent them the combined book of short stories with my idea to do individual launches. I sent an update in November (I’d done some more editing). They said they’d get right on it. In January I asked if they’d looked it over yet. They asked “what book?” I sent it to them again a little ticked. By February they still hadn’t looked at it and I pulled all my books from them (for other reasons beyond this).

Since they had never looked at the new book, I was free to publish it immediately. The rest of my books had to go through a three month contract termination phase. They’d had it over six months, I was about to finish writing book 4 of the series. I had no books published directly under my account. I was way too anxious to publish. When I should have organized things more, I chopped it up and sent it out into the world.

Don’t do that.

Always create some sort of marketing plan. Have a goal. Something! Publishing these short stories every two weeks was chaotic. If I’d managed to hook some readers and get noticed, it might have been great for them. But the stories weren’t out long enough individually to build a following. And a two week publishing time frame does not fully utilize Amazon’s 90 day bump. It was way too fast.

And they were short stories. You read one and it ended. If you liked what happened, maybe you’d pick up the next. Or not. There was no incentive to keep a reader going because there was a full resolution. Most of the stories change characters and jump ahead years from one story to the next (they cover a 10 year period). So even if a reader loved one story, finding another might not give them the experience or character they were looking for. But linked together as one book, they make a powerful short novel.

So would I do it again? Yes. And might. But not the way I did. As I launch new stories outside my established series if I think they need a different boost beyond my most awesome launch team, then yeah, I might try it again. But I’ll design the story to be written and launched this way!

Final thoughts

Nothing remains static. If you launch a serialized story, look at it in a year. If you have new stories out in the series and are further along in your writing career, consider bundling the novellas into a book. Possibly even unpublishing the individual stories so that readers have an easier time knowing where to start the story.

That is actually what I just did. I already had the book combining the eleven short stories out, but it got little attention. I had readers confused about the individual short stories versus the series, and where the heck were those missing three short stories (only published in the full book)?

Always try to look at your work from a fresh reader’s perspective: the person who stumbled onto you and wants to know where to start. If it requires a chart to explain the timeline and novel sequence it is too complicated.

So I unpublished all individual short stories, ramped up the cover to book 1, begged Amazon to make it free (remember most of the stories were free individually), and launched it all again. MUCH better results this time. In fact, it just made #95 in the overall Amazon free store and #1 in both Terrorism and Military Thrillers. Yeah, that is a re-launch! 😀

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You have got to love Indie publishing. You are always free to try, try, and try again!

So those are my thoughts and tips on serializing a novel. Have you tried it? Do you consider it a success? Is it something you are thinking of doing? Let me know in the comments!

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Written by: Autumn

Autumn (also known as Weifarer) is an indie author, conservationist, & world traveler with plans for many more adventures both real and fantastical! She is currently on the road in North America in a Four Wheel Camper along with her husband, Adam, and Cairn terrier, Ayashe.

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