Shop Talk: Serial Novels

First, a commercial break for today’s stop on the Susannah Sandlin Omega tour—check over a Laurie’s Paranormal Thoughts as the Penton women tell secrets about their guys! Remember to enter to win the grant tour prize of your choice of the Kindle, Nook or $100 book gift card.

Last week we had an interesting discussion about covers and what people do and don’t like. This week, I thought I’d turn to an idea that seems to be gaining steam: the serial novel.
Now, anyone who knows their Charles Dickens knows that a serial novel is nothing new. My college major was Victorian literature, and that era saw a surge in the popularity of serial fiction. Novels appeared in installments in magazines and newspapers. The most famous was Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, published in 1836. In the United States, Henry James, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Herman Melville wrote serial fiction (although not the infamous Moby Dick, the most “faked” read among authors doing interviews on this blog).
In more recent times, Tom Wolfe published The Bonfire of the Vanities as a serial in Rolling Stone magazine. Stephen King tried it, and science fiction author Orson Scott Card.
Currently, SF author John Scalzi is publishing a serial novel for Tor Books called The Human Division. There will be a total of 13 “episodes,” sold at 99 cents each, released weekly. At the end of the serial cycle, the book will be compiled into one volume and released as a regular book.
Another author to try the serial soon will be, well, my alter ego Susannah Sandlin. I’ll be doing a nine-episode serial novel that’s a paranormal-romantic-thriller called Storm Force. It will start March 19 and release a new “episode” every two weeks through mid-July, then will come out as a regular book. Only difference is that there’s a single price one pays ($1.99) for the whole serial, so you only pay once. Once it’s released as a full-length book, I assume the price will go up but authors have nothing to do with pricing (maybe another topic for another Shop Talk). 
Anyway, I can see pros and cons to serials. If I start reading a book and really get into it, do I want to wait two weeks to see what happens? When the new episode comes in, do I need to go back and read the end of the last episode again to remember what’s going on? 
The pluses: There’s a chance to influence where the book goes, and to chat with the author while the book is in progress. The first part of Storm Force will be released and in your hands while I’m still writing the later chapters, and there will be a discussion board set up online to ask me questions, pose theories, try to pry spoilers out of me (it won’t work!), etc.
So, on the one hand I’m excited about doing a serial, and it’s proving to be an interesting writing process that matches my skill set pretty well. On the other hand, I’m a little uncertain as to what to expect. I’ve heard some say they like a serial because it’s a short read every two weeks, doesn’t take a huge time investment, and it’s sort of like watching a favorite TV series with a storyline that carries over from episode to episode. Which is, I think, a good analogy.
Anyway, what say you, my peeps? Does the idea of a serial appeal to you? Is everything old new again? I’ll choose a commenter from this week’s Shop Talk to win a Book Horde book or a $5 Amazon gift card…your choice. Weigh in!

34 thoughts on “Shop Talk: Serial Novels

  1. Wow, that concept just blows my mind. Not reading it…that’s cool. But writing it. I would melt from the pressure!

    I can’t wait to read along and see how it goes!

    • LOL. It is an interesting process, for sure! It works pretty well for my writing style because I’m such a plotter. The hardest thing from a writing standpoint is knowing I can’t go back to earlier chapters and revise…because the earlier chapters are already published! So we’ll see how it goes. I’m having fun with it right now.

  2. I do find serials interesting but I prefer a full length novel more. I am willing to read serials once all the parts are out and complete. It also depends on the story being told. Some serials can work really well when a world or characters in quickly introduced and memorable which leaves wanting more. I can see how the process may be influenced by the audience’s reaction to a serial part though especially if an author is working on it while sections are being released.

    • I’m sort of with you, Na. I downloaded one of the serials, but then decided to wait until more episodes were downloaded. But I do think it could be fun to chat with readers as the episodes are released and before the final book is done.

  3. Yes, a serial novel does appeal to me. Stephen King’s, Green Mile was first published in six short serial style paper backs, then as a full book, later a great movie. What fun that was waiting for the next installment. So looking forward to your serial novel to come.

    • Green Mile! I couldn’t remember which Stephen King book was done as a serial, and that was it. Before the digital era, of course, but that was fun to wait for the installments. I hope people enjoy my serial…I just have to write it!

  4. I thought I wasn’t a fan of the serial… I want the whole tale all at once!
    I have just read the 6th installment of Scalzi’s The Human Division – which I have bought & read immediately after purchase, though I vowed to wait until they were all out. (Never, never, never think that you’ll be able to ‘just read the first page to see if it sounds interesting’. ) I’m hooked, durnit. 😉
    I may as well pencil in a 9-part date with Storm Force now… :p

  5. Penny Dreadfuls rerun. I don’t mind reading a serial as long as the price is reasonable. I’ve seen some where the serial prices added up to more than the price of a full book.

    • Yes, I think the Scalzi serial is 99 cents per episode and will finish up at about $13, which is the price of a book. Mine, as far as I know, is a one-time $1.99 price for all episodes, which is kind of bargain-a-licious 🙂

  6. Serials would so not be for me. With tv I already forget when shows are on, I’m sure I’d totally forget to check the serial each time there’s a new part. And then I’m not even talking about how I have to be in the mood for certain stories. I’d probably buy the finished story, so I can read it when I feel like It.

    • That’s why I’m glad these new generation of serials are coming out as finished novels once the serial run is over–I think a lot of people don’t need one more thing to try & keep up with.

      I think the way it works with the one I’m doing is that once you “subscribe” it automatically downloads to your eReader and you get an email saying the new episode is available. Or something like that :-).

    • I will probably sound like a dinosaur when I tell I refuse to connect my ereader to WiFi. All my ebooks are first put on my computer and then transfered to my ereader. Another reason why all those serial parts would be a hassle.

  7. Not really interested in a serial because I don’t like waiting for the next part. That’s good you plan on charging one price for the whole serial. I’ve seen a few serials where you have to pay a few dollars for each installment.

  8. I haven’t tried reading a serial, but I love your stories so much, I’ll be trying it the first time with your serial. As long as there is an automatic reminder so I don’t forget. Ilona Andrews is posting Clean Sweep through her blog site about every two weeks. It is also a work in progress and I highly recommend it.

  9. i’m following ilona andrews serials ( though i try to stay an episode behind what is available in case of cliffhanger i wouldn’t want to wait to have the next one so i’m careful)

    i think it would be great experience and it really depends on how it’s written, now i’m sure it’s a lot of pressure on the author but for the reader we can wait it’s better two week than several months after all^^ ( and i will perhaps need to wait anyway in my case so i’m 100% with you!)

    • Thanks, Miki! Yes, I’m not sure what the answer’s going to be for international readers. It’s actually a fun writing exercise for me as an author because I’m writing in four-chapter sections, and each section needs to end on a bit of a cliffhanger–or at least a story-changer.

      Definitely will check out the Ilona Andrews serial.

  10. I used to read serials, but in physical books, never in e-serials before. but since many serials always left me a bit of cliffhanger, i’m not reading it anymore, until the serials completed so i don’t have to wait to see what’s coming:)

    • I think a lot of people will do that, Mariska–wait for the book to be finished and then just buy the whole thing. Which, as an author, is okay with me too 🙂

  11. I would rather wait until the whole thing comes out and read it at one time. My memory is horrible and I’m afraid I would have to keep rereading to keep up with it.

    • I thought I’d feel that way too, Bonnie, but I went ahead and “subscribed” to one of the series being put out by my publisher to see how they worked. I read the first episode to see how it worked. And now, of course, I’m tapping my foot waiting for the next episode 🙂

  12. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the serial format after you’ve done it. My first novel was issued originally as a serial, and in hindsight I think that format may have built some flaws into it when considered as a whole. I changed the pacing to fit the format of 5-7K chunks, and the result was a book that is, well, a little chunky.

    Having pacing that works for the serial format, and that will also work later when you read the whole thing as a novel is very tough to pull off.

    • Really good point, Kathryn! I’m finding as I write in “episodes” of about four chapters each, I’m having to think of each one as having its own little story arc. When it’s all put together, I hope it isn’t choppy…but we’ll see. The thing I’m most concerned about is having the early chapters published and “out there,” which will prevent me from being able to go back and work in a new wrinkle or nuance in revisions. It will be almost like publishing a clean first draft…which is scary.

  13. This is an interesting venture indeed! The single price you set is definitely a plus.

    Now, on the idea of serials itself. I’d like to say it depends but 95% of the time I’m not a fan of it. While the pro you listed like having the chance to influence the direction of it is cool, I feel that the part of being an impatient & forgetful reader outweighs it.

    I read too many books weekly and it’d be hard to keep track of the story. I also don’t relish experiencing the pain of waiting for monthly comic chapters with reading novels. >.<

    • I think that’s a definitely concern. Although now that I think about it, for the past two years (!) I’ve been doing a “slow read” of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series for I read one chapter a week, then blog about it. Even though I’m reading other things during the week, I find it doesn’t take me long to get back in the groove. I re-read the last page or two from the previous chapter. But that’s different than with a suspense-type story where you’re building tension and then making the reader wait two weeks. I don’t know. It will be an interesting experiment.

  14. I have honestly never heard of a serial until now. Really. But I guess it sounds like an interesting approach…. Who knows, I might try one out some day out of curiosity. 🙂

  15. I’m not sure how I feel and have never read a serial novel. I think I would most likely be one of the people who would rather wait till it was released as a full novel and pay the little extra. My concern is that I read so many books, that I would be reading inbetween each scene released and things would be confusing and I would hate to feel like I am constantly starting and stopping a story. Who knows, I may enjoy it. I have no idea though and it sounds like something I should really try out before I judge

  16. I’ve got to agree with Jolene, I read so many books I doubt I could keep up with what’s going on. While I love series books, I’m one who tends to buy them as they come out but wait and read them back to back. But I’ll definitely check it out.