Are you familiar with serial novels? Serials are full-length stories delivered to the readers in an episodic format. As a reader I have really enjoyed taking the plunge into the new world of serials. With as much as I read, it’s nice to be able to slip in an episode here and there between review books. It’s just like watching a television show; it takes anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour to read (generally) and the reader is left wishing it was already next week (or however long it happens to be between episodes) to find out what happens next. As a writer I have grown more and more curious about what it’s like to release a novel in this manner, so I decided to ask a few authors that have jumped on this serial novel bandwagon.
Here’s what they had to say… and make sure you don’t skip out early because there’s a giveaway tucked in there somewhere! 😉
And be sure to read what some of my fellow book addicts have to say later in the post!
(Or otherwise known as happy face/sad face)
By Peggy Martinez
When I first wrote STATE OF DECAY I had no idea I was going to publish it at all, much less publish it as a novella serial. When I got the first 21,000 words finished, I fell in love with the story and had enjoyed myself so much as I wrote it that I considered publishing it in chunks as the story came to me and to try something different. Before I go into what I feel the pros & cons are of writing a novella serial, let me wow you all with my knowledge of what a “novella” actually is and what a “serial” actually is. Okay, okay … I may have used a bit of googling to get these definitions, but that’s neither here nor there. 😉
First of all, let’s look at a novella.
no·vel·la noun: 1. a short novel or long short story. (lots of help, huh?)
MANY Authors have differing views on what constitutes a “novella”, a “novel”, a “novelette”, etc. I have even seen Authors recently go on rant/soap boxes as they vehemently deny that their “novella” is THAT much shorter than their hefty 85,000 word novels … that their shortest work is at least 60k words and 270 pages. I mean, God FORBID someone think that they wrote something under 60k, right? So, let’s get this all straightened out right quick. MOST publishers/industry professionals agree that this basic standard is acceptable. When we take a look at these numbers, we can see that a novella can have a broad range of words for it to be considered a novella. My novellas are usually between 18,000 words and 25,000 words. My novels in the 55,000 – 65,000 range.
Short Story = A work under 7,500 words.
Novelette = A work from 7,500 – 17,000 words.
A Novella = A work from 17,000 – 40,000 words.
A Novel = A work from 40/45,000 – 120,000+ words.
Now let’s take a look at serials!
In literature, a serial is a publishing format by which a single large work, most often a work of narrative fiction, is presented in contiguous (typically chronological) installments—also known as numbers, parts, or fascicles—either issued as separate publications or appearing in sequential issues of a single periodical publication.
In laymen terms … a “serial” is a large book chopped up into smaller parts and released in order. For example- State of Decay ended up over 72,000 words, but I released it in 4 small parts as I finished them. Now that we all have a basic idea of what a novella serial is, I’ll share what I feel are the pros & cons are of writing & releasing one! *Pros are zombie happy faces & cons are zombie sad faces.*
Challenging myself to pack a lot of action and emotion into a small, compact read and writing an ending that will keep the reader engaged and eager to read the next part.
Readers feeling like the author is trying to “milk” their pocket books by writing a cliff hanger and not making the individual parts a complete story.
Writing in quick bursts of 20ish thousand words *really* fits me as a person and as a writer. I feel more accomplished when I finish a novella and I get to dive into several worlds at a time when I’m writing stories piece by piece. I also enjoy being able to take my time to let the story unfold itself before me rather than pushing it just to make a word count goal.
Readers expecting every serial to be identical in that they release exactly at two week intervals. On that same note, a big downside for me is if the next part doesn’t come to me within a decent 3-4 week amount of time, I feel pressured because I don’t like to leave readers hanging for the next portion of the story. My mind is a messy, messy place and I never know when the next portion of any story will come to me.
The freedom to release an entire novel in parts priced at $0.99 each so that when the story/book is DONE it only costs the reader $2.99- $4.99 for a hefty 80,000+ word novel. I also like getting to give away the first part for free/$0.99 so that readers can try out my writing style and the storyline without committing to an entire book if they end up not enjoying it.
Probably my BIGGEST con for writing a novella serial is the negative reviews. NOT negative reviews because they honestly didn’t like the story … those I can handle. But the reviews where someone doesn’t grasp the novella serial concept even if it says plain as day on the product description that #1. It is *not* a complete story … it is PART of an ongoing story. & #2. It is a novella and AMAZON’S “estimated pages” is WAY WAY off. Each 20k part of an 80k novel = roughly 85 PAGES, BUT Amazon always estimates mine around 40-50 pages. That is a HUGE difference. The omnibus of SOD is over 360 pages, but if you look at the individual parts and added them up according to Amazon it looks like there are only around 200 pages. I have several reviews that stated: “One star off for being so short” even though it says it is a novella serial. I have been blasted for being an “author who feels entitled to more than their worth” & reviews that state “I got, like, ONE chapter for my $0.99! RIPOFF!” & I have reviews that state “even if all 4 parts were put together and priced at $0.99 it wouldn’t be worth the download” all that … because of length & because of Amazon’s amazingly inaccurate estimated pages thinga-ma-bob.
Trying my hand at different genres, exciting new worlds, and interesting new characters. I love having the ability to let my creativity flow without putting word counts, time restraints, and restrictions on myself. Not stifling creativity, a happy writer does make!
Letting myself go cray cray in new worlds and starting waaaay too many projects, which leads to thirteen manuscripts going at the same time, which leads to too many characters vying for attention in my cluttered brain, which leads to 2am television show rerun marathons of The Walking Dead and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Don’t judge!
Peggy Martinez is a homeschooling mom of one boy and four girls.
She has been married to her soul mate, Omar, since January 2000. She enjoys reading, writing, soap making, all things aromatherapy, and Twizzlers- lots of Twizzlers. She dreams of one day owning a small homestead, raising some chickens along with her children, growing a large garden, and eventually taking a dream vacation to Greece. It isn’t too far fetched to think you could happen upon her and her husband having a conversation about religion, political conspiracies, a zombie apocalypse, or gangster movies.
Peggy’s Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
Hi everyone! I’m Rachel Higginson, author of The Star-Crossed Series, The Starbright Series, The Siren Series and the reason I’m here, Love and Decay, A Zombie Novella Series.
First, I just want to thank Toni for inviting me to be part of such a cool discussion! Novella series are popping up more and more and getting an increasing amount of attention. They can be equally as frustrating as they are exciting. They can be just the right amount of fiction or depressingly not enough. And even though they are short and sweet, they can also be extremely complicated.
And that’s what I’m going to talk about today! The Pros and Cons of the Novella Series.
Really, I’m not an expert though. And the only advice I have to give you was earned through my own experience. So I’m going to start with my journey into the Novella World and Zombies.
I can credit a huge portion of my success to my husband, Zach. He is the Idea Man in this household, where I’m just the talent. And that is so very true, I can’t even joke about it. So when he has an idea, I tend to sit up and listen. A year ago, he came to me with the idea of writing a Zombie story. And wait, he said, you should write them as novellas and release them every two weeks.
And me, being the creative person that I am, said, “That is so adorable. What a cute idea you have.” He rolled his eyes at me. But he also didn’t give up. He kept trying his best to convince me to jump on board. And I kept thinking, is he crazy?? I can’t write about Zombies! I can’t even fathom reading a Zombie story, let alone writing one! Plus… nobody would read it anyway. And how obnoxious to have to wait for two weeks?
But… he kept bringing up the idea. And every time he mentioned it, I would start to subconsciously develop a little piece of what would eventually turn into Love and Decay.
Finally, last summer, we were on this long drive back from UtopYA, which is in Nashville. We had a twelve hour drive and I had my computer plugged in and ready for all that delicious quiet time. He brought up the idea one more time. It was almost like he pitched it to me. And that was it. The story bloomed into something substantial inside my head and I had to write it.
I worked on it the entire drive home and by the time we arrived back in Omaha, I had Episode One written. The journey up to releasing the first in the series took a whole lot more work and included plotting out the three seasons I decided I needed in order to say everything I wanted to, deciding that I would call my segments “episodes” because they are written very much like you would watch a one-hour TV show, and pumping myself up enough to believe I could actually accomplish what I planned on accomplishing- which would be a 20k-ish novella every two weeks.
The first episode released in July, 2013 and nobody read it.
To be fair, I hadn’t actually publicized it… I was so very afraid of this project that I told nobody about it. But I have an awesome readership. And they found it anyway.
By episode four, the series really took off and the fan base became… dedicated. And by that, I mean obsessed, addicted and enthralled.
It’s been awesome. I’m halfway through Season Two now, and I never could have expected these results. Seriously, every episode I am just blown away by how worked up the readers get.
And while I would love to credit my talent… I can’t! I know that most of this is because of how the series is written.
Which brings me to Pro #1
Novella Series are a very amped up piece of fiction to write. You basically take your Eight Point Story Arc and instead of spreading it out over 100,000 words, you condense it down into 20,000.
I thought it would be impossible. I am really long-winded when I get going, so I honestly expected Episode One to be a failure from the start. But it turns out that I love the abbreviated version. As an author, I just love getting straight to the point. Instead of the slow-build that’s inherent with full-lengths, the novella gets eight big explosions of plot. It makes for a very exciting story for both the author and the reader.
And for the reader, it’s like sitting down with a TV show you love. It’s not going to take an entire weekend to read. You could probably stretch it to a couple hours, depending on how much time you have. It’s over fast, but it’s all the best parts of the story. On top of that, the new material releases much faster than your full-length series. The story builds with each episode and it’s almost like your readers get to live in that world for the whole six months, or however long the series runs. You don’t give them a book hangover when forced reentry into the real world happens, because it doesn’t really happen. In just a short couple weeks, you let them jump right back into that world and feed their craving.
Which brings me to Con #1
The episodes are short! And it can be frustrating for your readers to have to wait the time length allotted between segments- especially if they end on a cliffhanger. While I try not to leave an episode right at the edge of life and death, sometimes it’s impossible to find a good conclusion with that small number of words. Sure, certain episodes can be stretched by a couple thousand, but then if the next episode goes back to the normal length, the reader is going to feel slighted.
I try to keep all of the episodes within 500 words of each other. But the reader doesn’t know that. They don’t go by word counts. They go by the feel of the story. So each episode is judged by the reader on how short it felt. And if there’s a lot of action happening, then that episode is going to fly by for them and they will complain about it in their reviews.
It can be a battle how to split up that precious amount of words to give the reader everything they need and want in the story. Take Love and Decay. It’s a dystopian story right on the other side of an apocalypse with a building alternate government. It’s also a Zombie horror story with constant life threatening scenarios. On top of all that, it’s a love story. At its core, it’s a romance. Throw in secondary characters, life without clean water, electricity or modern medicine and that’s a ton to fit into four chapters of five thousand words each.
I’m not saying you can’t do it. Obviously you can. There’s just a very thin line to walk when deciding how to plot out your series.
Which brings me to Pro #2
As an author, pumping out a novel a month is just not feasible. In fact, it’s a very fast train to Burn Out. I couldn’t imagine writing the amount of words that go into one of my full-length novels in a single thirty-day period.
However, 20k? No problem. Even 40k is easily attainable.
And that means, if you pursue a novella series, you could have a release a month. Maybe not a big release. Maybe not something that’s going to net you tens of thousands of dollars and put you on the NYT Bestsellers list. But as far as publishing something that works for your career and adds to your catalog, a Novella Series cannot be topped.
Each episode is something you can give to your readers every single month. Each episode is something getting thrown into Amazon, and Barnes and Noble and Google searches with your name on it! They have inexpensive editing fees and are an easy project for your betas.
Personally, I’ve seen awesome results with the every-two-week schedule, but I know that’s not ideal for everyone. Mostly, because it’s really intense and during those six months my life is a little insane. But, my readers love having something to look forward to every other week. Even if the episode is slower paced, it is still adding to the storyline and giving them just a little bit more of the world you created.
The point is that it’s a very cool way to get your readership involved and interacting with you often. There is always buzz around a release, and usually it tends to stick around for a few weeks. Imagine having that buzz for each episode. It just constantly feeds into the next release. It never really dies down because the next episode is published before it can.
Which brings me to Con # 2
It’s a whole lot of work for not a big payday. And a lot of this depends on your structuring. I only include 20k in my novellas, so I don’t feel comfortable charging more than .99 an episode. We all know how the royalties work and that anything under $2.99 can only collect 35%. So even if I have a relatively big release weekend for me, I’m only pulling in a fraction of what I make on my bigger novels.
However, as I’ve said before, the releases happen more often. So if I’m only putting out two novels a year, but twelve novellas in one six-month season, then the royalties start to become more comparable. The other thing you can do once a series is finished, is bundle them and charge something that will earn you that 70% royalty rate.
Which brings me to Pro #3
Novella Series might not be your biggest money maker but they are exposure and a marketing campaign that works for itself the entirety of your series. And, really, they have as much potential as anything else you write. As long as you’re constructing a solid story, then who’s to say what they can or cannot do.
The biggest benefit for me so far has been the added readership. Love and Decay has opened a whole new avenue of readers for me. Originally, I attributed this to the new genre. I had never written anything Zombie before and I assumed all my new readers were big Zombie fans. I learned quickly that they were just new fans. Most of them had not even read Zombie-fiction before Love and Decay.
I haven’t studied this in depth, but from the surface research I have done, I think this has to do with the low price and the quickness of the read. Even .99 full-length books are an investment of time for readers. But dedicating an hour and a half to a novella, not only keeps their bank account from breaking, but in a relatively short amount of time, they’re going to know if they like your writing style or not.
Which finally brings me to Con #3
Novella Series are intense. And they are a ton of work. They will suck up your life and consume your thoughts. They dominate everything else going on.
And they might not take off right away. Especially with those first few episodes, they might drag or seem pointless. But keep going! Think of all the interest they will generate when you are half way through, or even three-fourths the way through your series or season. Make it an enthralling story line that fits well into the shorter structure and exciting enough that readers cannot wait to know what happens next.
So, yes, you’re going to work for this one, but I’ve found that it’s the same with anything I want to write and publish. Success takes hard work and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Novellas are no different.
But look at it this way; even though Serials are a relatively trendy topic right now, they are in no way new or original. If you choose to write one, you’ll be in company with such greats as Tolstoy, Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens and C.S. Lewis!
In my opinion, the Pros far outweigh the Cons in this argument and personally my novella series has been one of the most fun things I’ve ever written!
I was born and raised in Nebraska, but spent my college years traveling the world. I fell in love with Eastern Europe, Paris, Indian Food and the beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka. But I came back home to marry my high school sweetheart and now I spend my days raising our growing family. In those few spare moments I have, I am either reading or writing Young Adult Fiction, because I am obsessed with it.
Five other things I’m obsessed with right now:
1. My Kuerig Coffee Machine. Genius.
2. 90’s music. Oh man, the 90’s speak right to my soul.
3. Chocolate smelling body wash. Who doesn’t want to walk around smelling like a bakery?
4. Colored Chapstick. And if it’s Dr. Pepper Flavored, that’s kind of my nirvana.
5. Spotify. It’s like the mixed-tape of this generation and I have probably three hundred hours of music on there. Can’t get enough.
Rachel’s Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
by Susannah Sandlin
[For background. I wrote my first serial novel in spring of 2013. Storm Force, a paranormal romantic thriller, was released in nine weekly Kindle episodes of about four chapters each, and then released in print and audio after the serial run. Early this year, my publisher released Lovely, Dark, and Deep (a romantic thriller) in eight weekly episodes. LDD, as I call it, will come out in print and audio on June 24. Both are full-length novels.]
I have really mixed feelings about serials. Part of it comes from being on the author side of it; the other comes from being, first, a reader myself. There are pros and cons.
As an author, serials are just plain fun to write. Not to get too technical about it, but a regular novel is structured kind of like the letter W—high point, relax, high point, relax, high point. A serial novel, because it’s released in episodes with each episode ending on a point of high tension or conflict, is a series of Vs: VVVVVVV. Up down up down. It’s like a roller coaster, and as a writer you have to think about your story in a different way. Which is, of course, great geeky fun.
As a reader, the pace of a serial is addictive. There isn’t time, with each episode ending on a high point, for the action to lag. The serial lends itself really well to thrillers, mysteries, and romantic suspense (either paranormal or not) because those genres tend to be “noisier” in terms of action and conflict.
As an author, the serial works well for my writing style, but I can see where it would be a nightmare for others. I’m a plotter, not a pantser. If the first part of your novel is already in readers’ hands while you’re still writing the back part, you have to write fast and clean and be comfortable with not making any revisions other than minor copyedits. My journalism background makes that a good fit for me, but it wouldn’t be for everyone.
As a reader, this is the biggest negative about serials: the pace of release. Readers of romantic and paranormal genres tend to be voracious consumers who like to get lost in their favorite stories and authors. A serial forces the voracious reader to read slowly. It’s great for the person who just wants a quick read during lunch hour or a commute, but not for the person who really wants to get immersed in a story. By the time you get hooked, the episode is over and you have to wait another week to see what happens. By then, you’ve probably read another book or two.
The serial is an old format, but it’s only in the last year or two that it has begun a comeback. Readers aren’t used to it. Sometimes they are just trying it out, and sometimes it doesn’t work the way they expected. The only way they know to voice their displeasure at the format or the delivery system is to leave bad “reviews” for the author. I really don’t think they realize how much these hurt the author and the book (which one hopes will have life as a regular novel once the serial run is over).
Don’t get me wrong. If you don’t like my books, by all means go and leave a review that reflects your feelings. I respect that totally.
But I saw a clear review pattern with both of my serials: the actual reviews were awesome. But the review rankings got dragged down by readers who “loved the story, hated the format” and gave it one star or two stars. Which brings down the book’s total review ranking, which means it doesn’t get cross-promoted or marketed.
What do you think of serials?
I’ll provide a reader with a choice of a signed print copy of Storm Force or a Kindle version of both Storm Force and Lovely, Dark, and Deep…..and they’re both full novels now, so don’t worry about the format! Simply leave a comment and I will choose one winner at random on April 28th.
Susannah Sandlin is the author of paranormal romance set in the Deep South, where there are always things that go bump in the night. A journalist by day, Susannah grew up in Alabama reading the gothic novels of Susan Howatch and the horror fantasy of Stephen King. (Um…it is fantasy, right?) The combination of Howatch and King probably explains a lot. Currently a resident of Auburn, Alabama, Susannah has also lived in Illinois, Texas, California, and Louisiana.
Susannah’s Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
Also known as: Suzanne Johnson
And now to find out how some of my fellow book addicts feel!
There is no doubt that most of you have seen the ebook market explode with serial novels, which are stories told piece by piece in ‘episodes’. They were all the rage when authors like Charles Dickson or Alexandre Dumas were alive, but they sort of died out over time. Now in the time of ebooks they have made a comeback and with a loyal fanbase! So what are the good and bad things about serialized stories?
• Perfect for Those ‘Zero Concentration’ Days: Most serial novellas are pretty short, hitting only about 50 to 60 pages, and requiring very little of your own time or energy to read, and since they are so short they usually get to the point quickly.
• It’s Like TV: I personally don’t watch a lot of tv, but I enjoy the concept of it quite a bit. The idea of having a story play out in episodes instead of all at once is pretty appealing and serialized novels deliver exactly that…without the commercials, which is an added bonus.
• Test Driving an Author’s Writing: We’ve all had that moment where we buy a new book and find out we don’t like it…it sucks and now we’re out $5. Serialized novels, unlike normal stand alone novellas, are perfect for giving you a taste of the authors writing AND letting you continue the story if you like it enough. Some authors are even nice enough to offer the first episode for free.
• Frequently On Sale or Free: I like scouring the Kindle freebies every few days and one thing I notice is the amount of serialized stories that pop up on the free lists. I’ll never say no to a free book and I’m always open to fast paced stories I can fit in between my normal novels.
• Box Sets!: After a season has come to a close the author usually puts them in an ebook boxset, making it easier on those who would rather spend $4 on a fuller experience than $2 on individual episodes.
• The Wait: Sometimes the wait between each episode or season can be horrible, and unlike the predictable tv sometimes the episodes don’t come out in a scheduled fashion. It might be weeks or months before you see your favorite character again, and that can be downright torture. The good thing is as book nerds we’re use to waiting.
• The ‘When to Buy It’ syndrome: I have this issue a lot when it comes to purchasing episodes in a serial. Should I wait until the whole season is out or do I keep buying them individually because I enjoy instant gratification quite a lot? Sometimes waiting pays off and I get the season cheaper than I would individually.
• Price = Page Count Doesn’t Add Up: I don’t like paying more than $1 for books under 100 pages and a lot of serials cost more than that. I totally get the author needs to make money so the fault doesn’t lie with them. I just read way too fast to want to spend $3 on something that’s going to take me 15 minutes to read. Which brings up back to my Pro dealing with Box Sets, the prices are generally much better when you purchase the episodes all together.
So those are just some of the things I like and dislike about episodic adventures! What do you think?
As an avid reader, I have a fondness for serial novels. Don’t get me wrong. I love novels as well, but like most readers these days, it’s difficult to fit reading into a busy schedule. A 300-page novel can look like a daunting task when you’re busy driving kids to and from piano practice, track meets, and soccer games, then cooking for and cleaning up after those same kids. And that’s all after working a full-time job. But, I do have 30 minutes to spare here and there for a serial installment when I know I’m going to get into the action and get to know the characters fairly quickly.
A serial novel should be a satisfying read. I want to be pleased with what I’ve read when I get to the last page. But I also want to want more. Does that make sense? If it’s too short, it doesn’t work for me. It should be just long enough for solid character development and a decent amount of action, which connects me to the characters and heightens the reading experience, leaving me craving more.
For me, reading a well written serialized novel is like riding a roller coaster. On the way up, I hold my breath in anticipation of reaching the heart-stopping peak, then speed down with a huge, silly grin on my face. Sure, I want to ride again, but I want to catch my breath before diving back into the book when the next installment arrives.
Now, let’s talk format. Those who know me well know that I’m a fan of printed books because I like to hold a book, caress its cover, and sniff its pages. Strange? Yes, probably. That’s not the point. When it comes to serial novels, I prefer the e-reader version. Why? The answer is simple: cost. Like most readers, I have a limited budget. But I can swing 99 cents for one installment of a serial novel, even if there are going to be several installments. And, hey, if the first one was crap, I’m out less than a dollar. No sweat. But, if it’s the kind of serial that seems was written just for me, and I can get that roller coaster ride kind of enjoyment from it, what’s 99 cents? Totally worth it.
What are your thoughts about serial novels? Have you read any? If so, which ones? If not, are you interested in starting one?
Thank you so much to the fabulous women, authors and bloggers alike, who took the time to contribute to this discussion post. You are all out of this world! 😀
There will be loads of awesome panels at UtopYA Con 2014, but the one I’m most excited about focuses on serial novels. To find out more about UtopYA check out the website at UtopYA Con. If you still need tickets, click here to snag them! I hope to see you there 😀
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