Serial fiction has long been a popular way for independent authors to publish and sell content. Historically, it was a vital way for now-classic authors like Dickens to publish longer works chapter by chapter in literary magazines.
The serial format naturally lends itself to sharing stories in smaller pieces or bite-sized installments. Serial fiction today is a popular way for self-published authors to share a short story or complete novel.
The challenge facing authors who like to write episodic fiction is in making money from their work.
So how do you sell your serial fiction online? There are a number of existing digital platforms, but just using an existing platform is likely not enough. Savvy authors will sell their serial fiction with two or more different methods—focusing on the platforms and retailers their audience already uses.
What Is Serial Fiction?
Any time you create, publish and distribute your stories piece-by-piece, you’re writing serial fiction. That could be a series of loosely-related short stories or a full-length novel that tells a longer story in episodes.
Serial fiction has been around since the 19th century and today continues to be a popular and effective way to both distribute your content and earn income from that content.
How To Sell Your Serial Fiction Online
There are a lot of ways you can sell your content in smaller installments. Take note too that serialized content can also serve as an audience builder. If you publish to an established serial fiction platform, you are gaining access to all the readers already using that platform.
1. Using A Serial Fiction Platform
Using a dedicated platform is the most obvious way to publish your serial fiction. And if you’re a new fiction author just starting out, it’s probably where you should start.
The most popular platforms include Wattpad and Kindle Vella, with numerous others aiming to appeal to independent authors in specific niches—like Radish, a romance and fantasy-focused publishing platform, or Royal Road, which publishes fantasy and science fiction. Going with one of the established sites is fine, but it is worth weighing your options. Particularly if you write in a very niche genre, you will benefit from finding a serial publishing platform that specializes in that genre.
Importantly, for new indie authors looking to publish, you should not look at these platforms as the end goal of your publishing journey. One thing we’ve learned from a variety of research into the burgeoning creator economy is that the most successful creators rely on their own sites to connect with their audience.
Platforms like Wattpad that specialize in the serial form are the perfect place to find and grow your audience, but the longer-term goal should always be to shift that audience over to your own site.
2. Publish On Your Own Platform
As an independent author, it’s great to develop your audience through existing platforms. Think about your digital serialized fiction in a similar way to your Instagram posts. You’re creating something to entice your fans and using a platform they already frequent to reach them.
Once you start to build up an audience, the natural move is to shift them to your own site.
Thanks to innovations in ecommerce, you can easily use ecommerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, and Wix to sell directly to your fans on your own site. When you’re selling your serial fiction direct (either by gating it on your site or through an ebook), you control the retail price. No sharing with the publishing platform.
And you’ll have the added benefit of capturing user data—meaning you can grow your email subscriber list while you sell the latest installment of your work.
3. Sell Stories On Your Social Profile
This one is a little more specialized but nonetheless important. You can use ecommerce platforms to sell your products through social media sites. Shopify’s new Starter Plan is a very economical way to use their ecommerce platform for social selling without investing much in the service.
Regardless, social media is often the best way to reach your existing fans and connect with new ones. If you’re looking for a new way to promote and share your originally published serial fiction, social media looks to be the next big thing.
Connecting your business goals with your social media strategy has numerous benefits. You can reach a bigger audience, earn more sales, and strengthen your network of true fans (making it easier to market your next piece of content).
4. Publishing And Selling Print Books
Okay, let’s say you’ve been working on a serialized story for a couple of years. You publish a new installment on Wattpad every couple of weeks and you’ve amassed a decent following.
So, what do you do when you finish the story?
You know your story can’t go on forever and hope to retain your fans’ interest. And once that story is done, you’ll need to move on to a new one that is equally capable of keeping your readers engaged. Leaving that finished story gathering digital dust.
Or you could compile the completed story into a printed book (or two or three if it’s a long piece) and sell it to your fans! And when you use Lulu Direct, you can connect your website to our print-on-demand network, meaning the printing and fulfillment are completely automated.
Selling print books bring numerous benefits, including the actual, physical book (which brings a level of ‘collectibility’) and the opportunity to earn higher profits from sales. Plus, when you use print-on-demand, it’s easy to create special editions to market to your biggest fans.
Your Serial Fiction Plan
No, I can’t give you a step-by-step plan for selling your serial fiction. There are simply too many variables and factors to consider. But you can (and should) develop your own plan. The first step, as with any publishing endeavor, whether you’re a new author or already a best-selling author, is to write the story.
Episodic fiction might not require that you draft your entire story before you start publishing, but you should have a good outline of the overarching plot.
Once you’ve determined (broadly) what your main character(s) will be doing in your story, you can start to think about the format you’ll use. Will your story be purely episodic, with each installment a standalone story or moment for your characters? Or is this a complete novel that you’ll share out piecemeal, offering up each new chapter to your fans? That should give you a lot of material to outline and plan around.
With a solid outline and lots of notes about characters, plot, and your world, you are ready to dive into publishing. How you’ll sell your serial fiction will be determined by your story and your audience. With so many new creator economy technologies (like Radish and Wattpad), you’ve got to find the right digital platform to connect with your audience.
Build Momentum And Keep Publishing
After you publish your first episode, get the next episode written and ready to publish. As each part of your serial novel goes live, you’ll learn more about what your fans like (and what they don’t). Work to include your fans in the process too; that might be in the form of email surveys or social media quizzes. Ask them what they’d like to see your characters do next.
Use that to try new forms: do short stories work better or do your fans want episodes of a longer story? Or perhaps you try novella-length episodes, giving a longer and more complete story with each installment. Measure the degrees of success you have on your digital platform.
Finally, refer to the list above and branch away from the digital-first platforms like Wattpad and Radish to your own space online. Now you’ll be able to start growing your mailing list and trying new ways to monetize your content. Offer a monthly subscription fee to access content or do free/paid versions of your stories to lure in new readers. You’ll need to experiment to see what works.
There Is No One Way To Sell Serial Fiction
Like most creators today, you probably need to diversify—both the platforms you use to distribute your content and the products you sell. As a serial fiction writer, start first with your readers. If you know they flock to Radish for their romance stories, you should publish on that platform.
Then look for ways to further monetize your story while offering your audience something they want—that could be special editions of the multiple installments in a printed book, a companion journal to go with the stories, or any of a number of different products.
Using your serial fiction as both a way to earn money and a way to build your audience is a great formula for new and veteran authors. And with so many options, you’ll be able to find the publishing path that makes the most sense for you, your writing, and your readers.
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.