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Make Money With Serial Fiction

I spend a lot of time thinking about and researching the business of creating books. It’s kind of natural since Lulu is all about enabling authors to operate as a business. Today I want to introduce an old idea that just might be perfect for modern readers: serialized fiction.

Before you roll your eyes and click over to Instagram to like some dog pictures, bear with me for just a few minutes.

The form of your work may be the key to opening up new avenues to monetize that work. 

What Is Serialized Fiction?

The idea is simple and gets used by a variety of other creators: the content is a series of discrete parts that combine to create something bigger. Think of how songs make up an album or episodes make a TV show’s season. Television in particular has embraced the serial format. 

Serial fiction is a story told in parts and is usually published over a period of time. Dickens is often credited with the first recorded serial novel (the Pickwick Papers, which you can find on Gutenberg for free), but the form has had numerous proponents over the years. 

Just check out this awesome infographic from Books on the Wall for a history lesson in serial fiction:

Why You Should Serialize Your Fiction

We’re self-publishing and building our own audience; we’ll need to constantly be on the lookout for new ways to connect with readers and inspire them to make a purchase. As traditional publishers consolidate, the opportunity to get picked up and earn a large enough advance to live on is shrinking. 

Serializing your work (be it fiction or non-fiction) is one way to diversify your products.

If you want to make writing your primary source of income, you almost have to offer more than just books. Selling only your books means you need either 1) a very large audience who are dedicated to buying your books and 2) to write fast enough that you churn out books regularly.

Neither is easily achieved. That’s why you need to offer more than just your book. And that’s where serializing your content comes in.

Offering your content as pieces might lead to new ways to earn income—maybe you offer sections of your longer work as discounted ebooks. Or you might use excerpts to tease the book and make some presales before the official release.

Serialized fiction offers content over time, helping you establish regular traffic and better gauge your reader’s interest. Imagine you write historical fiction, but you want to dip your toes into science fiction; you could write a short piece that opens the door to a larger story and see how your readers react. If no one reads it, that Sci-Fi story might have to be a passion project instead of a money-maker. 

Methods To Serialize And Monetize

There are a number of ways you can use your content in smaller portions to help grow your author business. I’ve got a few ideas to offer today, but note that any idea could work. We’re in a world now where people crave stories and entertainment more than ever. How you offer that to your audience should be innovative.

You could utilize platforms like Royal Road or Wattpad to publish your work in small pieces. Both platforms come with pros and cons—Royal Road is a little clunky to actually read on and Wattpad is severely lacking in ways to monetize directly from their platform. When you use a platform to publish your serial fiction online, you’ll need to be very conscious of the audiences who use that platform and have a plan in place to convert those readers to actual customers (who buy your books!).

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The DIY Serial Fiction Route

Do-it-yourself solutions are going to continue to be vital to all kinds of creators and entrepreneurs. When you control your products and sales, you can adapt quickly and ensure you earn enough to sustain your work.

If you’re already using an ecommerce tool like Shopify or WooCommerce to sell your book, you could easily offer your serialized work as ebooks. Take the full-length novel you’re trying to sell and offer it as a series of novellas. You might need to edit the work a little to ensure each part is a satisfying story on its own, but once you have your story segmented, you’ll instantly have a range of products to offer. 

With your story broken into segments, you might try sending an email to your followers with the first part for free. Then offer the subsequent parts for a small price (maybe $0.99 to $2.00) and the full print book for the usual price ($10-$15 or more). Readers love options! 

A new reader might not be ready to spend $15 on your book. But a free chapter or a $2 novella is a lot easier to take a chance on. This kind of product marketing is often called a microtransaction—a method of offering low-cost items in a wide variety to entice a lot of sales. The gaming industry has latched onto this idea and run with it. You can use that wisdom to your advantage!

If they like what they get with that taste, you’ve got a good chance of earning a repeat customer.  

The Subscription Route

Offering pieces of your book for a lower price is a really simple and direct way to serialize your fiction. But it still relies on individual sales.

Subscription models are a really cool alternative way to crowdfund your publishing business. There are some misconceptions about crowdfunding though, most notably that it needs to be oriented around a single goal or expense. “Join my Kickstarter to help fund my new book and earn bonuses when it releases” is a great way to pique interest. But “subscribe and get new fiction in your inbox weekly/monthly” builds a lasting relationship. 

What can be confusing is that you’re following the same basic plan whether you’re crowdfunding a project or building subscribers. When it comes to serializing your work, obviously the subscription model is better because it represents consistent income. 

When you build subscribers around your serial fiction, you’re getting a strong indicator of your audience’s interest. And since subscription models can earn you substantial funds over the course of a year, you’re open to offering more ‘free’ or ‘subscriber exclusive’ things like print editions or swag related to your books.

The Newsletter Model

Newsletters have always been a potent means to reach your audience. Over the last few years, we’ve seen increased popularity of newsletters though.

Setting aside the many reasons email newsletters are so popular, it’s an amazing opportunity to distribute and monetize your serial fiction. Not only are you able to send the content directly to your readers in their personal inbox, but you’ll be able to completely control that content. And with platforms like Substack, you could even offer a subscription model for your newsletter.

Newsletters offer the best (and simplest) opportunity to serialize your work and build strong connections with your audience. If you’re not leveraging your followers by sending them regular emails, you really should be. Whether you lean on newsletters as the primary means of serializing your work or just as a part of a bigger strategy, getting into your audience’s inbox is crucial to keep them engaged with you and your work.

How To Write Serial Fiction

I’ve made an argument for why you should offer serialized content, but that is only half the work. If you do opt to create smaller pieces of content, you’ll need to adapt your entire creative process. Writing serial fiction is not the same as writing a novel.

Okay, yes, you still need to spend hours at your keyboard, the work still needs to be thoroughly edited, and you’ll still need to think about distribution options. The major difference will be in how you write your fiction.

If you’re going this route, I cannot recommend enough using a planning tool like Plottr. You’ll need to think smaller while keeping the big picture in mind too. Like a single season for a television show—each episode must stand alone and serve the larger narrative.

You’ll need to do the same with your serial fiction. Write smaller, more personal stories that focus on characters. This is a great way to develop an ensemble cast too; you might reuse characters as secondary players in another story. People love the characters in stories. If your characters are compelling, your readers will be eager for more.

Keys To Writing Serial Fiction

  1. Focus on micro-stories with a single conflict.
  2. Develop your protagonist; your readers must empathize and sympathize with your character.

Perhaps most important of all—you must write regularly. I know every piece of writing advice ever has led with “write daily” but I have to take a moment and emphasize this again.

You have to write every day.

Serial fiction only works if you stick to your schedule. Much like blogging, any lapse in the publishing schedule will cost you readers. People only have so much attention. Your most loyal fans might excuse a lapse, but newer readers or those only developing an interest won’t stick around if you miss deadlines.

Adapt And Thrive

Serializing your work is just one way to create a new connection with your audience and potentially new revenue streams. It’s vital to note that serializing is not a static methodology—you can ‘trickle’ content out to your audience in a variety of ways. The defining feature is that you give small, easy-to-digest stories driven by compelling characters. 

How you deliver that story could vary from novellas to Tweets to a comic to audio—and the list goes on. The point is to find unique ways to offer your creative work that builds a relationship with your audience. That relationship will pay dividends when you produce more involved (and expensive) work such as a full-length novel. When you offer your work in small doses, you give your readers a taste and an opportunity to develop a connection to characters that will keep them coming back for more.

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.

8 thoughts on “Make Money With Serial Fiction”

  1. M. Jean-Paul G. POTET

    Hello. Among several books, I have published a sitcom titled “Spiffies and Loonies”. It is also available in its French version (Fringues et Dingues) as well as a bilingual edition in two volumes (Mirrored in French). The three versions have been available with Lulu for years, but none has ever sold. As you suggest, perhaps I should have it published serialized.

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  3. @Shelley: yes, each would be its own eBook. You can differentiate them by using the main title for the series’ name, and the subtitle for the specific serial’s name. Also, my experience has been that iBooks and Barnes and Noble often group similar titles.

  4. I’m really unfamiliar with this site, so this may be a stupid question, but…to be clear, each chapter would be it’s OWN ebook? Is there a way to group them together so it is apparent they are all in the same book?

  5. Nice tips. I have some fiction that I am working on. I would really like it if I could successfully earn money from my hard work writing fiction.

  6. Actually I’ve been toying with the idea of a serial for some time. Most of my ideas are usually the kernel of something longer and more involved than the initial “short story”. The only draw back is consistency. Writing in an episodic fashion can cause continuity issues and (as the article states) requires self regulation of deadlines and proof-reading. If you have promised to make chapters available weekly or monthly, missing a deadline could lead readers to loose interest.
    I’ll certainly be considering giving it a go in the new year, but probably best to get a reasonable chunk done first before uploading anything, just to give yourself breathing space with the deadlines.
    This could also work for anyone planning a magazine format. First part free and subsequent parts at normal price with annual or seasonal specials of increased length.

  7. Zechariah Barrett

    Serialization is certainly a plausible idea as we discussed in “The Return of the Serial Novel.” The first installment free, and the rest following at a standard price (as I suggested in the comments), is likely the best route.
    Dedication and foresight are important assets to an author wishing to serialize their story. As noted, alterations to the story could be detrimental to sales and the author-reader relationship.
    I may develop a serialization in my spare time through Lulu, as I’m querying agents for my novel. My 600-word stories were fairly well-received, so why not a much longer serial? It seems a fair amount of consumers are willing to make the investment.

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