Complete Guide To Writing & Publishing Serial Fiction

Blog Graphic: Complete Guide to Serial Fiction Publishing

Serial fiction is a powerful way to distribute your writing in installments. The serial format has been around nearly as long as the printing press and is the reason we recognize many great writers as great writers. Modern serial fiction is one of the best ways for new writers to get started and a potent way for established writers to expand their audience.

The serial form may be the key to opening up new avenues to grow your audience and monetize that work. 

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • What Serial Fiction Is
  • Why You Should Serialize Your Fiction
  • How To Write Serial Fiction
  • How To Publish Serial Fiction
  • How To Sell Your Serialize Fiction
  • Ways To Use Serial Fiction To Build An Audience

What Is Serial Fiction?

Serial fiction is a story told in parts and is usually published over a period of time. Charles Dickens is often credited with the first recorded serial novel (the Pickwick Papers, which you can find on Gutenberg for free), but the serial form has had numerous proponents over the years. Think of how songs make up an album or episodes that make a TV show’s season. 

Serial fiction usually focuses on a main character or cast of characters, with an overarching plot connecting the cast across multiple installments. Serialized fiction can take on numerous forms, including flash fiction, short stories, and serialized novels.

Why You Should Serialize Your Fiction

As traditional publishers consolidate, the opportunity to get picked up and earn a large enough advance to live on is shrinking. If you’re already self-publishing or considering it, think long and hard about the ways you’ll earn money from your writing.

Serializing your work is one way to diversify your products and reach a new audience.

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

Neither is easily achieved. 

When you serialize your work, you can monetize it (based on the specific platform you publish on) and, more importantly, you can build a new audience of fans who prefer to read a serialized story. 

How To Write Serial Fiction

Writing serial fiction is not the same as writing a standalone 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. For a serial publication, the key difference is in the planning and preparation.

To break it down for you, there are four things you need to put extra focus on before you start writing:

  • A system for organizing your work
  • Character sheets with a wealth of details for all of your characters 
  • A thorough outline of the overall story
  • A detailed publishing schedule

Above all else, serial fiction will have to rely on your characters more than most other forms of storytelling. Even short stories can be heavily plot-driven and succeed. But a serial will not last long if you don’t have a vivid, relatable set of characters your fans want to keep coming back to.

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.

You also need to have a well-documented and thorough outline for your entire story. Plan how your character development will build from episode to episode.

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 writing 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.

How To Publish Serial Fiction 

There are two commonly used methods for publishing serial fiction:

  1. Use a dedicated platform to make each installment available online
  2. Write a complete serial in book form and sell it from your website or on retail sites

Most authors who go the serial route will do both; utilizing serial publishing platforms for episodes of their work while also selling a regular novel or compilation of the episodes.

Here are four popular platforms to publish your serial fiction:

Wattpad

One of the oldest and most well-known serial publishing platforms, Wattpad features writing from a variety of genres—from romance to fanfiction to literary fiction—and allows authors to give away their serial fiction for free or require payment for access to the content.

The biggest benefit of Wattpad is the biggest problem with it: popularity. There are lots of people reading on Wattpad, meaning you have a bigger audience to capture. But there are a lot more authors publishing too. 

Royal Road

Another longstanding player in serial publishing, Royal Road is a great choice for novelists who want to publish their stories by chapter. When you publish content on Royal Road, it’s always available for free. Readers will have the option to donate to you and follow you to get notified when you publish a new episode.

You can also subscribe to Royal Road as a Reader or Author. Subscribing doesn’t support the authors directly but goes to the folks who maintain Royal Road.

Radish

While Royal Road is focused on serializing longer works, Radish Fiction is all about bite-sized writing. In fact, you need to use their app to even read a story on Radish. 

As a serial writer, you’ll also need to apply to join Radish and start writing and publishing on their platform.

If you’re writing modern romance and urban fantasy, you’re likely to find a dedicated audience on Radish. Even if you’re not able to monetize your stories (as an Established Writer), you can publish your serial fiction to build your audience on Radish.

Kindle Vella

Amazon’s platform for serial fiction, Kindle Vella, has broad appeal, much like Wattpad. You can find a variety of genres, from romance to thrillers to science fiction. Monetizing your stories works in the same way as Wattpad; offering some free and then requiring payment for future installments.

You publish through KDP using their Vella dashboard. It’s just as simple as the other platforms to use and has the added benefit of existing inside Amazon’s platform, so you can easily access and read Vella stories on the Kindle app and their Fire tablet.

Finding Your Serial Fiction Audience

The best option will always be to offer your work to readers you think will want it. If that means publishing on a specific platform, do it. If you’ve already got a thriving mailing list and a lot of engagement with your email newsletters, maybe you can publish on your own site and drive your fans there.

How you publish is up to you. Start by identifying the platforms and formats your fans like. Or, if you’re a first-time author, look at successful authors writing in your genre and see how they are publishing their serial fiction online. 

Since you’re the creator here, you can get creative with how you publish your serial fiction. Here’s one example of four ways you can publish a single story arc or episode:

  1. As digital episodes using a serial fiction platform like Wattpad
  2. As ebooks including a single episode or a few episodes in one file
  3. As a complete novel, including one full story arc from your series
  4. As an email with the episode in the email’s body

Using Your Cover Design To Get Reader’s Attention

If you’re publishing your serial fiction using a site like Wattpad or Royal Road, you need a stunning cover for your series that captures your reader’s attention and clearly illustrates or hints at the story. And if you’re writing a number of story arcs using that same cast, you’ll need to serialize your book covers as well. Don’t overlook your cover, it plays a big role in sparking interest from new readers and will help returning readers pick your work out of a crowded marketplace full of book cover thumbnails.

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Browse professional designers, editors, and marketers to help you publish like a pro!

How To Sell Your Serialize Fiction

You can and should get creative here. There is no one right way to sell your stories. These four methods for selling your serial fiction are just ideas to get you started:

  1. Sell on a serial fiction publishing platform
  2. Sell on your own website
  3. Sell on your social media profiles
  4. Sell digital serial fiction as a print book

Pick a platform that makes the most sense for your audience. For most authors and creators, you’ll want to start on one of the existing platforms. These sites, like Radish and Kindle Vella, have thousands of users and make stories easy to find. 

Once you start to build an audience on a serial publishing platform, you can start to do the same on your social profiles and mailing list. 

Using A Serial Fiction Platform

Using one of the many serial publishing platforms out there is the obvious first step to take. You can start publishing quickly and begin building an audience around your work. 

The only real question is which serial publishing site you should use. 

Start by defining the genre for your series and then look for those genres on a variety of serial publishing sites. If the stories in that genre are getting a lot of reads and “likes” by other users, you know there’s a good audience for that kind of fiction.

Sign up for an account of the sites that seem like they might be a good fit and spend some time reading the popular content in your genre. Finding a platform that specializes in your genre and has a lot of readers will increase your chances of finding an audience.

Selling Serial Fiction Direct

Once you have some readers interested in your serial fiction, you need to look for ways to extend that relationship. Most importantly, you need to get away from the ‘rented property’ of a publishing platform and start engaging with your fans on your own website. 

Fortunately, it’s never been easier to publish and monetize on your own platform. Services like Shopify and WooCommerce enable ecommerce directly on your site. That makes it easy to sell a digital or printed version (or both!) of your serial story.

Sell Your Book, Your Way

Sell books on your own website with Lulu Direct.

Sell Your Book,
Your Way

Sell books on your own
website with Lulu Direct.

Or you could use a subscription model to gate content, publishing directly on your site and granting access to fans who pay your monthly dues.

Shifting off of existing platforms and onto your own means you control every aspect of your author business: how much you earn, how often you publish, and you’ll see all the customer information (like email addresses) that enables personalized marketing.

Sell On Your Social Profiles

If you’re active on one or more social media platforms and that’s where your audience is developing, you can (and should) make it easy for your readers to buy your serial fiction right from their preferred social media platform!

Thanks to low-cost ecommerce options (like Shopify’s Starter plan), it’s never been easier to sell your content through your social profiles. If your biggest audience is on Instagram, cater to them! That could mean publishing teasers on your profile and selling the digital or printed version directly through the app. 

Sell Digital Serial Fiction As A Print Book

I mentioned it a few times, but it’s important to have a plan for your story beyond digital platforms like Wattpad. Using a serial publishing site to get your work noticed and build an audience is a great idea. But you’ll only earn a small payout for ‘locked’ content or you’ll rely on donations to earn income. 

Once you shift your audience over to your own site, you can set the price and you’ll earn more for each subscription or microtransaction to unlock digital content. Now that your fans are congregating on your platform, you can market products with an even higher profit potential—like a printed version of your serial novel or series.

Compiling story arcs into a novel or series of printed books creates a new product you can offer to your existing serial readers. You can also market to people who don’t generally read serial fiction online but do love to read books. And with print-on-demand, you can create versions of your book to meet a variety of purposes.

That might include special edition hardcovers for subscribers or a series of low-cost paperbacks for fans who like reading physical books. 

Ways To Use Serial Fiction To Build An Audience

Serializing your content naturally creates an audience. You’ve got a cast of characters and a series of adventures (or maybe misadventures) that continue to build and evolve those characters. If you’re fans like it, there is a good chance they’ll come back again and again for each new installment.

Knowing this, you need to look for ways to continue to engage with your readers. That might mean getting them on your mailing list or following you on a social media platform. Building a community around your work is one proven way to establish true fans and ensure you have eager customers when your next book is ready to publish. 

If you think of your serial publishing as being akin to blog content to earn organic traffic from search engines or social posts to build a following, you can operate like a content marketer. Using your content as a tool to build an audience will help ensure you’ve got fans to buy your next story or product—this is the foundation of a thriving author business! 

Building Your Serial Fiction Business

Serializing your work is just one way to create a new connection with your audience and potentially new revenue streams. 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 H, Content Marketing Manager

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.

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[…] you write serial fiction, you might use a dedicated platform like Wattpad. If you write ebook novels, you might be on […]

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.

@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.

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?

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.

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.

This is a brilliant idea and has made me rethink Thanks!

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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