“Are You Tough Enough to Serialize?” by Sharon T. Rose
Writing is hard work. It’s creative, it’s an art form, and it requires countless hours of BIC-HOK (Butt In Chair, Hands on Keyboard). Sometimes the words flow, sometimes they stop up. Sometimes the characters cooperate, sometimes they sabotage you. Plots, worlds, arcs … the list of items goes on and on. But when you finish, oh, the glory that is yours.
The very hardest form of writing is the serial. It’s the Ivy League, the Sudden Death Round. When you write something that will publish all at once, such as a book or an article, you have the leeway to write whatever portion of the piece that comes most easily at any given time. But with a serial, you have to write what comes next, even if it’s a scene that refuses to allow writing. You have to write sequentially, and you have to write regularly. No slacking, no vacations. The serial is for the serious writer.
Or the masochist, but that’s another blog.
If you think you’re strong enough to do a serial, let me share what tidbits of insight I’ve gained over the last three years of updating. Oh, and allow me to clarify a bit of semantics: there is a difference between a serial and a serialization. A serialization of a work means that the story is already complete before you post the first update. A serial is a work that you write as you post. You can (and should) have a buffer, but the work is not finished before you update that first time.
So, the first thing for the serial writer to do is have a platform through which to publish the work. This can be a personal website, a business site run by someone other than the writer (perhaps a fan site or a publisher like Curiosity Quills), a magazine, or something like that. Serials can appear in either print or e-format. What’s important is that you have a way to get the story out there. I started with Digital Novelists, moved to Lily Fields Fiction, and will soon publish through Curiosity Quills.
Once you know how you’re going to share your work, take time to figure out how to format your story for the platform you’re using. If you’re going through a website, learn basic html tags and how to utilize all the features of the site. If you are going through another party, learn how they want the writing formatted so you can send every update already formatted. Trust me when I say that a happy business partner makes a happy business relationship. And nothing irritates readers like a tiny formatting error or a typo. Spare yourself the drama and know how to do basic formatting.
Now, most indie writers are one-stop shops for everything related to the work. We do the writing, the editing, the website management, the artwork, and on and on. The reason for this is that most of us can’t afford to hire a team to do all that stuff for us. If you can’t hire someone, then you have to learn how to do it yourself. Make time for this education. Learn how to use GIMP or a photo-editing software program so you can make banners and basic graphics. Slum around www.dafont.com and other free font sites to find letters to spell out your title. Log into Flickr.com or get an account on istockphoto.com and learn how to legally use images in your book covers. And if you’re not willing to do this yourself, then be willing to pay someone else to do it for you.
Next is something that you should already be doing. Sadly, far too many of us don’t think about this: social networking. Put yourself up on some social networks and get busy being yourself. Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, etc., are places that you need to have an established presence. The trick is simple: Act Natural. Do NOT spam your feeds with ads for your stuff. Tastefully mention your work here and there, but build yourself up as a person, not as a bot. Engage with others on subjects you enjoy. Participate in discussions about relevant topics. Share ideas and blogs and quotes and things that matter to you. Go be sociable.
I know you’re wondering about the writing part, and I’m getting to that. But writing is the no-brainer, so I won’t spend much time on it. However, I will give you some things to think about when preparing to write your serial.
You set your own update schedule; you get to decide how much you update and how often. Pick something that you can actually do. Challenge yourself to do more than you have, but don’t set a schedule that you know you can’t keep. For me, 1,000 words three times a week ended up being perfect. As long as I’m within a range of 900-1300 words, I consider it good. And occasionally, I will promise an extra donation update, but only if I’ve got enough buffer or time between “real life” activities to do it. It’s important that you don’t kill yourself with stress.
Create a writing schedule and stick to it. This is the Big League, kids. No more slacking allowed. Ideally, you will have a few updates’ worth of buffer between you and the next post, but Life doesn’t always allow for that. Something will happen; I guarantee it. You will miss a piece or a chunk of your schedule. But if you are in the habit of keeping the schedule, then getting up after the Steamroller of Reality has run you over will be a lot easier. Deep breath, dust off, and BIC-HOK it. It’s ok; you will survive.
When actually writing, be sure to think about the cliffhanger. Every update needs to end with something that makes the reader want to know more. It doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) a life-or-death situation in every update, but it needs to be a question, a thought unfinished. Reveal enough to round out the update, but leave at least one thing hanging. A small thing, but one that piques the interest. You have time between your updates, so give the readers something to chew on in the interim.
Be sure to interact with your readers a bit. If you update via a website, this is easier than if you go via print. But whenever possible, let the readers know that you’re real. This goes back to the Being Sociable tip above. Make a comment on your updates. Respond to what the readers say. Drop ambiguous hints and thank people for their kind words. Readers like feeling that they “know” their favorite authors, and getting to know you may make you one of their favorites.
When you have about 14 updates posted, it’s time to get yourself listed in some directories (like TuesdaySerial!). 14 is a good number of updates because it shows the directories that you’re serious about your serial. This is also a good time to already have your story’s banner made up, because the online directories like having a bit of artwork to display next to your title. Readers also like seeing some nice graphics to give them an idea of what your work is about. In any event, get at least a placeholder image ready to submit with your directory listings. The more places readers can find you, the better.
When the story refuses to cooperate, take a step back. This is another reason why it’s good to have a buffer; sometimes, the story will not cooperate. Try coming at it from another angle. Shift the focus to another character or setting, sort of a “meanwhile, back at the ranch” kind of change. Above all, trust yourself. Your mind knows how this will play out, but we can get too married to a particular idea or plot progression. Every so often, the story will go left when you’re going right. It’s ok; back up and follow the story.
Well, those are some of the big things I’ve learned while writing serials. It’s a grown-up game, tougher than any other in the writing business. And it is the most fun I’ve ever had. I love getting instant feedback and watching my readers speculate about where the story will go next. I love talking with other serial writers and sharing community with them.
There have been times when I finished an update mere minutes before time. There have been updates I hated and almost didn’t post. And I have scrapped thousands of words and started fresh when I really didn’t have the time to do so. It’s a rush, I tell ya. It’s a challenge. And it is totally worth it.
Sharon T. Rose writes, dreams, and does impossible stuff, like finishing novels and pronouncing alien’s names. She lives under a rock and lurks all over the internet. Sharon is also the author of “No Turning Back” which can be found on Smashwords. You can trip her if you wait long enough at one of these sites: