Serials as previews
For quite some time now, giving away the first in a novel series has been a mainstay of self-published authors’ and small presses’ marketing strategy. Everyone wins, after all. The readers get free books, the author gets their work into people’s hands so that the writing can sell itself. Write a brilliant opening novel, give it away, and watch people freshly in love with your writing and world buy the rest of the series at full price.
That’s the theory, anyway.
At Curiosity Quills, we’ve embraced the serial in a similar fashion. We run several weekly serials on our website, and most of these are from authors who have other titles out with us. For instance, Bone Wires by Michael Shean is a stand-alone tale in the universe of Shadow of a Dead Star, while Vicki Keire’s Daughter of Glass is in the same world as her best-selling Angel’s Edge books. Stein & Candle takes a different approach, which it can as a selection of short stories. Here, we post the first three to four shorts from a book of eight to ten, something we’re able to do because each individual tale can be enjoyed in isolation.
Stand-alone is the important part, however. Writing a serial this way, as an introduction to the author’s other work, comes with a dangerous temptation: the cliff-hanger. You know the ones I mean. Serials or free books that just- stop, with a big neon sign that reads buy my books to find out. This is especially frustrating in a serial vs a free kindle title, because often your readers have been coming back faithfully, week after week, to find out what happens. Gaining that kind of buy-in for a free serial, only to cut them off with a ‘pay me or get out’ will get you some customers, but a lot of bad blood to go with it. Readers should want to buy your other books because they enjoyed the serial and want to read more of your stuff, not because you left them dangling and held closure on two months of emotional investment to ransom.
The other temptation to giving away free fiction in the form of serials is to think it doesn’t matter as much as the rest of your work. Couldn’t be more wrong. Editing and content should be your best, every bit as much as any published work – after all, it’s based on this that a reader might decide whether to bother with your paid writing at all! All of the CQ serials are edited by the same team of editors that handle our published work, for exactly that reason.
Some people, ourselves included, sometimes look at a completed serial, months later, now novel length, and decide to publish it in its entirety; for example, Bone Wires concluded on May 24th and will be published on in eBook and paperback on 17th July. You’re then faced with a conundrum – what makes this worth buying, for people who have read the online version?
Sometimes it can be very simple things – a lot of people prefer using their ereader compared to on-screen, or would like the tactile pleasure of a physical book. In the case of Stein & Candle, the serialised parts are only a third of the book, making the appeal more obvious. For full-length novels it can be a bit harder, and the answer is sometimes an extra round of edits, tweaking things like pacing. After all, in serial format you need to hold people with every 2-5000 world slice, whereas a novel sometimes benefits for from the pace slowing for a chapter or two. This gives you two slightly different versions of the story, and adds re-read value. Another alternative is bonus content, such as short stories or character sheets.
However you do it, why-ever you do it, keep writing. The vastness and ubiquity of the modern internet means there has never been a better time to publish an online serial.
Verity Linden is Director of Business Development, editor and all round meddling so-and-so at Curiosity Quills Press, as well as editing on a freelance basis. She writes various columns at the CQ site as well as irreverent slices of non sequitur at her own blog, House of Pixie. You can find her on twitter as @PublicityPixie and on Google+