Updating Serialization for the 21st Century

Guest Post by Angeline Walsh 

Before narrative radio dramas and television sitcoms, there was the serial novel. Ever popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, stories published as “episodes” in magazines and newspapers gained a unique audience of fans who eagerly awaited new installments.

To admirers of the aesthetics and art of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, this style of literature is familiar: character-driven, elaborate, idiosyncratic, sometimes melodramatic. The most successful ones were subsequently published in the novel form we recognize today. Notable examples include Middlemarch, Vanity Fair, The Hidden Hand, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and most of Charles Dickens’s novels. 

In the age of social media and personal blogs, it’s a wonder that the serial novel—accessible and easily digested and providing many opportunities for artistic freedom—hasn’t made a proper return. To be sure, there are plenty of websites that host a myriad of fanfiction stories that are published in portions, but today, few authors choose to publish original works of fiction written in an episodic style, or even consider it. Of course, there are exceptions. In 1996, Stephen King released The Green Mile in slim segments within a six-month period. Most readers today recognize it not as a serial but as the thick tome that inspired an Academy Award-nominated film. Still, it might just be the most famous modern example of a serial novel to date. 

All of this begs the question: How exactly does one go about publishing a serial novel in the twenty-first century?

Your first step is to decide what platform you want to publish your story on. This is highly subjective, but it’s imperative—the manner in which you present your story to the public at large will influence the way in which readers perceive your story. First impressions matter. Of course, your decision depends on the intent of your novel and the sort of audience you hope to attract. Websites such as Wattpad and Inkitt, for example, give writers ready access to a large community of dedicated readers and offer writing contests and sometimes even publication to their most successful authors. These platforms may better suit newer writers because they are known for their unpretentious fare and for cultivating a welcoming environment for those who are less experienced with sharing their stories. If you’re a little more assured, Medium is a great option. Medium is accommodating for indie writers and is a space for writers of all shades to share their opinion pieces, essays, and original creative work.

If you already have an audience or you have published books previously, publishing a novel on your own website or blog is probably the best route to take: it’s right at home with the rest of your portfolio, and you can design and format the story to your liking.

Once you’ve made up your mind as to where you’re going to share your story, you’ll need to know how you’re going to go about it. That means you’re going to have to consider how often you plan to publish installments. Because a serial novel offers readers the chance to enjoy a story without the pressure of “finishing” it immediately, you must be strategic with how much you publish at a time and how often. Publishing one chapter at a time is a viable option. Another option is to publish segments that end on cliff-hangers. Whether you decide to publish bits of your novel once a month or once every two weeks, creating a schedule around the publication of your story is important. Not only does a publication schedule tell readers when to expect more, thereby increasing their investment in the story, it emphasizes one of the most important aspects to success in any endeavor: consistency. It’s a good habit to develop in any step of the writing process. 

Of course, this is all useless without readers, so you’ll need to build your own unique audience. Unfortunately, this step can also involve shelling out a little bit of money; however, effective marketing can be achieved even for an author on a budget. When boosting a post on Facebook or Instagram, for example, you can choose how much (or how little) money you’d like to spend on your ad campaign every day and how long you want it to last. Running a month-long campaign to see if it brings you any results is a good investment. Facebook groups are also a good place to connect with people who have shared interests and who might like your novel (and there are Facebook groups for all niches, no matter your story’s setting or themes.) Although some groups might need a request to join, they’re a free and open place for discourse. Another way to approach marketing is to start local: Contact your local library or bookstore to inquire about hosting an author event to discuss your novel. Research other local venues of the arts to see if they can spotlight your project in a newsletter or website. No matter how you decide to find readers, it’s important to be patient. Just like the process of serial publishing itself, finding your audience requires the proper momentum and time.

Keep in mind that publishing your novel serially is just one more way to share your story with the world. Like all creative pursuits, there is no one “correct” path to success or personal fulfillment within one’s craft. But for someone disenchanted with traditional modes of publishing, it can be a way to find a home for your story without compromising artistic autonomy. I know this well because I’m in the thick of it myself. 

My latest novel, The Reign of Victoria: or, the Year That Everything Changed, is a Victorian style comedy of manners that follows a year (and a few months) in the life of the Blaylock family, whose lives are shaken by the arrival of their plucky and unconventional new maid. During a period of revision and reflection, it occurred to me that the structure of my story—each chapter corresponding with a month of the year—was reminiscent of the serial novels from the very era in which the novel takes place. Following this realization, I thought that perhaps the best way to share the novel would be in that very format, presented to the sorts of people who might appreciate it the most. (Hello, historical novel lovers!) 

As a filmmaker who specializes in period pieces, I have a keen interest in portraying what connects us across time. I wrote The Reign of Victoria keeping in mind the timeless themes that capture (and amuse) modern audiences as much as they did readers of a bygone era—and I hope that sentiment comes through. 

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Beginning in January 2022, one chapter of The Reign of Victoria will be published a month on my website at www.angelineproductions.com/victoria. Readership response and engagement are greatly encouraged and appreciated.

Angeline Walsh is a writer and filmmaker from Cleveland, Ohio, where she has made several period pieces on a budget. She’s been a barista, a film set decorator, and a haunted house actor, but she likes writing books and making her own films the best. She’s currently in post-production for her original historical scripted series and is always on the lookout for the strange and unusual.

2 thoughts on “Updating Serialization for the 21st Century

  1. Amazon has now started a new serial platform, at least for American readers, called Vella. I’m experimenting with it, but I think it’s aimed at young women/girls who want to read fifteen hundred words at a time on their cell phone. If you aim at that demographic, it might work. (I don’t.)

  2. I feel like serialization would add so much excitement for consumers – it’s like waiting for the next episode of a TV show! Love this article.

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