When done right, serials can be a good option for authors who would like to get more books out in a short amount of time. But the key is, it has to be done right.
Breaking up a novel into parts and publishing those parts is, in my opinion, a bad idea. I think most readers want an entire story when they read a book, regardless of the length. This means there needs to be a beginning, a middle and an end to the main plot.
That being said, the question then becomes…
How can you do a serial effectively?
I like to think of serials as TV shows. Each episode has its own plot. There is a conflict and a resolution in each episode. Now, there might be a deeper theme that connects each episode, but it doesn’t dominate the main plot in each episode, so it’s not the focus of each show.
As a quick example, I’m watching Z Nation right now. The goal for the season is to get the one man who has been bitten by zombies but lived to California. Each episode takes us closer to that goal, but each episode has its own unique plot to it. For example, in one episode, a bad storm is coming their way so they have to survive a series of tornadoes. The episode ends with them surviving the storm and continuing their journey to California.
I haven’t read any serials yet, so I don’t have a literary equivalent to compare this to. But the layout of a good serial should work in a similar manner.
How long should each book be?
Usually, serials are composed of short books, but I’m guessing 15-20K words would be ideal.
How many episodes should be in the serial?
I’ve seen authors do miniseries which are about 3-4 books long and authors do 20 episodes per season with there being as many as 5 seasons. Usually, they box the seasons together for a discounted price when the season is finished.
I’d say there should be as many episodes that you need in order to complete the underlying story that connects all the episodes together. Like in the Z Nation series, I suspect the end will be when they either find a cure to the virus or realize they’re all doomed and nothing will save them.
One way or another, there has to be closure when your serial is done.
Something to keep in mind if you do a serial…
Make sure you will finish it. Some authors start it, get bored with it or get discouraged because of lack of sales, and quit. The problem is that someone out there invested their time and money into the serials. So be careful when deciding whether or not to start one.
That’s all I can think of about serials. I haven’t read them, nor have I written them. Does anyone who has experience writing or reading want to chime in with what works and what doesn’t when doing them?