Serializing novels is a recent trend in publishing for independent or co-published works that has advantages for both readers and authors. But it isn't all sunshine and roses.
When my agent and I first talked about releasing my full length novel, she hit me with this dynamic idea. Instead of releasing Inherit the Stars as a single title, she asked me to consider doing something a bit more unconventional. She wanted to release it first as a serialized novel in three parts.
I cannot tell a lie. My first reaction was...
But the more I thought about the strategy, the more sense it made. Why?
But trying to run a "big" SFR story through a compactor to get it down to novella size is often not doable for our genre. Science Fiction Romance, by it's very nature, must have extensive world-building and explanations of future tech, politics and social issues threaded through the plot in a believable, in-context, info-dump-free way...and that requires word count.
So shrinking a full length SFR novel down to a more popular size isn't a wise plan. However, releasing the story in more bite-size pieces that make up the bigger whole is completely doable.
My second reason is that as a debut author, I'm a bit of a wild card. Readers may be wary of investing in my work until they know my voice and writing style appeals to them. Offering a serialized novel provides an advantage. Inherit the Stars, Part I: Flight is priced at only .99. Why the deep discount? It's a bonus for readers. And it's a gamble on my part. I'm betting they'll invest a buck in (roughly) the first third of the story to get a sense of the characters, stakes, conflict, sci-fi and romance elements, and (if I've done my job well) they'll get hooked, and decide they must know what happens next.
The third reason for serializing the novel is purely for the sake of discoverability. That's a magic word in this industry. The more titles an author has out there, the more potential readers will see their work. Discoverability is a big mountain to climb for new authors. With my first novel, instead of one title I have four. That will increase exponentially with my second novel, which will ramp up to eight titles instead of two. By the time I release my entire six-book series...well, that's a lot of titles.
There are millions of other books out there trying to snag a reader's attention, and trying to reach potential readers can be a full-time job. Having more titles available will hopefully wave more flags in front of more book browsers and help them find my work.
So there's the Good. Where's the Bad and Ugly pieces of the equation?
Well, turns out there is a darkside. Actually, there are several--reviews, confusion and cost. This part of my blog is more a cautionary advice for authors who are considering serializing.
Most of the big review sites will not review novella size works or serialized works. Ouch! That means you'll have a tougher time getting your work in front of large groups of readers, and that feeds back into the issue with discoverability. If you're considering serializing, you may want to weigh the number of readers you'll reach via multiple titles vs. the number you won't reach due to having fewer reviewers accept your work.
Of course, there is an easy solution. Release your complete novel simultaneously with your serialized version, and then pitch only the complete novel to the reviewers. I didn't go that route with my first novel, where the serialized version launched a month before the complete novel. When my full novel released, it was already ineligible for review sites that only accept works released in the past thirty days. I'm planning to change my strategy going forward.
The other review issue is the splintering factor. Some readers will review the individual parts where others will review the complete novel, so you'll probably start out with a handful of reviews in various places instead of having them all consolidated under one title. As time goes by and more reviews come in, that will be less of a problem.
Readers may mistake your serialized novel for a trilogy, and if so, expect some dings in the comments for not ending each section on a HEA or HFN. I realized my mistake shortly after my first reviews started coming in and we tweaked the blurb a bit to make it crystal clear the parts were not meant to be a complete story. I'd suggest adding a disclaimer as the first element of the blurb--"This is a serialized novel in X parts"--and if the complete novel is available, it would be a good idea to add that info, too. Some readers will prefer to read the complete novel and appreciate getting the heads up.
Dividing a novel into three or more parts will result in higher production costs and more time investment for the author. Since each part will have a distinct cover, it's going to be a bit pricier. Most cover artists will probably be willing to work with you on a basic design, but purchasing additional stock images along with the time to create unique designs for each cover may bump the price up. On the other hand, edits shouldn't run more, since they're generally based on word count. Finally, decisions about where to split the novel and the extra time to format it into three parts and add front and back info will required more time investment and coordination on the part of the author.
Now I'd like to hear your thoughts about serialized novels? Have you ever read them? Have you released them? Was your experience positive or negative? If you haven't read or released a serialized novel before, would you consider doing so in the future?