5 min read

Why your serial fiction is likely to fail and what to do about it.

Your serial fiction is likely to fail. My serial fiction is likely to fail. Hell, Stephen King's serial fiction failed. You have to face the facts :   serial fiction's mostly fail.

Serial fiction fails for one reason and one reason alone.


Serial fiction is the A game. It's not something you do on the side. It's not something you do to 'make you write more.' It's the NFL of writing fiction.

How is writing serial fiction different from writing novels? Easy. It's completely different.

When you write a novel, you sit at your computer and type. You type and type and type and type and type until you come up with a draft. Meg Cabot writes her novels in six week marathons where she eats, sleeps and dreams of the book until the first draft is complete. So does my friend, and author of more than twenty-nine books, Lynda Sandoval. Even Jonathan Fields wrote his latest non-fiction book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance

, in a kind of writing frenzy. A lot of books - fiction and non-fiction - are written in this mad dash. And eventually the madness ends.

Round of applause.

If you're smart, you send your six or so weeks of work  off to someone to copy and proof edit it. Then you sleep for a while. You might play with the kids, garden, eat, take long baths, work another job, lay around the house or whatever you do to recharge.  One magic day, your manuscript arrives in you inbox or at your door and you get to work again. You work and edit; you wordsmith and worry; and eventually you send your masterpiece out to your early readers.

And you recharge for a while. At some point, your manuscript comes back again. For the next few months or years, you continue this dance of edit and release until the momentus occasion...

Ta da!  Your novel is published.

Round of applause.

Serial fiction is a different animal all together.

If you're writing traditional serial fiction, the chapters are published as they are written.  This means you live in the manic panic all the time. No time to lay around the house, take long baths, or whatever else.  Most serial fiction authors don't even have time to send their work through editing.

They finish a chapter and publish. Wake up and do the same thing the next day and the day after that.

Even if you write a few chapters ahead, some day you're going to get to the moment when your chapter is due and...  it's your birthday, you're sick, you're on vacation, your mother died, or fill in the blank. I had the horrible evil flu; my husband had the same evil flu; the dog was sick; we were on vacation near Aspen; it was dumping so much snow the roads were closed; I had one bar internet service; and I had chapters due. That's serial fiction.

What did Charles Dickens, the master of serial fiction do? He wrote like a madman all the time! In every occasion, you'd find him sitting in a corner or the side of the room trying to finish a chapter in his serial to fulfill his publication contracts. That's serial fiction baby!

"Sometimes you understand why only a few can play (football) is because it demands more than most are willing to give." Michael Irvin about the NFL

Writing serial fiction demands more physically, mentally, and emotionally from an author than any sane person should be willing to give. Even if you love the story and get caught up in the flow, there will be a moment when your writing requires every bit of what you have.

"All it takes is all you've got," Michael Irvin about the NFL

Serial fiction is the NFL of fiction writing. If you're thinking of writing a serial, you must know in your mind, body, and soul that you're stepping into the A game.

And still...

A lot of things take more than any sane person wants to give. Marathon running comes to mind. I have a friend who's been up Everest so many times its like a trip to the mall. That's not exactly sane.

Plus The Diary of V ran at Redbook for nine years.

(Later in this series, I'll do a series of interviews with writers who've written their serial for years at a time. We'll see if they will share their super secret ninja tricks to stay on track.)

What can you do to reduce the risk of your serial fiction failing?

1. Don't over commit: Take the amount you can publish in a month and cut it in half. Now, cut that amount in half again. If you wish to commit to a serial fiction, you need to commit to one-fourth of what you think you can do. For example, if you think you can write a chapter a week, four chapters a month, commit to doing one chapter a month. Most chapters are between two and four thousand words. If you do a chapter a month, that's a juicy five hundred word post once a week or five 100 word iPhone sized bites. Perfectly doable.

2. Get help you trust: Get an editor. No, get two. Help is fairly cheap and easy to find right now. Don't overlook college English majors or virtual assistants. If you ask a family member, remember you're hoping to do your serial for a while. That's a lot of pressure on the other person. Be sensitive to the idea that they might get sick of editing your serial.

3. Don't minimize what you're trying to do: Would you suit up and for a high school football game? College? How about the NFL? When you commit to a serial fiction, you commit to playing in the big leagues. Charles Dickens is considered one of the top 10 influential authors. That's ever.  Outside of one novel, Dicken wrote a chapter at a time in traditional serial style. I don't think there is a bigger league than that.

4. Soldier on. One of the most under-rated writing skills is learning to put your rear in the chair and get your writing done. Life is distracting. There's a lot of things and people who need your attention. Certainly there's Facebook, Twitter, email and Hulu. But remember this : James Joyce had four children and a nutty wife to care for. While writing the Dubliners, he taught all day, took care of the kids in the afternoon,  and tutored rich students most of the night. He scrawled out his stories with a fountain tip pen by candle light because that's they couldn't afford other light.  At some moment, you will need that kind of strength to get your writing done. And how do we get strong? Through hard work and perseverance.

The world needs the stories only you can tell. Get writing, get help, don't give up and know you're in the big leagues. Good luck!


I can't decide what to talk about next month. I'm thinking either: "Crap, my serial fiction is stuck!" or "Serial fiction vs. Serialized novel? What?" I'm leaving it up to you to decide.  If there's something more interesting to you, let me know in the 'other' row.  See you next month!

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This is an ongoing series about writing serial fiction. The series continues on the last Thursday of every month.

This post is simultaneously posted at Tuesday Serial