Early in 2014, I noticed how well serial stories were doing in the ebook market, and in talking to my lovely writer friend Victoria Green, who’d also noticed the trend, we started saying things like “I should try writing a serial. You should too.” “When I finish this book I’m working on, I’m going to have to do it.”
Because people were selling MILLIONS of books in serial format.
After studying the market and the people who are doing well, I realized there are several factors that make serials successful.
1. Most are written in the romance genre, and romance readers are voracious. They also want more, More, MORE, so giving them more story than just a typical-length book makes them happy.
Of course, there were things we were worried about. So many serial authors get criticized that they’re just cutting up one book into pieces. And there’s good reason for that…it’s often true. Not in the sense that the author has written an entire book and then chopped it up. Most serial writers we know of write the story one installment at a time, but each installment is only a small piece of one story.
We didn’t want to do that.
So when we dreamed up our premise and main characters, Dare Wilde and Reagan McKinley, for the Untamed Series, we decided to write complete stories—with a beginning, middle, and an end—in each book, crafting the plot line into a climax that would resolve…and then end each book on a cliffhanger. Because of that, our books ended up being longer than most serial installments. At a little over 40,000 words each, they’re short novels. Once the final book in the series is released mid-August, we will have plotted, written, polished and published over 200,000 words in five months.
One of the most surprising things about writing the serial, has been how fun it has been to write an epic story. Because of this format, we’ve told a more expansive story than we ever would have dreamed up if we’d just written a normal 350-page novel. We’ve be able to show incredible growth of our characters because so much more happens thanks to the serial format. We liken each book to an episode of your favorite TV drama. Just like each hour-long episode, each book in our series gives a complete story that is a part of a much larger, epic saga.
We made these decisions because as readers we didn’t like the idea of getting only a little piece of a story, and so we wanted to make sure we were delivering good value. Giving our readers plenty of story to keep them hooked.
2. Serial spin-offs just make readers happier.
Readers get attached to characters. Even minor ones. And they get deliriously happy when secondary and tertiary characters get their own books/series. So we planned that aspect out from the beginning—companion serials—and make sure our readers KNOW they have more to look forward to once we wrap up the Untamed Series.
Our male lead in this first series is Dare Wilde, who has two brothers and a sister who’ve had cameos in several of the books. They are total fodder for companion serials, and so we dubbed the entire (future) set of serials The Brothers Wilde Collection. With this first series we’re creating a loyal following who are already hounding us for series about the other Wilde siblings, as well as books starring the members of (Dare’s older brother) Dash Wilde’s band, who all appeared in Escaped Artist (Untamed #3).
We’re opening up our options to give readers more of what they want. More of the Wilde family. And more of any other characters that they fall in love with.
It’s a ridiculously beautiful thing. They ask, we deliver. Giving readers more = happy readers. And a (growing) loyal following.
3. Most successful serials have a quick release schedule—a new installment released every 3-4 weeks.
But I realized I’d never be able to write a serial and get each installment out as quickly as so many authors did—every 3-4 weeks—by myself. And that quick release schedule is one of the things readers LOVE about serials.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized the only way I’d be able to do it would be if I teamed up with someone—a scary proposition to be sure, because I’d never co-authored fiction before. But the more Tors and I talked about it, the more it sounded like a good idea.
And so we took the leap. It has turned out to be the most wonderful thing EVER. (And the subject for a future blog post.) With the right person—and Tors is definitely the right person for me—it’s an incredibly creative, fun, prolific venture.
4. Each installment ends on a cliffhanger, to keep readers yearning for more.
At first we were leery of the cliffhanger, not being fans of it ourselves as readers. But the glee we now get from torturing our readers is more fun than we imagined. We’ve gotten so good at tying up the episode’s story, only to rip the rug out from under our readers with the cliffhanger, that we have some people afraid to read the last chapter before the next book comes out. I can’t tell you how much I love that! >:-)
5. They tend to be high drama, hot and sexy, soap-opera type stories.
Neither Tors nor I had ever written soapy stories—our books have been more realistic, low-drama, heart-swelling stories—but we’ve discovered they are SUCH a blast to write. We still made a point to make our characters realistic, their reactions NOT over-the-top, and the drama believable. Our other romances have heart, and we made sure our serial did, too.
6. They are priced low—typically $0.99 to $2.99.
Because people are willing to buy books, to take a chance on something, when the price is set low. And one of the best way to drive sales of your series is to offer the first book for free everywhere, as we have done with Untamed. Going free on that first book gave us a good burst of sales, and continues to lead more readers to our series every day.
Go pick up Untamed yourself, if you’re interested to see how we’ve structured our stories. And check out more serials to see how other authors have done theirs. The best way to learn is by seeing what’s working for other people.
And good luck in ALL your writing ventures!