One reader is enough
I mean, at least metaphorically-speaking
Once your work is out there, the next step is to be patient. Keep letting people know about it, get the word out, but don’t be surprised if it takes a while for momentum to build. While you do get occasional viral hits, most books and most writers will see a slow but steady build throughout the lifetime of the serial.
Remember that a serial is what you’re doing here, and that brings a very crucial difference to most other forms of publishing. With a traditional or self-published book you launch your book and get one chance to attract attention. Once a customer buys your book, that’s it - you’ve got nothing else for them until you write your next book. A serial is an entirely different model, because you’re making a new release every week (or whatever you’ve chosen for your schedule). Each week a new chapter comes out and you get to shout about it all over again. Each week and each chapter you’ll pick up some new readers, creating a gradual, cumulative effect. From a pebble to an avalanche, and so on. This is why you need patience at first, because your early chapters are before that cumulative build is able to happen.
When I first started out, I found that even a single reader made all the difference in the world to me. I’d never published anything before, had never had the courage to show my work to the world. So a single reader choosing to read my material, and then choosing to stick around and read more was astonishing and a major milestone.
If you’ve ever doubted that you’re a ‘proper writer’, then having a ‘proper reader’ is all the proof you need.
Think back to why you’re doing this in the first place. What were those expectations you set yourself, and the targets you’re after? Are you looking for readers? For feedback? To earn an income? To quit the day job? Don’t lose sight of your goal, and if success does come your way immediately don’t let it tempt you away from your path.
Growing the book
Once you’re putting chapters out into the world you open up a lot of new options for promoting the book. It’s no longer theoretical, so you can point people at what you’re doing. Make sure you tell everyone on your newsletter (you do have a newsletter, right?). Each time you publish, tell people on every relevant social platform you use.
Do engage with your readers, if you can. Being available and active I find tends to encourage people to keep reading, especially with a ‘live’ serial. It gives the readers a feeling that they can influence the story, that they’re part of its initial telling. They’re active participants, not just passive consumers.
As well as your core readers you can also engage with the wider writing and reading community. In the early days I took part in ‘Story Fairs’ on Wattpad, which were big collaborative efforts that helped to cross-promote each other’s work. My story was featured by Wattpad and a year and a half later my first novel won a Watty Award which elevated it to a new level of visibility. These days I take a more active part in my work’s promotion, using services such as Bookfunnel. I highly recommend seeking out online communities to share strategies with, such as Elle Griffin’s very active Substack Writers Unite.
Finding readers requires just as much imagination as writing your book and there’s no end of strategies and techniques to try out. When you’re publishing a serial, every week is an opportunity to try something new.
Once you complete the initial serialised run, you’ll have a completed book. Don’t underestimate this - there are readers who won’t read a serial, for all sorts of reasons, including a very reasonable fear of it being abandoned by the writer. After the story is complete, though, they will dive in, so treat the end of the serial as the start of something completely new - the new life of your story not as a serial but as something much closer to a traditional novel. You can even package it up into a PDF or an ebook and sell it via Amazon, or create a print run through Ingram Spark.
If you’re interested in being traditionally published, you now have evidence that you can finish a book and that people enjoy reading your work.
My books often went from thousands to tens of thousands of reads simply by virtue of switching from ‘on-going’ to ‘completed’. It’ll definitely broaden your overall audience.
Even as you move on to other projects, remember that you can still be growing and finding new readers for your previous serials. There will always be readers waiting to discover you and your writing.
I’m not the only person serialising. It’s grown massively as a form since I started around 2015, and especially in the last couple of pandemic years. I’ve shifted from Wattpad as my primary platform over to Substack, where there seems to be a much more active community of creators and developers.
My new challenge is around monetisation: how can I start earning from my writing, and attach real financial value to my words, without losing readers and without being shackled to a marketing treadmill? That experiment is on-going and I’m sure I’ll update this guide for a third edition once I have something to say. A big part of that is offering the paid subscription option to his newsletter, so I suppose I should put one of these in here:
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In the meantime, if you’re working on a serial please do let me know! I’d love to check it out, especially if this guide has been in any way helpful.
This is the final chapter of my Writing Serialised Fiction guide. I’ll still be sending out newsletters on Mondays with writing and publishing thoughts, but they’ll likely be less formally structured. Part of that will be chronicling my current experiments around monetisation and publishing an ebook, which I imagine will be of interest to many of you.
I’d wish you good luck with your writing, but you don’t need it.