Trying Something New – Serialized Episodes

Author Mark HamnerGuest Post
by Mark Hamner

One of the benefits of being an independent author is the ability to try new things. This has lent itself well to a recent experiment I’ve undertaken: telling a continuous, cover-to-cover story via a series of short story episodes – or, basically, serializing.

How did I come to the point of giving this a shot? It had been several months since I completed and published the final book of my four-part young adult series The Echo Chronicles, and I was ready to “get back on the horse,” so to speak, and begin my next book. I had already decided to go with a more adult-oriented theme this time around, and had dreamed-up what I hoped to be a rather disturbing psychological horror story.

So I sat down to write Recurrent, my dark story about a damaged man struggling with the boundaries between dream and reality. After completing seven or eight chapters, I found myself wanting to get some part of this story in the hands of readers sooner rather than later. That desire gave birth to the decision that Recurrent would tell its story via a series of short stories, which I’d release every couple of weeks.

With that decision made, a number of other questions presented themselves. How many chapters should comprise an episode? How much should an episode cost? How many episodes should make up the complete story? After some internal debate, I decided that each episode would be two to three chapters, and that I’d leave the question as to the total number of episodes for a later time, once the story had a chance to develop. The cost question was tougher. To keep things simple, I decided to publish the episodes only via Kindle for the time being, but that locked me into Amazon’s $0.99 minimum price. I didn’t want to charge more than that, largely due to the rather limited length of these episodes, and I resolved to use Kindle Select’s “free days” feature rather liberally.

With the key decisions made, or at least purposefully deferred, I began releasing the content I had to that point in short story episodes. The initial reaction to the story was good; the initial reaction to the mechanics of how I chose to tell said story were…mixed. A typical comment was something along the lines of, “Love the dark concept, but not sure about the serial approach.” Nonetheless, I pushed forward. Eventually the releases caught up with my writing, and I found myself in the rather unfortunate position of having dropped self-inflicted deadlines in my lap.

I urged readers to sign up for my blog notifications, so they’d know right away when a new episode was available. I’ve always found reader communication very challenging, and the fact that I was now enmeshed in a story-telling mechanism that depended heavily on said communication was doubly challenging. I relied on the standards – blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – but I still wondered if I was reaching my audience.

Somewhere around Episode 7, I realized that ten episodes would be sufficient to tell the story without it becoming overly long. I communicated this to my readers, which let them know an end was in sight. This also helped me with the price debate: if a reader paid for all ten episodes, they would spend $9.99, which isn’t cheap, but didn’t make me feel guilty by any means either. I plan on offering the entire series under one cover as a print book as well as an eBook, and will offer the latter free for a few days as a way of thanking all those who read the episodes.

After completing my journey, after telling my story via short story episodes, would I do it again? Probably not. I enjoyed the experience, enjoyed getting content out to readers sooner rather than later, but I didn’t particularly enjoy the fact that all of the overhead – the marketing, the communication, etc. – was also increased tenfold. Nonetheless, I’m glad I did it; it was a great learning experience.

Mark Hamner is the author of Recurrent, a serialized psychological horror novel, and The Echo Chronicles, a young-adult post-apocalyptic series. Mark lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife, his daughter, and his twin sons. You can learn more about Mark on his website and his Amazon Author Central page.

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22 thoughts on “Trying Something New – Serialized Episodes”

  1. wow what a challenge to give yourself! It sounds like you did well with it and I congratulate you! well done~

  2. I released a serial romance last year and enjoyed it so much I just decided to do the same with my new book, a time travel story.

    I love having so many different “release dates” to talk about with my readers, and it feels like the steady release schedule helped with algorithm visibility.

    Congrats on a successful strategy!

  3. That’s quite the journey. You’ve given a good overview of your process. Thank you for laying it out. But I know it’s not for me. I’ll let Shawn take over. Heh. 🙂

  4. I’ve been running my “Sword Called Kitten” serial (after 2 full-length books) free on my website once a month as a come-on. I get about a hundred people reading it every month. I try to do one full short story, 1500-2000 words usually. However, I have been forced because of length to do a couple of two-part issues, and at the moment I’m in the middle of almost a novelette of 6 parts.
    I’m going to look at publishing the whole thing in digital and paperback format some time.
    I’m concerned about putting a serial into a full book. The structure just isn’t the same, and it doesn’t sustain the tension over the whole book. I guess as long as I’m very clear with the readers about my what they’re getting…
    I don’t expect it to be a great seller, but I’ve done all the writing. Might as well:-)
    I agree that $.99 is too much for a short story. Don’t see any other choices and still have Amazon’s sales clout.

    1. Great points! I think, from my standpoint, the “one book” transformation will work pretty well, but I was kind of in that mindset from the beginning. I do wish Amazon gave us a bit more control over pricing, as well as the ability to give more free days. Thanks!

  5. Mark, what kind of feedback did you get from your readers? Did they like the way you did it, the amount released and the timeframe? Price? Interesting experiment. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It’s been kind of a mixed bag, to be honest. Some readers liked the serial concept, while others basically told me they were waiting for all the episodes before they even started. I did occasionally hear that I needed to hurry up with the next episode, which was gratifying!

  6. I’m also writing a serial, except it won’t be a true serial in that I have to get the whole story written, at least to first draft before releasing anything. Part of the reason for that is my inability to work to deadlines. Another part is my writing style – I’m a pantster so I don’t know how the story goes until I write it. To keep the plot tight, I have to restructure what comes where, before I publish.

    So why am I bothering with a serial at all? Not sure I know other than that the story is long and seems to fall naturally into ‘parts’ rather than volumes.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    1. I completely understand. I’m about 50/50 plotter and pantser. I know how my stories will start, the basic plot structure, and how they’ll end, but often I find interesting developments basically writing themselves. The pantser part of me made writing Recurrent challenging at times, but I tried to think of what was happening in the next episode while I was finishing the current. Thanks for your post and good luck!

  7. I prefer one complete book to a serial. Reminds me too much of waiting for next week’s TV show to air. Guess that’s why I wait for an entire season to release on Netflix! This is a flaw inherent in me, Mark. A lot of authors and readers enjoy short serials. Thanks for sharing your strategy.

    1. Thanks! It did feel a bit like doing TV episodes at times. Several of my readers chose to effectively “DVR” the Recurrent episodes and wait until they were all out to binge!

  8. I’m a voracious reader, but several of my favorite authors have done this and to be honest, I’ve stopped reading them. James Patterson for one. Iris Johansen’s books have all become ‘read one, you’ve read them all.’ And others I can’t put names to at this moment. It’s becoming more difficult to find a good book. I’ve been looking for new authors to start reading, but when I see that the book is part of a series, I don’t even begin. Maybe I’ll start if it’s a trilogy, but only that – never if it’s going to be more. Then I’ll wait till I get them all to read them.

    1. I completely understand. I like series personally, but I remember reading something about six months ago asking, basically, “Doesn’t anyone write a stand-alone novel anymore?”

  9. Mark,
    thank you for sharing your experience. I liked hearing both sides of the story-positives and negatives to doing a serialized novel.
    It sounds like a good experience for you overall-but I understand your decision to avoid doing it again in the future.

    Thanks again,

  10. Since I was a tiny child I have disliked cliffhangers. I love true series, but have little use for serials, unless the author is extremely specific that it is one. They lose two stars from me if the book’s end is a surprise cliffhanger. It seems to me that the most masterful authors manage to tell a complete story in each of their books, while encompassing them in a larger framework without the need for cliffhanger endings. That you were successful in publishing a novel as a serial, presented as such, is food for thought. The self-imposed deadlines were probably not much fun – good for you for pushing on through.

  11. I’m about to serialise a short story on my blog. So it was interesting to read your comments. The main reason that I decided to go this route is to attract more potential readers. However, as you rightly acknowledge the amount of time that is required is enormous! Instead of writing the next book in my Nikki Sinclair series I’m spending all my time writing the episodes! Eventually I hope to publish the episodes as a short story on Amazon.

  12. I’ve been doing something similar with my YA sci-fi/ mystery, Servo. It’s free on my blog until completed, when it will be taken down, rewrites done, edited, and published as as full novel. So far, folks seem to like it. I break a chapter up into 2-3 scenes and post 1 scene each Friday. Roughly 700-1200 words each installment. Just enough for a quick read.

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