I love web-serials. We’ve established that pretty well, right? I’ve been doing one since 2008, I’m just launched my fourth with Blades & Barriers, so it’s pretty darn well obvious that I enjoy them. Aside from getting to write a slower, more intricate book than I could usually get away with, it also lets me interact with my readers more than any other medium, and that’s honestly something I prize above all other features. Plus, web-serials have been catching on lately in lots of formats, which is awesome. Between Wattpad, Jukepop, and the amazing people over at TopWebFiction I feel like there’s a boom going on right now, and you have no idea how happy that makes me.
However, as with anything that catches steam, I’ve started seeing people coming in to the process with somewhat misaligned expectations. Much as I love serials, I do understand that just like novellas or short stories or flash fiction, it’s a type of writing, and there’s no type that suits every single writer. I’ve talked to no end about what web-serials are and what makes them great, but today I want to talk about something different. Today, I want to talk about what web-serials aren’t, so that anyone looking to step in and try them will have a better idea of what this particular type of writing holds in store.
Web-Serials Aren’t a Quick Way To New Readers
As more and more web-serialists enter the e-book world, I’m starting to see discussions about the fact that they will often come out of the gates with more purchases and reviews than an author’s first novel could reasonably expect, especially without the serious push of a publisher marketing for them. Now for you all reading, I’m sure the answer here is obvious, serialists publishing their first e-book aren’t coming into the market cold. Assuming they’ve been around for a while and been fortunate enough to have solid readers, there are people who enjoyed their work willing to pay a few dollars for the improved version and take the time to leave them a review. I’ve said over and over again that I would not be anywhere near this point in my career without you folks, and it is the God’s honest truth. Going from serial to the e-book market is made so much easier by having even a few fans willing to spread the word about a book they liked.
Others have noticed this trend as well, and probably at least once a month I’ll see a chatroom or get an e-mail about existing authors who want to start a serial to build up a fanbase. And, to be clear, there’s nothing at all wrong with wanting to do a serial and interact with your readers more. I literally just said it was my favorite part of this gig. However, as any experienced serial-writer will tell you (and I’ve said on more than one occasion) the web-serial game is a very slow one. Your readership is built over years, not months, and while there are still a lot of great benefits in the early days, fiscal gains probably won’t be one of them.
I’m totally on board with any e-book author who wants to move to the serial realm; to get the experience of posting every week, seeing people’s reactions, trying out different experimental projects because this avenue affords them that freedom. There are many, many wonderful things about being a serial author, but an immediate boost in sales and reviews usually isn’t one of them. If you want to go serial, you’ll be much happier if it’s motivated by the rewards of doing web-serials, rather than seeing it as a marketing tool for existing books.
Web-Serials Aren’t a Short Endeavor
Now, I know I just talked about the fact that web-serials take a long time to get off the ground, but don’t worry, this isn’t me repeating the same point. No, what I want to bring up here is not that serials take a while to gain readership. Rather, I want to talk about the overall commitment that a successful web-serial requires.
Many authors think ahead in terms of what their next project, or two, maybe even three, will be. Depending on one’s output, that’s about a year or two in the future, max. Serials, as you all know, can span far beyond that. I started the SP series in November 2009, after my first serial wrapped. It is currently April of 2016, and I am nowhere near done with the 4th book, to say nothing of the spin-off. And I am by no means the oldest serial out there.
Obviously a serial writer doesn’t have to continue telling the same tale over the years, books do need to end and when that time comes it benefits no one to ignore it. But the fact remains that, in order to do the slow-build of readers that a serial requires, one has to commit to this venue for years, and during the earliest of those they might have to keep writing with almost no views or feedback. In contrast, I can have a novel written and ready in about six-months, if my editors’ schedules line up well. Getting those stories told is a more immediate, accessible sense of accomplishment. Coming from a serial background first, I know how amazing it is to wrap one of these, to see the sprawling tale finally reach its conclusion, but for those who haven’t already experienced that it can be hard to keep pressing on.
There’s something to be said for both moments, publishing a novel and wrapping a serial. Both are incredible accomplishments, and the author has every right to feel proud of what they achieved. But they are also very different feelings, and the only way to get to the serial ending is by pushing through the rough start, remembering that every small step forward leads you closer to doing something amazing.
Web-Serials Aren’t a Good Direct Revenue Stream
One could make a solid case about serials as an indirect stream: book sales bolstered by readers, Kickstarters able to get off the ground, even Patreon. But those tend to come later in the process. As for direct revenue, serials simply don’t tend to generate that much.
I’ve seen more than one person try and jump into a serial with visions of big advertisement checks coming through, bolstering their income. And frankly, that’s likely not going to happen. I think I have one of the stronger sets of reader numbers among serial-writers who host their own sites, and the ads at the bottom of my page make $20-$50 a month. Nothing to sneeze at, and it helps pay for the costs of hosting a site, but for someone trying to actually make a serious contribution to their income, that probably won’t be a huge difference.
Serials are, for at least the first year or so, probably going to cost you more than they make. Even when they do start generating income, for which each author is always thankful, it likely won’t be enough to buy a yacht and sail the world. There are so many wonderful reasons to get into writing web-serials, just don’t expect being immediately flush with cash to be one of them.
But Web-Serials Are Worth It
I know this all seems like a bit of a downer, but if I haven’t scared you off from doing a web-serial yet, then by all means start one up! No, they aren’t instant cash-cows or tickets to the best-seller lists, but they do allow you to do things you could never manage just writing books. High reader-interaction, immediate feedback, trying out new projects, trying out entirely new ways to write, and of course having support from the wonderful people who actually enjoy your work are just a few of the perks from doing this type of writing. It’s hard at times, and demands a lot of commitment, and asks that you keep working even when it seems like you’re the only reader.
But if I could go back in time and talk to my past self, the only thing I would tell him (aside from short the shit out of Facebook’s stock) would be to start the serial sooner. Because at the end of the day, for all the things web-serials might not be, if you’re in it for the right reasons then writing one is undeniably worth it.