Most of us have read books in a series and maybe you’ve written one. But have you ever thought about writing a serialized novel? Author Clara Kensie shares her insight on writing and marketing the serialized novel.
Wonderful to have you with us, Clara!
When people ask me what my debut series RUN TO YOU is about, I describe it in two ways: 1: it is a super-romantic psychic thriller about a family on the run from a deadly past and a first love that will transcend secrets, lies, and danger. And 2: it is Harlequin Teen’s first serial. Each of the two books in my RUN TO YOU series is published in three installments. Book One is First Sight, Second Glance, and Third Charm. Book Two is Fourth Shadow, Fifth Touch, and Sixth Sense.
I am honored to be at Romance University today to talk about description #2: the serial aspect of my series. Specifically, the surprising pleasures of reading serials, how to write a serial, and the unique challenges and opportunities for marketing serials.
I’ll confess something to you: When I first wrote RUN TO YOU, I did not intend for it to be a serial. It was a typical two-book series when Harlequin Teen bought it. But the publishing marketplace is constantly changing, and one style of storytelling that has recently become popular in the digital space is the story serial. Harlequin Teen was searching for a book they could release as their first serial— not just their first serial, but one of the first YA serials ever. They wanted a book with unique character voices, a breathtaking romance, and a thrilling plot with jaw-dropping twists that would work well for serial breaks and would leave readers dying to know what happens next. They found that book in a manuscript they had recently acquired: RUN TO YOU.
Reading the serialized novel
When Harlequin Teen decided to serialize my two-book series into six parts, it came as a complete surprise to me. I’ll confess something else to you: I did not want them to serialize my books. In fact, I was so opposed to the idea, and I was so stressed about it, that my jaw joints locked up. I couldn’t close my mouth all the way for a week. I am not exaggerating. I couldn’t eat–I lost six pounds.
Eventually, however, I decided to give the serial thing a chance. I bought a few serials (among them: Beth Kery’s Because You Are Mine romances and Neal Pollack’s yoga detective mysteries), to see if I would like them. And you know what? I did! I truly enjoyed the experience. I am extremely busy, as most people are. Very often, I won’t read a book because it’s so long and I know I won’t have time for it. But with a serial, I can always find an hour or two during the week to read one of the episodes.
I also like the versatility of serials. They give you a choice: savor or binge. People do that all the time with TV series on Netflix – savor or binge, right? It’s the same with serialized novels. I savored some serials: I would read each part as it was released, and then I’d look forward all week long to the release of the next part. I woke up each Tuesday, knowing the newest episode had been released while I slept, and was waiting for me on my e-reader. For other serials, if all the installments had already been released, I binged: I read the entire book at once.
There’s the social aspect of serials, too. My friend Tina and I read one of Beth Kery’s serials together. We discussed each part as it released, the same way we discuss our favorite weekly television series. We anxiously anticipated the next installment together: What do you think will happen next? What will they do? It was a really, really fun time.
I am now 100% on board with the RUN TO YOU series being a serial. I’m thrilled that Harlequin Teen chose my series to be one of the first YA serials on the market. It’s truly an honor to be a trailblazer in the format.
Writing your serialized novel
So, how does one go about writing a serialized novel? While revising my RUN TO YOU manuscripts in the serial format, I learned that it’s more than simply chopping a full-length novel into equal parts:
You must have a strong sense of pacing as you develop the highs and lows that bring the characters and plot to a new level with each installment, but still leave more to do and learn, giving the reader a breathing point yet leaving them wanting to know what happens next.
You want to end each installment in such a way that the reader must find out what happens next. RUN TO YOU is a thriller with lots of plot twists and life-or-death situations. Many chapters end on a cliffhanger. But a serial’s episodes don’t have to end on a life-or-death cliffhanger. Emotional cliffhangers can be equally as compelling, especially in romances. You want to end each episode in a way that reader must know the secret the hero is about to reveal, or which suitor the heroine will choose to bring to the ball, or if the hero and heroine’s relationship will survive the latest turn of events.
Each episode of your serial does not have to be self-contained, but there should be an over-arching plot for the book as a whole: each installment must build toward a satisfying conclusion at the end of the book. While your serial should be structured as a typical book, with setup, turning points, climax, and conclusion, you may have to add extra turning points within your overall plot to allow for the cliffhanger endings of each episode, or you may have to arrange your chapters so the cliffhangers fall at the installment breaks.
Marketing your serialized novel
Okay! You’ve written your serial, and now you have to find readers. How do you do that? I’ll be honest with you: there are definite challenges to finding readers for your serial.
Some people won’t read your book simply because of its serialized format—they won’t even give it a chance. Some readers won’t read serials because they dislike cliffhangers. And finally, some readers expect that every serial will eventually be released as a complete novel, and they’ll wait until then to read it. But in many cases, the publisher has no plans to re-package the serial into one complete novel, which unfortunately means those people will never read it.
Some readers will be disappointed that an installment is shorter than a full-length book, or that it ends on a cliffhanger. They may leave a bad review—not because they dislike the writing or the story, but because they dislike the length or the format. They are perfectly entitled to their opinion, of course. As the author, you just have to hope that they like the story enough to read the next episode.
Because serials are new and different, you may spend more time explaining the format of your book, rather than what your book is about.
Fear not, my friends. While there are challenges to marketing your serial, there are many unique opportunities, and even additional audiences:
Multiple releases in a short time frame help get an author’s name out faster through consistent exposure week after week (or month after month, depending on your release schedule). A serialized novel offers an author multiple opportunities to communicate with a growing and potential audience in a short time frame. It offers more opportunities for reviews. An additional bonus: you get multiple covers, which can be especially eye-catching.
Serials appeal to busy people. If someone tells me they don’t read books, I often ask them why not. The most common reason: they don’t have the time. But most people have an hour here or there throughout the week, the perfect amount of time to read an episode of a serial.
Serials appeal to the reluctant reader. I’ll give you a personal anecdote: I received an email—one I will cherish forever–from a mother who said RUN TO YOU was the first non-school book her teenage daughter had ever read. Her daughter envied her “fangirl” friends who were obsessed with popular YA novels such as HARRY POTTER, THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, and DIVERGENT. But those longer tomes intimidated her, and she felt excluded from the reading experience. Her mother discovered the RUN TO YOU serial and purchased it for her. Its weekly episodes of about 100 pages each were perfect for the girl, who felt accomplished and proud after finishing each installment. Reluctant readers find serials to be incredibly gratifying.
Serials also can also appeal to voracious readers. While reluctant and busy readers may take a week to read an episode, voracious readers will read an episode in a single sitting. If they still want more, they can wait for all of the installments to release, then read them all at once.
Serialized novels can make reading a social experience. For example, you can utilize the fun social aspect of serials by having a huge, online read-along! Your current readers will enjoy engaging with other fans, and the read-along will attract new readers as well. (Psst… Harlequin Teen and some of my favorite book bloggers are having a read-along for RUN TO YOU on Facebook beginning July 21— we hope you’ll join us!)
What do you think of serialized novels? If you’ve never read one before, are you willing to give it a try? Would you like to write one yourself?
RU contributor and NYT bestselling author Ruth Harris joins us on Wednesday, July 9th.
RUN TO YOU Part One: FIRST SIGHT (available now)
Part One in the riveting romantic thriller about a family on the run from a deadly past and a first love that will transcend secrets, lies and danger…
Sarah Spencer has a secret: her real name is Tessa Carson, and to stay alive, she can tell no one the truth about her psychically gifted family and the danger they are running from. As the new girl in the latest of countless schools, she also runs from her attraction to Tristan Walker—after all, she can’t even tell him her real name. But Tristan won’t be put off by a few secrets. Not even dangerous ones that might rip Tessa from his arms before they even kiss…
Find RUN TO YOU at your favorite e-tailers, including:
Bio: Clara Kensie  grew up near Chicago, reading every book she could find and using her diary to write stories about a girl with psychic powers who solved mysteries. She purposely did not hide her diary, hoping someone would read it and assume she was writing about herself. Since then, she’s swapped her diary for a computer and admits her characters are fictional, but otherwise she hasn’t changed one bit.
Today Clara is the author of dark fiction young adults. Her debut series, the romantic thriller RUN TO YOU, is Harlequin TEEN’s first serial. Book One (First Sight, Second Glance, and Third Charm) is available now. Book Two (Fourth Shadow, Fifth Touch, and Sixth Sense) begins July 7, 2014 with weekly releases.
Her favorite foods are guacamole and cookie dough. But not together. That would be gross.
- Weekly Lecture Schedule – July 7th to July 12th, 2014 
- Put the Shine on Your Personal and Professional Marketing with Candis Terry 
- From Traditional to Self-Publishing: One Editor’s Journey By Tessa Shapcott 
- Maggie Bolitho presents: Stage Fright? Alright! 
- Weekly Lecture Schedule – March 17th to March 22nd