My Serial Fiction Experiment

There are only twenty-seven days left to go until the launch of my serial fiction experiment with the release of the first episode, Perdido County: Dark Road.

I’ve not only learned a great deal about writing serial fiction over the past weeks, but I’ve also discovered I really enjoy writing it. I’m already planning a new series once the first Perdido County serial novel is complete.

If you’re reading this and aren’t entirely sure what serial fiction is, it helps to think of it as an episodic television series in print.

I want to share with anyone who might be interested in the serial fiction process, a little of the nuts and bolts that have gone into Perdido County thus far.

Who needs chapters

I’ve learned there are different ways to do it, but decided to go with episode numbers rather than chapter numbers to hopefully make things a bit clearer for readers.

For example, in the first episode, you will find the divisions marked with 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc. The first 1 refers to the first story, Dark Road. The subsequent number refers to the specific division (like a chapter) number.

This type of numbering system is what we usually find used for episodic television series. Then in episode 2, Someone’s Daughter, the divisions are marked 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, and so on. I’m sure you’ve got the idea now.

How many episodes

For my first serial fiction experiment, I chose to do a total of ten episodes. Most of the research I read from people experienced with serial fiction storytelling recommend 10-12 episodes. Ten seemed a good round number. I uploaded the fourth episode, Fentanyl, on Amazon for preorder today, so I have six episodes left to go.

The stressful bit about serial fiction was the idea of continuing to turn out new episodes on a timely basis once the first episodes have been released.

Again, based on my research I took the advice of experienced serial fiction writers who recommend completing the first three episodes as a minimum before releasing the first one. That provides a bit of a buffer in the event something comes up that prevents you from writing as planned.

So, with four episodes done and the first release still weeks away, the stressful aspect has now pretty much evaporated for me at this point. In fact, I wish I’d started publishing the episodes sooner. But, Amazon being Amazon, I’m not going to fool about with the preorder dates I’ve already established.

Truth is, I expect to have completed all ten episodes before the first one is published on May 14. The writing has really gone much faster than expected.

Episode lengths

Initially, I planned the episodes to be in the neighborhood of 10,000 words. The experts I read recommended between 8,000 to 12,000 words per episode.

I didn’t want them to be less than 10,000 words because I always want readers to feel they are getting a good value for their money. But, I’ve found it difficult to complete an episode in only 10,000 words.

Most of the episodes are in the 12,000-word realm. One I think was just over 13,000 words in length. That seems fine as far as I’m concerned. It gives even more value to those who decided to purchase and read them. And, the episodes are still short enough so that most people will be able to read them in a half hour or less.

Pricing serial fiction

Pricing the episodes was the most daunting bit for me. Like most writers, my primary objective is to attract readers who will be entertained by my work. That objective always trumps any profit motive for me.

I’m fortunate enough to write full-time for the pure enjoyment of it, not because I need the income for my living. So, I never want to put off potential readers because of price.

On the other hand, I’ve learned from experience as an independent author and publisher you can price your work too cheaply.

When you do that, some people do not see your work in a favorable light. They will look at a low price and instead of seeing a potential bargain assume the work must be junk not worth their time because it is priced so cheaply. The aim is to strike a happy medium.

By its very nature, serial fiction episodes will never command the prices of a complete novel since the potential reader is only purchasing a fraction of the complete book at a time. I think a good way to price serial episodes is by reviewing the prices set for quality short stories since both are of similar length.

The problem is, I found few examples of single short stories for sale on Amazon. Most writers wait until they have accumulated several and publish them together in a single volume.

But, I did find some examples of not only short stories, but true serials as well. It seemed the going price ranges from FREE up to a maximum average of about $2.99.

Using what I learned, I decided to go with 0.99 for the first episode and $1.49 for each subsequent episode. That seems a happy medium.

Once the episodes begin publishing and I have the sales data to work with, I may adjust the prices if it seems a good idea. But, at the moment I’m happy with my pricing scheme.

I’d prefer to offer the first episode free to start attracting a readership for Owen Wolfe Mysteries, but since I’m enrolling the episodes in Kindle Select in the hopes of attracting Kindle Unlimited readers, that’s not an option right now.

Publishing schedule

The first episode, as mentioned, publishes on May 14. Episode two publishes one week later. Afterward, a new episode publishes every two-weeks (or every fortnight) after that.

Again, the publishing schedule is based on advice from the experts. It seemed to make sense. A reader who really enjoys the first episode can get the second episode in only a week. Then publishing every two weeks seems fast enough to avoid killing the initial enthusiasm of those who read the first two episodes.

Of course, over time this becomes moot. Eventually, all ten episodes will be available on demand once the tenth one publishes.

For anyone interested, here is the full publication schedule by episode;

Ep. 1, Perdido County: Dark Road – May 14

Ep. 2, Perdido County: Someone’s Daughter – May 21

Ep. 3, Perdido County: Illusions – June 4

Ep. 4, Perdido County: Fentanyl – June 18

Ep. 5, Perdido County: The Coyote – July 2

* Those titles with links are available for preorder now.

Note: The last five episodes have yet to be titled.

Ep. 6, Perdido County – July 16

Ep. 7, Perdido County – July 30

Ep. 8, Perdido County – August 13

Ep. 9, Perdido County – August 27

Ep. 10, Perdido County – September 10

Several authors have expressed interest in hearing about how my serial fiction experiment turns out. Hopefully, this post answers some questions for you. Other questions about things like sales and advertising I hope to address once the serial episodes start publishing. Meanwhile, if you have a question I didn’t cover, send it to me in an email or a tweet if you’re on Twitter and I’ll do my best to answer it.

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