The following article could not have been made without the help of PublishDrive author Gabriel Wolf. We are grateful for his insight on the topic of book serials.
Series of books or book serials: What is the difference?
Categorization of multiple episode television programs is fairly common: everybody knows that the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice, the sitcom Friends, and Stranger Things are all substantially different formats, and viewers start them with different expectations. The same is true for books as well. However, there are still many people who don’t know the difference between a series of books and a book serial.
As an author, you have to be aware of whether you are writing a series of a books or a serial, and have to follow (or break) genre expectations.
In a series of books, each book can be read individually. They are usually built around a certain character who doesn’t age or set in the same world, and you can get away with reading them in any order you wish (eg. Discworld by Terry Pratchett). No mysteries or questions go unanswered between two books.
Book serials, on the other hand, have an overarching story line. The characters age and change: like in Harry Potter. Often, they come in episodes or parts shorter than a novel: 80-100 pages long instalments. Episodes (whether novel-sized or chapter sized) are separately published in ebook format and get their own cover. Once a story arc has been finished, the author groups the parts together and publishes it as a novel (often called a ‘season’). The book receives a title, a new ISBN, and usually also appears in print form.