Book Serials vs. Book Series. What’s the Difference?

book serials vs. book series

Writers have the ability to construct characters that stay in the minds and hearts of readers across generations. This is how series of books and book serials are born. But what’s the difference between them? And how can authors employ both to increase readership and revenue? 

This article will cover book serials and book series definition, writing, and editing tips to ensure your book is in top shape.

In this article, you'll find:

What Is a Book Serial?

Book serials, often simply referred to as serials, are literary works published in sequential installments rather than as complete, standalone books. A serial is a continuing narrative that must be read in the proper sequence to understand the plot.

Today, with the advent of digital publishing, serial books are witnessing a resurgence in popularity due to their ability to keep readers engaged and eagerly anticipating the next installment.

Short historic dive

The concept of serial books dates back to the 19th century and was a common practice across Europe and North America. This era was a golden age for serial literature, as technological advancements in printing and the rise of literacy rates made publications more accessible to the masses.

Charles Dickens is one of the most famous authors to utilize this format. His first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was published in 19 monthly installments from 1836 to 1837. This method allowed Dickens to follow readers’ responses and adjust the story according to their expectations – a revolutionary concept at the time. 

Other notable authors, such as Alexandre Dumas and Leo Tolstoy, also serialized their works, contributing to the popularity of the format.

The early 1900s: Sherlock Holmes is born. In 1901, The Strand Magazine published The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The novel was first published in the magazine in a serialized form, with monthly updates keeping up the attention around the mystery. It was so successful that people stood in queues on the streets waiting for the magazine to be published.

In the United States, serial books became a mainstay in family magazines and women's periodicals of the 19th century. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, for instance, first appeared as a 40-week serial in The National Era, an abolitionist periodical.

As the 20th century unfolded, however, the popularity of serial novels began to fade as the book industry started to consolidate, and cheaper, bound books became widely available. 

Still, the age of comic books was beginning. Both serials and comic books have the ability to create intricate and interconnected worlds, where characters and storylines evolve and develop over time.

Fast forward to the digital age, and the tradition of book serials has been revived. Authors release their works on various online platforms and e-readers, one of the most popular ways for readers to access serials nowadays. This resurgence reflects a shift in reader habits, favoring quick, on-the-go reading while also bringing back the interactive element of serial literature, as authors can respond to reader feedback in real-time. 

Key characteristics of serial books

  1. Segmented structure: Unlike traditional novels, a book serial is divided into smaller, self-contained parts or episodes, each with its own mini-plot, that together form a larger, overarching story.
  2. Regular publication schedule: Serial books are typically published according to a set schedule, whether that's weekly, monthly, or bimonthly. This regularity helps build anticipation and keeps readers engaged over time.
  3. Continuous narrative arc: Despite the segmentation, a serial book maintains a continuous narrative arc spanning across all the installments. Each episode contributes to the progression of the main plot, character development, and overall story.
  4. Cliffhangers and suspense: To keep readers hooked and looking forward to the next installment, episodes in serial books often end with cliffhangers or unresolved conflicts.
  5. Reader engagement: Given their episodic nature and regular publication schedule, serial books allow for high levels of reader engagement. Authors have the opportunity to incorporate reader feedback into subsequent episodes, which can create a dynamic and interactive reading experience.

Why are book serials appealing to authors?

Besides the reasons mentioned previously, meaning the engagement with the readers and their feedback that gives authors an edge and ideas for the next installments, there’s also flexibility in the writing process. 

Serializing a book allows authors to write in manageable chunks rather than producing an entire manuscript at once. This can make writing less daunting, especially for busy or part-time authors.

Moreover, authors can benefit from monetization opportunities as serials can easily be adapted into other forms of media, such as podcasts, radio shows, or television series, providing further means for revenue and exposure. Many digital platforms allow authors to monetize their serials by charging per episode or offering a subscription model. This can provide a regular income stream while the book is still being written. 

The revival of serialized books offers authors a unique blend of creative freedom, reader engagement, and potential for income and exposure.

If you think book serials require too much commitment with their continuous storyline and an overarching plot perhaps interlinking stories are the thing for you! 

While both formats offer readers the opportunity to delve deeper into a fictional world and explore various facets of the story, interlinking stories provide more flexibility in terms of exploring diverse perspectives and storylines within a shared narrative framework. 

Ultimately, whether it's a book serial or an interlinking story, both formats offer readers the joy of immersing themselves in a rich and expansive literary universe.

Interlinking Stories: Another Type of Book Series

Interlinking series (serial book series) refer to a type of book series where the individual books are connected through recurring characters, overarching themes, or a continuous storyline. Still, each book focuses on a different plot, set of characters, and sometimes even a different protagonist. 

While the books in an interlinking series can often be enjoyed as standalone stories, they gain additional depth and resonance when read in sequence, as characters or events from previous books often reappear or are referenced in later volumes. These series create a broad, interconnected world that readers can explore over the course of many books.

An example is the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, in which the author explores different corners of the same world, with characters from one book often appearing in minor roles in others. Similarly, Ken Follett's Century Trilogy follows multiple interconnected families through different periods in history, with each book focusing on a different generation.

In children's literature, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson & The Olympians series and its follow-up series, Heroes of Olympus, are an example of interlinking series. They share the same world, some characters, and themes, but each series focuses on a different set of protagonists.

What Is a Series of Books?

A book series is a sequence of books that are part of the same franchise but can be read in any order because each book is a stand-alone story. The books from the same series have connections with one another through characters or settings. If you want to understand the book series' meaning, think of its main characteristic: the independent nature of the installments, which allows readers to engage with the series in a non-linear manner.

The question of what is a book series can be answered further by considering popular examples, including book series with Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, or James Bond. These series have multiple volumes that follow a consistent set of characters on their adventures, with closure at the end of each volume.

Key characteristics of book series

A book series has several distinctive characteristics that differentiate it from other books:

  1. Installments: Books in a series are often referred to as "installments" (in case you have been thinking about what do you call books in a series). Each installment contributes to the franchise, revealing new aspects of the characters or new adventures.
  2. First book: The first book in a series sets the stage for the rest of the series, introducing the main characters, the setting, and key plot points. This initial installment is often referred to as the “pilot” book, drawing a parallel to TV series. No more researching over what is the first book in a series called.
  3. Common themes or motifs: A series of books, called a “sequence,” often share themes or motifs explored in greater depth with each new installment.
  4. Shared Universe: A book series usually takes place within a shared universe. This can be an entirely fictitious world, a realistic setting at a particular historical point, or a mix of both.
  5. Flexibility for readers: Due to their stand-alone nature, readers can usually pick up any book in an episodic series and not be lost, offering them the freedom to read the series out of order.
  6. Varied adventures: Each episode or book often involves different adventures or situations. This provides variety for readers and allows authors to explore different themes or scenarios within the same series.
  7. Potential for longevity: Since each book stands on its own, there's no need to wrap up the series as a whole until the author wishes to. As such, episodic series can sometimes span dozens of books.
  8. Series title: A book series usually has a series title in addition to individual book titles. This helps identify the series and provides a way for readers to refer to the entire collection.

Understanding what you call books in a series and what the first book in a series is called helps writers who want to start investing in book series.

Reasons book series appeal to authors

Book series offer opportunities for creative expression and financial success, which is why authors find a book series enticing. 

Here is the full breakdown of the main arguments in favor of the book series:

  1. Extended storytelling: A series provides a broader canvas for authors to explore multiple story arcs and build a more expansive world.
  2. Reader engagement: Books series allow authors to create an ongoing relationship with their readers. If readers become invested in the characters and story, they are likely to follow the series through multiple books. This can lead to a dedicated fan base.
  3. Financial stability: From a commercial perspective, a successful series can offer financial stability that standalone books might not. If the first book in the series does well, the following books will likely benefit from the established readership, leading to predictable and ongoing sales.
  4. Creative satisfaction: For many authors, the opportunity to remain in the world they've created for a long time offers great creative joy. The familiar setting and characters can become a comfortable space to continue crafting stories.
  5. Cross-promotion: Each new book in a series can stimulate sales for previous books. New readers might discover the series at book four, for example, and then go back to purchase and read the earlier books.
  6. Opportunities for adaptation: Book series can also attract interest from film and television producers, as they offer ready-made episodic content that can be adapted into multiple seasons of a show, further expanding the author's reach and potential income.

4 Tips on How to Start Writing 

Whether you want to write serialized stories or episodic stories, here are some tips to get you going. 

1. Take time to plan

For serialized stories, authors should consider outlining their overall narrative arc. These types of series can be compared to a vast novel split into smaller sections, each contributing towards the resolution of a central conflict. Authors should plan key plot points, including the start, end, climax, and main character development. For instance, in the Harry Potter series, every book moves the characters and readers toward the final face-off between Harry and Voldemort. An overarching plan can also help authors decide the number of books in the series.

For episodic series, the story flow is more gentle, with no pressure to build towards a predetermined endpoint. Instead, the focus should be on crafting a detailed character profile for the protagonist, as their compelling and dynamic personality drives the success of an episodic series. Although the main character may remain relatively static, revealing their layers or introducing minor life changes can keep the series interesting. For example, Detective Philip Marlowe from Raymond Chandler's series remains mostly unchanged but showcases different facets of his personality across the books.

For interlinking series, authors might want to identify a societal shift or shared themes consistently explored in each book. The characters might differ from one book to another, but the world and timeline remain constant. Relationships can also serve as a thread to connect the stories in an interlinked series. Establishing these connections beforehand helps in integrating the stories and enticing readers to explore more books in the series.

2. Craft a world readers will enjoy exploring

Each one of these types of stories requires a meticulously crafted world as a foundation for the narrative. Creating an immersive atmosphere that can sustain the reader's engagement across multiple installments is imperative.

One effective way to achieve this continuity is by reusing existing features or themes from the narrative universe you have built. These recurring elements can not only reinforce the atmosphere but also provide an opportunity to develop additional layers of significance to the story. 

Additionally, embedding Easter eggs (subtle references or inside jokes)  can reward attentive readers, making them feel more connected to the narrative. These might be familiar details or callbacks to earlier parts of the series, generating moments of recognition and delight for the readers.

However, maintaining reader interest requires more than just recollections. Expanding the horizon of your series to introduce new locations, institutions, traditions, or occupations can provide fresh contexts and challenges for your characters. This could mean guiding the protagonist to an unexplored location or introducing a new societal institution or tradition that adds a layer to the fictional world. 

3. Mind all your characters

It's essential to remember that characters, beyond just the protagonist, play crucial roles in developing the plot and providing depth to the story. 

  • Pay attention to your sidekicks 

Often, they are instrumental to the protagonist's journey and have their own challenges and developments. Just as Ron in the Harry Potter series has a parallel arc of self-discovery and growth, your side characters should also be multidimensional with their personal narratives that tie into the main story. Diversity in character archetypes adds a more complex and nuanced layer to the narrative.

  • Don't neglect your secondary characters 

They might not always be in the spotlight, but they play significant roles nonetheless. These characters can transition between the foreground and background throughout the series. Regardless of their prominence in each installment, each character should have a well-rounded arc that offers them resolution.

  • Even background characters serve a purpose in your narrative 

They can surprise your readers by stepping up in unexpected ways, which adds another layer of intrigue to the story. A minor character like Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter series, for instance, eventually plays a significant role in the narrative's climax.

4. Know when (& how) to end 

Authors must ensure each installment is both individually satisfying and contributes to the overarching narrative. Avoid the pitfall of creating “filler” books, which can lead to losing reader interest.

5. Choose the platforms to publish your writing

Several online publishing and writing platforms allow you to release your serialized stories. Here are some to get you started:

Wattpad is a popular online publishing platform and book-sharing community that provides opportunities for indie authors to reach a wide audience and receive feedback. With over 90 million users, it allows writers to publish their work on a chapter-by-chapter basis, engaging with readers as they write. 

Wattpad offers various programs and collaborations for authors. The platform's strong community aspect, particularly popular among young adults, encourages direct communication and interaction between authors and readers. Engagement with the community is highly valued on Wattpad, making it an ideal platform for writers to refine their skills and connect with readers.

Radish is a curated online publishing platform that specializes in serialized fiction. Authors submit their work in advance and, upon acceptance, can choose from different release and pricing models. Readers can pay to unlock chapters or "episodes" or wait for a designated time to continue reading for free.

Authors whose work is accepted by Radish can also apply for monthly promotion programs to feature on the Radish homepage, significantly boosting their readership. The platform includes a comments function, allowing authors to engage with their readers directly. Radish is particularly popular for spicy romance stories.

Dreame is a popular mobile reading app that specifically targets women readers and has gained widespread popularity, particularly in South Asia. It focuses on promoting fiction content and encourages reading in various languages, including English, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Portuguese, Thai, Russian, Arabic, Nordic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish), Turkish, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Korean.

By joining Dreame, authors give consent for their books to be distributed in parts or chapters, referred to as episodes. Readers have the flexibility to unlock and read these episodes using virtual coins at their own discretion. Each episode typically consists of around 1000 words, and the Dreame platform does not allow users to purchase and download the entire ebook. Instead, readers can only purchase and access one episode at a time, ensuring a unique reading experience.

How to get your books on Dreame? With PublishDrive. Let’s talk about this next.

Start Publishing

In a world where publishing has never been easier, ensure you choose the best option for your vision, expectations, and type of narrative.

Book series can hook readers for long periods of time, and regardless of their type (serialized or episodic), they should be immediately recognizable by readers everywhere. 

Here is how to achieve this:

  1. Editing: Thorough editing is crucial for every book in your series. Start with developmental editing to ensure plot consistency across books, character development, and pacing and that each book contributes to the overarching story. Then, perform line edits for sentence structure and word choice, and finally, proofread for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.
  2. Covers: A book's cover is its first impression, so making it professional is crucial. You should maintain a consistent design across all covers for a series to signal a connection between the books. 
  3. Blurbs: Blurbs should be concise and engaging and should tease the book's content without giving away spoilers. In a series, each book's blurb should stand alone while alluding to the larger series context.
  4. Formatting: Consistency in formatting is essential in a book series. Use the same style across all books for chapter headings, fonts, margins, etc., to provide a unified reader experience.

As a self-published author, you know book discoverability is as important as price; therefore, there is no better advice than paying attention to your book metadata and introducing information related to the book series. 

Go wide with PublishDrive

PublishDrive is the go-to partner of anyone who wants to publish, distribute, and promote books in ebooks, audiobooks, or print-or-demand formats, all under one roof. If you decide to move forward taking advantage of the streamlined processes of book aggregators and their wide network of partners, here is how to start using PublishDrive. 

  1. Create a PublishDrive account.
  2. Go to My Books in the Dashboard, and choose to upload a new title – ebook, audiobook, or print.
  3. Fill out the creators' names.
  4. Fill out the book’s metadata and add a relevant description. Make sure you mention that a book is part of a particular series by filling in the Series name entry.
  5. Set the book’s price. When it comes to series, having a pricing strategy can significantly influence your books' sales. Consider pricing the first book lower to entice readers into the series, then price subsequent books at a standard rate. Monitor your sales data and adjust prices as necessary.
  6. Define your rights and set a publication date. In this step, you can also set pre-orders. This works perfectly with a serialized publication timeline.
  7. Select the stores. Click Enable on each store you want to distribute your book to.
  8. Click on the Publish button.
  9. Start collecting revenue. 

Note: After publishing, once authors earn royalties, they will start seeing those payouts after two months (although it could be longer, depending on the reporting and payment cycles of the different stores.) 

There is an array of special services to be discovered and used in the PublishDrive platform, such as book promotion, print-on-demand, royalty splitting, and the POD cover template generator.

Unleash Your Series

Writing and self-publishing a book series or serials can be a fulfilling endeavor, opening up new paths for storytelling while maintaining reader engagement over time. It's an opportunity to build complex characters and explore detailed worlds that captivate your audience.

Remember that it is essential to plan meticulously, maintain consistency, and focus on delivering quality with every book. Every book in your series represents your work and can be an entry point for a new reader, making it worthwhile.

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