Kathie's Corner

Series or Serial?

What’s the difference?

Quite often an author will call their books a series.  But sometimes they’re wrong because, in fact, it’s a serial.

What is a serial? Think comic book. Think fan fiction. Think soap opera.

There is a place on a person’s kindle for this kind of book. Soap operas wouldn’t run for decades if people weren’t watching them.

I don’t mind reading these as long as they are labeled correctly at my online bookstore. I want to know what I’m getting into. When I read, I want to know if the book is going to end with the heroine dangling by one hand over a moat filled with razor-toothed monsters . . . or if the book is actually going to be done.

So, what’s the difference between a series and a serial? An excellent example of a series is the Harry Potter books. There are seven books in the series. Each book has its own story arc that is completed within the pages of that particular book. Each book builds on the last one. All seven books have Voldemort looming over the characters. That is a series.

I picture it this way for a trilogy:

kathie's graphic

A serial tends to leave the characters in dire straits. Reading it feels like you’ve eaten the appetizer, but no meal is forthcoming. A reader is left wanting more. I think the authors are trying to make sure you come back for the next course. Effective marketing? Perhaps.

Again, that’s okay if you know when you start reading, that on the last page you’ll be hearing the words: Join us next time to see if the hero can save the damsel in distress before she falls to her doom.

I have had authors tell me they want to sell that next book and that’s why they leave their readers in the lurch. Personally, as a reader, I’d rather be left in a good place than be left waiting months to find out if the damsel is going to be lunch or not. This is especially true when I pay for the privilege.

While the cliffhanger endings can work in some places (fan fiction, soap operas, etc.) do think about your audience. If you decide a serial book is what you want to write, make sure you market it as such. A reader who wouldn’t take the time to say “I loved your novel” will take the time to voice their disgruntlement over the fact they felt cheated when they realized what they bought was only the first portion of your book.

If you choose to make your story a serial, then make sure you leave your readers in a good place. There can still be monsters coming, but at least finish the arc the book started with. You can always have the bad guy coming for them . . . in the next book!

Kathie’s Corner is a bi-weekly column by Kathie Spitz. 

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