The Return of Serial Fiction?

I mean, it’s about time. It seems that books only get longer each year, with word counts over 100k per volume in the latest trilogy. Modern commercial fiction seems to be going through another big shift since the rise of eBooks and the self publishing boom in the early 2010’s. A little while back Amazon introduced a new service that will be coming out soon called Vella which focuses on serial fiction – a series of stories that are released in an episode like fashion. From what I’ve seen, things are looking good for the return of serial fiction in general.

It’s been a long while since publishers (outside litmags and SFF) would even bother with short fiction, when it used to be the norm. We know that the old school authors cut their teeth in serial fiction, Dickens, Lovecraft, Wells, etc. So I do find it interesting that there is talk of a comeback, even just recently Murakami released a collection of short stories and I’ve heard others have done so as well.

It’s been discussed in writing groups here and there for a while now – people start writing a long book but just don’t have the time to finish it, or they start something new and never come back to it. Finishing your work is important in this aspect because it teaches you how to start and end a story properly. Enter the short story, where you can wrap it up in a weekend and the thing can be a standalone piece or the start of a series if you wanted. One of the self pub marketing strategies I’ve seen is to fully finish book 1, and have book 2 nearly finished before you release it so they can be read almost back to back. Some folks even say to maintain readership you need to release a new book every couple of months. That is bananas.

This makes sense to do in a time where people won’t want to start watching a TV show unless all the episodes are out so they can binge watch the entire thing in a weekend. (I’ve heard the same from readers who refuse to start a book trilogy until all the volumes have been released.) But serial fiction doesn’t work that way, it gets released the same way we were used to waiting a week for a new episode of the Simpsons. If you said “I’m gonna wait till they finish the show to start watching.” you’d never start!

Just imagine if the books were short stories that could be fully polished pieces and released on a bi weekly or monthly schedule without the author burning absolutely out. Folks are busy now, and having the time to read or listen to a 600 page/19 hour story is not something everyone has the luxury of. But the issue isn’t so much creating the serialized work but getting people to read it.

I know I did a post a while back about how much text is worth to folks and how much better it is (in compensation terms) to self publish or self host your work. However, I’ve also come to realize that you can’t really have the large scale readership you want without a platform that attracts those readers. Just like you can’t get foot traffic to your store if there is no parking lot or other shops around for people to visit. This goes for both paid and free formats of readership.

So where do you publish your short fiction if grocery store magazines aren’t accepting this kind of thing anymore? Well, I realized something after checking out this article on Substack where other writers were starting to use this service which is designed for marketing and newsletters to publish their serialized fiction. Normally authors will use a monthly/weekly newsletter to keep reader engagement between book releases, feature other authors, mention sales or special appearances – these are big tools for self publishing. But to make it the actual platform for the work itself wasn’t something I had considered until the other day.

For the last year or so I’ve been posting my flash fiction to a little project I called MOSFET Mag that I had hosted on write.as. Write.as is a federated blogging platform that has a feed called read.write.as which is basically an rss feed of all the public posts written by folks using write.as. It had a decent reach as long as you knew about it or were a fellow user of the service. But it wasn’t something a regular reader would stumble upon, not something they would search for to find things to read. So that’s when I thought I’d give Substack a try. I’ve used it before for my Misprints newsletter so it wasn’t difficult to create a new account and import the stories from write.as.

I think this might fare better for readership and will let yall know how it goes compared to my numbers on the federated site. You can sign up for it below and unlike the Misprints one this is only updated once or twice a month max so it’s not going to clog your inbox.

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