10 Things I Learned From Writing My First Fiction Serial
(Note: This article was originally published on EnfieldArts.com on 10/16/19)
Over the weekend I released the final episode of New Winslow: Season One, a free web serial I’ve been publishing twice-weekly since early June 2019. For those who have not read it, New Winslow is a story about a cursed New England town and the people who live there. It’s been an exciting, somewhat nerve-wracking experience and in the twenty weeks of releasing Season One, I’ve learned loads.
I’ll be taking those lessons and applying them to Season Two in the spring. But for now, I’d like to share some writing tips I’ve gained from this experience. Here are the top ten things I learned while publishing New Winslow.
It’ll never be perfect and it’s so hard to resist tinkering
I wrote the whole season well before the first episode premiered, which is one of the writing tips that I strongly recommend. But even after I posted, I continued to find things I wanted to change. Never anything huge, but little things that were suddenly glaringly obvious to me. And it would have been so easy to do.
But that wouldn’t be fair to the people reading. I didn’t want them to waste their time reading an episode, only for me to jump in, retcon something, and make the rest of the story more difficult for them to follow.
So unless it’s a typo, let it go as soon as you hit publish. Treat it like it’s already on a bookshelf and there’s no going back.
It’s hard to get accurate data
I come from podcasting, which is (as of this writing) overwhelmingly controlled by Apple. While this has its problems, it does make collecting listener data much easier. There isn’t so much of a centralized hub for serial fiction. I started the season on Wattpad and Patreon. Later, I created my own WordPress site. The majority of my readers used Patreon which, while great, isn’t designed for publishing serial fiction. So it’s very difficult to get an accurate read on how many people are accessing the story.
Right now I use a combination of Patreon’s weekly dashboard and Google Analytics. It’s not perfect, but I plan to tinker with it more in Season Two.
It reinforced how much I love New England
I’ve lived in Massachusetts my entire life. I grew up in the Worcester area and have lived in multiple big cities and small towns all over the state. I’ve always loved it but writing something so deeply connected to this area really helped me clarify why that is and what it is that keeps me here. “Write what you know” is one of the most controversial writing tips, but in this case, it worked well for me.
Marketing serial fiction is very different from marketing an audio drama
This surprised me more than it should have. But again, it goes back to the fact that there’s no central hub like there is for podcasts. With the exception of my Patreon supporters, no one is getting automatic notices for updates. So not only do you need to get the word out there, but you also need to find ways to keep it continuously on your readers’ radar without spamming. It’s tricky and I’ll be doing a series on that in the future.
Be flexible and open to change
New Winslow started as an audio drama. I wrote the entire thing in script format, then realized it wasn’t going to work. So I stressed a little, did some thinking, and decided to do it as a novel instead. Then I realized it was too episodic to be a satisfying novel and making it less episodic would have a negative impact on the story. Some more thinking and some more stressing finally brought me to the decision to make it a serial. That possibility never even occurred to me as I planned the story and now I love it.
So be willing to try new things. Also, the beauty of independently publishing means you can do whatever you want with it. So if you still want to try that original format or idea, there’s no reason you can’t adapt your story again in the future.
Give Nanowrimo a try!
Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an event that takes place every November. Traditionally, participants write a full novel within the 30-day span. However, a lot of people also use that time to write other things as well, fulfilling the 50,000-word requirement that way. I wrote the original script last November and the website, twitter writing sprints, and word counters were the perfect motivators to get that first draft done.
Specific platforms work best for specific audiences
Everything I read while researching hosting platforms said that Wattpad is the way to go when publishing serial fiction. It’s got both the infrastructure and the existing audience to make discoverability easier. But what these articles didn’t mention is that this existing audience tends to lean toward very specific genres and stories. And New Winslow does not fit in those genres. I got some readers, but it wasn’t my most popular platform. So while Wattpad might work better for a future story, it wasn’t the ideal for this one.
And honestly, there might not be an ideal platform for your serial. You might have to improvise and do some experimenting in order to figure out what works best.
Be confident in your work
My mom gave me this advice recently. I tend to lean toward self-deprecation, even in promotion. But people want to know why they should spend their time and/or money reading your story. So take pride in your work when you share it! This is one of the writing tips that has honestly transformed my approach.
Mood boards and playlists are great for enhancing your writing
I never really made mood boards and themed playlists before this year. Then I had some friends talk about how much they loved them. So I gave it a try and both of these things made such a difference! Whether it was inspiring me to continue planning my story while I worked out or fleshing out settings through Pinterest pictures, I feel like adding visuals and music, even if just for myself, really enriched my writing.
I love this format
I haven’t written fan fiction in about a decade, but before now, that was my main exposure to serial fiction. And after a season, I can confidently say that I love writing serials. There’s so much flexibility with the style and it lets you have both the thrill of weekly releases and the satisfaction of a full book. I’ve got a few more seasons left of New Winslow and after that, I know serials will remain a major part of my catalog.
After making it through Season One, I’m feeling a lot more confident and stable heading into Season Two. Hopefully, if you’re considering writing a serial, these writing tips will help you too!
You can read New Winslow for free on Enfield Arts or Patreon or download the entire first season for free on your favorite retailer! If you like found families, slow-burn storylines, and thirty-somethings getting their lives together with varying degrees of success, then you’ll love New Winslow!