Serial online publishing is gaining popularity—is your book right for this trend?
The internet fundamentally changed the ways in which modern writers can reach an audience.
Traditional publishing houses and periodicals acted as gatekeepers between aspiring authors and potential readers for decades. Although these gatekeepers still exist, the internet now offers writers a more direct route to sharing their work with readers. The tradeoff is the loss of a ready-made path for marketing your book and making money from it.
Self-published authors therefore shoulder the responsibility for finding an audience and making decent money from their work. Now, a new trend in serial publishing online has some authors rethinking their self-publishing strategy altogether. As platforms like Substack and Wattpad allow aspiring writers to release their manuscripts one chapter at a time, sometimes as a subscription feature that readers actually pay for, more writers are exploring the online serial format as a legitimate publishing medium.
A few of these platforms, like Serial Box, hire their own writers. However, many others will include any author who takes the time to create an account. You can find platforms that will publish both fiction and nonfiction.
But is serial publishing online worth it? Can you make money from it?
Before we jump into this question, please take note of one critical detail: if you post your manuscript in part or in full on any web site, including serial publication platforms, blogs, and other outlets, it is considered first publication. In other words, should you try to publish a successful manuscript as one volume with a traditional publishing house later, that publishing house will consider it a second publication. This may affect which publishers will accept your work and how much you’ll be paid for it.
In other words, if you have your heart set on finding a traditional publisher for this manuscript someday, then online serial publishing is not for you.
With that concern on the table, let’s take a look at the different types of serial publishing formats online and the advantages and disadvantages each might offer for your manuscript.
Free platforms for serial publication typically allow anyone to publish their own work on the platform, and offer content free of charge for readers. Authors can gain exposure to readers to get feedback and learn about their target audience, and some free sites make it easy for readers to find new authors. In fact, some writers have been known to build an audience at these free sites over time and then bring that audience with them when they either publish their book as one volume or switch to a paid subscription service.
The downside of free sites is, of course, that you are giving your work away with no monetary gain, and it will be considered “published” by any traditional publisher you may query later. Think long and hard about the benefits vs drawbacks of free work. It can grow your readership, but can also leave you with no financial gain to show for countless hours of writing time.
Here are examples of free serial publishing websites and how they work.
Smartphone app Radish is a fiction-focused serial publisher releasing “bite-sized fiction” geared toward young readers (teens and 20s) who consume media on their smartphones. Stories are published in small increments, some more than once per day.
Work available on Radish includes both original stories and backlist stories looking to drum up fresh readership. They also advertise themselves as a place where indie authors can release previews of their books to garner attention before publication day.
Releasing your fiction on Radish can be an excellent way to gauge what today’s young fiction fans want in a story, as it provides interactive comment and chat features where authors can communicate with readers and receive feedback. It boasts a daily readership in the hundreds of thousands.
What performs well? Fiction stories written for teens and 20-somethings. Because this is bite-sized fiction, authors must think carefully about utilizing suspense and character arcs to keep readers coming back time and again. Publishing to a bite-sized fiction site may be tricky if your book is already plotted and paced like a traditional novel without frequent cliffhangers.
Who can write for Radish? Radish accepts work from both new and established authors, but there is one catch. While anyone can join Radish as a reader, you have to apply in order to actually publish on the platform. The Radish editorial team reviews applications and accepts or rejects authors based on the quality of writing. So far, they’ve published more than 2,000 authors and boast a daily readership in the hundreds of thousands.
Think of Wattpad as a social media platform just for readers and writers. You set up an account, read or publish books, and interact with others in a comment section to discuss the work. You can view the profiles of every reader and author to learn more about them, and the most successful users are the ones who engage with others on a regular basis.
Wattpad publishes fiction and nonfiction, one chapter at a time. Readers who like your work can sign up to receive notifications when a new chapter goes live. That’s a boon for growing your readership, so long as you publish on a consistent basis. Flake out on your publishing schedule and readers will peel away in a hurry.
The interaction with readers, paired with the ability to see their profiles, is a great way to learn more about your target audience and what they want their reading material to deliver. This can be especially helpful to writers who are still honing their craft and want to get better.
And yes, big publishing houses are beginning to pay attention. Some high-performing Wattpad books have been picked up for release by traditional publishers, although these stories are the exception and not the rule.
Wattpad is free for any writer, but you can’t monetize your work through a subscription feature. The site did launch a Paid Stories feature that allows fans to monetarily support extremely popular Wattpad authors, but Paid Stories is invite-only and you have to amass a huge following and tons of engagement first.
What performs well? Sci-fi, fantasy, and YA (young adult) novels are the favored genres on Wattpad. Like Radish, Wattpad is mainly utilized by teens and 20-somethings. That said, they do publish a variety of fiction genres as well as nonfiction.
Nonfiction authors, be aware: all genres of nonfiction are lumped together into the all-inclusive “nonfiction” category, which makes it harder for readers to find the exact topic they’re looking for. There is a search bar, but it searches works primarily by title, not genre or subject matter. Typing in “memoir,” for example, will return some memoirs and some fiction works with the word “memoir” somewhere in the title.
Who can write for Wattpad? Anyone can write for this site. This means you’ll find plenty of poorly-written and poorly-edited work alongside the good stuff, but it also makes the good stuff stand out.
Whereas online publishers like Radish and Wattpad are “freebie” sites, some serial publication services offer the option to monetize your work through reader subscriptions. Some are geared toward artists and creators of every stripe, while some were designed specifically for writers.
Known as a hub for artists, writers, podcasters, videographers, and other creatives, Patreon revolves around the notion of paying creatives for their work. You post your writing on Patreon and interested fans pay a monthly fee in order to access each new post. Patreon takes a five percent cut of everything you earn on the site.
Patreon’s pricing tiers allow you to set up increasing rewards and access to fans who are willing to pay more. Pricing tiers can be a critical component of monetizing creative work, because they allow you to draw a large number of followers who are willing to pay the minimum while still benefitting from the much smaller group of fans who will happily pay more. Ideally, some of the minimum subscription readers will become superfans over time and move into the higher tiers. Check out these ideas for Patreon pricing tiers.
As with most serial publication sites, you’ll need to engage with your patrons on a regular basis and post consistently. Maintaining a relationship with your supporters is crucial if you want their support.
Most Patreon creators find that they don’t make enough money to quit their day job, but it’s a way to make money on the side and gain exposure and readership.
What performs well? Because Patreon is not exclusively for writers, it’s harder to generalize about its most popular genres. But in general, sci-fi and fantasy stories do particularly well in the serial publication space.
That doesn’t mean nonfiction writers and writers of other genres can’t use Patreon. It all comes down to how well you market yourself. Can you self-promote enough to draw a fan base to your site and get them hooked on your writing? This can be a bit of a drawback for some, since Patreon doesn’t have an option to release any portion of your work for free—which is how authors on some other sites garner interest in their work.
Who can write for Patreon? Anyone can write for this site.
Amazon’s Kindle Vella
Self-publishing completed books on Amazon through Kindle has historically been a double-edged sword. Your book could gain fantastic notoriety and reader volume, or could sink to the bottom of the Kindle barrel, never to be heard from again.
Kindle Vella, however, is a new service built around serial publishing rather than publishing one complete volume. The platform allows for publications of 600-5,000 words at a time, done through the Kindle Direct Publishing Platform.
The first few episodes of your story are free, then readers can choose whether to pay to access more chapters. Readers pay for “tokens” to unlock chapters, but you will only see 50 percent of the cost of those tokens; the rest goes to Amazon. Readers can grant “Fave” votes to stories they love, and serials with large numbers of “Fave” votes may be featured in the Kindle Vella store. An “author notes” section allows you to communicate with your readers.
To do well in Vella, your story must hook and hold readers immediately and keep them coming back for more. Kindle boasts a gigantic library of material, so competition for reader attention is fierce. Some genres are naturally suited to the continual cliffhanger formula, and others are not, so consider carefully whether your book could keep reader interest in serial format.
Be aware that some of Kindle Vella’s most successful authors already had publications and readership before releasing new work on Vella. Success stories for new authors may be more tepid. As Vella is a relative newcomer on the serial publication scene, it remains to be seen how lucrative it will turn out to be for the average writer.
What performs well? The top performers on Kindle Vella seem to be the romance and paranormal romance genres.
Who can write for it? Anyone can write for Kindle Vella.
Substack is the unicorn on this list for two reasons. First, it’s the only platform that allows authors to choose whether to make their work completely free, subscription-only, or some combination. Second, it’s the only platform that has proven itself specifically in the nonfiction genre.
Substack began as a site for publishing e-newsletters, although its use has broadened to include writers in any number of genres, including those who release books in serial format. Writers compose a newsletter or book chapter on Substack’s word processing feature and their subscribers receive the new release in their email.
Substack cofounders founded the platform due to their dissatisfaction with a writing world mediated by publishing houses, magazine editors, and other gatekeepers. The idea of Substack is to let readers directly support what they like, without a middle man telling them what is or isn’t good enough to publish.
Substack offers three options for monetizing your serial releases.
- Make your subscription fee “optional” so readers can get everything for free or pay you if they feel your work is worth it.
- Release some content for free, and add extra content for paid subscribers only.
- Release all of your work to paid subscribers only.
Substack can be a nice alternative to Patreon for writers who want to reel readers in with samples of free work before moving them to a paid option, and it is an alternative to the freebie platforms that grant you no monetization options. The downside? It doesn’t support pricing tiers, which some writers consider vital to making adequate money from their work. If every subscriber will pay no more than the lowest common denominator, you will miss out on superfans who might be willing to support your work at ten times that price point.
In addition, Substack keeps 10 percent of all revenue earned from your subscribers. This is higher than some services, like Patreon, but lower than others, like Amazon Vella.
And, like most platforms offering serialized publishing, you will have to work to grow your own readership.
What performs well? Nonfiction is the cash cow of Substack to date, but fiction writers are beginning to join the platform to try their hand at email subscription serialization. This platform works best for writers who are focused on a particular topic or want to establish themselves as an expert in their field.
Who can write for Substack? Anyone can write on this platform—which has led to controversy. Some writers who have been de-platformed from other publications due to their divisive views have found huge followings on Substack, and debates rage about whether Substack should censor harmful views the way social media giants have chosen to do. While this is not a make-or-break issue for most writers (after all, no one who reads your Substack has to look at the newsletter of those other writers), it’s something to be aware of before you dive in to using the service.
If Serialization Isn’t for You, Consider the Book Professor®
Not every manuscript is right for serialization—and, in truth, this method of online publishing is still in its infancy. If you want to write and publish your book as one complete manuscript, consider The Book Professor’s writing coach services.
Our professional writing coaches will walk you through the process of writing your nonfiction book, and you’ll have the opportunity to submit the finished product for consideration to our sister company, Stonebrook Publishing.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you bring your manuscript idea to life.