Should I Serialize My New Novel BEFORE It’s Published?

Q. The editor of the local paper, who serialized my first book after it was published, suggests I serialize my next book as it progresses, BEFORE publication. What do you suggest?


A. The original star of electronic book serialization (not newspaper) was famous novelist Doug Clegg. Years ago, long before Stephen King took a shot at it, Clegg was distributing a free chapter of his book to his fans every Friday, via email, while he was still writing the novel. And, he was getting paid to do it. A publisher sponsored his e-serial. It was a huge hit and his unique idea garnered tons of press back then. Clegg’s book was published in print (hardcover) by a traditional publisher (not the original sponsor) when it was finished and many of his loyal fans ordered the print version. They felt a real connection with Clegg because they were involved during the writing process and they were a part of something that was revolutionary in the industry. They wanted a memento of the experience.

Clegg, the author of many novels, already had a large following of readers, and numerous books on the market, which is why free eserialization worked out very well for him. Even if the serialized novel didn’t sell that well (it did!) to the recipients of his Friday installments, his publisher knew the print version would sell well to his legion of fans who anxiously await every new novel he writes. Later, the original sponsor of the e-serial bought the paperback rights to the novel.

Doug is launching a brand new eserial in August for his book, The Locust. If you want to see how he does it, subscribe to his eserial here:

For unknown authors, however, who need to sell books NOW, I don’t recommend serializing a book before it’s published.

Put yourself in your newspaper readers’ shoes. You get your weekly paper and see a chapter from a book by a new author. You read it and you like it. You get so hooked by the second week that you’re dying to know the ending before next Sunday’s paper comes out. You search online for the book, and even call your local bookstore. No luck. The book doesn’t yet exist. You’re stuck waiting until next week, and then the next week, etc. By the time the story is finished, weeks from now, you’re not only frustrated with the weekly wait, but you’re not about to buy a book that you’ve already finished (and that took you weeks to read!).

Sadly, the author of the story you’ve been addicted to is making ZERO dollars from the paper’s readers. The paper’s making out great, however. Local companies want to run ads on the same page as the serial each Sunday. Does the author get any of this. Uh, nope!

Your local newspaper is telling you to serialize your book BEFORE publication because they want to be able to say it’s an “exclusive.” How does this help you? It doesn’t – not immediately and certainly not financially. Since nobody can buy the book yet, you won’t make any money on this deal. If you’re lucky, some of these new fans might buy your first book…but they’re more than likely only interested in the one the paper is serializing right now.

A better deal for you, the unknown author – much better – is to let the newspaper serialize your story AFTER it’s published. That way, you can include a byline at the end of each installment that tells readers where they can purchase your book RIGHT NOW. Like my example above, if your story is good, they’re not going to want to wait for several weeks (for the paper to finish the serialization) to find out how the story ends. The newspaper can still claim “exclusivity” of the serial itself. If the paper balks at your idea, tell them they can profit from sales of the book, too, by linking to it on their own website (for Amazon or some other bookstore affiliate sales). If you’re selling it yourself, from your own website, offer to pay the newspaper a percentage of each copy sold during the serialization period. In fact, this might be a good marketing ploy for authors who want to convince their local paper to serialize one of their books.

Again, if the book isn’t finished yet, there is no way for your new fans to order your book right away. And, when the serialization is over, many of them aren’t going to want to buy the book because they’re already read it (unless you’re a celebrity author with an extensive fan base that collects all titles). Serialization is nothing new and there’s really nothing other than generosity to spur them to buy the finished copy. And, let’s face it, if you give something to somebody for free, most aren’t going to want to pay for it later, especially in this economy.