Writing a series/ serial

This is a pertinent question for me because I am getting to the pointy end of publishing a book that is part of a continuing story. As a person who reads a lot of both sci-fi and fantasy books, series / serial is a familiar concept. I read a lot of books that go on past book one. Both the GoT style – this is no where near resolved at book 1 conclusion, and the other type – where there are different people/ same people with new stories within the same world.

My current angst on this topic comes from a fellow blogger who expressed considerable irritation at people writing a book which is a serial and calling it a series. I am going to be honest here and admit I had never really considered the term serial, and pretty much everything was clumped into the series category. They felt cheated as a reader to get the end of a book categorised as a series, which was actually a serial. I have never experienced this personally, but a lot of comments suggested this was a common issue, particularly with the indie revolution that is taking the book world by storm.

The series is correctly categorised for a set of books that follow a theme / people through a common world, but are completely stand-alone and you could read in any order.

The serial is correctly categorised as a set of books where each book should still have a valid beginning, middle and end, but form part of a broader story and would need to be read in order. They do not have a final conclusion until the last book.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on series/ serial.

  • How have you categorised your own book if you write this type of book?
  • If you have read a series / serials were they correctly categorised?
  • Finally, whether open endings i.e. book 1 of a serial, have left you feeling depressed or even angry because they called themselves book 1 of a series.

Here is the link to the site (A great site by the way), and this post generated some interesting comments, most of which appeared to be aligned with the writer of the post. I really don’t want to misrepresent my book if I self publish, but would have probably incorrectly labeled it as a series, when in fact by this definition it is a serial.

How Can You Tell if a Book Is Part of a Series or Serial?

32 thoughts on “Writing a series/ serial

  1. Very interesting. IF one can write a series that only has 2 books, then Fatal Attractions and Passion’s Fire is a series, but I always thought of them being stand alone.
    By your definition, serial would be the best definition for The Chatterre Trilogy, which is my current project. That said, some fans have read Thunder Moon before Star Bridge and enjoyed each book, even if they were read in reverse order. Fire Island (#3), should be out by Christmas and I am also writing that so it could be read as a stand-alone, but believe they all will work best when read chronologically.
    I never realized what a tricky topic this was, until I read your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree 90% of the way. I do agree with your assessment of a serial and most of what a series is. However reading it out of order should be optional. I wrote a book and now I’m writing the sequel. (I even wrote a post about sequel writing) It definitely needs to be self contained. Each book does. It doesn’t have a cliffhanger, although it can have open ended elements. A writer should come at the work assuming the sequel is the reader’s first book without copying what was done before.

    If somebody comes on with book two, they shouldn’t be confused. Character traits, hints of elements that throw back to the previous story can be there. If they read book one then it adds to the story. If they didn’t then the loss shouldn’t be felt. Each book there after should apply.

    Technically they can be read out of order BUT the assumption shouldn’t be it doesn’t matter what order you read them in. I think order does matter but it’s up to the writer to shepherd the reader along so the confusion is minimal. Each book has an arc and character development on its own with an overreaching arc throughout the series. Maybe it’s a trilogy, or a set of story arcs.

    Great post. I like reading posts about craft rather than the technical end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Anthony, nice points 🙂 my editor did talk through how to reset the start of book two. At some point I would like to also write the prequel to this current planned trilogy. But I think book two and three need to be tied in – just the ways it planned at the moment…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. With mysteries it’s simpler, since most series are just that, a series of mysteries solved by the same detective. Sometimes there are subplots that go from story to story, but each one has a definite conclusion. The Sherlock Holmes stories in the various collections are completely out of chronological order, and nobody cares.

    So, my stuff is a series, not a serial. The mysteries get solved by the end of each story.

    A big disappointment to me was the first Matrix movie. After a magnificent first half hour or so, it gradually started to decline, and the ending was basically just a big “sequels coming!” sign. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the beginning hadn’t been so great.

    George Lucas gets a lot of grief, most of it for good reasons, but one thing he knows how to do is balance a satisfying ending with the need to lead into sequels.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I write murder mysteries/cop series. For me, a series consists of stand alone books with an ongoing cast of characters. When I pick up an author and the book says “book 1, XX series” I expect a totally complete story with a conclusion; not a cliff hanger. I don’t mind cliff hangers, IF I know that is what I am purchasing/reading. Otherwise, it turns me off the author and I won’t read anything from that author.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mostly agree with you, I’ve been very disappointed by books which seemed to have no resolution to anything. I like series, so I don’t need everything in the universe resolved in each book, but I do expect some kind of resolution to a key crisis. I wouldn’t buy a book if I knew it had a cliffhanger ending, and will typically not purchase book two if book one ends in a cliffhanger. This might sound petty, but the ending is an important part of a story, and if the author just gives you a cliffhanger, you don’t know if they can even write an ending, so it’s better to move on to another author.


  5. Serial is traditionally a magazine term, although there is a certain sense in differentialting between a continuous series and one that consists of stand alone books. Old series like The Amber Series by Roger Zelazny were called a series, although the story continues. I’m afraid there will be different perceptions of terms on this one. I think the best solution for authors is to make it clear in the book description whether their series is continuous or consists of stand alone stories.

    The readers will have their own ideas about it, but there will never be a way to satisfy everyone as they will differ. As long as the author has made it clear what to expect, it shouldn’t be a big problem.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I never knew there was a difference… or so much to complain about! 😁 I guess as an Indie author I’m always learning. Anyway, thanks to you I now know what kind of a trilogy I’m writing… now, which way round was that again? I’m bound to get it wrong!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel you pain Ali! Whatever you call it, I think as long as it is clear the reader cannot complain…That said, I was chuckling about a review on a vegan restaurant the other day where someone left a one star review because they couldn’t get a steak 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. After reading this article, I’ve decided that what I generally write is a serial. The “series” of books entitled The Labors of Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head” is in effect a six-volume novel and needs to be read in order. I have always categorized The Termite Queen as a 2-volume novel simply because it was too long to publish in one volume, but it also fits with the Ki’shto’ba “series” because it sets up the premise. Somehow, however, “serial” suggests a cheaply made, shoot-’em-up cowboy show put on Saturday morning at a movie theater. I think I’ll stick with the term series, even if it isn’t the most accurate..

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m writing a mystery series, although some of the authors in my critique group are writing a serial of three. I’ve on my third book, the fourth is in the mental planning stages. Each book is a stand alone, not leaving anything to the next book, although it’s nice to get to know the characters by reading along. Serials frustrate me because I feel the need to read the next book and find out what’s going to happen, knowing that I’m going to have to wait, and maybe even reread the first book in order to follow along with the second or third.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh. This makes sense, but it’s also news to me. I’ve actually never heard an author call their book a serial (including the big guys). I have a trilogy coming out that is a serial by this definition. I call it a Trilogy, so perhaps I’m safe:)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m a good old-fashioned Victorian. I LOVE serials, sequels and series. It’s why movies aren’t as good as television. If the characters are good I could watch them (or read) them doing almost nothing and still enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

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