Episode 170: The Economics of Serialization

I’ll be heading to a conference soon where I will be presenting on the art and business of serialization. I have written several posts on the more artistic side regarding style and plot development/continuity so for this post I want to explore more of the economic side of publishing over time. Much like my dissertation, I am going to subdivide how each medium of publication has their own rules, standards, and expectations for serial fiction.

For today’s post I’m going to limit myself to just the print medium.

When it comes to traditional books and such, the amount of content per installment is vastly more than say comics or webcomics. Trying to initialize your serial publishing endeavor means either going it on your own or finding a publisher. If you are undertaking a writing solo mission then all the power to you. Many of the rules and gatekeepers get to be ignored and you are the one who makes the tough decisions. But if you are going with a publishing house then you need to assure them that you and your story are worth the investment. This means that the text needs to be fleshed out enough to show the potential for initial and continued publication. For this situation, having one or more of your installments already done or close to it will be a big help. From there, you sign a contract for one or more installments to be published with pinpoint due dates. Should your text become popular enough then you might get an extended contract for more installments, should your story have enough parts to keep it going. One thing to be weary about is the rights of publication which are usually transposed from author to publication house. So let’s say that your first book didn’t sell well and an extension isn’t given, well you can’t exactly go out and publish the rest on your own or with another company if the contract says that they retain publishing exclusivity for a certain period of time or even in perpetuity.

In short, serial fiction in print requires lengthy and near complete drafts of one or more installments before even the thought of mainstream publication can be undertaken. However, the length of book installments that you need to convince readers to purchase a relatively limited number of parts within a fairly extended period of time. Compare that to say getting people to read a 100 issues of comics or a thousand webcomic strips and you can see how individual purchases and publications can make a big difference.

Next time: comics both as a small time publisher or as part of the big two of DC and Marvel.

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