What’s the difference between book serials and a series of books, and what’s best for marketing and sales?

For about a year (or more) I’ve been blogging about all the cool things I’m going to do to market my books, but haven’t had the chance to try any of them yet because I’m still working on the writing.

The main thing everybody says to do is write a series. Other people are writing serials. Some authors get confused about these terms. So this post will explain what the difference is, how to write them, how to market them, and what are the pros and cons of each.

A series are several books but each book has a story arc and a satisfying resolution. Harry Potter is a series. Almost all traditionally published books are series. One novel is around 80K (on average), and there’s an inciting incident, rising action, climax and (partial) resolution. Often series will have protagonists fighting against baddies but not the main bad guy. You can’t defeat him until the very end of the last book in a series. So all the books together, collectively, also have one big story arc.

A serial means breaking up the normal plot structure of one book into smaller parts. This is the way a lot of fiction used to be published; as a weekly feature in a paper. Books were “serialized.” Old-fashioned serials of this nature were often published chapter by chapter, but that won’t work so well today: readers would get fed up with you. But a normal length novel can be divided up into 3 to 6 pieces.

The danger is that you’re not fully satisfying readers; even if you hook them with your beginning, they may not care enough about the story to buy future installments. Therefore a series is usually a safer bet, because you can give the first book away for free or price it at 99cents, and readers will get one juicy satisfying story, and be more likely to buy the others in the series (usually priced at 2.99 or so).

Originally, I’d planned to publish all my books as serials, with just the first 15K or so, maybe 3 chapters, so readers could decide what stories they liked best and I could finish working on those first, instead of wasting time on the ones they didn’t like.

But as I got deeper into writing, I realized my stories start slowly and build, and after 15K not much has happened. So I tried to finish the whole book; but finishing and polishing an entire novel (especially the first!) is really hard and time consuming.

I have a huge launch plan and marketing strategy for my first full length novel, but I’m getting pretty tired of it not being finished. This is the cover for the novel.



I have a list of over 300 reviewers to email, plus all the authors of other mermaid fiction (and plans on how to get them engaged and cross promote) and also some tie-ins to ocean conservancy organizations, Greenpeace etc, and some publicity campaigns for media mentions. But all that stuff will only work if I finish the whole novel. And even after all that, I’d probably price it low to sell the other books in the series, which could take another year or two.

So even though I really want to “go big” with my first book, and I thought finishing one big satisfying novel was the best way to do that, I’m going back to my original plan.

I’m going to break up each 100K book into 4 parts of 25K. I’ll stop after the first plot point, midpoint, second plot point and final conclusion. Marketing wise, the biggest pro is that I can release several different book beginnings at once and build my email list while I’m actually working on the rest of the books. That way when I finish, I’ll already have a lot of people on my email list ready to read the rest.

At the end of each book I’ll say:

Want to find out what happens next? Sign up on my blog and I’ll let you know when I finish part two (and when you can get it for FREE).


I giveaway books for free now because I’m focusing on list building. Eventually, after all four parts are done, for 5 to 10 different books, I’ll put them together in Omnibus editions and then I can use my list of fans to drive quick sales and reviews. That’s when I would actually do my full book launch and marketing campaign, or reach out to celebrity authors for blurbs. (If this is your first book or you don’t have much experience writing and publishing, it’s better to publish what you have cheap or free and see how readers actually respond. Don’t spend a ton of money on advertising or promotion if you haven’t put it out and gotten real feedback yet).

This are some of the books I’m currently working on. They’re all dark fantasy (with a little bit of dystopia/scifi), and similar enough that they will appeal to the same group of YA readers.


I’m realizing now it could take years to finish them all. But it’s a lot easier to get to the first plot point and write a strong beginning than it is to make it to the very end of a book and make everything fit together.

I can write 5K words a day if I’m writing full time, which means I can finish part one of each book (25K) in just five days. That’s obviously very difficult right now, but it’s also getting easier with practice. Most of these are already at 10K, so I hope to publish 3 to 5 of them by the end of the year. I can put them out in different categories, and test pricing (permafree, vs free promotions, vs. 99 cents or higher), and start building up an email list quickly. (I plan to hit #1 free and #1 paid in my categories during launch).

So for someone starting out with no platform and little writing experience (like me), this is the smartest choice. It’s basically the same as making a “minimal viable product” and testing the market. It doesn’t cost anything (except cover design and formatting – but I do that myself). I recommend doing something cheap, using Canva.com, Wordswag or Fiverr.com and just using one simple image. You can make it better later if you want. Just make something clean and attractive for now.


Unfortunately, I can’t do all the big marketing stuff I have planned for serials, and I think it will be harder to reach out to reviewers and ask them to review “Part One” instead of a full length novel. So instead I’ll just put it out there and depend on natural, organic reviews (which I can encourage by asking for them nicely in the front and back of my book.) Ditto with networking with other authors or getting editorial reviews. Few people will want to leave a review on just the first section of a book, without knowing how it will actually turn out.

The other danger is, the first section may not be that great (or not perfect). Since the book isn’t done, I probably won’t send it to betareaders for feedback or pay for editing. I’ll make it as good as it can be, but it won’t be perfect. Also, when I actually finish the book, I’ll probably need to go through and rewrite some of the first part.

But that’s OK.

It is what it is, and for 99cents, I’ll get some real feedback on the beginning of my book and see how people respond to it. After I revise or finish the book, I can just upload a new version to Kindle. The only thing that would kill sales is if I got comments about grammar or editing – those never go away. But I’m a good enough proofreader that I’ll catch almost everything myself.

After the full book is out, I’ll probably change part one to permafree, parts 2 through 4 to $2.99, and then charge $4.99 for the full book one. Financially, this should actually work better than finishing book one and pricing low or 99cents, and then writing the other 2 books at $2.99 each. (My series will usually be 3 books long).

The value of permafree is to get readers into your story quickly, with no price barrier. But you don’t have to giveaway your full book; you can give away the first 25% and still charge for the complete novel. You can do this even if you’ve already got your whole book finished, or if you just have one book (not a series), but want to sell more copies. Take your one book and split it into 4 pieces (3 serials and an omnibus). Put the chunks in different categories to reach more readers.

Anyway, as excited as I am about the possibilities, it’s all fluff until I put some of these out on Amazon and can report back with data and results. I should have some hard numbers for you before the end of the year.

Have you experimented with serials or series? What have you learned? Comment below!



About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors build profitable publishing platforms. Find me

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