Lately I’ve out of frustration canceled my Kindle Unlimited account about this issue. Too many authors don’t seem to grasp what’s the difference between a serialized novel and a serial series.
Put simply: a series is a collection of books that all belong to the same “franchise” but can be read in any order (because they’re each a different, self-contained story – even if they connect with one another), whereas a serial is an ongoing narrative which the audience has to read in the correct order so as to follow the plot.
And then you have the stumble stone; the serial series vs the serialized novels. While in a series you might have a lingering question that leads you on to buy the next book, many of the immediate problems for the main characters will be satisfactorily solved by the end of that book in the series.
A serialized book is simply a novel broken up into several releases where each release ends with a break in the middle of a story arc as a cliffhanger.
THIS IS ANNOYING.
Most of those books are prematurely released without giving much thought at the editing process, their creators eagerly wanting to capitalize on a half finished work, not having the next installments ready. It makes me climb up the walls if I have to buy 3 books of 120 pages that basically continue the same story arc.
Serialization in magazines and newspapers was introduced in the 19th century as an economic incentive for purchase and tied to increasing literacy rates. Editors and publishers knew that creating a readership for a novel published serially in the 1880s involved generating favorable early reviews and making use of promotional techniques. The beginning and the middle of an installment text would establish its fundamental success and sales, delaying and perhaps reducing any disappointment the ending might later create.
A serial literary work of the 19th century also grew from simpler to more complex order, from a single initial fragment to an accreting and diversifying collocation of characters and plot lines, and likewise grew in a strict chronological sequence determined by a publishing schedule.
Serialization fostered an approach to narrative as a gradually developing story and pattern of significance, with pauses between parts for additional reflection and speculation, rather than as a finished aesthetic product to be read and considered as a whole all at once, reinforced by the linear narrative technique sanctioned by literary realism. The modern serialized novel doesn’t have the forward thrust in complexity that characterized the 19th century serialized novel . Many contemporary authors just serialize a novel to maximize profits and to be able to dump a half finished work on the public.
But for a twentieth first century public, the serial is only acceptable as a vehicle for popular culture: comic books, television programs, detective stories, and so on. Artists and scientists participate in the same mythopoeic matrix, a matrix that shapes them as definitively as they in turn shape it. A field view of reality is the common property of contemporary readers; it is not surprising that contemporary readers prefer to approach works as autonomous, whole entities in which all elements can be perceived at once.
However, if you have a story to tell that spans over more than 1,500 pages and you can bring it in separate releases where each part has its own story arc and an ending that ties up the story lines you developed in these separate releases, be my guest. There exist many good examples; the Dune series by Frank Herbert, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny, … and many others.
Also my own work The Maharajagar is conceived as a series of five books from which only the first book can be read as a standalone. Reading the next books without having read the previous ones can be done if you read the prologues, but isn’t recommended. That left aside, each book contains its own plotted out story-arc. The release of the third book called The Forest is scheduled for March 2020.