So you’ve decided to publish a web serial. You’ve thought up a story where a detective and his intern solve crimes via Twitter, or you’ve planted a wizard in old New York, or you’ve infested the world with zombies, creating a Walking Dead type of situation. All of these are great ideas for ongoing material, but do you really know where to start? A serial isn’t the same as a novel; it requires a somewhat different writing and publishing approach. In some ways it is even harder to write than a traditional book.

Luckily, you live in the Age of Information, where there are tools and avenues available to turn your serial’s success into a reality. Here, we’ll talk about what a web serial is, why you should write one, and of course, provide a step-by-step guide on how to get started.

What is a “Serial”?

First, what is a serial? The word “serial” is short for “serialized publication,” or publishing a story in episodic chunks. This was a popular way of producing stories during the Victorian era. Charles Dickens released numerous novels in serial format, as did many of his famous contemporaries. Back then, serials were viewed as the major leagues, the professional arena, the seasonal sport–while novel writing was considered the once-in-a-while olympics.

Serialized publications have since faded as a method of storytelling due to advancements such as the printing press. However, with the advent of the internet and e-readers, this form of publishing novels is coming back in a big way. Say hello to the “web serial,” a novel published in episodic chunks on the internet. JukePop is one of the few platforms seeking to bridge the gap between serials and novels; to reestablish the serial as the dominant medium it was in the past.

Why Should I Write a Web Serial?

Now, you may be wondering why you should write a web serial, as opposed to a traditional novel. “How much can I earn from writing a web serial” is probably also on your mind. As of right now, the answer to the latter question is, not a whole lot. Even the most popular serials on the web are being published for free on blogs, and few major publishers or publishing platforms are taking advantage of the medium. JukePop is one of a very small number of publishing platforms that actually pay their authors to write with them. Now we’re the olympics!

Add to that the fact that most web serials have very small readerships–readerships which only dwindle over time–that traditional publishing is still a multi-million dollar industry, and that few web serials ever make it to print upon completion, and your concerns are all valid. Here’s where the data comes in.

According to a 2014 analytics survey by Smashwords, books published as part of a series tend to make more money than books that are sold solo. (2014 Smashwords Survey, p.107-108) So there’s one big reason right away to start a web serial, which can naturally spawn several book series over time!

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On JukePop we also have Analytics to help authors gauge reader interest in their story. This tool shows reader retention and dropoff rates for each chapter, allowing authors to pinpoint which chapter lost readers and which chapters intrigued them–purely objectively. These analytics are only possible when a novel is published chapter by chapter, and with JukePop’s +Vote system in use. You can do this to some extent with novels, but we think it’s not always economical to wait until after a novel is complete to know where it needs work.

And you know what? Serial writing is fun. The community of authors and readers of web serials is hugely supportive of each other, always up for sharing ideas and cross-promoting and even co-authoring with each other. With a family this lively, there’s no better time to jump in and get your feet wet.

How do I Start a Web Serial?

Back to your major league story idea. You’ve got the idea, and you’ve decided to write it as a serial. What next?

First, you’re going to need a place to publish your story. This will determine the size and type of audience you have, your options of reading environments (the “web reader”), the amount of control you have over each release, possible rewards, the analytical data available to you about your readers, and finally, your options for publishing after completion of your serial. To keep things simple for you, we’ll grade each of our favorite options using these 5 criteria. Most options are free, but some can be costly if you really want to hit the ground running.

Option A: JukePop

Submit your story to JukePop, more details here.  Or to our regular contests, right now, we’ve got a NaNoWriMo 2014 contest running with $250 worth of cash prizes, details here.

Audience: Mature & accomplished authors and supportive readers who have been known to donate $500 or more to stories they like.

Web Reader: Your story is freely available, but following chapters require registration to read and +vote so we know who to award monthly cash prizes.  (JukePop also have apps on Google Play and iOS.)

Release Schedule: Chapter by chapter; release whenever you like.

Rewards: Cash prizes available if your story hits the monthly top 30 in +Votes. One chapter must be released in that month to qualify.

Analytics: In-depth analytics on reader retention available; see where your readers are losing interest and where they are enjoying the read, how long they are reading, and which demographics read your story the most.

Options After Completion: Will help publish your completed serial directly to a library. JukePop also hosts competitions and special events routinely to help publishers and indie press acquire up-and-coming novels. Check out the 3 graduates that got publishing contracts from Black Hill Press Summer Writing Competition.

Option B: Personal Blog

You can set up a free personal blog from sites like WordPress or Blogspot.

Audience: Entirely dependent on your ability to market your website. This is good if you’re a capable promoter or willing to learn, but bad if you have no idea how to even add a share button to your site.

Web Reader: Since this is your blog, the reading environment is fully customizable, but many custom themes can cost a lot of money or may require skills with coding.

Release Schedule: 100% dictated by you.

Rewards: As of now, there are no known blogging platforms that pay users to serialize fiction or non-fiction stories.

Analytics: Most blogging platforms allow you to view the number of views your blog gets and where they’re coming from, but they don’t offer insight on reader retention rates.

Options After Completion: Very few options. You can try to submit your novel to a publisher afterwards, but most will require that you take down your blog before they work with you.

Option C: Other Platforms

There are other places where you can publish stories online, such as Fiction Press, Fine Stories, and Wattpad.

Audience: These websites have been around for a while, and the quality of the stories vary significantly – and most cater to Fan Fiction.

Web Reader: All have adequate web readers, some have flexible formatting options but may not have the most focused reading experience.

Release Schedule: 100% dictated by you.

Rewards: Some of these sites also have occasional contests – you’ll need to check and see which ones are current running.

Analytics: Most do not have any form of robust analytics.

Options After Completion: Very few options. You can try to submit your novel to a publisher afterwards, but most will require that you take down your blog before they work with you.

Take your time choosing a platform to publish your web serial. Always go with your gut. In many cases you will be able to transfer your story from one platform to another.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time for the hard part: putting out that first chapter on this new platform. This is the catalyst that determines whether readers will bookmark, save, bookshelf, or otherwise mark your story for future reading. No pressure!

You may have heard the advice to outline your story before starting that first chapter. In the web serial world, having some idea of where you want to take things will help you craft a better first chapter, second chapter, and so on, as well as stick to your chapter release schedule once it gets rolling. Of course not all authors are fond of outlining, so it’s up to you whether to outline or not. Either way, make a first chapter that really speaks about your story and hooks readers in. This chapter will make or break your release.

After writing the chapter, format it for the web reader your chosen publishing platform uses by following their in-house guide, then upload it and you’re done! You’ve started a web serial. Begin promoting your work by recommending it to friends and family members (follow these 5 Fast Tips for more ideas), and in the meantime, start writing that next chapter. From here on out you’re in the major leagues, and preparation is key.

Next week we’ll talk about how to continue your serial, including tips for beating writers’ block, advice for attracting readers, how to get snazzy cover art, and more. Stay tuned!

So which platform would you choose and why? Let us know in the comments section.