NOTE: Claudia Hall Christian is not a client of RSE. I just wanted to interview her about this topic because she's been publishing in this format for years.
The art of serial fiction has existed for centuries, but Charles Dickens is credited with jump-starting the movement when his book, The Pickwick Papers, was released in nineteen installments over the course of a 20-month period.
When I first thought about writing adult romance, my first thought was that I’m not going the traditional route.
My second thought? I don’t want to publish independently, either. At least, not in the traditional sense where you upload to sites like Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I honestly didn’t want to have to deal book formatting or a cover design.
I had decided to create a website and just write my stories on there. But I didn’t know how to do it. Were there rules? Guidelines? Classes? In my search, I had discovered Claudia Hall Christian’s site and learned that the official term for publishing in this format is called a serial.
What is a Serial?
Well, per the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Definition of serial (Entry 2 of 2)
1a: a work appearing (as in a magazine or on television) in parts at intervals
b: one part of a serial work : INSTALLMENT
2: a publication (such as a newspaper or journal) issued as one of a consecutively numbered and indefinitely continued series
Since this is a format I still want to try, I wanted to talk to someone who’s been doing it for a while. So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to...Claudia Hall Christian.
Let’s get to know Claudia Hall Christian. Tell me about yourself, Miz Claudia.
Thank you for having me! I write great stories about good people caught in difficult times. I’m a prolific author who tends to write mysteries, thrillers, and serial fiction. I write a lot. In my off time, I garden — vegetables and flowers — and hang out with my husband and our plot hounds. We live in Denver in a Sears Craftsman kit houses.
In your own words, what is the definition of a serial?
Serial fiction is fiction that is published as it’s written. In this way, it draws the reader along with it in real time. The reader and the characters move, day by day, and bit by bit, through life. There’s a kind of power in that builds between the characters and the reader. In this way, readers are supported, encouraged, and even taught how to live. This relationship is even more powerful during difficult times such as this pandemic.
You started Denver Cereal (DC) in 2008. Are you currently still writing it? If so, do you plan to end it at some point?
I wrote the Denver Cereal, one chapter a week, every week, from June 2008 to the end of February 2020. I had continued writing the serial along with other books while I was recovering from my two spine fusions.
In February 2020, I needed to take a break from writing the Denver Cereal to focus my attention on recovering from my third spine fusion. The surgery was extreme and the recovery very difficult. I took seven months off from writing the Denver Cereal.
With the election, the protests, and the rising chaos, I wanted to give people support and something else to think about. So I started Denver Cereal again in October 2020. As you can imagine, people were very grateful.
What made you decide to publish in the serial format, on your own website? Did you learn from anyone or did you have to figure things out for yourself? How did you market this and get readers to your site?
This is a complicated question. Probably the most honest answer is that I have always been a fan of serial fiction. I’ve read most of Charles Dickens’ work as well as Alexander Dumas’ serials. I read “The Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin in the San Francisco Chronicle while I worked at an HIV/AIDs laboratory at San Francisco General.
When I started the Denver Cereal, there wasn’t the kind of options there are now. Newspapers weren’t publishing serials anymore. Publishers weren’t interested in serial fiction and websites weren’t interested in publishing fiction. The only way to publish a serial fiction was to do it on your own. I learned what works through trial and error over the years.
Most readers find Denver Cereal through friends or relatives. It’s always been free. People can read it during the middle of the night or whenever they need it. In this way, we don’t do specific marketing for Denver Cereal.
My original plan was to write a serial fiction set in every major city in the US. Since I’ve had these spine surgeries, my goals have become less ambitious. I have written two other serial fictions since starting Denver Cereal — The Queen of Cool, set in Fort Worth, TX, and Suffer a Witch, set in Boston, MA.
How did you come up with the title of Denver Cereal? It’s very quirky!
That was a group effort. I wanted to name the serial fiction after Denver so that people would know that it was written here. The Cereal part is just a synonym of “serial.” It also made eating cereal a defining part of the story line. The characters often meet for a bowl of Cap’n Crunch in the main Castle kitchen. [Side note from Celise: This is SO cool. My fav kiddie cereal is Fruit Loops]
What does a typical day look like for you? Are you writing full-time?
Because I am healing from these extreme spine fusions, I don’t really have a “typical day.” I do write full-time.
What’s your writing process for DC? Do you have any writing rituals (ex: background noise vs silence)? Are you a plotter or pantser? Do you edit or let it ride?
Boy, I am a little embarrassed. I don’t have writing rituals. I usually listen to music when I write. I have a wide interest in music and use Tidal to serve my eclectic tastes. Since the pandemic, my husband is working from home. I often listen to Brain.fm (also on Tidal) while he’s in meetings.
When writing novels, I am a modified pantser. By that, I mean that I usually have a very specific idea where to start, as well as a possible idea of where it might end. Then I let the characters tell their story.
Denver Cereal’s characters basically write their own story. I never have any idea where it’s going.
As for editing, I’ve never found a way to get the chapters professionally edited before they are released on the website. Professional editing takes time. We do have them professionally edited before the chapters are put together into books. This is one of the reasons some people prefer to read the Denver Cereal in book form.
Volume 1 of DC is available on publishing sites for free. Do readers have to start there or can they start on the site?
For most of its history, Denver Cereal has been available for free on the website, DenverCereal.com. In the last month, all of my websites have been moved. We hope to be able to offer all of the chapters of Denver Cereal on the new site. For now, people have to begin with the twenty volumes of Denver Cereal and catch the rest of the chapters on the website. We lowered the price of the novels so that they are easily affordable in eBook format.
I noticed that readers can subscribe to DC Daily or DC Chapters. What’s the difference? Are readers getting old content or current content?
The email subscriptions are only current content. In 2020, when I was healing, I re-posted the first and second volume of Denver Cereal.
The daily email subscription for Denver Cereal drops a portion of the story, Monday through Saturday, into someone’s email box. The chapter email subscription sends out entire chapters once a week on Saturdays.
I noticed that there are currently 20 Volumes of DC available on publishing sites. Will you be publishing Vol 21 any time soon? How many chapters make up a Volume? Why are you publishing on both the website and on publishing sites? That seems like it would be a lot of work.
My hope is to get the next three books completed by this summer. Everything has been on hold until the websites were completed. We’re also in the process of converting the Alex the Fey thrillers into hardback books. So there’s a lot of book work to be done.
In general, Denver Cereal book includes around 26 chapters. If a storyline wraps up in less chapters, then the book will include less chapters. I would say that, overall, the books are 26 or more chapters.
The Denver Cereal is available in daily post, weekly chapter, and in book format. Some people read every day. Other people like to read whole chapters. And still others read Denver Cereal only in book format. It’s absolutely worth the effort to make all of these formats as there are people who enjoy them.
Did the other stories you’ve written start out as serials on your site? If not, why not? Are you currently working on any of those stories or are they complete?
Denver Cereal is fertile soil. One of her main characters is Jacob Marlowe. He is a character that originally lived in the Alex the Fey thriller series.
The characters of Denver Cereal and the Alex the Fey thrillers share the same world. Many of the characters in the Alex the Fey thrillers also live in Denver Cereal. For example, Alex the Fey’s sister, Samantha, is a criminal attorney in Denver Cereal. One of the medics on the Fey Team is married to a woman who is Jacob Marlowe’s stepsister in Denver Cereal.
Seth and Ava, of the Seth and Ava Mysteries, are characters who met and fell in love in Denver Cereal. Seth O’Malley is the godfather of a main character (Sandy) in Denver Cereal. His housekeeper, Maresol Tafoya, is the best friend of Delphie, the Oracle, in Denver Cereal.
None of my series is complete, yet. When I am feeling better, I will write more books for these other series.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m working on the Denver Cereal and healing. That’s not to mention working on websites, creating hardback books, editing chapters, and a whole host of other work.
How has the serial format evolved for you since you started back in 2008? Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
I haven’t noticed a change in my use of the serial format. I’m not sure what I would do differently.
In an FB post last month, you announced that you had—finally LOL--created a Patreon account. I know that platforms like take a percentage fee. When you were transitioning the website (I saw your 1/25 post on the DC page), did you think about creating your own membership-type website? Why or why not?
I had a membership program at our last Stories by Claudia website. We ended that program with the new website. It’s likely that I will restart membership, but right now, it was better for me to create clean and clear expectations.
If a newbie indie author wanted to get into this form of publishing, what advice would you give?
I would encourage anyone to write a serial fiction. I think that there’s a lot of power in being forced to write and publish every single week.
Provide 4 pros/cons of going the serial format route.
1. Writing a serial fiction affords you the opportunity to closely interact with your readers.
2. Serial fiction is a wonderful way to practice every aspect of writing.
3. There is so much to learn about our own writing processes. Serial fiction gives you a chance to connect to your creative spark.
4. No matter where you are in your writing career, it’s important to learn to write on a schedule. Serial fiction allows you a chance to learn to write, publish, and write again.
1. Serial fiction is a tremendous amount of work.
2. People are unhappy right now. You can become the focus on their unhappiness.
3. There are a lot of hidden expenses — for example, building and maintaining websites, editing, computing, marketing, graphic art, and other costs.
4. I have never missed a deadline. That means that when I’ve been sick or had life events or gone on vacation or had workmen in the house or my dog had dementia and eventually died, or when my father and then later my mother died, I have written a Denver Cereal chapter. I was so ill after my first spine fusion that, if I wasn’t in the bathroom sick to my stomach, I would sleep most of the day. I wrote the Denver Cereal 500 words at a time. [Side note from Celise: Wow! Now THAT'S dedication, people!]
Have you had any issues with people stealing your work? If so, was it resolved? How do you protect your work when it’s published like this on your website?
This is not an issue that I spend a lot of time thinking about. I have a service that checks for me, but so far, it hasn’t been much of an issue.
What book title (or author) kicked off your writing journey?
There isn't one book that encourage me to think about writing. I've been building stories all of my life.
I was trapped in a terrifying and dangerous situation when I was a very young child. I coped by telling myself stories of love and laughter. I learned how to read when I was just a little older than two years old. From that moment to today, I read everything I could get my hands on. My public school teachers had to order new books for me because I blew through everything they had. My childhood library had a rule to only allow children to read from the children's section. When I read every book in the children's section, they gave me a special library card which allowed me to read from the adult section. I was close to finishing the adult section when my parents kicked me out of their home. On my own at 17, I fell back on my old habits. I told myself stories to keep me company and to help me survive.
I started writing in 2006 when I literally couldn't do anything else. I couldn't function or eat or sleep until I started writing. I thought it was a lark. I told myself that I would get this story down and get back to my life. The stories took over my life.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
No, I don’t have a mascot, avatar, or a spirit animal.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I was a psychotherapist for 15 years before I starting writing fiction. I would likely return to that work.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
There are times when life and the story collide. That’s just reality. But when I have a weekly deadline, like with the Denver Cereal, I have to get the story out no matter what’s happening in my life or the world around me. People are counting on me to have a post up every single day.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I know people who believe that they get writer’s block. I haven’t experienced it so I can’t really speak to it.
Where is your favorite place to write and why?
I have written everywhere and anywhere. When my dog had dementia, she could only rest with her head on my lap. I wrote on a lap top on the arm of the couch. Generally, I write at my desk or on my laptop sitting on my lap.
If you could live in any period of history when would it be and why?
I really like indoor plumbing, heating, refrigeration, and grocery stores. I’d pick now over any other time in human history.
Give me three words that describe you.
Prolific, driven, kind
What's a movie you can practically quote from start to finish?
Probably the closest I could come to quoting a movie start to finish is the Lord of the Rings or Shaun of the Dead.
You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?
I would be the color of the Pacific deep over TAMU Massif.
What’s your favorite ’90s jam?
I have a fairly wide taste in music. I can listen to anything that’s about 4 minutes long and has a good beat. It gets bonus points if I can sing to it. That said, I don’t know what qualifies as a “jam” or what I was listening to in the 1990s. Coltrane? Stanley Jordan?
How can readers stalk you/friend you/follow you?
I am active on Twitter at @ClaudiaC and Facebook. My work can be found at StoriesbyClaudia.com. You can learn more about me at claudiahallchristian.com
Thanks for sharing your expertise, Miz Claudia! Hope your recovery is a fast one.
In another post, I had talked about the reasons why you should or shouldn’t consider independent publishing. It can be expensive and you’re in control of all aspects of publishing your novel.
But what if you don’t want to spend money on book formatting and book cover design?
What if don’t want to deal with the headaches that come with uploading your work publishing sites?
What if you want 100% of royalties to come directly to you?
Then maybe publishing in serial format would be a better option. By creating your own membership site for your stories, you can grow your readership and cut out the middle man when it comes to getting those greenbacks.
Not ready to start your own site? No problem. Check out the links below where you can publish your serialized work:
Be sure to read their submission guidelines/rules before publishing.
Do you write serialized fiction? Is it something you’re doing right now or want to try? Do tell in the comments below.
Keepin' it romantic,
4 Reasons to Consider Independent Publishing (and 4 reasons you shouldn’t)