23 March 2015 - 5:59 pm

Pacing a Serial: the Posts

What frequency will you go for? (Picture by geralt)

What frequency will you go for?
(Picture by geralt)

All right, so you know how to pace your story and how to pace your production of each post. The last things to think about when it comes to pacing are the frequency of your posts (or updates or chapters; whatever you want to call them), and how big each one is.

Your posting frequency is going to depend a lot on how you write it. Some writers prefer to write it all up front and schedule it out; others prefer to work with a nice, fat buffer; others work much closer to the raggedy edge, writing and posting and writing and posting (yes, this last one is me!). You need to work out what works for you and fits with your comfort levels.

Your posting frequency may or may not be dictated by the pace of your writing schedule. Most writers have a direct correlation between the two (and I’m pretty much nailed to it), so it’s a good place to start.

While I am currently running on the edge with my schedule, I will note that it sometimes hurts me (and my posting schedule). If I have a bad week, get sick, or am simply too busy and stressed to do anything good with my writing, it impacts the story immediately. I usually start a serial with a buffer and that’s good, but it never lasts for me. Being ahead just isn’t something I can maintain.

Everyone is different. The looming deadline is part of what works for me but I know plenty of writers who are terrified by that kind of pressure. There is no right answer; just what’s right for you.

When it comes to frequency, the most important thing by far is reliability. Readers like to know when they can log on and read the latest entry. Irregular postings make it more difficult for readers to follow your story, and the harder it is, the more who will simply forget or decide not to bother any more. Therefore, it’s important to find a sustainable cadence for yourself.

The second thing to note is that there is no minimum or maximum posting frequency. You can post daily, weekly, monthly, or even every few months. You should do what’s good for you and your sustainability. In many ways, if you build it, they will come.

When you have a reliable schedule, it’s a good idea to make it easy to remember. As a rule of thumb, weekly is good because every Friday is much easier to remember than every other Friday. The first day of every month is also easy to remember than, say, the last Friday of the month. These are not ‘preferred’ dates; they’re just examples. The human brain is better at remembering patterns, so use it!

It’s worth thinking about your post length in conjunction with your posting schedule. This is a topic that comes up pretty frequently on the Web Fiction Guide forums, and I get asked about it in person as well.

The guidelines for post length are the same as for chapters in a novel: they should be the length that fits the needs of the story, the genre, the pace, and the audience. There is no maximum or minimum length. There are serials that post 500 words at a time, and others that post 10,000-word chunks.

There is the question of reader fatigue to consider, but this can be as much a matter of presentation as it is length. Reader fatigue can be caused by many things (too many to go into here), and post length is only one of these things. The right site design and presentation can go a long way to help! I was honestly surprised at readers’ willingness to read long posts on a screen; this wasn’t as much of a concern as I had assumed when I started out.

It’s worth considering your post length in conjunction with your posting schedule, though. Asking readers to chew through 5,000 words twice a day is going to mean that those without the time to keep up fall behind. Would you consider 500 words once a month enough? You’ll find readers who love this, while making it easier for others to move on to other stories.

Personally, I aim for my posts to be around 2,000 words each. I post Starwalker weekly, and that’s a reasonable chunk for me to write and readers to get through. I know that if I’m getting over 3,000 words, the scene is too long and I’m trying to do too much.

Occasionally, it’s perfectly natural to have a very long post and I have to split it, but that’s pretty rare. Splitting it helps prevent long action sequences from being too fatiguing to the reader (to split it, I have to write in breaks to top and tail the posts), and also I don’t wind up killing myself to get 8,000 words done in a single week.

Aiming for roughly 2,000 words works for me. I try not to vary it too widely, because my readers are used to getting a certain amount of story in each update. Longer than usual doesn’t bother them (they’ll gobble it up!), but too short can raise eyebrows. Sometimes it works for the story and I can use that impact to my advantage, but that’s very rare (maybe twice in four books?). It’s worth being aware of your readers’ expectations – and remember, you’re the one who sets that up!

So there you go: my whirlwind guide to pacing a web serial. There are a lot of factors and some of them will change over time, and that’s fine. If you’re not sure what will work for you, experiment!

Most of all: don’t forget to have fun. Good luck!

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