Writing … serials

As I’m a creative writing tutor as well as a writer, it has been suggested that I should include a few hints and tips about writing, here, on my blog. As I’ve just been asked about writing serials, that’s where I’ve decided to begin …

Serials

Serials appear in a few weekly magazines. Those magazines I know of in the UK and Ireland are:

  • The People’s Friend
  • Woman’s Weekly
  • My Weekly
  • Ireland’s Own

My Weekly arrange two- and three-part serials to be written by writers they already know, so that’s not a good place to begin, unless you already have a sturdy short story track record with them.

The People’s Friend is quite flexible and publishes serials of all lengths. Absorb and understand the ethos of the magazine and send for their writers’ guidelines before you begin. PF is open to several scenes or chapters per episode and the fiction team is looking for an opening instalment of 6,000 to 7,000 words with following instalments a little shorter, around 5,000 words. They’re also happy for multi-viewpoint, which means that you can follow the stories of several characters (so long as they all impact upon one another, of course). Approach Shirley Blair, the fiction editor, with a clear idea for the serial. Don’t outline the whole serial, don’t write the whole serial, just know what you want to write about and the characters. If you’re asked to write the first instalment don’t go further because you might be asked to rewrite and rewrite. Once they have the first instalment as they want it they’ll pay you for it and expect the rest of the serial to follow – one instalment at a time. Think family-related entertainment.

Woman’s Weekly is looking for new serials, right now! The fiction team wants three-parters, 3800 words each. As for The People’s Friend, they need to see the idea before asking to see more. Email Fiction Editor Gaynor Davies at gaynor_davies@ipcmedia.com with your idea.

The last time that I spoke to Ireland’s Own they were looking for serial ideas. Be aware that Ireland’s Own is a general interest magazine – so make your idea appeal to both genders.

Suggestions

  • As with just about any piece of fiction, leap into the story. As it’s a serial, do so for every instalment.
  • Magazines like plenty of dialogue to carry the story and develop character.
  • Avoid any subjects that are gritty: think decent people and real conflicts (but not too nasty).
  • Finish each instalment with a ‘curtain’ ie something to make the reader buy the magazine next week to see what happens. Dramatic dialogue is excellent for curtains. ‘I’m afraid she needs an operation,’ said Dr. Baines. Or freeze the action. Clarissa’s heart lurched as the edge of the cliff began to crumble.
  • As with all longer fiction, make certain that you have enough story to carry the wordcount. Having more words at your disposal than in a short story doesn’t mean you can pad or ramble. You’ve got to write tightly, even whilst realising the characters, and absorb your readers. Magazine readers tend to be in a short story frame of mind so a serial instalment can be quite an effort for them. You’ve got to make it worthwhile.

Serials are an important part of a magazine and often planned and laid out ahead of almost every other component. AND, after the magazine has published the serial, you can sell it as a novella, a large print book or even a full novel (although that might take expansion). So you get paid again!

Hands up everyone who’s going to have a go at writing a serial …

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42 Comments

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42 responses to “Writing … serials

  1. Thank you so much for this information on serials Sue – much appreciated.

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  2. Hi Sue. Thanks a million … this is very timely, as I’m struggling with my first serial right now! Finding it difficult; I’m best at 2000 – 3000 word stories or 100,000 word novels, and it took me the whole of the first draft of the serial to feel comfortable with the length.
    I’m now about to start re-writing it, so I’m very grateful for your advice.

    Like

  3. Rebecca Holmes

    Thanks for this, Sue. I keep meaning to take the plunge if I could just get up the nerve, and this has given me a very firm nudge!

    Like

  4. Glynis Scrivens

    A very useful – and inspiring – post, Sue.It always seems such a leap from writing short stories to attempting a serial – you’ve made it seem achievable

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  5. Roberta Grieve

    Thanks for this Sue. Only last week I sent an idea to Woman’s Weekly – only to be told that they had recently published a serial on a similar theme and that it was too soon to do another one. They did say they would like to hear from me again with further ideas so it was in a way a positive reply. Now I have to come up with an idea!

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  6. Thanks, Sue, that was invaluable. Our mutual publishers have suggested I try and do something in this line as a promotion tool (I think). WW were encouraging last year, so maybe I’ll have a go.

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    • suemoorcroft

      WW love cosy crime! So I think they’re right. 🙂 And a serial is much shorter than a novel. Why not try and interest them in a 3-parter about your usual heroine (Libby?) Bet they’ll be interested.

      Like

  7. They’re usually right. If I can drag myself away from current book (due in beginning of May) I’ll see if I can think one out. How do people do so many things at once? x

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  8. Geraldine Ryan

    Hi, Sue! Great post on writing serials. Just to add though, that Woman’s Weekly informed me last week that they have published such a glut of cosy crime recently that they would like to get away from it now. They are looking for “mysteries” which don’t concern a crime or the police. Make of that what you will! I’m struggling a bit but I’ve boiled it down to the basic who? what? why? and How? of a story.

    I hope this is helpful to your readers.

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  9. Useful for me, too, although I can do a mystery with my series heroine without having a murder, I should think!

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  10. Cara Cooper

    Thanks from me as well Sue and a really useful update thanks Geraldine. My feeble brain is trying to latch on to mysteries without crimes that I already know, to try and shift the old grey matter a bit. Rebecca? Strangers on a Train? The Franchise Affair? They’re all riddled with crime or perhaps that’s just my brain as I’m working on a cosy crime novella at present. Aaaargh!

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  11. Great post, Sue. Really useful info. I’ve linked to it from my blog: http://thewritersabcchecklist.blogspot.com/

    Like

  12. Deborah Rickard

    What a very generous and brilliant idea, Sue; to share your experience. Especially for someone like me who has only recently begun and just had my first short story success. This blog will go on my file for future projects. I’ve got a bit more experience in the short story market to gain first … though I had wondered about a series. I have a character who keeps demanding I write short, shorts about her!
    Debs

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  13. Uncle Tibbles

    Thanks for the invaluable info. I’ve got my serial idea with WW as I type, awaiting a decision from Gaynor, so fingers crossed!

    Once a story is published in a magazine, can you then sell it to another magazine at a later date? Hope this isn’t a daft question but I’m new to all this writing lark!

    Thanks

    Like

    • suemoorcroft

      Yes, I’ve got an idea with her, too.

      Yes, you can sell it again so long as you make it clear that you’re selling Second British Serial Rights and not First. If you get a letter of contract from WW then you’ll find they need first rights to other territories, too, because they are published in Australia etc.

      Like

  14. Thank you for this brilliant post.

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  15. Sue, what is wrong with amazon? Ordered Starting Over on Jan 13th and it still hasn’t arrived. It has been saying I can’t cancel because they’re preparing for despatch for two weeks now! Bah!

    Like

    • suemoorcroft

      That’s worrying! Thanks, Lesley. I’ll report to Choc Lit. It’s showing as ‘in stock’ on the Amazon page and that they’ll despatch it quickly for a fee, as per usual. Is it possible for you to forward the email to me?

      LSX

      Like

  16. It’s not an email, Sue, it’s just under the “Your account” pages. When I click on that order, that’s what it says. If I can, I’ll cut and paste the page to you. The other part of the order was despatched and received almost immediately.

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  17. Uncle Tibbles

    Thank you for the reply. One story I wrote was published in a writers’ magazine but I wasn’t paid for it. I now want to send that same story to TAB, so do I offer them first or second serial rights?

    Again, sorry if this is a daft question!

    Like

    • suemoorcroft

      I don’t think it matters that you didn’t get paid for it – it got published. However, this is easy to get around. Don’t specify rights. Just send a clear letter setting out the situation and see what they say.

      Good luck!

      Like

  18. Uncle Tibbles

    That’s great – thanks so much! Will send off tomorrow and see what happens.

    Thanks again

    Like

  19. Re Deborah’s question about selling a series of shorts, I have a character who rears her head every now and then and insists I write a story about her. I’ve sold two stories (cosy crime) featuring her, one to The Weekly News and another to Fast Fiction Australia. I think that as long as each story is stand alone, and doesn’t rely on knowledge gained from reading the others in the set, it’s possible to sell them to several different markets.

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    • Deborah Rickard

      Thanks for that idea, Sally. I’ll definitely work towards something like this. Also, I haven’t come across The Weekly News or Fast Fiction Australia before. I really need to find more of a market than competitions and the couple of women’s magazines I currently target, and really should revist the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and Writers’Handbook!

      Like

  20. suemoorcroft

    Deb,
    Loads of information here: womagwriter.blogspot.com. Easier than ploughing through W&A.

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  21. Try womag’s blog first, Deborah. It’s at http://womagwriter.blogspot.com/

    She has the latest market guidelines for loads of women’s mags.

    Like

  22. Deborah Rickard

    WOW! My “Writers’ Forum” mag popped through the door just before I left for work this morning …CONGRATULATIONS, Sue – Cover Girl and Judge!

    Like

  23. suemoorcroft

    Thanks Deb! I’ve left it late in my career to become a cover girl but it’s still nice.

    And I’m looking forward to the judging.

    I’m going by train to South Shields today, for a ‘Loves Me, Loves Me Not’ event at South Shields Central Library tomorrow. My son says I should read Writers’ Forum on the train to see if anybody does any double takes. 🙂

    Like

  24. Judith Fox

    Congratulations Sue!!!! Well done indeed!

    The list of short stories — do they accept Canadian writers?

    Cheers, Judith

    Like

    • suemoorcroft

      I don’t see why not – there are no restrictions that I’m aware of and some of the magazines are on sale in Canada. Whether they can pay in Canadian dollars, I don’t know.

      Like

  25. Judith Fox

    Hi Sue, Me again in Canada.

    What I mean about those Br. short story magazines is will they accept stories set in Canada-my speciality…

    Keep going, my dear, you are doing so well.

    Cheers, Judith

    Like

    • suemoorcroft

      Hi Judith,

      I’m not absolutely certain. The rule for UK magazines is generally that the readership must be reasonably familiar with a setting abroad. So it would be no good setting a story in Mauritius, for example, because Joe Public wouldn’t be able to afford to visit it.

      But The People’s Friend sells in Canada and I think Woman’s Weekly does, too. As a first step, why not query the fiction editor at The People’s Friend? She’s Shirley Blair, on sblair@dcthomson.co.uk

      Good luck!

      Like

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