The importance of serial

Doug Wight, former News of the World Books Editor and now a freelance books consultant, looks at the importance of serial rights.

In the five years I was a serial buyer for a national newspaper I was able to witness first hand the impact a good serialisation could have on book sales.

Strong, positive coverage in a newspaper can do wonders for a book. Retailers can massively increase their stock orders ahead of publication and, on the occasions when we ran post-publication extracts, we could watch as the title shot up the Amazon charts.

It was often said that a reader needed three prompters to buy a book - for example from a good review, word of mouth recommendation, or a good marketing campaign. I often felt a newspaper serial was worth at least two of those prompters. By running extracts, the newspaper was giving its own endorsement to the book, the serial allowed readers to sample a large chunk of material to showcase the author’s ‘voice’ and often a strong headline or lead story created a buzz around the book.

A good serialisation with the right newspaper can propel books to the top of the charts. Memoirs by Bernie Nolan and Denise Welch, among others, went to number one thanks to serials in the Sunday/Mirror, while Coronation Street actress Beverley Callard went to number one thanks to a successful serial in the News of the World . It is not just the big celebrity names that benefit. Less glamourous titles can achieve positive sales thanks to coverage in national papers. Books like Crack House and Baby X spawned follow-up titles, thanks to early coverage in national papers.

Serialisations also provide a solid platform for additional publicity on television, radio, local newspapers and magazines, happy to take their lead from national press coverage. The tie-ins are good for newspapers too. In the years before the News of the World closed, two of its biggest sales spikes were put down to serialisations of autobiographies from Beverley Callard and footballer Dwight Yorke.

Newspapers look for anything that provides a good angle. From high profile celebrity memoirs to strong real-life stories, never-before-told historical tales to science books and photography specials, they will snap up anything that provides value for readers. And, as readerships and sales decline for both publishers and newspapers, they need each other more than ever.

Traditionally, publishers would factor in potential serial revenue when it came to offering advances. While it’s generally true that the money available for serial has fallen in recent years, in line with decreasing advances, newspapers are also in line with publishers on another important aspect - if the book is strong enough then it will generate interest, which can lead to a successful serial that hopefully will be translated into book sales.

Newspapers are the perfect shop window for a brilliant book.