How long is too long?

I thought I'd run this question by the community, especially for the writers who have been at their serials for a while and for the readers who have been following stories that have been going on a few years:

I'll be finishing up my fourth book online early May with plans to resume with book five online at the end of August. I'm trying to space out my serial with built in breaks to write other projects and avoid getting burned out, but I don't want to wait too long and lose readers. Is four months an acceptable waiting period between arcs?

I made the mistake of waiting almost a year and a half between ending my third book and starting my fourth due to editing and just life stuff in general and I lost a lot of my original readers waiting that long to resume.

So again, how long is too long to wait?

Probably depends on how they learn about it. If your fans are getting email blasts whenever you update, and traffic indicates that they only show up when the blasts go out, then you can leave it for a while. If people are just checking at the regular times, then you probably can't miss too many weeks before they stop including you in their pulls.

Before I answer the OP, I just feel the need to mention I was reading the other thread that got slightly derailed from its original topic and is now discussing "obstructive tumescence" when I saw this thread titled "How long is too long?"

*cough* and now for serious matters.

I think the length of break you can take depends on how your readers are engaged.

Personally, as long as I like an author, I'll read all of their writing (except those occasional weird ones where I only like some of their series). The question is how I receive updates that a new work is available to read.

If your readers are subscribed in some way and will receive an alert when your serial continues, I think you can take a substantial break and still retain the majority of them (though a year is kind of extreme; maybe 6 months?). If you are relying on them checking your site on a regular basis, I'd say no more than 2-3 times your normal update interval or 2 weeks, whichever one is longer. It's not that the readers will no longer like the serial, it's that they'll get out of the habit of visiting your site and completely forget about it.

Just make sure you have some way of keeping them informed of new updates (or, indeed, slipping schedules). And maybe have some kind of "the story so far" to help them recall previous events once they get back?

Walter, unice5656, Dary, thanks for your thoughts on this. Much appreciated.

@unice5656... yeah... I probably should have picked a better title... lol

From what I've observed, there will always be a dropoff in readership during a break, whether it's from one book to another in the same series, or from one work to another. Generally speaking the shorter you can make that break, the smaller that dropoff will be.

As a reader there is not too long for me, but there is bad direction. A few stories I've read recently in their later volumes go in directions that don't interest me, for much too long. Two recently that I read left the main character and went on for volumes about other characters, which I find strange. If you've engaged me for a book or more on one character, I'm generally here to stay. But you have to stay cognizant of stale narratives, wrong direction, and escalating.

I read one that was three volumes in, with a slow go interesting progresson. Then in volume four or five just suddenly jumped to end game.

I think you just have to be self aware. Don't wanna push to final boss, but also don't want to fight 6 final bosses.

I'm rambling....

Inky Llama and CorpseMoney, thanks for your input.

After all the responses here, I don't feel like the 4 month wait will lose the invested readers. I just have to find a better way to keep them up to speed during the break (and it's certainly better than the year and a half I was off line).

Thanks everyone for giving me some additional suggestions to consider ;)

What I've done (I've not posted anything since last summer, and I've structured my series to accommodate breaks) is use the last page to keep people updated, since it's invariably the one they bookmark and come back to when checking for updates. It's also more reliable than social media.

A lot of my readers are subscribed through webcomic portals, as well, which send out updates whenever new pages are added.

That's so complicated.

4 months is too long. May I suggest a fan fic writing contest or something similar and post guest posts from readers during the interlude?

I'd say a month without updates might be too long. At least if its not a scheduled hiatus.

I think it's all about consistency. Set up a pattern that you're comfortable with and the fanbase will follow. There's no point in breaking yourself via forced writing to meet a "sweet spot" as far as updates go; it may do more harm than good.

Just want to say it's not ALL about consistency. I have produced a chapter every week now for 135 weeks straight, no breaks for holidays, like clockwork, and I can PROBABLY make a case for a dozen readers after that full two and a half years out there. (Calculated based on how a part from early February has 11 views, but I have a handful of subscribers who wouldn't add to the view/hit count.) In fact, I've been posting twice weekly since September and have over 200 posts, and a "fan base" has yet to find me.

Now, to be fair, I run the blog back and forth between two stories. I ran "Epsilon" for 6 months, "Time & Tied" for 11 months, "Epsilon" for 4 months, now "Time & Tied" has been going for 9 months again.... so it's not the same story. (Granted, I might have kept up Time & Tied but after a year of zero hit days washing over me, I needed a break; Epsilon at least forces votes.) But then again, I'm probably the statistical anomaly your statistician warned you about. (Personified math ran for 3 years, updating every week without fail aside from a 12 week hiatus, and it had even less of a fan base.)

So yeah, it's important to find a schedule you can keep to, but consistency is only one part. (Now, no snide comments about the quality of my writing please. ;) )

thank you everyone for all your input. I'll have to give this some more thought.