Help:Use of the SERIAL type

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This page is a work in progress, and has not yet obtained a solid consensus. It was first created (or significantly revised) on 10 June 2009. Do not take the information on this page as firmly established ISFDB policy or guidelines. Feel free to discuss any issues with the content on this page on its talk page. If in doubt, before accepting the guidelines on this page, feel free to discuss the matter elsewhere, perhaps on the Community Portal.

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Current Practice

The ISFDB supports a SERIAL title type. As indicated in Help:Screen:EditPub#General contents this title type is used "...for an entry that would otherwise be either SHORTFICTION or NOVEL, but which is being serialized." It is also used for a novel-length work published in a magazine or another periodical complete in a single issue. Note that this rules applies to all titles serialized in periodicals regardless of whether they are reprints or first appearances of the text.

When there are multiple installments, each installment is recorded as a separate SERIAL title using the naming convention described in the next section of this Help page. Note that some NOVEL and SHORTFICTION titles have been serialized more than once, with different numbers of installments.

Note that NOVELS and SHORTFICTION titles reprinted in anthologies, collections, or omnibuses, or under separate covers, are not recorded as SERIALS.

All SERIAL title records, once entered into the database, should be set up as variants of NOVEL or SHORTFICTION title records. Use Help:How to connect serials to titles to link SERIALS to parent titles.

Note that SERIAL titles should NOT be merged with NOVEL or SHORTFICTION titles. If a work has been serialized more than once, the SERIAL titles should only be merged if we are sure that the installments contain the same text.


If the title of a SERIAL part is unique, e.g. "Butterflies in the Kremlin, Part Eight: As the Bear Turns" or "Ciężki bój (cz. 1)", then use the full form of the title. If, on the other hand, the title is shared by at least one other SERIAL installment, append a space and a parenthetical statement such as "(Part 1 of 3)" to the title.

Occasionally disambiguation will lead to odd situations. For example, Frederik Pohl's novel "Jem" was serialized in Galaxy; it was initially intended to be a four part serialization, so the first two parts were listed as "Part 1 of 4" and "Part 2 of 4". By the time the third part was printed, it had been changed to a five part serialization, so the titles of the next two parts were "Part 3 of 5" and "Part 4 of 5". In this case it makes sense to go back and change the title of the first two parts; a note should be added to the note field of the publication to make it clear what has been done and why, if such a situation arises.

When a novel length work (40,000+ words) is published in a single issue of a magazine or fanzine, append a space and "(Complete Novel)" to the title.


Serial installments of a work are always given the date of the magazine in which they appear even if the work has been published previously (or subsequently) in book or serial form.

Other uses

There have been some experiments with the use of the SERIAL type to connect closely related stories (for which the series feature now serves), non-contiguously published sections of a "braided" story (such as the story "Fever Season" in the book Fever Season) or other related works. Such experiments have not generally found favor, and such cases are now usually handled in other ways.

Underlying reasons

"Complete Novel" rule

The original reason for the "(Complete Novel)" rule was twofold. The first reason is that there are often significant textual differences between the magazine and the book versions of a given novel. The second reason has to do with the way bibliographers and collectors traditionally record book publications vs. magazine publications. If you open one of Clute's Encyclopedias, (i.e. of Science Fiction or of Fantasy), you'll see that he gives two dates for each serialized novel, one for the original serialization and one for the first book appearance. It appears that this tradition first arose in the book collecting world, where magazine publications were not considered "true first editions" due to the ephemeral nature of many early magazines and cheap pamphlets. Our current display logic, which shows both the first book appearance as well as all serializations of each novel, does a pretty good job of explaining what's going on.

Note that although both reasons support this principle, both are not required. An editor recently wrote in discussing this subject that "Magazine appearances of novels are always entered as Serials, using either the "Part X of Y" format or the "(Complete Novel)" format (depending on the number of installments) even if the text has been verified as unchanged between magazine and book publications." (Ahasuerus 01:56, 10 June 2009 (UTC), writing in the "Against The Fall Of Night" thread referenced below.)

Date Rule

There is a deep and abiding divide between the way short fiction and novel length fiction pieces are cataloged by genre (and mainstream) bibliographers. When cataloging short fiction, the date of the original publication is always used as the "publication date" regardless of whether the original appearance was in a magazine, anthology, collection, or a chapbook. However, when cataloging novel length fiction, the date of the original serialization is not used and the date of the first book publication is used instead. This is an old (and arguably unfortunate) bibliographic convention, and we follow it. This is the main reason why we have to display SERIAL appearances on the Summary Biblio pages: otherwise many (perhaps most) ISFDB users who are not familiar with this convention would never check the Title page and assume that the first appearance of Skylark was in 1946 etc.

The reasons for this divide are twofold. First, serially published novels are/were often extensively rewritten prior to book publication (e.g. the Lensman saga), so it's natural to think of these two versions as separate works. Second, the world of book collectors is somewhat removed from the world of magazine collectors. To a book collector, a "first edition" is the first book publication of the novel in question, not its first magazine publication.

The possible difference in content supports this rule, as does the desire to display, on summary pages, both the date of first serial publication and the date of first book publication (for novels) or first non-serial publication (for short fiction).

Multiple serializations

We display all Serials for a Novel on the Summary Bibliography page, so displaying the same year for each Serial record would seem pointless. Therefore each serial tile record gets the date of its actual appearance and title records for different serial publications are not merged unless all installments are known to contain the exact same text.


This policy has been discussed on a number of occasions among ISFDB editors. Much of the above text is modified from comments made in the discussion linked below, often without clear attribution.

Here are some links to relevant discussions of this issue on various ISFDB discussion and policy pages.