serial publication

There was a very interesting blog post this week at Audry Taylor's blog, called "Open Letter re: Serials to Editors, Agents, and Publishers." Here's a quote:

[T]he majority of published stories used to be serials. Newspapers put out many of the great 'novels' in regular installments for on-going serializations until a story had either exhausted itself or wrapped up as the author originally planned for it to. Dumas, Dickens…many of the writers whose words we worship had to write on the spur of the moment, turn in chapters on a weekly or monthly basis, and work to intense, year-long schedules that we ourselves are mostly unfamiliar with. Both great art and entertainment for the masses have been produced this way."

For example, the current disdain for serial publication is shown in the way that "graphic novels" are often considered to be more legitimate than good old comic books, despite the fact that a lot of the most revered "graphic novels" (Maus, Watchmen, the Sandman series) are actually regular monthly comic books repackaged in book form.

I've always liked serials, both to read and to write, as I talked about here.

What I'm not sure about is Audry's assertion that the Internet is the best vehicle for serial fiction. It is for me, since I'm not trying to get paid, but Audry is definitely approaching this as a professional, so for that I have another idea.

The New York Times arrives on my Kindle every morning (it is actually the best way to read the daily Times). I don't even have to think about it, it just pops up. So, here's my idea:

The first chapter of a serial novel is posted online for everybody to read. Those who want to read the rest of the story can subscribe, and subsequent chapters will appear on their particular device every month (or whatever interval) until the story is over.

I think the main point is that there could be an audience, not the technology. For example, the Internet is the ideal vehicle for hypertext fiction, but there has never been any indication that there is an audience, as I talked about last time. But serial fiction? There is a lot of evidence that people like that. As I said in my comment on Audry's post:

People have loved serial fiction in many forms: magazine serialization of novels, radio shows like I Love a Mystery, TV shows like The Sopranos (and regular soaps, of course), plus movie serials back in the early days.

I sent a link to Audry's post to Astoria (the cover artist for my books), and she responded, "I totally subscribe to Audry's serialization plea; as a reader I can't think of anything that would give me more pleasure than having, say, a monthly treat of a story chapter on the computer. Tell her to keep pushing. You too."

Later: Audry posted a follow-up, called, "The Return of the Serial – To Big Publishing."

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11 Responses to serial publication

  1. Alexis says:

    These are great points. I remember talking to you about The Green Mile serialized originals. And actually, that made me much more interested in checking out the story.

    As a new editor of serialized fiction, I have to agree that there’s definitely an audience. And I think it adds to the excitement; that waiting period between.

    Your work could easily fit into the emotobook style, by the way. Especially since you already post installments online. And your genre is perfect for Grit City Publications.

    Just a thought! 🙂

    • First off, congratulations on the editor gig! That’s great news.

      I’m looking into the emotobook thing, which is new to me (well, I gather it’s new in general — this isn’t a case of me being slow on the uptake). I’m always leery of trying to do too many things at once, and I am focusing on preparing my book (the collection of mystery stories) for print (and possible e-book publication), but I’m also thinking of turning A Sane Woman into an e-book, and I have an idea for my next novel…

      We’ll see. I do look forward to investigating emotobooks further in any case.

  2. Alexis says:

    It is new, although it’s increasing in popularity everyday. Once you take a look at it, let me know if you’ve got any questions. I think you might like it… at least for reading if not for writing.

    Good luck on all your upcoming writing endeavors! Sounds like you will be a busy man. 🙂

  3. sonje says:

    I definitely like serialized TV shows. Love them, as a matter of fact. And I know that many, many books started out as serial publications, but the idea of reading a book that way feels odd to me. I guess I’m so used to controlling the pace of my reading that the idea of being forcibly stopped for a week or a month doesn’t appeal to me. But I haven’t done it, so maybe I would like it if I tried it….

  4. Sonje, I know what I tend to do is get used to a particular form of entertainment fulfilling a particular role for me. Movies do this, novels do that, comic books do the other thing.

    I have a friend who has very far-ranging reading habits, but he wants comic books to be comic books (super heroes, etc.), and it unnerves him to read comic books that are about other things (including things he would very comfortably read about in prose).

    Hey, we even do this with people. So-and-so is my tennis friend, so-and-so is my going-to-the-movies friend (that’s in the beginning of The Sun Also Rises, IIRC).

    I think reading serialized fiction has its pleasures, and the only shame is that there isn’t more of it out there. And some people would still not like it, but some people buy comic books and put them away, waiting to read them until the storyline is over.

  5. Alexis says:

    Comics release trades to accommodate these different people. That way, if you’re not up for serialized stories, you can read it in bulk. I like trades for comics that I’m really behind on, but I like reading the new ones as they come out.

    In my case, I wonder if Grit City should, eventually, release the stories as an entire season after they’ve been out for a while.

    • In terms of Grit City, I think the readers may let you know that. But, since the innovation is apparently in content (not only in form), it would seem like a good idea.

      In other words, if the stories were just like everybody else’s stories, but in serial form, then going to compilations would seem to be removing the thing that makes GC unusual. But since part of the point is apparently the combination of words and images, it would seem that compilations might have a market.

      Take this with a big chunk of salt, of course, since selling stories for money is not my area of expertise. 🙂

  6. Alexis says:

    Good points, though. Something to consider down the road.

  7. That’s interesting. There’s definitely less respect, today, for serial fiction than there has been in the past. I was aware before, for example, of Dickens’ having been serialized and today he is considered one of the great novelists of all time. It’s difficult to imagine an author today primarily publishing via serialization attaining similar accolades. There have been experiments in the format, I’ve seen, by established authors. But so far nothing seems to have really caught on.

    It would be interesting to see if a serialized e-subscription model would work. It’s definitely an intriguing concept. As a writer, though, I don’t think I could work to the periodic-demand-model. Not saying I wouldn’t potentially serialize a novel at some point, but that if I did, it would be a finished product before I began the serialization, not completed ad hoc as I went along.

  8. Alexis says:

    I think it would be pretty challenging to write a serial one at a time. That’s a lot of deadlines!

    With emotobooks, the season has to be completed, edited, and illustrated before the first issue is published.

    From a writer’s POV, though, I think it might be an interesting experience to see my work published in intervals. I’m somewhat impatient, so perhaps it would be frustrating, but I think it would be exciting, too.

  9. Stephen: This is the point we’ve talked about before re: Tolkien, who finished Lord of the Rings before any of it was published. It does have advantages, obviously. But, as we were just discussing over at Alexis’s blog, deadlines can be a great motivating factor as well.

    Alexis: If I were a publisher, I would definitely insist the story be complete before I started publishing it. I remember in the 1970s, when comic book writers were being given a lot of leeway (not unlike movie directors at that time), a lot of deadlines were missed and books came out with fill-in issues (some of which were interesting, but they interrupted the flow). The “Dread Deadline Doom” was a pretty common term in those days.

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