It’s often the case come late April/early May that we begin to realize that the year is a third of the way behind us. Sometimes we look back and think, “Wow! Where’s the time gone? I’d better get cracking to make sure I accomplish my goals for the year.” At other times, we look back and think, “Only a third of the year? I’ve come so far in four short months.” Usually, we find ourselves in between, feeling we’ve got so much left to do in the year but also proud to discover we’ve already accomplished various goals.
When January 2012 came upon us, volume one of The Scion of Abacus had been on Amazon for only five days. I had a long way to go before the end was in sight. I had a hope that this form might generate some interest, some anticipation for the conclusion of the story. Looking back now, a week after the publication of part five, I can see I’ve come a very long way. But I also feel like I’m behind on my goals for the year.
Anyhow, what I want to do here today is talk a bit about the serial novel model that I’ve used to publish The Scion of Abacus. I feel that this form has been largely responsible for my recent success as an indie author, but there have also been several questions as to my motives and some discussion about whether this is a long-term format not only for myself but also in the new world of e-publishing.
Charles Dickens may not have invented the serial novel (though some will debate that), but he certainly made the form synonymous with his own work, even though many of his books weren’t serialized. Dickens lived at a time when paper was still expensive and when many could not afford the price of a new book. But newspapers and magazines were growing in popularity with an increasingly literate general population, and so the logical step was to divide a novel into smaller chunks that could be published once a week/ month. The serial format lost popularity as the Victorian era waned, but it was not dead.
You can find serialized stories in many pulp fiction magazines right through the Twentieth Century, though they did not reach the same level of popularity that Dickens’ work did. Then, late in the 1990s, Stephen King decided to publish The Green Mile in six volumes. Oddly enough, whereas Dickens’ serials were published in varying numbers of volumes, most serials subsequent to King’s have adopted a six-part division (not all, but almost all I could find).
The advent of the internet as a viable setting for writers to attract readers prior to submitting to publishers saw an increase in writers publishing their early drafts as they wrote the story. In some cases, these webserials were published thusly because the author couldn’t find a publisher. Even very popular writers seemed drawn to this new format, for Stephen King serialized another novel on the internet (The Plant), and Brandon Sanderson released Warbreaker as he wrote it, first draft, warts and all.
We live in interesting times. The entire publishing industry is changing rapidly, and at this point nobody can really predict how the dusts will settle. The indie movement could prove a five-year flash in the pan, or it could be the face of the publishing future for years and years to come. One thing is certain, authors are using the shifting market to experiment, often with refreshingly old influences.
Such is the case with The Scion of Abacus. It is a serial novel in the Dickens sense. That is, it is not scripted like a TV show to produce tightly closed episodes that fit together to form a larger tale; it is a single novel that has been chopped up and published a little bit at a time. Some folks have (understandably) found this off-putting. Others have appreciated the move for various reasons: if you don’t like the first part of the story, you aren’t on the hook for the full price; if you have a busy schedule, squeezing in novella-sized fractions of a story is much more manageable than devoting a couple of weeks to a novel; you get a regular release from an author whose work you enjoy; or, financially, plonking down a small amount of cash per episode per month seems somehow more justifiable than laying out the full cost for a novel; among others.
I hate being misunderstood. I think we all do. The serial novel form I have used was a gamble, an experiment, and one that gave me little idea of what to expect from readers. I have made mistakes, sure, and there are things I’d do differently if I could go back, but I think we will see more and more authors trying to serialize. Whether an author makes the format his/her own remains to be seen. I’m currently torn in two minds about whether to continue with the format, mostly because I wish to avoid being misunderstood. But that comes with the writing territory. If it’s not the choice to serialize that folks question, it’ll be something else.
I realize that this has been a bit of a ramble and not filled with news so much as with reflexion and some explanation of what I’ve been doing for the past four months. I’d like your thoughts, though.
Do you see the serial novel as a viable form going forward?
Should a writer only do such a thing once, or can it become a modus operandi?
Do the pros of the form outweigh the cons?
There are other questions to be asked, of course, but as I’m reflecting on writing past and looking to writing future, I’m really in the dark about these questions, the big questions. Readers and writers out there, what say you?