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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Will eBooks bring back the serial novel?

Every wondered why Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" is so freakin' long? It's because the book was originally a serial novel, published chapter by chapter in sequential issues of a magazine.
The serial novel is largely a bygone phenomenon. Sure, you can find contemporary examples of serial stories -- Stephen King's "The Green Mile" was published in six parts in 1996, for instance, and television series have it right in the name -- but the serial novel all but ended with the 19th century.
Or did it?
E-books and the Web have created the perfect environment for a resurgence of the serial novel.

Authors such as Dickens liked the serial format because it meant more money. The more stories you have published in a magazine, the longer you draw out a narrative, the more cash you get. And a serial novel can hold the audience captive for months, even years, as the story plays out issue by issue. It's guaranteed long-term income.
In recent years, some publishers have realized the serial's potential in the digital age. Starting in 2000, King experimented with the e-serial format with his yet-unfinished novel "The Plant"; he posted installments of the story on his website for $1 each, though the plan fell apart thanks to hackers in the early Web 2.0 days. Last year, husband-wife author duo Tracy and Laura Hickman launched an online fantasy novel with a subscription model.

Two weeks ago, The Huffington Post (now owned by AOL) announced it will start publishing serial novels, starting with "Seeing Red" by Claudia Ricci. So far, a prologue and two chapters have been published at -- for free, however.
This week, as "Jeopardy" champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter take on IBM's Watson supercomputer, hardcore fans are on edge also for the ending to a book about the much-hyped trivia contest. Stephen Baker, author of "Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything," has already released most of his book to the Web but is waiting for TV coverage to end before publishing the final chapter.


Brian Drake said...

Interesting question. As somebody who has tried to write in the serial format, though, I would advise any author that before attempting such a project to make sure you have the story planned and that you're at least two or three installments ahead before you publish the first.

old guy rambling said...

I would give the serial a try - sounds like fun.