Home » Books in General » Bring back the serialized novel

Bring back the serialized novel

30 April 2015

From The Washington Post:

In 1847, an English cleaning woman was extremely excited to learn that the boy lodging in her employer’s house was “the son of the man that put together Dombey” — that is, the son of Charles Dickens. The woman could neither read nor write, but she lived above a snuff shop where, on the first Monday of every month, a community of friends would gather to read aloud the latest installment of “Dombey and Son,” which had begun serialization on Oct. 1, 1846. By that time, the monthly installments of Dickens’s novels — which started with “The Pickwick Papers” in 1836 — were such a staple of British culture that an illiterate woman with no access to the actual book knew the author’s work intimately.

More than 150 years later, the publishing industry is in the doldrums, yet the novel shows few signs of digging into its past and resurrecting the techniques that drove fans wild and juiced sales figures. The novel is now decidedly a single object, a mass entity packaged and moved as a whole. That’s not, of course, a bad thing, but it does create a barrier to entry that the publishing world can’t seem to overcome. Meanwhile, consumers gladly gobble up other media in segments — whether it’s a “Walking Dead” episode, a series of Karl Ove Knausgaard ’s travelogues or a public-radio show (it’s called “Serial” for a reason, people) — so there’s reason to believe they would do the same with fiction. What the novel needs again is tension. And the best source for that tension is serialization.

. . . .

Why can’t the same techniques that once galvanized readers be revived? Today, when a novel is released, it relies on a series of tried (but not always true) advertising methods. The book is accompanied by a simplified synopsis targeting a specific audience, inflated with blurbs from “influencers” and dropped onto reviewers’ desks with the hope that enough serious critics will praise it that it will wriggle onto a prize list. Even greatness doesn’t always guarantee success. As the Telegraph noted in its look at “Why great novels don’t get noticed now ,” Samantha Harvey’s“Dear Thief” received universally glowing reviews — and sold only 1,000 copies in six months. Publishing houses have a brief window to push a work into the public’s consciousness. If the pilot doesn’t light, the novel doesn’t move. But with a constant stream of exposure over a period of six or 12 or 18 months, a novel would stand a far better chance of piquing the public’s interest.

. . . .

Critics will undoubtedly moan that serialization would favor literature that’s heavy on cliffhangers and light on subtlety — and that it would corrupt more “serious” works. Yes, not every novel can, or should, be serialized. As novelist Curtis Sittenfeld worried, “I imagine serializing would force me to commit to certain plots even if I subsequently decided they were weak.”

. . . .

“Since the loss of compelling plot is one of the things that readers most often complain of in the modern novel,” the critic Adam Kirsch says, “it might be a salutary discipline for novelists to have to go back to Dickens, or even James, to learn how it’s done.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Books in General

90 Comments to “Bring back the serialized novel”

  1. Personally, I love serialized stories. When The Green Mile came out in segments, I ate them up eagerly and think that the anticipation for each new section really added to the experience.

    Is it doable in all genres? As stated above, probably not. Some genres I’d love to see resurrect the serial successfully is the Epic Fantasy and also Horror genre. Those could be really great.

  2. Indeed.

  3. Half the indies I know are actively publishing serials or are working on serials to be published in the nearish future (including me). I enjoy reading that way and it’s a fun new writing challenge, as it’s not quite the same as writing one full length novel.

    I think the subscription model goes hand-in-hand with serialized stories, and that’s here to stay, so I’m betting this will become a bigger and bigger thing.

    But if I’m wrong, it’s easy enough to pivot and edit the episodes into a novel, which is why it’s great to have complete control over your work. 😀

    As novelist Curtis Sittenfeld worried, “I imagine serializing would force me to commit to certain plots even if I subsequently decided they were weak.”

    I imagine this format works wayyyy better for planners than pantsers.

    • I imagine this format works wayyyy better for planners than pantsers.

      Indeed. If I were to serialize, it would be something that’s already completed. I’m not sure how it was done back in the day, but I would probably release one arc at a time, instead of a chapter at a time.

      • Or, just write the whole thing and then release it in small chunks. That way you don’t have to worry if the plot needs to change, since all the changes will happen before the first part goes public.

        • Suburbanbanshee

          That’s how the science fiction magazines used to serialize novels. They didn’t buy uncompleted works. Most novels appeared in two, three, or four installments.

          And then the completed novels under one cover sold just fine.

          • Felix J. Torres

            With “fine” = 3-5,000 copies. 😉

            (In the 50’s, when they finally started seeing SF books as a viable business.)

      • Dickens could not afford to wait until he had a finished book, and that helped him become a popular author. See the link TPV published last week to “The Sam Weller Bump.”

    • I imagine this format works wayyyy better for planners than pantsers.

      There is evidence to the contrary.

      Read Gaston Laroux, The Phantom of the Opera. He wrote that as a serial for La Galois. Try to convince yourself that he planned that rather than fill the page with whatever madness filled his alcohol-fueled imagination the day his weekly deadline rolled around.

      Go ahead. I dare you.

  4. “Since the loss of compelling plot is one of the things that readers most often complain of in the modern novel,” the critic Adam Kirsch says, “it might be a salutary discipline for novelists to have to go back to Dickens, or even James, to learn how it’s done.”

    YESSSSSSSS. To infinity and beyond. Whenever I disparage litracha, I mean late twentieth-century literature, not the likes of Austen.

    “… even James …” I can’t tell if sarcasm or serious (I’ve never read James).

  5. Trying it myself. I love the idea and would like to see it in web-based stories (like my own – yes, I am self promoting a little… just a little), periodicals, news papers, or as downloadable ebooks. Small digestible episodes are really encouraging to read vs long novels sometimes.

    And if nothing else, the publishing industry does need to do something different… even if it means just repeating (a good) part of history.

  6. I tend to think of payoffs when I need them, then on the second draft return to earlier chapters to plant the setups. That isn’t compatible with serials, unless you write it all ahead of time.

  7. Putting my reader’s hat on — I’d have abandoned way too many good books if they were serialized. Without the investment of purchasing a complete book, I wouldn’t feel as compelled to give it a little more time if the beginning chapters didn’t capture my interest enough.

    • Great point. I’m of the opinion that the disadvantages of serializing outweigh the advantages by maybe 60/40.

    • Ditto, Brad. Also, I have a lousy memory. If there’s a time lapse between segments, I’d forget what happened earlier. As Netflix figured out, people like to binge on series’ episodes. I like to binge on chapters.

      • Boxing them up for those readers who prefer it that way is a win for everyone, though. Royalty on one $3.99 omnibus is higher than royalty on four 99¢ episodes. I think the episode format is more to reach KU/subscription readers than purchasers. But I don’t see any reason you can’t have both episodes and novel length editions.

        But if the subscription model ends up petering out and/or Amazon changes policy so you only make a few pennies per borrow on those 20k episodes, I’ll likely change strategy, bundle the episodes into novels with a bit of an edit, and give up on short reads altogether. I’m finding it really fun to write this way, but I also need it to make business sense.

        • But like I said upthread*, the people who prefer to binge can wait for the bundle. Everybody wins.

          Found where you said it! So I can reply in context!

          Is it really a win for everyone?

          As a reader who prefers it boxed, I feel a little penalized because to experience the story in the way I want to means I have to wait while others don’t. Serializing with a “Hey, readers who want everything at once, you can just wait a couple of weeks and by the bundle, which will be a buck cheaper than following the installments” seems more like nobody wins. The readers who follow along spend extra money. Authors who charge 99c for installments miss higher royalties a higher priced novel would yield.

          Anyway. Just some thoughts. Don’t get me wrong; I tried serialization via website, rather than publishing. I wouldn’t do it again, but I’m not saying I wouldn’t serialize via Kindle/iBooks again, where shorter formats do seem to work well.

          • You make a good point. The waiting is an issue, although to be realistic, I don’t have a gigantic mob of people who can’t bear to wait for my next thing. 😉 But at least it’s a short term problem anyway. The release cycle is only a few weeks long, but eBooks are forever. I’d have more readers coming across that product page in the months and years to come, collectively, than I would in the four weeks I was doing installments. (Edit: plus a couplefew more weeks to get the novel edition together, I would think.)

            After the serialization was over, the omnibus would be there for people who want to go all in, and individual episodes for those who don’t want to commit to the whole thing or prefer reading shorter works. If borrows/buys of episodes slowed down to a point where it would be more practical to remove them, I’d do that. Conversely, if borrows of episodes were high enough that it would be more practical to wait a while before releasing the novel edition, I might do that. (Depending on the existence and size of that gigantic mob.)

            I’m not planning on penalizing the serial readers. Episodes at 99¢, novel-length bundles of four at $3.99. Roughly the same price-per-word. 🙂 Because of the royalty structure at Amazon, success depends heavily on the episodes getting more borrows than buys, or at least an equal number of each. This is really at heart an attempt to adapt to the sub model and reach KU subscribers, although I’m also finding I really enjoy writing this way.

            Of course this is all an experiment and may fail miserably. In which case I’ll stop doing it and be all, “No, I meant to do that as a novel all along, why do you ask?”

            • Heh. Would that we all had gigantic mobs.

              Further question: is serializing, in a way, another form of windowing? Is there much difference from releasing a hardcover first and waiting to release the ebook version?

              More rhetorical than anything, I admit. But I’m just thinking I’ve heard publishers hold ebooks in the hope that more people will buy a hardcover. I’m not saying the motivation is the same, but the experience kind of is; holding a full novel in the hope of getting people buying installments/building buzz.

  8. I’m sort of trying this at the moment, loading a chapter each week of my WIP to Write On by Kindle. The site is not very busy, and I feel lucky to have half a dozen regular readers.

    The thing is, in Dickens’ day, the weekly reading of a serial was probably the most exciting thing in the cleaning woman’s life. Times have changed. These days, she’d have television, and might well prefer it.

    • I think as a writer you have to approach it exactly like television, structure your episodes as much like a TV show as a chunk of a novel, and make getting the story in these sorts of increments a familiar experience for the reader. Maybe outline not so much in three acts as in four commercial breaks. 🙂

      • This is pretty much what I’m doing–a series where each installment is basically an episode–complete beginning, middle, and end to each episode but they all fit into a larger story.

  9. Serialization would seem to me to be a hard sell to readers raised on television. Several generations of TV have trained us all to have 15-minute attention spans, before we start anticipating the commercial break. Maybe if we published novels in increments that could be read fifteen minutes at a time…

    • But that’s the reason serials are often an easier sell to people who watch TV more than read.

      However, I take issue with the 15 minute increment — the shows are not 15 minutes long, but rather the CHAPTERS of the shows (or acts) are traditionally 13 minutes long (two minutes for ads). The overall show is either two or four or seven acts (with mini-acts as teaser and capper at beginning and end).

      But the episode is very much like serial episode. Especially if you look at the length of the pulps, which usually had about an hour’s worth of reading in the serial ep in an issue, with chapters breaking it up.

      So if people’s attention spans are getting shorter, it’s not the fault of series television (at least not story/fiction television) but more an internet and device thing. You can take a work of any length, and read/watch it in the chunks you want. This includes pausing it mid-sentence.

      Which brings me to an interesting thing I’ve noticed: people don’t wait for cliffhangers any more. I notice I, and a few others — in the course of time-shifting — often pause their shows mid-act, at a slow point, and watch the cliffhanger together with the next scene or two.

      I find, when I have control of the start, stop and pause buttons, that I respect the scene breaks of television these days more when they are at a thought provoking point, rather than an “Oh noes!” point.

      And, this is true of how I read ebooks as well. I like to stop at “ponder” points.

      Of course the best shows, and books, turn any cliff-hangers into ponder points, rather than just break the action up at a key moment.

    • Several generations of TV have trained us all to have 15-minute attention spans, before we start anticipating the commercial break.

      The Netflix House of Cards doesn’t have commercials every 15 minutes. It seems to work. Maybe I’m too dumb to be trained to 15-minute chunks.

    • I subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime and have not had a cable or antenna since 1997 so I haven’t involuntarily seen a television ad in years– I do occasionally check out a commercial on Youtube for various reasons. I understand that this is a rapidly increasing way to watch television so I’m not sure about that analogy. (TIVO is another way that people avoid having to watch TV commercials.)

      It would be interesting to see who the audience is for serials– maybe fanfiction readers who are used to getting stories in bits and bites.

  10. I’m not sure serials work in romance. I queried my readers on my FB page and so far the response has been overwhelmingly against it. Romance readers are voracious and intense. They want to sink into a book and live in it for a few hundred pages. So it seems, at least, from my readers.

  11. How would I do this? Publish 5000 words at a time of my book for .99p as an ebook? Then maybe put it all together as a novel in paperback and ebook once it’s all serialised?

    • It’s not the arbitrary world count, but the mini-story arc within a larger arc that you want to publish. Check out older stories like Dickens or Edgar Rice Burroughs. Hugh’s Wool, Red Phoenix’s Bree series, heck, even one season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are good modern examples.

      Unless you write romance. Like Elaine says above, those readers want the emotional pay-off at the end. They will 1-star you to death if they don’t get that.

      • Thanks! It’s actually a pulp style sci-fi adventure. So pretty much perfect maybe as 4 parts? 🙂

      • heck, even one season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

        Not sure if I’ve ever even seen a Buffy episode, but in general I feel there should be more storytellers like Joss Whedon.

        • Jen! You heathen! 😆

          • Is the heathen because I like Joss or because I’m indifferent to Buffy?

            • That you’ve never seen Buffy, especially considering your genre. Joss knows how to tell a story. (Well, until the execs at Disney mess with the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by not including him in the story outlining of the Marvel other movies.)

              • Felix J. Torres

                A bigger problem is they apparently didn’t give him access to much of anything in the Marvel Universe. Not characters, not settings, and few if any Easter eggs.

                With a handful of exceptions, the show could’ve just as easily been the Man from UNCLE or Spy vs Spy. Which isn’t what the pilot promised.

                • You’ve watched Agents of Shield recently? The first season was weak, especially the first half. This second season is not weak at all. It’s my fav show right now. They are doing the Inhuman story lines. I’ve never seen a show turn around so strongly. Do give it another shot. Remember Next Gen wasn’t mind blowing that first season, took a few years to really knock your socks off.

  12. As a writer, that’s just too damn much hassle. As a reader, I’m increasingly pissed off at the difficulty of finding anything to read that isn’t part of a series. Frankly, there are very few series that are worth waiting for.

    • Remember though that serials are different than a series. Even though you can still hate series as well and prefer standalones! 🙂 I hate serials, love series and can appreciate a really good standalone.

  13. Indies are already doing this, but since, I do want the trad pub industry to do well, just so there are more options for writers, I think they have to stop being so wedded to print. In the trad pub world, “digital only” is considered a step down but it really shouldn’t. If they re-orient some of their business to run serials or “episodic fiction” I think they can get the media attention to get some hits out of that. They could look to the TV industry for examples and not just Hollywood with the blockbuster mentality, which is still important obviously.

  14. In Japan, most manga are first serialized in magazines (published weekly, fortnightly, or monthly). These magazines are cheaply-produced, B&W on newsprint with a few color inserts, and are sold as loss-leaders.

    A great anime about the frantic initial production process (adapted from a manga) is Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun.

    Popular series are collated into paperback editions (tankobon) with glossy covers and higher-quality paper. That’s when a series starts showing a profit, especially if it’s made into an anime, live-action series, or movie.

    You can find a list of manga magazines here. At the bottom of that page, click through for the circulation numbers. There’s a manga magazine out there for every imaginable genre.

    • I’m not sure Nozaki-kun is the best description of the process. I love it, makes me laugh every issue but I think Bakuman or something similar might be closer to reality.

      • By “production,” I’m thinking more in creative terms, how the necessity of producing a complete chapter a month, month after month, has come to dominate Nozaki’s life.

        Manga serialization is very much the product of supply/demand economics: publishers publishing whatever the manga artist can produce under constantly looming deadlines, while making barely enough (starting out) to put food on the table.

        For a really quick look (and I do mean quick) at the industry, there’s Mangirl (that’s “manga” + “girl”).

      • Bakuman was awesome! I bought the whole 20-volume arc (thank God Amazon had a four-for-the-price-of-three sale).

        For those who don’t know of it, the story is about this kid who wants to be an artist, who hooks up with another schoolboy (say, ninth or tenth grade) who wants to become a writer. The rest of the book is about their introduction to the professional manga world, their competitors and rivals, their girlfriends (the artist has fallen in love with a girl pledges with her that they won’t get together until they’ve achieved their dreams (she wants to be a voice artist)).

        So there’s a ton of insider detail about the manga industry, and a lot of issues to deal with. It’s over the top in places, of course, but it’s great fun and well worth reading if you’re at all interested in the subject.

  15. I’ve bought at least one serial– after it was finished and published in complete book form. I could also tell that it had been written as a serial which certainly negatively affected the pace of the novel. Just as I like to binge watch tv shows I like to read a complete story all at once.

  16. Phyllis Humphrey

    Any week now I’ll release the first of my series of novellas. Plus, since a Japanese publisher has bought my romance novel for anime, who knows what that will do? So far I’m not making a lot of money, but I’m enjoying it already.

    • Suburbanbanshee

      For anime (tv cartoon) or for manga (comics)? A manga romance novel adaptation isn’t too unusual, but going straight to optioning it for anime is pretty rare. Either way…

      CONGRATULATIONS and OMEDETOU, Humphrey-sensei!

      (Yup, as a writer you get the polite -sensei suffix, just like teachers, doctors, and martial arts instructors.)

      • Phyllis Humphrey

        Thanks for the cool title. I haven’t seen it yet, but was told I’ll get a copy.

    • They’re making an anime of your book? You are officially the coolest person in the room. Congrats 🙂

      • Phyllis Humphrey

        As I said above, I haven’t seen the final product, so am accepting your kind words just in case it’s as cool as you propose.

  17. Considering how many people binge-watch seasons of television shows, I wonder if this episodic trend might start to reverse.

    Here’s an idea: gather a bunch of story episodes together in one long package. What a novel idea! In fact, we could call it just that: a novel 😉

  18. Extreme plotters (like moi) probably have the advantage in serials – especially ones with 3 or 4 books in them (as I’m writing this very minute) because, serial episode or whole novel, they know what happens when.

    Putting up a scene a week worked for me – but I don’t believe the novels will suffer for being written that way, as they were severely plotted before I began, and a second time during the great rearrangement of 2007. And haven’t budged since.

    Now, if I were just not so awfully slow!

    Feedback is very nice, especially when it takes you a long time to write something and you get no feedback from publishing and selling.

    I wouldn’t recommend it for the first draft, though. That one was VERY rough.

  19. So funny.

    “More than 150 years later, the publishing industry is in the doldrums, yet the novel shows few signs of digging into its past and resurrecting the techniques that drove fans wild and juiced sales figures.”

    Indies are ALL OVER THIS and have been for a while.

    • I know, right? Just in the last six months or so, I’m seeing more and more people writing serials. Sales are improving all the time, too.

      There’s an art to writing serials. They aren’t novels chopped up into pieces, but specifically written in an episodic style. You can write the whole thing before releasing, or write and release. Write the first few episodes before releasing, finishing the rest as you go. Or whatever way works for you.

      Isn’t being an indie fun? Freedom, man. It’s da bomb.

  20. I know a few people who plot out, or even write entirely, their serials ahead of time, but I also know people who make it up as they go along.

    I played with a serial on my blog. I wanted it to be like a comic strip — a quick, punchy story under 700 words an episode, published frequently. I published it twice a week.

    I also pantsed a good portion of it. I found, overall, that for an ongoing series (like a comic book or soap opera) pantsing is actually pretty fun way to write a serial. However, it takes up phenomenal amounts of time, and it’s easy to burn out.

    I might have kept it up, but the second “plot line” was a flashback, and as I struggled to get it moving in a direction that would match it up with the first, it was just too much work for too little reward.

    However, I want, someday, to return to it. Maybe pitch the story and start over.

  21. Al the Great and Powerful

    In the 70s and 80s (and in zines from the 60s at the public library) I read plenty of serialized stories in the science fiction magazines (Analog, F&SF, Galaxy, and IASFM) but honestly, if I liked the story I bought the book as soon as it was completed. I read serials because that was the only way to get the story until the whole thing got published as a book.

    I read very fast and serials can have too much of a gap between pieces, it interferes with my enjoyment of the story.

    I haven’t tried Kindle serials, maybe the chapter lag will be shorter…

    • I also think that there is something more appealing about a serial in a magazine or newspaper. It’s like the comics — a treat, an extra, inside something you might by for another reason. (Or at least for more reasons than just the serial.)

      That, imho, is one of the reasons why I can’t get excited about buying a serial. That’s just an expensive variation on buying a book. On the other hand, if I’ve paid for a publication or service, then it’s like a TV series, I look forward to the next episode.

      Although, I still don’t feel much interest in going and getting a serial, even as a Prime subscriber or a library patron.

      I think the experience I want with a serial is that it’s inside something that is delivered to me. I would like it best in some kind of RSS package delivery…. I’d love, for instance, to get the latest posts of my favorite sites delivered to my Kindle in easily browsable form every morning when I wake up. (I used to do that through KindleFeeder, but I think, they’ve gone away.) I haven’t seen anything that works quite as well for that in in ebook form. (Although there might be some nice ones that are just too expensive for me to subscribe to.)

  22. I think the clear definition of serial versus series needs to be made by the author upfront and loudly if they decide to serialize. In my genre, readers consider serials to be cliffhangers and resent having to (1) pay for a story piecemeal and (2) end up paying way more than they would for a standard book by the time they have purchased all the “parts.” These authors are serving up serials but calling them a series, as in XXX book title, part 1 in the YYY series. The reviews are scathing about the authors being greedy and misleading, and that the readers feel manipulated. Serial may be a four-letter word right now.

    • I am in Colleen’s camp as a hater of serials and I have read those scathing reviews and been saddened because basically many writers are doing it to capitalize on KU which is fine and understandable but it highlights the fact they as well as those who have always done it don’t know what the hell they are writing. They put book 1 when it should be described as Part 1 or Episode 1 and for all I know use Part 1 and Episode 1 when it should be Book 1 but I pass them by because I think serial, no thanks. I clicked on one Kindle freebie or deal about a week ago and clicked on the 1 stars to see if the reviewers annoyed me enough to try out this new to me author or if despite it saying Book 1 it wasn’t. I found that almost all of them (and there were a lot) were actually fans of the author but were furious that it was a short work with a cliff hanger ending.
      It was several reviews down before anyone mentioned KU as a possibility and that might actually have been me posting a comment.

      • Ditto to you and Colleen. Until authors correctly identify their stories as serials rather than series, I think the fallout will all be negative. I’m not even sure the authors realize there is a difference, but if they do, shame on them. I don’t blame readers for being mad, especially when they pay for a book only to be left hanging for the next installment. They’ve wasted time and money, and felt like they were taken by a bait and switch scam. The only exposure romance readers have with serials is probably fanfiction, which is free on websites. When it’s put into book form but labeled a complete book in a series, that’s when the problems start. When wearing my reader cap, I used to rarely look at reviews, buying books based on my interest in the blurb. Now I check reviews religiously, especially the 1s and 2s, to see if there’s a cliffhanger involved.

  23. Count me as one of the people who absolutely HATE serials. I want to read an entire story, thank you very much. I want a beginning, a middle, and an end to the story. If I don’t get it, I pitch it against the wall (okay, not so much these days as I love my kindle), curse loudly and long, and vow to never ever again purchase anything from that author. I spread the word, as well, as most of my friends are readers and are very like-minded. If there is an indication that it is a serial, I avoid it like the plague; if there isn’t any indication, I blackball it.

  24. Soap operas go on for forty years in sequential episodes.

    I predict similar written serials that never end. The story just keeps going.

    • But the consumer doesn’t pay for a soap opera by the episode. You wouldn’t have 40-year runs of anything that had to be paid for on an ongoing basis.

      How do you imagine the payment working for “written serials that never end”?

  25. A properly-written serial has a beginning, middle and end for each episode. There’s also a continuation of the main story. Just like the separate books in a series. There shouldn’t be a large gap between episodes, once or twice a month, depending on length (the shorter, the quicker the release).

    I think the advent of KU and other subscription services will usher in the wide acceptance of serialized fiction. Maybe someone will even come up with a way to have the episodes delivered through a feed.

  26. Jonathan Mattson

    Didn’t Amazon try this? I could swear I remember Bezos talking in one of his press conferences about the new fire tablets and paperwhite (2 and a half years ago?) about starting that idea. Wasn’t there one about a yoga murder mystery? And they were going to release some of Mr. Dicken’s work for free.

    I’m assuming from the tone of this article that idea for Amazon didn’t take off and I don’t see anyone mentioning it in the comments either. Unless I dreamed the whole thing.

    • They did, and they’re still there if you search for “Kindle Serials” but the page is pretty hidden otherwise and it looks like they’re not doing new ones.

      I read one that way and got a few lessons learned from it. The installments were too short for the time between, and it felt like they just took a novel and chopped it up without making any effort to make the individual episodes work. Those two problems combined meant that every time I got a new installment I’d have to flip back to the old one to remember some details and generally orient myself. I ended up giving up on reading it serialized and just waiting until it was done and I could read it as a complete novel.

  27. What’s interesting to me is that it seems like it works in some instances. You think of television, too, and it seems to corroborate that people like the episodic format. That breaking content out into chunks works so well. That Game of Thrones the series is passing the novels, etc.

    And then you have Netflix.

    Anyone else bingewatch Daredevil last week? Or House of Cards the month before? I think I watched nine episodes of Daredevil the Sunday after it was released, and then the final four (was it thirteen?) over the following two days.

    I mean, it was like watching a novel in terms of story structure and execution.

    And I’m not alone. A lot of people are bingewatching streaming shows lately. (Hey, Jen! Take a weekend and watch the first two seasons of Buffy, because why not? ;))

    And that was how I wanted to watch it. I wanted them all at once.

    Heck, I’ve already fallen behind on the latest season of Game of Thrones because HBO is making me wait, and wtf? If it’s done, just release it! I’m basically all digital and all streaming lately among pretty much all content, and now I just want it all now. I don’t want to pre-order; if it’s done, I want it. With Game of Thrones, I’m going to end up just waiting until all the episodes have been aired and then rewatch the first episode and then all the others all in one watchathon.

    So far as the pantsers versus plotters thing, I’m not sure that makes a huge difference. The stories designed to be read episodically work that way. Like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I remember Neil mentioning a few times how often he’d written himself into corners he subsequently had to write himself out of.

    But then I go back to Supernatural, which I bingewatch by season (though only through the fifth) and wish it had aired that way.

    • Hey, Jen! Take a weekend and watch the first two seasons of Buffy, because why not? 😉

      I don’t want to be mean to the actress, who I’m sure is a lovely person, but… Buffy seems smug. I don’t feel like I’d enjoy hanging out with her for an hour. I don’t need my protagonists to be likable, necessarily, but they can’t be annoying.

      Edit: as for binge watching, I can go either way. I binge-watched the first half of Outlander last fall because I came late to the party, and that was fun, but now there are new episodes and I like looking forward to them, too. Although I’ve read the book. Maybe if I was cliffhung I’d feel differently.

      But like I said upthread*, the people who prefer to binge can wait for the bundle. Everybody wins.

      *Because I’m so confident that you care what I think that I’m saying it twice. In the same comment where I call someone else smug.

      • Buffy seems smug.

        Hmmm. How much of the series have you watched? I’m trying to remember early episodes but I don’t think I ever thought of Buffy as smug.

        • None. I’m basing this entire opinion on whatever bits, clips, and commercials I’ve seen over the years. I never let ignorance stop me from having an opinion. 😉

          • Jen, try watching just one episode. I suggest “Faith, Hope and Trick”. It’s the third episode of the third season, but it has all the elements of an excellent serial story.

            And it introduces Faith Lehane, another slayer. (Not that I have a girl-crush on Eliza Dushku, or anything. 🙂 )

  28. So I know things are about making money and all, but just a thought: Don’t charge for the serial form. Ilona Andrews has a series she/they are putting up on their site for free. Once it’s done, the book is given a final edit and published as a whole. And it is AWESOME. Andy Weir put The Martian up on his blog in pieces and didn’t publish it until later. Wattpad has people going gangbusters over there. Maybe it doesn’t make them money on a per chapter basis, but it can help drive visibility later. Webcomics are built largely on this idea. Hook the reader with something free and get them to spend on something else.

    Me, I binge read series like I binge watch TV, but I will also obsess over a good serial story. And shell out money for it later.

    Anyways, those are my rambling thoughts. Apologies for typos. Phone and all 🙂

  29. The series-and-serials examples from the old science fiction magazines actually are interestingly diverse. I think the key factors usually were: (1) how closely connected were the stories; (2) to what detail the author pre-planned his overall plot; and (3) how much writing he could afford to do before he got paid for some of it.

    Robert A. Heinlein’s Future History series (charted chronologically, but not published in order) stretched across the 1940s.

    Isaac Asimov’s basic Foundation series appeared in 11 chronological stories, 1942-1950.

    A. E. van Vogt rewrote some related sets of 1940s stories into novels in the 1950s, and some unrelated stories as well.

    Frank Herbert’s long novel Dune was split into two serials in Analog in the 1960s: Dune World (3 installments), followed shortly by The Prophet of Dune (5 installments).

    Far more people encountered these stories in magazines than would or could buy them in books, for years after magazine publication. Even Dune’s original press run as a book was only 2500 copies.

    In the 1940s, SF readers accepted serials and loose series in the magazines because there were very few SF books published. Independent book publishers flourished briefly from the late 1940s into the early 1950s, when the major book publishers began offering science fiction.

    The SF reading public generally discovered new favorite writers within the pages of a favorite magazine; or from the mid-1950s, being more willing to try a new author from a reliable SF book line (Ace; Ballantine). Both these forms of useful publisher branding largely have faded away.

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