On writing

Are serial novels the next big thing?

Charles Dickens sold his stories one episode at a time. To quote Wikipedia:

His novels, most published in monthly or weekly instalments, pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction, which became the dominant Victorian mode for novel publication.
Wikipedia entry for Charles Dickens

With the advent of eBooks, serialisation of novels seems to be entering another golden age.

John Scalzi’s The End of All Things, was recently released as four eBook novellas—one novella per week starting on 9 June and going through to 30 June.

A lot of people seem to think it’s the best thing to happen to books in a long time.

Is it?

Is it, as Maya Rodale asked on the Huffington Post last year, modern torture? Or the best way to read fiction?

Some people love serials. Others hate them.

I’m in two minds. I sometimes read them and enjoy them, but in general it’s not my favourite way to read books.

But then, I get frustrated if a full-length novel in a series ends on a cliffhanger.  And a series of novels is just a serial in its own way, except the stories are a lot longer.

I read short stories and novellas and enjoy them, but my favourite form of fiction is the full-length novel. I also like to read novels straight through. In one sitting if I can (I’m a fast reader); otherwise over a period of days. If a book takes me longer than a week to read, I’m probably not planning on finishing it.

I admit, I even subscribed to Ann Leckie’s newsletter so that I could read the first chapter of her novel in one gulp, rather than a sentence a day. And you know, just one chapter is frustrating when you’re waiting for the full book.

Waiting every week for the next instalment in a series … it would have to be something truly special to keep me coming back. I usually give up two or three stories in.

Once upon a time people watched weekly serials on television and tuned in to see what would happen next week. Many of us still do—look at Game of Thrones—but equally as many download and binge view.

I even have friends who refuse to read a book series (of full-length novels) until they know the series is done, for they don’t want to wait for the next book.

Modern publishers appear to be pushing out books in a series over shorter periods of time. Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, with three full novels over eight months is an extreme example, but many novels come out nine months apart.

I can’t work out if serialisation is just an extension of this, or not.

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