Do readers want serialized books?
September 23, 2012
For many years, authors have from time to time serialized their novels. By this I mean that they have released them chapter at a time in magazines, newspapers or other publications.
Charles Dickens did it.
It was how Dostoevksy paid his gambling debts.
In the heyday of print magazines, readers looked forward to the next edition so that they could see what would happen to their hero, to see how he would extricate himself from certain death. Or to see if he would get the girl or if she would spurn him in favor of the evil genius who had hoodwinked her.
With the coming of the Internet and the proliferation of blogs, a number of authors have returned to the time-proven practice.
I received a note from my partner and stablemate in Venture Galleries, Caleb Pirtle, in which he said that he was considering this approach for his next work in progress (WIP). He said he thought he would spin the tale out a chapter at a time, day by day, until he got to the end.
For a blogger there are several reasons why this tactic makes sense. For one thing it kills two birds with one stone. An author’s WIP should take precedence over the rest of his writing. The book is the thing. But blogging is also a thing that cannot be overlooked. Readers always prefer to see something fresh, not a re-hashed blog or a report that has become old news. But a writer can only turn out just so much copy. Even someone like Caleb who can write great copy in his sleep has limitations.
So the first reason to serialize a novel would be that it allows an author to keep working on his book, his top priority, while he also provides fresh copy for daily blogs.
When Caleb mentioned this to me, I had several reactions. My first question would be if readers who came late to the party, i.e., when he was in chapter twelve, let’s say, would feel that too much water was under the bridge. If they had that sense, they might simply not engage in the process of reading the future chapters as they rolled out. Another question was whether readers would have any interest in reading the final version of the book when it was published if they had read it in chapter form.
To be sure, a book written on the fly day by day may go through a number of revisions before it is crystallized into a final version. Seeing that process up close may also prove interesting to readers.
What if something unexpected happens in chapter 20 that doesn’t fit with an account already published in an earlier chapter? C’est la vie, I guess.
The more I think about this serialization thing, the more it fascinates me. I think Caleb may be on to something. And I think I may give it a try, too.
So, readers and writers, what do you think of serialization? Does it sound like fun? Have you read other serialized novels? Would it be the sort of thing that appeals to you? What, if any, pitfalls do you see when it comes to serialization?
Caleb and I would love to hear what you think.
(Stephen Woodfin is the author of LAST ONE CHOSEN, one of the top five finalist thrillers in the Best Indie Books of 2012 Awards.)