Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Guest Post: The Serialisation of Novels by Lisa Gus

One Thousand & One Nights spotlighted the shrewd Scheherazade keeping her execution at bay by leading on a rapt King Shahriyar, night after night, with cliffhanger after cliffhanger.
Say hello to the timeless art of serialization. This distinctive publishing model has been around the block a few times, appearing throughout history, and now, making a much-needed comeback in these wired and fast-paced times of Kindle Fires and always-on cloud computing.
As the somewhat lower-tech (but far more influential) paper-and-ink printing technology advanced into the 17th century, serialization was used to produce more economical runs on the movable type. Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers of 1836 are said to have taken the practice of serialization in publishing to the next level, paving the way for the writers we know today as “American classics” to make their debut in literary periodicals.
Heck, it was considered unprofessional for authors to publish in a standalone volume before strutting their stuff in one of the many well-respected lit rags.
The popularity of serials continued into the early 20thcentury, only to meet a gradual demise at the hands of broadcast entertainment, which drove periodicals to focus on delivering information, rather than entertainment. Surprise, surprise.
Radio killed the serial star.
It wasn’t until the turn of the century that the said star awoke again from its dormancy and started giving off some much-needed light –the Charles Dickens model inspired the likes of Tom Wolfe, Stephen King, Michael Faber, Orson Scott Card, Neil Stephenson, and others. The advent of the World Wide Web and its rapidly-evolving transparent nature helped speed along the process a great deal.
Now, the star of serialization is shining on YOU. And begs the question – is it still worth it?
I had a very interesting conversation a few weeks ago with fellow author, Irving Podolsky, who pointed me to a developing discussion about this matter by Jane Friedman. There, several important caveats were brought up, along with success stories, important observations about reader behavior, and more. Needless to say, I recommend you stop by and check it out.
Now, in my chat with Irving, we were discussing the rather mixed reader involvement in the freebie serialized fiction experiments on his own website, as well as that of my own Curiosity Quills Press. Instead of regurgitating the entire conversation for you, dear reader, I will break it down into a series of Pro’s and Con’s for serializing a work, as we perceived them:
·                         - Rapid turn-around for works-in-progress, since you can release a book in bite-size pieces that can be individually polished instead of waiting for the full work to be written.
·                         - Intimidating length of the complete work is not as big an issue, since readers get to enjoy it in much more easily digestible portions.
·                         - Potential path towards building up a name for yourself, and a fan base, by showing new readers what you are capable of without the commitment of a full-sized volume.
·                         - Fans become a massive pool of real-time critiquers, able to point authors in the right direction if you falter in your delivery. After all, if they didn’t love how you started, they wouldn’t still be reading at the point where you went wrong.
·                         - A dedicated community of fans often is willing to step up with assistance in translation, cover art, and other help for their author. Who wouldn’t want to show the community they are appreciated, while getting out of as many pre-publication expenses as possible?
·                         - In addition to manpower, dedicated fans can go as far as helping fund a project into being through donations. Kickstarter, anyone?
·                         - Having actual fans waiting for your next installment can be a great motivator to continue, if you are feeling uninspired or suddenly lured away by other plot bunnies.


·                                     - Difficult to publish at just the right pace to keep everyone happy – someone will always feel it’s too slow or too fast, and lose interest.
·                         - Author is in firm control of how and when the reader gets to enjoy their story, which can potentially ruin enjoyment.
·                         - Your readership and fan base are only as strong as the amount of readers and fans whose interest you manage to keep throughout the serialization.
·                         - Though readers don’t have to commit to BUYING a full-sized volume, they must still commit to the storyline, the characters, the plot – things that are firmly in the author’s hands, to potentially mangle, reimagine, or worst of all – abandon without finishing. That’s a big commitment to ask for.
·                         - Readers need to actually remember to stop by at the right interval to read up on your latest installments. With shrinking attention spans and growing entertainment and productivity options offered by the World Wide Web, your humble serialization can easily be drowned out and forgotten.

Needless to say, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to your self-publishing problems. Nor is it something to run from like the plague when considering the format for your next potential project.
It is nothing more or less than a way of feeding parts of your work to the reader in a scheduled and organized fashion – one that can be enjoyable, fun, and exciting for both the writer and their fans. Providing, of course, that said writer manages to get his/her fanny in gear and push out the promised content in a timely and well-edited fashion.
With the days of Scheherazade long gone, and the classics of literature having been relegated to dusty classrooms and libraries, the most prominent sort of entertainment – the visual sort – is now leading the charge by shifting its weight from film to serialized television programs, where viewers can take in an episode or twenty at their own pace – especially with a DVR or a handy Netflix subscription. If the show is compelling, viewers tune in week after week. If it’s not – they tune out.
Obviously, then, if there is a clear and present danger to serializers – it’s that while potential success is as big as your fan base, potential failure can occur before you ever gain a following. A chicken-and-egg dilemma that makes the question of serialization’s viability a continued topic of debate.
Which side do YOU stand on?
View Lisa.jpg in slide show
Written by Lisa Gus, marketing director of Curiosity Quills

In her own words: I am...a mother, a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter, a slave to a very persnickety cat, a writer, a foodie, a shoe hoarder, a people watcher, a conservationist, a screenwriter, a reluctant (bit apparently prolific) blogger... So who am I, really? Still figuring that one out. Update as I go along ;-) 

View CQ logo smaller.png in slide showThis post is part of the Curiosity Quills Blog Tour 2012
Curiosity Quills is a gaggle of literary marauders with a bone to grind and not enough time for revisions - a collective, creating together, supporting each other, and putting out the best darn tootin’ words this side of Google.

Curiosity Quills also runs Curiosity Quills Press, an independent publisher committed to bringing top-quality fiction to the wider world. They publish in ebook, print, as well as serialising select works of their published authors for free on the press's website.


Jessica L. Buike said...

Great post! I'm not sure which side I'm on in this one - I like a good series, but I also do tire of some things after a while... anyway, I thought it was worth linking to this great post in my blog today:

Mark Boss said...

One serialized medium that works very well is comics and manga. There may be an individual story for each issue, but there is also usually a meta-story that covers a very long arc. Fans can buy issue by issue and bail out at any time, or commit by subscribing or putting a title on their 'pull list' at the local comic shop.

TC said...

I think for me one of the big challenges is leaving each part with a clear ending and sense of completeness while still maintaining the meta-story as you put it Mark.

TC said...

I just found this timely article on Dickens and the serialisation of Bleak House - which might be of interest.

Mark Boss said...

Bleak House is my favorite Dickens. I read the Modern Library version, which has very helpful notes to help navigate the references the author made.

The characters, the plot lines filled with mystery, the names, the writing--all of them excellent. Dickens' life may have been a hectic mess, but that didn't stop him from writing. His efforts should inspire both readers and writers.

Thanks for posting that link!

TC said...

I haven't read Bleak House but I do love Dickens. I had to study Hard Times for A-level and thought it was brilliant. Since then I've read a few others of my own accord.

TC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.