Charles Dickens wrote many of his novels in serial form and Arthur Connon Doyle did the same with the Sherlock Holmes stories. They weren’t the only ones. Serialised fiction was big when books were expensive, so the stories were published in a more affordable magazine format in easily digestible chunks that suited the newly literate working class with little time for such indulgences. It was much easier for an author to have his or her work published this way than in a full book form.
Although this form of fiction grew out of the economic constraints of the publishing industry at the time, rather than for any literary or artistic reason, it created fiction that didn’t take the readers commitment to the story for granted, hence there was plenty of dramatic tension to keep you reading. One segment always ended with a hook to lead you into the next one, something to keep you wondering.
The tradition faded when books became more affordable, but it re-emerged first in radio and then in television and is alive and well in television today. We hate to wait for the next installment – especially when the current episode ends in a cliffhanger, but we know we’ll only have to wait one week, so we can look forward to the time with excited anticipation. This is the lure of the serial.
Once again, economy and time constraints are creating a situation where the serialized novel could again flourish and as with everything else in the ebook industry, the indie authors are showing the way. Already some of them are taking up this option. Here’s the thinking behind it –
A lot of indie authors are pricing books at 99c. This is not enough money for an author to have any chance of making a profit, but if the competition is setting their prices so low, you have to deal with it. The trick is to sell shorter works cheaply, but you still have to charge at least $2.99 for a full length novel and $3.99 is more reasonable. So, you charge 99c for 3 or 4 installments of one novel. It makes economic sense for the author and makes it easier for the reader to decide if they want to purchase the whole thing. You read the first installment and only buy the rest if you like it.
My agent is presently looking for a traditional publisher for my novel ‘Lethal Inheritance’, but these days it’s very hard to find someone willing to take on a new author. She says that two or three years ago my work would have been snapped up, but now the publishers are putting out less books and choosing ones that they consider they can sell easily, hence different (as mine it) is risky. I’m publishing some shorter works independently while I wait. If I end up publishing the novel independently, I’ll consider selling it in two parts, part 1 as 99c and parts 2 and 3 together as $2.99. I’ll also sell it as one entity for $3.99 for those who don’t need to taste before they buy.
Most indie authors will have something priced at 99c for you to try to see if you like the author enough to buy more and many have at least one short story available free. This is the sort of thing that economics makes us do, but the reader wins with cheap prices and more options.
What do you think of the idea of serialised novels? Do you think we’ll see more of them in the ebook future? Would you buy a book in serial form or would you rather pay more and get the whole thing at once?