Serial for dinner

One of the great things about the digital revolution is that it’s opening the market to different kinds of formats, some new, some old. One of the most successful and most interesting companies to take advantage of the opportunity is Byliner. They got off to a great start in 2011 with the publication of Jon Krakauer’s damning reporting on author Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and his book, Three Cups of Tea. Entitled Three Cups of Deceit, Krakauer’s more-than-article-length, less-than-book-length work proved that people were willing to pay for great investigative, long-form journalism, even if it wasn’t 80,000 words. They’ve continued with other similar successes, blazing a trail in this rather new format.

But they’re looking to revive old formats, as well, and I was thrilled to read that they’ve decided to delve into the publication of serial fiction. I was just discussing with an author of mine her desire to publish serialized fiction and lamenting the lack of outlets for it. (Or, rather, the lack of money-making outlets for it. As she said, the world of fan fiction is almost entirely serialized storytelling.) I predicted that serialized fiction would become a viable model, but not until a major name got the ball rolling and proved that there was a market. And Byliner made my prediction come true both quickly and rather spectacularly: they’re publishing two serialized stories, Positron by Margaret Atwood and 15 Gothic Street by Joe McGinniss. Atwood’s sounds very, well, Atwood, and McGinniss’s story was described as “Law & Order set in Lake Wobegon.” Both authors’ followings seemed primed for an experiment like this, and it’ll be interesting to see how they perform. I, for one, am a big fan of experiments in underused formats, and I’d love to see this become another venue for authors’ work. And, as someone whose reading time is limited, I’d love something that’s easily digestible and doesn’t require a huge investment of time in one sitting, while also providing a over-arching story.

What do you think?  Will we see a return to Victorian-era serialized novels? Or is this just another passing trend?

7 Responses to Serial for dinner

  1. Kate says:

    Wow, I really hope so! I adore serials. When I first came to San Francisco, Tales of the City was a daily serial in the Chronicle. That was the main reason most people bought it.

    Definitely going to check out Byliner – thanks!

  2. EDWARD says:

    To begin with, Greg Mortenson is a seriously flawed writer. Greg will have to stand in line behind Fareed, Jonah and several other flawed writers of recent months. Or is it weeks? No matter, they are flawed. Somehow it is not exciting to think of the new business opportunities they will create for many serious journalists who write better than they write. MOTHER JONES has been in the expensive business of defrauding the hypocrites and phonies for decades; when it comes to the NATION, were counting centuries. There is an obvious need to go beyond article length journalism. But before we get into what’s profitable for the market, doesn’t it turn your stomach to know there is so much gross immorality in publishing? Shouldn’t we take pause over the super abundance of lazy writers? Who gives THEM an audience?

  3. Honestly, I can’t figure out why this format isn’t exploding already. A modern day Pickwick Papers if you will, where the weekly installments come in digital format and at the end of the stories run, and for an extra shilling or two, you can get a bound copy. Digital first, print with “extras” (like the bonus materials you get on a DVD) second. Smart move Byliner.

  4. Kellie Lovegrove says:

    I hope so! While I love cuddling up on my couch with a novel and losing myself for a few days, I love it even more when I can do it faster. I am surprised that there aren’t more out right now. I would think, especially with a generation of kids that want more instant gratification, it would hold a lot of appeal. I know with some kids it is the fact that a novel is visually overwhelming to them. Serials would give them something that’s entertaining without being scary, in the “I have to read all of that?” kind of way. I also believe this can be true of adults as well. Everyone is busy in their lives, some more than others. It would be nice to offer a fictional escape without feeling like you have to devote a week of time to it (not that it usually takes me that long, I’m just saying).

  5. Anon for a reason says:

    It has been happening in e- publishing for at least the last five years. I’ve made good money on it, too.

  6. Gill Avila says:

    Analog fact and Science Fiction is the only magazine that I know of that still runs serials. I just hope that no writers pull a Mystery of Edwin Drood again.

  7. D. C. DaCosta says:

    First, (as someone mentioned, above) the story has to lend itself to serialized telling and the writer must be competent. I seem to remember that some ten years ago Stephen King sold a new book by subscription, releasing it electronically chapter-by-chapter; it wasn’t a huge success.

    Second, if this becomes successful I hope that — unlike Dickens and Hugo and Jules Verne and others of their time — authors will not be paid by the word. It shows!

    Oddly enough, my first novel was presented to my Panel of Experts (group of critical friends) in a serial-like manner: one chapter every third day while they were sequestered in a house taking care of a dying relative. Perhaps the distraction was especially welcome under the circumstances, but there was real excitement with each revelation and new development in the story. I would love to give other readers the opportunity to experience that.

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