Once upon a time, a lot of people got their fictional stories through serialized installments. In fact, this was how many people read Dickens. But over time, this has faded. Heck, many forms of short fiction were on the decline, as evidenced by the shuttering of many short fiction magazines. But like many things, the internet has changed things.
Magazines that published short stories went electronic. Forums like “Amazon Singles” and other self-publishing platforms have brought back the novella from near extinction. And now it appears that serialized fiction might be on the way back. I say might because a handful of examples doesn’t equal a full-fledged trend, but I think it’s worth pointing out.
The first example that comes to mind is Hugh Howey’s Wool. The first installment was a novella that got a lot of attention very quickly. He then wrote a handful of more novellas and self-published them. Ultimately, he was earning $100,000 per month of these stories when a Big Six publisher came knocking with a heretofore unheard of print-only contract (seriously, if you haven’t heard about Howey or Wool, do a quick search. It’s an amazing story).
The second example is John Scalzi releasing chapter by chapter of The Human Division on tor.com. It will also be collected into a single volume, but more importantly, it has been “renewed for a second season”: Scalzi is set to serialize a second novel.
Like the rise of self-publishing, I think this is an interesting development. I don’t subscribe to the notion that any one way is necessarily better for all writers, but I do like that writers have multiple avenues for distribution of their stories. Not everyone wants to get a doorstopper novel. Short bites might be preferable–especially for those who have a commute on a subway or bus, or want to read during a quiet moment on the weekend, say.
What do you think? Would you like your story broken down into short bits? Would it build anticipation, or would the delay annoy you? Do you think serialized fiction is viable in today’s market? Think it can make a come back?