Now, serials are nothing new. Dickens did them (and Amazon is giving a couple of those away for free to celebrate the new program). Many of my favorite classic sci-fi novels started as serials back in the days of the pulps. Back in 1996, Stephen King resurrected the serial form with his Green Mile series, with rival John Saul penning The Blackstone Chronicles shortly thereafter. (And, just for the record, I bought both of them….)
Tor Books recently garnered headlines by announcing that they were going to be serializing the next installment in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. In reality, however, small presses and authors have already been digitally serializing books for some time now–without the credit given to Tor and now, Amazon.
Just ask Kate Sullivan, editor-in-chief and the mastermind behind Candlemark & Gleam, a small press in Bennington, Vermont. Just be prepared to duck (digitally, of course). The normally good-humored Sullivan had a few things to say about mainstream publishers taking the credit for being “unique” and “innovative” by publishing serial fiction. Candlemark & Gleam has been publishing it online for several years.
When asked about the Amazon announcement, Sullivan was more positive:
I’m choosing to look at the Kindle Serials announcement as a good thing. At Candlemark & Gleam, one of our earliest goals was to bring some classic publishing ideas back into practice; from the beginning, part of that involved working with serial fiction – one of our first titles, two years ago, was a serial. Serials were, for a very long time, a vibrant part of the publishing landscape, and also intimately connected with the world of science fiction and fantasy, which is obviously near and dear to us. Given that modern technology has made it simpler than ever to publish short works directed at a specific, interested audience, we figured that the time was right to push for serial fiction to come back. Unfortunately, since serials fell by the wayside in the latter part of the 20th century, it’s taken some doing to get people to understand what a serial even is, much less to understand the vagaries of how one might be delivered, or to buy in to the joys of delayed gratification. That’s been the biggest challenge facing our two serial projects thus far, and I think it’s a challenge that the prominence of Kindle Serials might help overcome. Say what you will, but Amazon has a lot of clout, and a lot of ability to push ideas into the mainstream. If Kindle Serials mean that more people are willing to give delayed gratification and serial stories a try, then hurrah!
What I’m most hoping for, though, is a simplification of the delivery process. Our two serials so far have been Hickey of the Beast, a YA fantasy by Isabel Kunkle, and Constellation Games, a “space opera soap opera” by Leonard Richardson. Both serialized as weekly emailed chapters initially, with Hickey of the Beast also available as an auto-updating iPhone and Android app, and both are now available in compiled form as both eBooks and paperbacks. When we were originally serializing the novels, they were pushed as emails to subscribers each week, with PDFs of each chapter available on a subscriber-only webpage. With the Kindle Serials plan, it’s possible that there will be a means for publishers and self-published authors alike to make serials available with each chapter auto-delivered to a subscriber’s Kindle device – much simpler than loading a PDF each week, and just as easy as opening an email on your smartphone. Between easing the delivery process and making readers aware of serials as a great option – just think about how much you look forward to each week’s installment of your favourite TV show! – there’s a good chance that Kindle Serials will inject some new life into a format that many of us have been struggling to revive.
I highly recommend reading Ralph Vicinanza’s fascinating introduction to the Kindle edition of The Green Mile for background on just how groundbreaking an idea it was to do a serialized print novel. If you don’t have the book, you can read the intro on the “Look Inside” feature here.
There’s so much to say about this subject that this is going to be a three part article. In Part Two, we will talk with author/publisher Saul Tanpepper about his experiences publishing his serial novel, GAMELAND on Amazon prior to the Kindle Serials program. In Part Three, we are going to look at pricing.