Monday is upon us…

And no-one captured the potential gloom and doom of a day better than a group of folks I think of as “The Serialists.” Serialization was a publishing method in magazines and newspapers by which a novel was published section by section, usually to a rabid audience. It popularized the “cliffhanger” so that readers would keep reading. It also paid by the word, which explains a LOT about some of these authors. (I’ll let you decide which ones I’m referring to).

Most seasonally appropriate on this list is Charles Dickens. Dickens’ famously spent his early life in “the poor house”- literally, his family was in debtors prison. He was on work release to a blacking factory, gluing labels on jars. Dickens himself was aware of how much that influenced his writing and social views later in life. One of the things I found most interesting about Dickens, as a student and as a casual reader, is that he wrote his serialized novels as they were published, not all at once. (See HERE for a ton of info about his writing, etc.) Can you imagine trying to write novels the length & complexity of his in bits, unable to go back and change something if you needed to later? wow….. Anyway, if you haven’t ever read it, here’s A Christmas Carol free from project Gutenberg.

Herman Melville  (Moby Dick & Billy Budd) wrote his novels ahead of time, but they were published in this format as well. He died largely unappreciated, and was not given his literary credit until the 20th Century. Henry James and Harriet Beecher Stowe were two other popular American serialists.

Sherlock Holmes was created as a serialized character by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Outside the English speaking publications, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov were all published serially.

Most recently, Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe was published as a Serial in Rolling Stone.

Which brings me to publishing. None of these authors received literary awards during their lives (Except for Wolfe, who is modern), that I know of. Melville died unknown and relatively ridiculed. PUBLISHING itself and the opportunity to support themselves as authors was the prize for authors until recently. Enter the modern publishing world. Originally, it was so hard to get published, that by the time you did, you were assumed to have merit. Then, as printing got cheaper, paper got cheaper, and the public more literate, the floodgates opened. All kinds of stuff got published. Now, in the age of the internets, you can be self-published, e-published, etc. BUT, it’s gotten hard to be “officially” published again. Publishers are overwhelmed with the amount of material submitted, and honestly, are looking for anything marketable and profitable (hence their emphasis on awards, marketing).

In the face of all this, there is a rash of novelists out there who have revived the serial format, self-publishing on their blogs as a way to win readers, therefore giving them a leg to stand on with the publisher. Who knows if it will work? I think it’s an interesting move. Some say it won’t b/c who would buy a book they’ve already read. Well, judging from the success of the above group, a LOT of people. Every one of the novels these men and women published serially was later released as a full-length novel. That’s how they are enjoyed today. I know I’ve bought books I originally read as library books, similar theory. As of yet, there is no award out there specifically for a serially-published novel. Maybe there should be. Publishing in chunks results in a different structure, a different rhythm. It’s an art. It either results in a beautiful, wonderful complete work, OR an overly wordy excuse to get paid by the word.

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3 Comments on “Monday is upon us…”

  1. Interesting post! I knew the English authors were serial authors, I did not know about the other authors. Thanks for new info. 😉

    • The modern blog version of serial publication is really interesting to me. I think it’s uniquely suited to our haphazard schedules & reading styles. I wonder if any of the e-reader formats will catch on and do something with it….

      • You are right, it is very well suited to the present. I hadn’t thought serials becoming commonplace again. I think it would be great, it would be interesting to see what happens with e-readers. I would look forward to reading them!


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