Books on the Installment Plan

Books published by installment are not new. Charles Dickens is generally credited with beginning, or at least popularizing the practice. Genre novels appeared in serial form in magazines such as Colliersand in science fiction and mystery magazines regularly in the 1940s, sometimes in abridged form, sometimes completely.  More recently, THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES by Tom Wolfe was published in twenty-odd installments — in Rolling Stone, of all places — before it appeared in book form. Michael Connelly and Colin Harrison,  among others, have published short novels in Sunday newspaper magazines. The attraction for the reader is easy to see: be the first on your block to read the forthcoming novel, by your favorite author, before it’s actually published in book form, even if it is in installments.
So it was that a couple of mornings ago I flicked on my Kindle and learned from My Precious that Amazon has revived the serial novel for the electronic age. We are now in the era of serial e-books. Make a selection from list of e-books published under one of Amazon’s imprints, lay down (or should that be transmit?) a couple of bucks and you immediately receive the first installment which consists of about forty pages. That price also includes the rest of the book, released in six monthly installments. Late to the party? Not to worry. Plunk down your two dollars at any point along the way and you get all of the installments published to date and the future ones as they are released.
I tried to talk myself out of it. I failed. First argument:  Why bother? I would forget what happened from month to month.  I quit reading comic books twelve years ago, after a half-century of four-color fandom, because I could no longer remember from month to month what had happened in the previous month’s issue.  X-Men, to name but one example, had with all of its alternative time-lines and such had become incomprehensible. Rebuttal: that isn’t a problem with the Amazon serials. The next installment will be solidly fused with the presently published ones on Your Precious and if I can’t remember who did what to who, as the limerick goes, I can just do a search on the character’s name and bring my poor addled memory right up to snuff. Second argument:  I already have a couple of hundred books on my Kindle that I will probably never read. Why throw another one (or two. Or three.) on there?  Rebuttal: righto. But, I told myself, I can read forty pages or so while in the drive-through line at Sonic. I might be intimated from starting a six-hundred page book, but forty pages? No problem. Third argument…well, I didn’t have a third argument. I saw that Andrew Peterson, an extremely talented author, all-around good guy, and member of the F.O.S.J. (Friends of Sweet Joseph) has a novel titled OPTION TO KILL among the serial e-books. I bought that one. There is also a brand-new traditional western,  THE CIRCUIT RIDER, by Dani Amore, which looked so good that I could not resist.  Actually each and all of the books which comprise this inaugural launch seem to have something to recommend them. And, of course, Amazon’s sample feature is in place, in case you’re unfamiliar with the author or otherwise on the fence about purchasing a particular book.

Is this a gimmick that is going to fail? Or does it have a place in the market? I feel that anything different — if not necessarily new — which gets people buying and reading books, and gets money in the author’s pocket, is worth a shot.  How do you readers think about it? And while we’re on the topic, think about this: what if Amazon opened this up to other publishers and offered an either/or deal for the reader? Let’s say that one of your favorite authors has a novel dropping next Tuesday. Suppose you had the choice between buying and receiving the entire e-book at its full price, or paying a fraction of that full price (fifty percent or less) and receiving the book on the installment plan, at several dozen pages a month over the course of six months? Would you go for it, delaying gratification to save a few bucks? And authors…what do you have to say about any of this? DO you have a problem with your novel being divided up? Or does it sound good to you as well, as a way of drumming up interest? 

10 thoughts on “Books on the Installment Plan

  1. Will be interesting to see the reaction. In the case of novels serialized in magazines, you weren’t paying for the novel. You got it as a bonus, and when the book came out you bought it because you wanted it permanently bound (if you liked it, of course).

    I seem to recall that when Stephen King serialized The Green Mile, it was stated up front that the little volumes would be the only ones printed. So you shelled out for the books. Then the publisher put out the print novel later anyway. That made the whole thing seem like a gimmick only. This gimmick was tried then by John Saul, and then the fad dropped.

    What’s a bit odd here is that this is sort of a disconnect with the whole raison d’etre of epublishing: getting the whole book the second you want it.

    But you’ve got to hand it to Amazon. They keep innovating, thinking outside the box. That’s what successful businesses do.

  2. Dani, I’m loving The CIrcuit Rider so far. I’m really looking forward to the next installment. This serial thing works. And rocks!

    James, King also tried serializing a short e-novel titled THE PLANT back in the early days of the 21st Century. This was before e-readers as we know them today; as I recall one could pay what one wished for each installment. I think the experiment petered out and it’s never been completed.

    I totally agree with you about Amazon. Can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

  3. I’ve thought about doing something like this in my ebooks. I actually did it in audio for my first three novels before deciding to self-publish them on Amazon by making them podcasts. Each book was about 20 episodes of 30 minutes each, put out once a week. It was free, but a lot of people who listened ended up donating money as well, in some cases a fair amount of money.

    Serialization can work I think to keep people coming back but has to be done carefully. I would think though that to make it work with ebooks there has to be something extra involved, bonus content. And maybe weekly, not monthly.

  4. Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine still serializes novels. Many graphic/manga novel writers/artists get their start by posting serialized versions of their books online. When the page hits reach a decent number, they’re picked up by publishers. I’ve heard of non-manga novelists doing the same, but it seems like most of them started four or five years ago when e-publishing wasn’t as easy as it is today.


  5. Hmm! This is very interesting! I’ve been doing serial fanfiction for years (since that’s how most fanfic gets written anyway), but I try to keep my gaps shorter, say, a week between chapters. I hate forgetting details. I know I can keep up with a weekly TV show, so a weekly chapter isn’t too bad.

    Depending on the book, I might go for a serial. If it was something I wanted bad enough to get a tad early, for example. 🙂

  6. I read the first installment of THE GREEN MILE as a serial, but then after the first cliff-hanger, I decided to wait until it was pubbed as a whole book. It’s analogous to the way I watch network television now–never live (except sports). I like to speed through commercials.

    The serialization model makes sense to me when it’s used as bait to get people to buy a periodical (The Washington Post frequently serializes Bob Woodward’s books, though not in their entirety). Plus, the author gets paid twice for the same work.

    John Gilstrap

  7. K.S., Amazing Science Fiction used to serialize as well (are they still in business) and I think Galaxy and If did as well. My first exposure to serialized novels was through those magazines when I read more science fiction than I do now. It was a great way to add value to a magazine purchase. Still is, actually!

    I think you’ve got a good point, Kessie, with the weekly as opposed to monthly interval. Weekly, I can remember; monthly, not so much. And I’m getting worse. I spent ten minutes looking for my phone yesterday, until it rang. It was in my pocket. Not good.

    Any way that pays an author twice is a good way, John. Do I hear three? Four?

  8. Joe-Seppi! Hey, brother, I’m just doing it because my rabid fans threatened to hunt me down and kick my ass because I’m a year late with the sequel to TOO WYLDE…and I like the discipline of doing a chapter a week and putting it up. cheers, m

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