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Friday Fun: A Brief History of Serialized Fiction

Good morning readers! It's Friday and we've made it to the end of another week. It's been a while here on the old blog since I've stretched my word nerd muscles so today, we are going to touch of a piece of literary history that has made a modern comeback in a big way.

What is Serialized Fiction

Serialized fiction is stories published in installments. Think the same model used for episodic television, releasing a new episode every week or every few days. These installments can vary in length but Serialized fiction is experiencing a modern boom thanks to the numerous apps and platforms available. The roots of serialization run deeper than many people realize, all the way back to the 17th century before the godfather of Serialization took the concept and ran with it.

A Brief History Of Serialized Fiction

Books were a premium commodity for a couple solid centuries. Even after the invention of the printing press, production of books was still a lengthy, time consuming and high cost process. With the advent of moveable type in the 17th century, publishers sought ways to reduce the price and expand the market by producing large works in low cost installments called fascicles. Installments also allowed publishers to gauge the popularity of a work without the expense of large print runs for bound volumes. If the work flopped, not bound volume needed to be prepared, but if the installments sold well, it was a good indication the bound volumes would too. (A model still somewhat implemented today)

The Mack Daddy of Serials

Serials really hit their stride in the Victorian era thanks to a little known author by the name of Charles Dickens. Yeah, that Dickens. Dickens was a serialization genius and published several of his novels in this installment method. If Dickens were alive today he'd be riding the posting algorithms with the best of them. While his works are considered classics today, they were populist fiction at the time. In 1836, Dickens published the serialized The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, commonly known today as The Pickwick Papers which absolutely features a curmudgeon elderly gentlemen traveling the British Countryside. Pickwick Papers holds plenty of Dickens' signature wit and commentary on society. He published several novels through serialization including the very infamous Christmas Carol, one of my favorite examples of classic genre fiction.

The popularity of serialized fiction might have peaked in the 1800s but remained in practice through much of the 20th century, all the way up to notable publications such as Hunter S Thompson's Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas in 1971. While serialized novels could be seen in literary magazine, newspapers and more, the landscape of publishing was also changing and the availability of books meant dime store paperbacks and supermarket Harlequins fed the ravenous reader on a steady diet of affordable, extremely accessible fiction. Why wait and pay piecemeal for a serial when you could pick up a hot stack of genre fiction?

For a time, the scales balanced out but over time, thanks to the capitalistic supply and demand driving up the price of hardcovers and paperbacks, books are once again becoming a premium commodity except for the realm of ebooks. Which brings us to the resurgence of Serialized Fiction in new forms.

The Modern Serialization Renaissance

The internet is a wild, wondrous place. Amid the cat videos, memes, and a billion websites at your finger tips, the internet created a new method and reach for story telling. Over the past decade or so, dozens of platforms have gained popularity as serial fiction platforms. From more generalized spaces like Tapas and Wattpad to more genre specific platforms like AO3 (Archive of Our Own) for fanfiction and Radish for romance. Even the juggernaut of Amazon is now edging on the serialization boom with its latest facet of Kindlevella. These platforms have grown success and large enough to start cannibalizing one another, just like big publishing so the future of serialization may see another interesting development. One things for sure, as long as there is a sizeable demand and interest for serialized stories, the trend will live on.

Resources & Further Reading

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