The Martian, and the Rise of Serial Publishing
Serial publishing is nothing new. To explain what it is, it’s when, over the course of months or years, an author publishes their work in several parts, one or two chapters at a time. Once a book has been published serially, it’s normally republished in a single collected volume.
Many great authors of the 19th and early 20th century had their work published serially: Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and James Joyce, to name just three. Over most of the 1900s, however, its popularity as a method of publishing waned.
This has led to a resurgence in serially published books, with The Martian, now a major motion picture, being the prime example.
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Martian by Andy Weir — now a movie directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon — was originally serially published online. Weir released the book chapter by chapter on his website soliciting feedback from his readers. One of the reasons the science is so accurate in the novel is that he gave experts the chance to weigh in with corrections on the early drafts.
The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney, a NASA botanist who gets stranded by himself on Mars after a mission goes wrong. The entire world thinks he’s dead and he has to try and survive until humanity returns to the red planet a few years down the line. It is one of the best books I have personally ever read, and the movie version is garnering great reviews as well.
There Are Other Rivers by Alastair Humphreys
Adventurer Alastair Humphreys is someone we have talked about before on MakeUseOf. Rob Nightingale wrote about his campaign to get people outdoors on short micro-adventures — simple adventures that can be done either overnight or over the course of a weekend .
Before he started dialing things back, Humphreys was one for bigger, bolder adventures. He’d go off, do something crazy, then write about it. There Are Other Rivers: On Foot Across India is his book about walking across India from coast to coast and the everyday life he encountered there. It’s a wonderfully self-reflective read about what it means to really step outside of your comfort zone.
While most books are serially published before they’re released as a full work, Humphreys is taking the opposite approach. Although the book has been out for a few years, Humphreys has released it chapter by chapter on his blog over the last month.
The Human Division by John Scalzi
The Human Division by John Scalzi, unlike most of the other books on this list, was published serially with the support of a major publisher: Tor Books.
The novel is the fourth sequel to Old Man’s War, Scalzi’s military science fiction novel about a human society where 75-year-olds can enlist in the interstellar army and have their old bodies replaced with younger models. The entire series is great and well worth reading.
Serializing The Human Division proved to be so successful that Tor decided to take the same approach with the sequel The End of All Things. Both novels are released in full now, so their serial installments are unavailable.
Follow the Geeks by Lyndsey Gilpin and Jason Hiner
Follow the Geeks by Lyndsey Gilpin and Jason Hiner, two technology journalists, is a collection of separate non-fiction stories about “10 Internet entrepreneurs who veered off traditional career paths to start their own thing”. Each chapter stands on its own. As well as being serially published online, Gilpin and Hiner are using crowdfunding to finance it.
At any one time there’s a single chapter available for free on their website. At the moment they’re up to chapter eight out of 10. If you preorder the book, however, you’ll get access to the previous seven chapters immediately. It’s a very clever set up and I suspect a lot of other authors will follow suit.
Option to Kill by Andrew Peterson
Amazon, never one to let a digital trend go by, has also jumped in on serial publishing. Its Kindle Serials program lets authors publish a serial novel directly to people’s Kindles. Whenever a new installment is released, the Kindle eBook on their device is updated over the Internet.
The character of Nathan McBride is an ex-Marine and CIA operative who now works in the private sector. McBride has an unfortunate habit of getting caught up in international situations and having to use his skills to solve them. The novels are fun, action-packed, and hard to put down. They’re the perfect kind of novels for serialization, with plenty of cliffhangers.
Closing the Book
Serial publishing is back. The success of books like The Martian, The Human Division, and Follow the Geeks shows that it’s a great way for individuals — or even major publishers — to release books. It intersects perfectly with crowdfunding and also allows authors to run their ideas by their readers, and even experts, before the final book goes to print.
Not every book is going to be serially published but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more publishers and established authors playing around with this method over the next few years. Mark my words, The Martian is just the start of this trend.
Do you like serial publishing or do you prefer to wait until the entire work is finished? What did you think of my list? Did I miss any great books? Let us know in the comments below.