The Martian, and the Rise of Serial Publishing

Harry Guinness 01-10-2015

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.

With the rise of the Internet, it’s never been easier to self-publish your own book Your Guide To Self-Publishing: From Print To Kindle And Beyond! They say everyone has a book in them. The moment of completion brings a mix of immense satisfaction… and a confused, horrified reality: “How on earth am I going to publish it?” Read More . There are plenty of services 4 Quick Ways to Write & Publish Books on the Web It's easier than ever to convert your words into a published book. These innovative tools are enabling authors to take their ideas beyond the print-on-demand kind of self-publishing. Read More out there that make it easy for new authors to sell their work Publish Your Book With Amazon’s Crowdsourced Kindle Scout Program Want to get your book finally published? Amazon, the maker of the Kindle, has launched a new program that marries the self-publishing industry with crowdsourced campaigns like those on Kickstarter. Read More .

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 Disconnect This Holiday With 10 Inspiring Microadventures These are adventures that we can enjoy over a week, a weekend, or even just a few hours. Here are ten microadventure videos to inspire a few steps outside the comfort zone, Read More .

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 5 Crowdfunding Sites Where You Can Raise Money For Your Next Book If you're looking to write a book – either fiction or non-fiction – there are various routes you can take for initial funding. One of these routes is to harness the power of the crowd. Read More 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.


Many of the geeks featured are household names, such as Gina Trapani (one of the biggest geeks on Twitter 8 Of The Biggest Geeks On Twitter (Who Just Happen To Be Girls) Geekdom has long been perceived as the domain of men, with teenage boys who are fascinated by technology and Star Wars becoming grown adults who are obsessed with technology and Star Wars. While it's true... Read More ) who founded Lifehacker. I have read a few of the chapters and they’ve all been fantastic.

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.

One of the most popular novels to come out of the Kindle Serials program is Option to Kill by Andrew Peterson, the third novel in his Nathan McBride series.

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.

Related topics: Amazon Kindle, Ebooks, Geeky Science, Science Fiction.

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