The serial Novel--fiction delivered in installments instead of a single volume--harks back to Charles Dickens, who popularized the format in 1836 with The Pickwick Papers. The tradition survives today as the e-serial: a story broken into episodes, downloaded to a digital reader and retailed for usually about $2 per hit. But if you ask e-serial publishers to describe the lure of the format, chances are they'll invoke the likes of Walter White or Tyrion Lannister over Samuel Pickwick.
Byliner, a prestigious source of short-format e-books, is publishing Margaret Atwood's dystopian Positron under its Byliner Serials imprint; editor in chief Mark Bryant likens the formula to that of Breaking Bad. In December, Tor Books will release best-selling science-fiction writer John Scalzi's The Human Division as an e-serial; senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden compares the structure to the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones.
When Yael Goldstein Love was first pitching Plympton, the e-serial packager she co-founded with fellow writer Jennifer 8. Lee, the easy TV analogies gave her pause. "I was making it seem like, 'Literature can be as good as television!'" she says. But it's better: "You have the experience of knowing what it's like to be in another mind that you never get fully from television."
And you get all the technological perks of contemporary TV viewership. Last month Amazon launched Kindle Serials, which provide updates automatically as episodes are released, just like an iTunes TV season pass. Between installments, conversations will keep readers engaged. "With television series," says Jeff Belle, VP of Amazon Publishing, "people gather online and talk about each episode. That's the type of experience we want to create." With an appropriately Victorian twist: new users can test-drive the format with, naturally, The Pickwick Papers.