Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Back to the days of Dickens


I’ve been a little pessimistic about ereaders. I can’t help it. I’m a writer. The idea of having my words sold digitally instead of physically, especially at the deep discount prices Amazon sells them for, makes me think I should go back, take the MCATs, and aim for a stable career in the medical field.

I mean, it’s already tough being a writer, especially in these days of financial disparity.

Generally I’m an optimistic person, so I decided, okay, I need to start thinking of the positive changes that will come out of the digital revolution we are in. First, we can’t expect to remain traditional, whether it’s pertaining to writers, publishers, or readers. Sure, we want to stay true to our roots in this world but changes, they are a-comin’.

We just have to pick them up and go with the flow.

After months of solemn discussions on the impending doom and death of the writing and publishing world, I thought, well, how can we adjust? Back in the days of our favorite classical authors like Dickens, Kipling, and Melville, books weren’t originally written as full-length novels.


They were written in installments, the chapters being serialized in magazines over a given amount of time. If readers were interested enough, they would continue to buy the magazines when each installment came out.

So that being said, why don’t we do that now? Ereader owners could subscribe to your novel and every week, or every month, the next chapter would be automatically sent to their device. This could also potentially help promote the book too.

How you ask?

Well say my friend purchases and reads chapter one of a new author’s novel. She absolutely loves it, can’t wait for the next installment and tells me about it. I think, it’s just one chapter, might as well check it out. I buy my one chapter, am equally hooked to it as my friend is, and soon the two of us are helping spread the hype. Granted, it takes more than two people to really spread the word, but it has to start somewhere.

Basically what I’m saying is that going back to the days of Dickens, in a sense, might just be the way to move forward into the future. Comics are written in serial format. Novels are already broken down into chapters. But now, perhaps we can think of marketing novels in installments as opposed to full pieces. And once every chapter is published, new readers can choose whether to buy individual chapters or the entire piece.

Sellers and writers can make money if the chapters are priced just right and if just the right amount of people are interested.

My fellow writer and Appazoogler Jenka Eusebio previously wrote a piece on how the serialized novel concept has been growing in Japan through the cell phone novel phenomenon. She discusses some of the technical aspects of this popular trend while also suggesting that perhaps American publishers can “optimize their operations.” We don’t necessarily have to go the cell phone route, but we can make adjustments according to tablets already available on our market.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Perhaps I’m being silly in my newfound optimism of the digital age. But hey, it’s survival of the fittest in the world of evolution and with the book market evolving rapidly, we writers better adapt fast or we might become extinct.

About Zaynah Qutubuddin

Daytime writer, nighttime reader, lifetime student.

2 comments on “Back to the days of Dickens

  1. knowledgenovae
    December 28, 2011

    Great idea (or, great restoration of an old-school one, I guess). I’m working on my first nonfiction release now, and I’ve been thinking to release it in quarters, because that actually complements the overall theme of the book.

    What if someone wanted to do both print and digital though? I’m worried that the eBook base would enjoy it, but the “real readers” would feel like a serialized setup isn’t worth the cash.

    Anyways, thanks for the reinforcement (I was just thinking to serialize yesterday, to lighten the load on me). I’ll let you know how it goes.

    • Zaynah Qutubuddin
      December 28, 2011

      Thanks for the comment and good question! It’s certainly something to think about. I can definitely see how “real readers” would not appreciate having to wait for the full printed version while those with ereaders are getting first dibs. Maybe this might be a way to keep print magazines alive! We could really emulate Dickens by having some print magazines that serialize novels the way comics are serialized. It might be a way to liven up reading by bringing back an old format in both print and digital to satisfy all customers.

      I hope serialization works for you. Good luck!

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on December 12, 2011 by in Opinion and tagged .

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