Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
The mushrooming public interest in ebooks and their corresponding technology is heralding the dramatic return of the serial novel, or so I’ve heard. There’s been talk of a literary throwback with a modern kick. In proper steampunk fashion, the buzz surrounding this revival has been awash with a bizarre mixture of techy excitement and Old World nostalgia.
It should not be surprising that Charles Dickens, whose works helped to popularize the genre during the Victorian period, was resurrected as the poster child for the neo-serial novel.
In a December 2011 Forbes article, “From Dickens To iPads To Harry Potter: Why Backlit Is Bullish On Teen Reading” Michael Humphrey explores new publishing developments geared toward the YA market. He introduces Backlit Fiction, a California-based digital media publishing company that publishes digital novels in serial installments designated as “episodes.”
“Episodes!” I thought, cringing. “Isn’t that for…you know…television?”
As much as the cross-media nomenclature irritated me, I was willing to give this new setup the benefit of the doubt. Don’t I always?
In this same article Panio Gianopoulo, publisher and editorial director of Backlit Fiction, explains the format of the four YA ebook series produced by the company in an interview:
“Each episode is self-contained, so you can drop into the series without having go to the first book…With digital books it’s easier to add the element of surprise,” he said. “With a physical book, you know are coming to an end. But with a digital book, boom, you’re done, cliffhanger.”
This model works on two main assumptions:
Here is where the “modern kick” comes into play. Not only is the technology different from that of Dickens’ day, readership expectations have also been affected by a greater variety of media formats. Backlit Fiction’s Marketwire press release gives insight into the role of visual media in Backlit’s literary model:
Backlit has a first look film and television deal with Jack Giarraputo of Happy Madison. Jack is one of Hollywood’s most successful producers with films grossing over $2 billion domestically. He is Backlit’s strategic partner, creative advisor and lead investor. “Backlit is reinventing publishing by shortening the path from writer to reader,” said Giarraputo.
It wouldn’t take much for this trend to capture the literary fiction market, but changes in platform might spell out a shift in the way content (the actual writing) is produced…even brainstormed. How would the promise of a television or movie adaptation affect the planning of a novel? Is this “evolution” or “dilution” of literary form? What would it mean to be a novelist of serial fiction? How can the publishing industry fully take advantage of these changes?
In proper serial fashion, I will embark on a four-part article series exploring this fascinating, revived genre. Stay tuned for next week’s installation!