Anne here. One of the things I find most fascinating about history is that it tends to repeat itself. For instance, most people would scoff at the notion that there are strong parallels between the growth of the e-publishing revolution and publishing in the Victorian era.
The Victorian era, you say? Parallels with e-publishing? In what way?
In the Victorian era, developments in technology allowed cheap, widespread production of print media which in turn led to a boom in publishing. Fiction also experienced a boom as stories serialized in magazines and newspapers became cheaply and easily available to a much wider audience.
In the 21st century, technological advances in electronic communications have led to a massive e-publishing boom. Serial publishing is also a feature of much current e-publishing.
Mention writers like Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others and we all nod. Some of us even have their books on our shelves, though they were published more than a hundred years ago. We tend to assume that in the past, people purchased and read complete books, as we have for most of our lifetimes. But in fact, many of the first writers of popular fiction reached their initial audience through serialized stories published in newspapers and magazine.
Charles Dickens is regarded today as an author of classic literature, the grand old man of Victorian-era fiction. He started writing as a journalist, but his career as a novelist began in 1836 with publication of The Pickwick Papers -- published in monthly installments in magazines. With each installment his popularity grew, and the final installment of that story sold 40,000 copies. Just one episode.
Dickens wrote as well as published his story in serial form. He evaluated his audience's reaction to each installment and often changed or adjusted characters or the plot accordingly as he wrote the story.
In today's market, a novelist who wrote their first book in serial form and reached a huge audience by the end would be snapped up by a publisher, and from then on, all his/her works would be published as completed novels. Not so with Dickens — or indeed any of his contemporaries.
He continued to write serialized novels (and thus we gained such standards of popular fiction today as the cliff-hanger chapter ending, and so on.) In fact, according to Wikipedia the publication (and writing) or novels in serial form became "the dominant Victorian mode of narrative fiction."
I mentioned Harriet Beecher Stowe before, who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, which, whatever you may think of it now, was a huge success at the time. That too was published in serial form, and when a publisher approached her with an offer to turn it into a book, she was doubtful; it having been already read by so many people, she thought the book wouldn't sell.
Mary Elizabeth Braddon is a lesser known novelist from this period. Let me tell you a little of her story. Mary had to work to support herself and her mother and, aged 17, began work as an actress but she was at heart, a writer, and after her first novel The Octoroon; or, The Lily of Louisiana (1859) was published she left to become a full time writer.
She met and fell in love with John Maxwell, a publisher and editor who published several of her short stories. He was married, his wife was in an insane asylum in Ireland, and divorce was not possible. Mary moved in with Maxwell and lived with him from then on, as his wife.
Mary Elizabeth Braddon wrote more than 80 novels, all of which were serialized in magazines and were hugely popular, as well as numerous essays, poems and articles. Her best known novel was Lady Audley's Secret -- and just look at all the different covers. It was a book with a scandalous heroine, and I find it fascinating how the heroine is portrayed on each.
According to Allington "She regarded serial writing as a "curse" since it forced her to write more than one novel at once--mere "hand to mouth composition," as she remarked in a letter to Bulwer-Lytton. Serialization, like her youthful reading and seven years on the provincial stage, however, served her well. In terms of narrative pace and construction, sharply defined characterization, narrative flair, and theatrical scene changes, her knowledge of contemporary comedy and melodrama enabled her to write quickly and with emotional intensity."
Mary Braddon also gave birth to six children whom she raised along with her six step-children. Her relationship with Maxwell meant she, too, was a "scandalous woman" and she was disapproved of by the society of her day. Eventually, a bare month after his wife died in the insane asylum, John Maxwell and Mary Braddon married. It caused a fresh scandal, as it drew attention to the illegitimacy of her children. Her scandalous life is possibly part of the reason she is not as well known today, though you can still find copies of her books both in shops and on-line.
"In 1899, the London newspaper the Daily Telegraph named Lady Audley's Secret, which had been staged in countless adaptations, as one of the world's best one hundred novels, despite the fact that it had been published almost four decades earlier." (Reference)
One thing serialization does is build an audience. I'm an impatient reader, and don't like to wait, so my preference would be to read a story all in one hit. But if a lot of the people I knew were already discussing the story, and speculating about what would happen next, I think I'd be tempted to dig out the episodes so far and read them, just to know what everyone was talking about.
It's not unlike the buzz that came with 50 Shades of Gray — a lot of people read it simply out of curiosity to find out what everyone was talking about. And that book is a perfect example of serialization; it was first written as fan fiction, an episode at a time, and as her reading audience grew, so did the buzz. Without that buzz, I doubt she would ever have published it as a whole book.
Bet you never thought that there could be any similarities between Dickens and 50 Shades, did you?
On our WordWench facebook page (please drop by and "like" us ) we've been posting about underappreciated women from history, and I think Mary Elizabeth Braddon ought to be one of them, don't you?
Note: This blog was inspired by a talk I attended by Peter Armstrong on e-publishing, in which he spoke about historical parallels, and the importance of serial publishing and the philosophy of his company. Of course, I was fascinated and thought I'd share some of the history, at least, with you here. For his take on it, read this.
What about you — do you like reading serials or are you too impatient to wait? As a writer, would you want to publish your books in serial form? Or do you already? Do you know any other underappreciated women from history? Let's share.