Last week was a big week for Kindle lovers. A new Kindle Fire was revealed along with the new Kindle Paperwhite e-reader. Amazon also introduced us book lovers to the “Kindle Serial” series that brings back the very old-school tradition of releasing books in small sections. Charles Dickens published Oliver Twist and a number of his other books this way. Stephen King gave the serial novel a chance when he released The Green Mile in small monthly installments in 1999. With the new format, readers will pay one low rate, about $1.99, and then authors will upload new section every two weeks. One of the most interesting features of the new Kindle Serials is that readers will be able to jump on to a forum and give the author tips and suggestions for how they should write the next episode.
Amazon has already changed the way reader’s access books with the popularization of the Kindle e-reader. Now, they may just be changing the way books are written. It’s seems that Amazon wants readers to chime in and help guide the author in writing the stories that they are following. “[Kindle Serial] Authors will be able to follow along with reader reaction and adapt the next installments based on the first ones,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO.
As a reader, this concept makes me a little nervous; as a writer, it makes my soul vomit. When I read a book I want to be swept away on a grand adventure and live in the world that the author has so expertly crafted. If the book I am reading draws me in, I can usually finish it in one day, because I just don’t want to stop. I would be very frustrated as a reader if I could only read a small section of a book and then would have to wait a few weeks for the next installment. I tried to read The Green Mile in its individual segments when it came out all of those years ago, but after reading the first section, I couldn’t stand it and decided to wait for the whole thing to be released before trying it again. I don’t think I’m alone here in thinking that we, as readers, should be able to read a complete story without waiting for the next piece in the puzzle. It’s true that if we are reading a series we don’t get the entire story in one shot. I think the difference is that we get some closure and feel like we got the entire meal in a series versus a serial book where we would only get small chunks which could affect our ability to connect with characters and the plot.
The other thought that occurred to me is that we, as a society, are very fickle. Let’s say we dive into a story about the zombie apocalypse, because we just can’t get enough of it. While waiting for our next episode we decide that unicorns are really what we want to read about. Do we stop reading the serial book and move on? Maybe some will, which is a real shame for the writer.
From the writer’s perspective, I can see how this new format could lead to a lot of confusion, delays in writing and not necessarily great literature. For starters, anytime a writer gets feedback from a critique group or from beta readers they usually spend a lot of time considering and implementing the suggested changes. Mind you, if you have ten people reviewing your work you could get ten different suggestions, and none of them would be the same. With the new Kindle Serial forums authors could now have thousands of people piping in about what direction their story should take. I’m seriously nauseated just thinking about it. All of this input could slow down the production of the next piece.
Another problem to consider is that if an author does in fact make the recommended changes, their book would essentially be a “choose your own adventure” for the modern world. Don’t get me wrong, as a kid I loved those books, but as an adult when I tried to read one it felt flat, lacked character development, and left me wishing I had read something else. Will these serial books start to take on those characteristics? It could happen, or writers could bypass readers’ suggestions and stick to the carefully plotted storyline that they started with.
Either way, it is clear that the relationship between the reader and the writer is about to change again. I image in the spirit of trying everything once I will purchase one of these serial books to see how it all goes. Are you planning on giving the Kindle Serial series a shot? Do you think that you will join the forum and make suggestions to the writer?