The way we read is changing. With the advent of the Kindle and other eReader devices we can each carry round with us all the books we need, and access them at the touch of a button. This has led to some interesting changes in the publishing world. Free books abound, self-publishing is easier and books can be released in tantalising sections before official publication.
Like a modern day Charles Dickens releasing parts of Sketches By Boz in the popular periodicals and newspapers of the 1830s, Tor and author John Scalzi are trying a distinctly 21st century take on the old publishing model.
In a test case for a different type of release, the Tor will be releasing Scalzi’s new novel The Human Division – which is set in the author’s Old Man’s War universe – for the Kindle in 13 parts; released every Tuesday beginning on 15 January. Each part will be between 6,000 and 22,000 words – the author says they average 10,000 words each – and will cost just pence to download.
In the UK, part one of The Human Division , entitled “The B-Team”, will be available for Amazon’s Kindle here for the princely sum of 63p and rest can be pre-ordered here for just 64p each. The entire series will also be available on the Kobo format here for the slightly higher price of 72p .
This isn’t the first time Scalzi has had a book released sequentially in parts. His first published fiction novel, Old Man’s War , was originally released in this way by Scalzi himself on his website. The approach led to the book being noticed and subsequently published in paper format by Tor; the book later garnered a Best Novel nomination in the Hugo Awards in 2006. Since then Scalzi has written three other books, two short stories and a novelette set in the same universe – some of them also attracting Hugo attention – as well as several other fiction and non-fiction books.
I first discovered John Scalzi and the aforementioned Old Man’s War several years ago on one of my regular hunt-for-new-books-on-Amazon quests. I’d been reading a lot of space war-type books and the opening premise attracted me; 75 year-old John Perry signs up to join the Colonial Defence Forces, an organisation charged with defending the Earth from alien threats. As to why the CDF only take above retirement age volunteers and what exactly they do out in space begins with as much a mystery to the reader as it does to the majority of people living on the novel’s future Earth. Finding the answers proved an interesting and very entertaining journey. With its mix of comedy, thoughtfulness and brutal scenes of battle the book soon became a big hit. When the book was originally released in 2005 SFX gave it a glowing review and Cory Doctorow said the book was, “Gripping and surpassingly original. It’s Starship Troopers without the lectures. It’s The Forever War with better sex.” The rest of the series proved just as popular.
If you’ve never read anything by the author you can get a taste with this short story After The Coup which is set on the OMW universe, which is available to read on the Tor website here . It’s an interesting little glimpse at the tone and style of the Scalzi’s OMW universe. I heartily recommend it.
I’m a fairly recent convert to Kindle, and while Scalzi is the first author I have found to be publishing things in this way, it seems he isn’t the only one and this is a spreading phenomenon. I like the idea of getting a book in bite-sized chunks. With a toddler running around the house reading has become something I tend to do in little bites these days anyway. I’ve always been a fan of the short story and this seems to be the best of both worlds; a way to dip in and out of a story without being over faced or rushed and with the potential to end each part with a cliff-hanger the urge to come back each time will be ever present.
So what are your thoughts? Is this type of release the future of book publishing? Do any of your favourite authors publish works in this way? Have you read any books published like this, did you prefer this more instantly accessible method of publication, or would you have it all in one go? Will you be giving this chapter at a time format a try?
Oh, by the way; for those out there who still prefer their books to be paper and have that new book smell, The Human Division will be released in the traditional paper format in May.