A bazaar crowded with random offerings. William Gibson/Henrik Ibsen. Zafon, Murakami, Van Gogh. A table of well-thumbed Louisa May Alcott. Shiny Urban Fantasy and an aromatic clutter of cookbooks.
I'm probably about to get myself in trouble with a lot of you by saying this, but I'm getting grumpy about this new chapter book phenom. I'm not talking about books written in chapters. I'm talking about "books" that are chapters.
Just to be clear. I don't mean entries in a trilogy or whatever. Plenty of stories legitimately require being broken into multiple pieces. It may take the combined volumes to tell the full scope of the story, but each book in such a series (take The Hunger Games trilogy for a contemporary example) has its own complete dramatic arc and feels satisfying to read. Nor am I pointing a finger at series fiction. I would never! I love series fiction; am kind of addicted to it. When a book plunges me into a vivid world and introduces me to wonderful characters, I'm delighted to think that world and those characters are going to continue beyond the one story. When a series ends, whether or not the end was forecast, it's a special kind of torture to reach the last book and understand that the door to this world has closed.
No, what gets me grumpy is this marketing phenomenon whereby a single story arc is broken up and published as multiple books.
Maybe I'm wrong to fuss. After all, in the 19th century, serial novels were the epitome of storytelling. What we're seeing now is simply one more instance of the 21st century recycling culture. Except, back when Dickens was a bright young thing, readers knew they'd only be getting a bit of book each month or quarter. And each chunk of a 19th century serial wasn't asked to stand on its lonesome; they were published in periodicals that offered readers plenty of other food for thought.
I guess I'm a relic of the 20th century. I was trained to expect my novels to come complete. I can read them at my own pace, but all the bits and pieces the author had planned are delivered to me in one parcel. I like it that way. When I accidentally wander into one of these new modular novels, I feel I'm being manipulated into some marketing scheme where I'm assured "you can cancel-at-any-time!"
If you're still not sure what I'm talking about, take Elizabeth Hunter's "Elemental Mysteries" as an example. Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed A Hidden Fire tremendously, and I think Hunter is a good writer. But the rest of the story, carefully disassembled so that there would be a book for each element and padded out with battle and sex scenes of ever-increasing redundancy, was only enough for one more novel. Not three. Oh, it's smart business, this chopping things up! And, if Hunter weren't a good writer, the ploy it wouldn't have worked, at least not on me. I can respect this, even as I say that, despite Hunter's talent and my enjoyment of much of her story, I feel like a mark.
I published my own 500 page novel this year. One novel. It's the first entry of what I have every intention of building into a series. A trend-savvy friend actually advised me to break up this book and market the digital version as four pieces. Her logic was that "people today are intimidated by long books." I objected, holding fast to Diana Gabaldon. I also observed that my book has no reasonable break points for this kind of packaging; The Upsilon Knot has multiple characters, and the various arcs aren't synchronized. My practical friend said it didn't matter; if anything, this would help sales, as people would get to the end of one piece and absolutely have to grab the next one. She assured me I'd find more readers; and by selling 4 pieces at $1.99 rather than the whole book for $6.99, I'd be making more money off of each one. I appreciate her marketing wisdom as much as her friendship but, pragmatic as it is, I can't swallow it down. I've analyzed the table of contents for potential breaks but I just can't bring myself to do it. I imagine someone reading part 1, coming to the end of what is really Chapter 7, and feeling let down because, well, it's clear that the story is only just beginning!
Am I wrong in this? Do readers honestly prefer to have a story broken up into bits?