Kickstarting a literary studio for serialized fiction

Jennifer 8 Lee sez,

Plympton is a new literary studio dedicated to producing serialized fiction for the digital age. They've just launched with their first three titles through the newly created Kindle Serials program, and have several more titles in the works. Plympton has one aim: to bring back the incredibly fun tradition of the serialized novel, improving the lives of readers and writers everywhere. Serials provide a steady stream of great content at a competitive price. They also bring readers the added pleasures of anticipation and speculation, a benefit we've all come to know and love from watching great cable dramas such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Reading fiction that unfolds over weeks or months gives new intimacy and immediacy to the reading experience -- as does having the chance to give writers feedback as they spin a plot to its resolution.

Plympton sees itself as what it calls a "third layer" in the publishing world, a nimble alternative to the major publishers and the online markets. They believe that serialized fiction, with its competitive digital price-point, its great capacity for audience-building, and its built-in emphasis on strong storytelling, is the perfect medium for creating this third layer.

PLYMPTON: Serialized Fiction for Digital Readers (Thanks, Jennifer!)


  1. I didn’t know that “the tradition of the serialized novel” had gone anywere. In 2012 serial fiction can be found in the “Twilight” series and the “Harry Potter” and “Shades of Grey” books. These books are sold as separate novels, but in reality they’re a serial (or series)

    Honestly, as soon as cable TV shows like “Mad Men” were mentioned in comparison with Plympton’s offerings I lost interest. Plus, how many publishing houses (small, large, online, etc) describe their work as having an emphasis on “strong story-telling” – to not have strong story-telling would be to not have a decent story. It would be like describing a car as having wheels that spin…AKA: a report from the obvious desk.

    I would like to hear more about the “third layer” concept, though. So you’re saying the fiction you’ll present is a”nimble” alternative to the majors? The way you’ve described Plympton on your Kickstarter page is that you’ll present readers with “installments” of your serials – why not simply use the word “chapter”? – installment sounds so very clinical.

    1. “Installment” is a better term than “chapter” for a serial. Not all novels have chapter breaks, and not all chapter breaks would be good places to end an installment. Add to that the varying average lengths different writers like for their chapters and “chapter” becomes an unusable mess of an increment.
      Simply put, chapter use is a stylistic choice made by an author and it would be ill-advised to use it in such a confusing way here.

      1. So, you’re saying that “installments” can end or begin at a random, arbitrary  point in a storyline? Don’t “chapters” also end or begin at a random or arbitrary point in a storyline? Therefore, aren’t the two terms interchangeable? Give me a break – oops I mean an INSTALLMENT.

        1. No, I’m saying that chapters are an artistic/stylistic breakpoint, whereas installments (or episodes, if you will) are a marketing breakpoint.

          I’ve seen chapters in books as short as one word and others longer than 50 pages.

          A company selling episodic content will want their lengths to conform to certain standards for pricing and packaging reasons.

          Forcing the one to equal the other is a bad idea. Using the same term for both concepts adds undue confusion.

  2. Firstly let me clarify as some confusion seems to nestle here. A serial as outined here is going back to Charles Dickens. The best known shilling installment serials were highly popular such as The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist. These were joined later into novels. The PP had 390 installments. Each installment, like a book or a TV episode must have a local story arc and a global story arc. Each local story must be resolved by the end of the episode. How many chapters are used to achieve this is unimportant.

    The story must have an act structure of some stort.  Harry Potter would have been a very different story if written as a serial. And you cannot just cut a book into bits and make a serial that way. The serial is a different writing structure, like a short story is different from a novel.

    Some stories are better as books (Harry Potter). Some will work well in serials (The PP). They are not the same things. The size should be ebook size and anywhere between 5,000 and 40,000 words. Each installment must be an equal length. You cannot ‘short change’ your readership. Dickens used to write them at 28 pages a month with 4 illustrations.

    Although this output sounds easy – it is not. To keep a great writing standard, character and story invention over this duration from just one mind is extraordinary. That’s why on TV shows, often 1 episode is written by 1 person but then the next episode is written by someone else. TV can smoothe over stylistic differences because we see the same actors and the directors influence the end product. But in a serial if you screw up your installments, it’s your audience that will know it. You won’t be able to ghost write installments although you could be a writing team. But you don’t seldom get a writing team for books, short stories, serials or poetry, only screenplays because they are then turned into TV/Film. Solitude writing is because when someone writes a reader either likes it or they don’t. If every installment was a new style with some written better than others, readers would go elsewhere.

    Finally I know the implications because I have come to the same conclusion. I believe there is a market for serials. But not every writer could do it. This may be the penny end of the ebook market but to get anything worthwhile out of the stories, some mighty writers will need to come forward. Crap writing won’t sustain a market in serial format. You will not get 50 Shades of Gray at 390 installments!

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