Choose Your Sitcom

Serialization is a thing, and it’s changing what we’re demanding of our fiction.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been picking up free and 99c books at Amazon. At Amazon because I read on a kindle and because all of my self-published books are exclusive to Amazon (the requirement to enrol them in Amazon’s lending library, Kindle Unlimited). So as both a reader and an author, I’m Amazon-focussed. Also, Amazon is currently the biggest player in book retailing, so it’s commonsense to be aware of what they’re doing.

The books I picked up were light-hearted and mostly romance or cozy mystery. They also, on the whole, were severely deficient in PLOT. When they weren’t, when the story actually had tension, drama and a satisfying resolution, it was a hallelujah moment. And yet, even with the plot perhaps only fifty percent developed, I often went on to pick up a second and even third book in the series.

Why?

The characters hooked me. Yes, even though most characters were walking, posing cliches, I loved them. I wallowed in banter. Not high class banter, just give-and-take snark and good humour. In short, I realised I was reading the ebook equivalent of a sitcom. In describing this to an author friend, I described it as “Friends” TV. Who could hate “Friends“? Turns out my friend could! 😉

Then, today, in wandering around the internet, I came across Jane Friedman’s coverage of the NINC15 conference for established authors and publishing industry professionals, and what was Jane talking about — serialization. She used the metaphor of stand-alone novels as movies, and linked books as television shows. So maybe, my “Friends” TV show insight is true?

Jane poses an intriguing question.

Maybe it’s more convenient or comforting to go back to stories and characters we know—and to reimagine them ourselves (think: fan fiction). Do we have less time and headspace to consider stories without an immediate or reassuring connection?

I think she’s identified an important factor in the demand for sitcom fiction, and in how authors are positioning to meet it. In the books I read in the last few weeks, plotting, proof-reading, and a whole range of traditionally vital elements were only minimally addressed and it didn’t matter! What mattered to me, as a reader, was sinking into a world that was reassuringly familiar.

This is a different world. In the pecking order of authorship, literary authors tended to look down on genre authors, but now I suspect genre authors of stand alone books will look down on serial authors. And guess what? As always, snobbery will blind people to the blinkin’ obvious: if you’re satisfying your audience, congratulations!

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