Guest Blogger: John Scalzi
The B-Team is the opening episode of The Human Division, John Scalzi's new thirteen-episode novel in the world of his bestselling Old Man's War. Beginning today, a new episode of The Human Division will appear in e-book form every Tuesday.
In May of 2011, I sat down in a conference room with Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor, Tom Doherty, the imprint’s publisher, and several other Macmillan executives to talk about the idea of writing my novel The Human Division in a way that was native to the electronic format -- which is to say, that took advantage of the strengths of electronic publication and distribution in order to give readers the best experience possible in that format.
This may sound a little cold and calculating, but here’s a not-especially-dirty secret about novels: They have always conformed themselves to the market. That is, however was the most productive and profitable way to sell a novel-length work, that’s how novels shaped themselves to be.
For example, take science fiction, the genre in which I (mostly) write. In the 50s and 60s and through part of the 70s, most science fiction was sold in supermarket and drugstore racks -- cheap entertainments on pulpy paper. To fit in those racks, they had to be small, both in size and in length. And so, if you look at the science fiction novels of the time, most of them tend to be short, and most of them originally came out in paperbacks with covers that were either lurid or vibrant, depending on your tastes.
Then the 80s, when the “rackjobbers” consolidated from hundreds of local companies into two or three national companies, and chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders began their rise. In that new market, handsome hardcovers looked great on store shelves, and so science fiction got larger -- both in the physical size of books, and also in length, with word counts sometimes doubling what was acceptable in the previous market era.
Now we’re in the 21st century, with electronic publication on the rise and things are changing again. With an ebook, shelf space is not an issue; the length of a novel doesn’t have to be dictated by anything other than the needs of the story. Equally importantly, the format of the novel can be more flexible as well.
So in that meeting we asked: What can we do that we couldn’t do before -- or at least, would be more difficult in print?
The answer for us: An episodic novel -- a novel comprised of self-contained episodes that would do two things: Individually, give you a full and complete story to enjoy, and together sketch out a larger narrative that has the robust arc that novels provide. Then publish the novel, one episode at a time, to give readers the ability to savor each one and to anticipate the next -- something that is hard(er) to do in print form.
Note the word “episodic” and not “serial” -- we’re not ending each episode on a cliff-hanger to make you tune in next week. Instead, we’re building the universe episode by episode, and inviting readers to explore that universe with us. A small difference, but an important one.
Now, for those who don’t want an episodic experience and want the novel all in one sitting, we’ll be compiling and publishing The Human Division in a traditional manner in May, and we made sure it’s a solid read in that format too. But The Human Division was designed from the ground up for the electronic world -- taking advantage of what it can offer best.
I think it works. I hope you like it.