In literature, a serial is a printing format by which a single larger work, often a work of narrative fiction, is published in smaller, sequential installments. The installments are also known as numbers, parts or fascicles, and may be released either as separate publications or within sequential issues of a periodical publication, such as a magazine or newspaper.
Serialized fiction surged in popularity during Britain's Victorian era, due to a combination of the rise of literacy, technological advances in printing, and improved economics of distribution. Most Victorian novels first appeared as installments in monthly or weekly periodicals. The wild success of Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers, first published in 1836, is widely considered to have established the viability and appeal of the serialized format within periodical literature. During that era, the line between "quality" and "commercial" literature was not distinct. Other famous writers who wrote serial literature for popular magazines were Wilkie Collins, inventor of the detective novel with The Moonstone and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created the Sherlock Holmes stories originally for serialization in The Strand magazine.
Serialization was so standard in American literature that authors from that era often built installment structure into their creative process. James, for example, often had his works divided into multi-part segments of similar length. The consumption of fiction during that time was different than in the 20th century. Instead of being read in a single volume, a novel would often be consumed by readers in installments over a period as long as a year, with the authors and periodicals often responding to audience reaction.
In the German-speaking countries, the serialized novel was widely popularized by the weekly family magazine Die Gartenlaube, which reached a circulation of 382,000 by 1875. In Russia, The Russian Messenger serialized Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina from 1873 to 1877 and Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov from 1879 to 1880. In Poland, Boleslaw Prus wrote several serialized novels: The Outpost (1885–86), The Doll (1887–89), The New Woman (1890–93), and his sole historical novel, Pharaoh (the latter, exceptionally, written entire over a year's time in 1894–95 and serialized only after completion, in 1895–96).
The first several books in the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin appeared from 1978 as regular installments in San Francisco newspapers. Similar serial novels ran in other city newspapers, such as The Serial (1976; Marin County), Tangled Lives (Boston), Bagtime (Chicago), and Federal Triangle (Washington, D.C.). Starting in 1984, Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, about contemporary New York City, ran in 27 parts in Rolling Stone, partially inspired by the model of Dickens. The magazine paid $200,000 for his work, but Wolfe heavily revised the work before publication as a standalone novel. Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, experimented in 2004 with publishing his novel 44 Scotland Street in instalments every weekday in The Scotsman. Michael Chabon serialized Gentlemen of the Road in The New York Times Magazine in 2007.
The rise of fan fiction on the internet also follows a serial fiction style of publication, as seen on websites such as FanFiction.Net and Archive of Our Own (AO3).
Many aspiring authors also used the web to publish free-to-read works in serialized format independently as well as web-based communities such as LiveJournal, Fictionpress.com, fictionhub, and Wattpad. Many of these books receive as many readers as successful novels; some have received the same number of readers as New York Times bestsellers.
In addition, the prevalence of mobile devices made the serial format even more popular with the likes of JukePop Serials, and Serial Box, with iOS and Android apps that focuses entirely on curating and promoting serialized novels.