Serializing novels is an age-old method of reaching an extended readership, but University of Michigan Press is bringing the concept into the twenty-first century through the use of Facebook. Between July 18 and Labor Day 2011, the press will serialize chapters of two newly-published novels set in Michigan: A Spell on the Water (May) by Marjorie Kowalski Cole, a coming-of-age story; and Faithful Unto Death (June) by Becky Thacker, a historical mystery.

Each week, the press will post one chapter from each novel on its Facebook page, and Facebook fans of the press will be able to read for free. Heather Newman, the press’s marketing manager, says that the posts will be enough to give readers “a taste of these books” and will also entice them to purchase the whole novel. Newman hopes that the posts will go viral, gaining more visibility for the novels but also for UM Press itself.

Marketing budgets for university presses are notoriously small, and with budgets shrinking at even large trade houses, creative (and free) marketing goes a long way toward selling a book. As a result of this belt-tightening, lesser-known authors often receive little, if any, media visibility. Luckily for small presses, social media has shifted control of online content to users. And UM Press is taking full advantage. In this case, Cole and Thacker are authors “people might not recognize,” according to Newman, but of whom the press is “especially proud.” And it’s worked before. The Penguin Group took Internet sensation LOLcats, a website on which people post pictures of their cats and add witty captions, and turned it into a popular series of books.

While neither of these novels may become the next Harry Potter, a little exposure can’t hurt. When University of Michigan Press announced the campaign on July 14, it had 550 fans. By Wednesday, July 27, it had 1,148. Whether this serialization will increase sales or not, it’s too soon to tell. But with comments like, “Good for you UMP. Great idea!” and “good experiment,” it seems like readers are enjoying the new format.