Readmill’s Epilogue, Medium’s colonization and other Newsbits

The end of Readmill, Hello Medium

Readmill was — while it lasted — a really  attractive reading (smartphone) app. However, like many “content apps” there’s a point where you can’t simply survive on being a good concept.

Over the past few days, Readmill has tweeted, emailed, and posted its “Epilogue” statement . This notice is effectively giving the community a way to download their books and data before closing up shop.

It looks like Dropbox has acquired Readmill (and its founders) but I’m not quite clear that the blog offers how Readmill staff will work with Dropbox (which is largely known as a filesharing site.)

Meanwhile Medium has created an App as a means of delivering its content. ( For those of you unfamiliar with Medium, the site has its roots with several founders of Twitter.)

Currently its app is “Read Only” but one can imagine they will progress towards emulating other “content providers” such as WordPress or Blogger in developing a mobile app designed to encourage mobile blogging.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised to discover that fiction was live and well on Medium. I discovered a Flash Fiction collection as well as one for posting fiction to Medium.

In a way, this change of fortune seems to be a part of the natural ups and downs of online fiction and serial novel production.  We’ll have to see who rises and falls in this next year.

Other Newsbits

  • Another community newspaper embraces the digital serial – this one promises to feature illustrations.  I rather enjoy watching this concept playing out in smaller papers around the U.S.  I’m not sure why this is suddenly popular again with smaller papers but I enjoy the idea of featuring content uniquely relevant to the readership.
  • Wattpad gets a high-profile bump in the New York Times.  Granted, this comes weeks after the NBCNews blog and doesn’t feature anything new for those who are long-time readers of this blog but the NYTimes is a unique landmark — since it is a place that has a long history with books and its bestseller lists.  It is odd, though, that it’s appeared in the “Technology” section — as if the Culture section had no interest in it.

Analytics, Kickstarters, Distributors, Oh my, mega news/blog post

Sometimes the news front is pretty quiet. For a while there I thought webfiction and serials were heading into a dark period.  However, just when you think it’s time to give up a lot of things start to converge in interesting fashion.

Do analytics mean as much as you really think they do?

I’m not quite sure how to feel about Jukepop (formerly Jukepop Serials) and analytics and how they’ve spun the feature in their blog and then subsequent PR.   Analytics are good, by all means. But interpreting them is fraught with the potential for overinterpretation.

For example, a downturn in views/votes could be due to lack of interest in your specific story. Or it could be a by-product of “low tide” in traffic or people just forgetting to vote.

People forget that website traffic itself has certain secular trends due to the impact of holidays and vacations.   To go as far as to interpret a dip to “this part of your story probably wasn’t great” is an extreme viewpoint and I’d argue that it definitely is useful to see if there might be problems with your story progression at that point, but to use that info as a proxy for “early commercial viability”  as their press release states is where I think this is overinterpretation.  Jukepop authors generally are out there on social media working hard for votes. Good stories do seem to rise to the top but “votes” are not necessarily about viability– in fact, no one can really mindread sales.

Then again, to be fair, I’m not sure how to view Wattpad ‘s analytics either as there is little stated about how they work or change over time. A recent post in a deleted thread (since rehosted as a Wattpad “story”) by one author provides an interesting bit regarding the read/vote system in place. Basically, as of March 2013, some things changed – - namely to stop counting any views from accounts not signed into Wattpad.  I get this from one perspective — it avoids shenanigans from outside accounts that could otherwise write a script and refresh the heck out of a page to alter counts.  If discoverability is triggered by pageview and vote combinations, of course you’d want to protect the system from those tempted to exploit it.

Unfortunately, I don’t know that analytics have resulted in much transparency overall.  I’ve willingly posted my Wattpad stats here (and the link is still active) because I’d like to see people talk about it more openly — not for bragging rights but as a means of understanding what is going on with both Wattpad and Jukepop in terms of discoverability.  See — I still believe that these are valuable in their own way for connecting with the readers that you otherwise can’t generate on your own (via your massive social network skills or circles family and friends) but I think there are certainly some pluses and minuses to these sites that one should consider if using them exclusively or in addition to your own host.

 

In any case, moving on from the soapbox to give you some STRAIGHT NEWS.

Kickstarters and Collectives

It’s been a while since I’ve seen any hint of kickstarters for serials or webfiction. The last batch I saw were mostly “publishers” such as Plympton and Maglomaniac .  However, it’s encouraging to see some single works come up to bat.

It looks like “The Peacock King” is finally back from web-death and has reached their funding goal for their Kickstarter.

Meanwhile, Jim Zoeteway of “Legion of Nothing” announced two things on a blog post today.  First, he’s part of a new Superhero fiction collective “Pen and Cape Society” which includes another webfiction/online novel writer Drew Hayes (who guested this month on this blog).

He’s been talking collectives for a while for good reason (such as sharing or increasing traffic and synergizing on marketing). I’m glad to see him finally get this off the ground with fellow writers in the superhero genre and wish them luck. The superhero genre is going gangbusters in the indie ebook and webfiction realm so think they’re going to kick statistics butt pretty quickly.

He also announced plans for a Kickstarter to publish his next volume in the ongoing webfiction series for reasons explained in that entry.   His goals look pretty modest and reasonable (i.e., cover and editing). Will be interesting to see how it unfolds!  For those of you who are experienced Kickstarters — I’d go check these projects out and talk with the authors.

Distribution – Sparkler Monthly

This is not new news per se. However, a new marketing coordinator reached out to several people this past week with a reminder about their new distribution service.

I think it’s easier to understand certain facets of it as you now look at the shop for the respected webcomic, The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, by EK Weaver

In a way it’s a fulfillment service for books and merchandise for small-time creators who do not have time or means to keep up with all the shipping and work associated with running a small storefront.  Having run a storenvy store on/off for a short period of time, I can tell you that it is a lot of work to deal with small things like merchandise or ship out hundreds of books or posters. MEH.

I did approach SM about a project of my own and found that their terms were clear and their overhead was really reasonable. While what they decide to take on also must keep in line with their mission and audience, I think it’s good to explore.  I knew I threw some odd ideas at them but found at least the folks willing to talk through what their equities were.  In any case, I’m still mulling the ideas that came out of the email exchanges and will, of course, post if I run some more ideas/pitches at the team behind SparklerMonthly.

Wattpad Prize

End of last year, the folks at Wattpad announced a new type of prize to join their current vote-drive Watty Awards.  Details are sparse (and have changed) regarding this one. Early blog posts (http://www.wattpad.com/wattpad-prize)  suggested that this would be professionally judged by industry folks and would be open to folks on a wider basis than Watty Awards. (For your reference Watty Awards are only open to stories started and ended within a specific time period. Stories that did not meet those requirements were ineligible for consideration. Also Featured stories were not eligible either.). The most recent blurb said this contest would be judged by “expert Wattpadders”

Not quite sure why they backed off or if the exclusion/inclusion criteria will change but guess we all shall find out next week what they really mean on April 2.

I do hope that this does turn out to be a transparent and open judging process that employs some of the professionals authors  on Wattpad.  It’s been clear that the Watty Awards sometimes are more about popularity as some entries have been nominated that are grammatically weak and unpolished.

SPY1

From Web-Serial to Book

Hey all. My name is Drew Hayes, and I’m here to talk to you about drinking responsibly… while working in an office.

                (Off-stage whisper)

                Really? They want to hear about that? But I had this whole bit about making liquor injected donuts.

                (More off-stage whispering)

                Well, alright, I guess we’ll give them what they want. Ahem, so, my name is Drew Hayes and apparently I’m actually here to talk about the process I went through of taking my web-serial, Super Powereds (hosted at DrewHayesNovels.com) to an e-book.

History

                Super Powereds was actually my second web-serial, following a comedic project called No More Ramen. My first web-serial was a test of self more than anything else, seeing if I had the gumption to actually put my work on display for the masses (masses here meaning the five readers I managed to accumulate). With SP, however, I decided to write it because it was the sort of project I really wanted to read but couldn’t find. All of the super-hero stories were either nothing but action with no emphasis on character development, or eschewed the abilities so completely that they may as well not have been there. I wanted to see realistic people coping with their own abilities in a world where you never know who can do what.

                Super Powereds is the story of five(ish) people with super human abilties going to college. In my world, people with powers who want to serve as crime-stopping cape-wearers, Heroes, must get certified just like any other response personnel. This lead to the Hero Certification Program: an incredibly difficult course running four years in parallel with college. There’s also a bunch of sub-plots and blah blah blah, but we’re not here to talk about the work itself, we’re here to talk about taking it from medium to another.

                Also, if there’s time at the end, liquor donuts.

Making the Change

                When I started SP, I never imagined I would see it on any kind of digital format other than my website. This was 2008, and while there was undeniably an indie book scene on Amazon, it wasn’t nearly as touted and well-known as it is today. And, to be frank, SP didn’t have the makings of a classic book. It was long and sprawling, with a multitude of characters that require a wiki to keep track of. I’m pretty sure that even now, with good reviews and a history of sales, I couldn’t get an agent to touch the thing.

                The e-book actually came about in response to reader request. Many of the people visiting my site would e-mail me or comment about how they enjoyed the story, but it wasn’t practical for them to sit at a computer all day. They wanted a digital version that would be portable and easy on the eyes. After a bit of debating, and a lot of research, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to throw an e-book into Amazon’s Kindle program to accommodate the people kind enough to read my words.

                Now why Amazon, I’m sure you’re wondering. In the digital self-publishing world, there are three main entities I’ve become aware of: Amazon, Smashwords, and Nook. Amazon is actually the most limited of these, in that the file type used by its propriety Kindle (.mobi) will not work with any other e-reader. Smashwords usually sells both types, while Nook sells .epubs that will work with pretty much anything except a Kindle. Ultimately, I went with Amazon for 3 reasons:

                1. Kindle Apps: While the structure of the Kindle seemed limiting, there was another side to it. There are Kindle apps for iOS and Android, turning nearly every phone and tablet into a Kindle with access to the owner’s library. Nook, at the time, had nothing approaching this, so going through them would have meant a far more limited options for the readers.

                2. Price: Listing on Nook and Amazon are commission systems, where you pay them a portion of your sales. Smashwords, on the other hand, requires money upfront for formatting and various other options. You can make a free book on Smashwords, however it’s not quite as streamlined a process, and for the first-time e-book maker I was, ease was invaluable.

                3. Exposure: Though Nook has rallied in recent years, the honest truth was that I viewed Amazon as having the biggest network available. Even though I wasn’t anticipating much in sales, I’m optimistic and ambitious. I saw no reason to hamstring myself from using the network with the widest reach and greatest opportunity to gather new readers.

                For the record, I’m not trying to advocate that just Amazon, or Amazon at all, is the right choice for someone launching their first e-book. All I can tell you is that it was right for me at the time. Some of you might be asking why I didn’t do all three, or at least Nook and Kindle. That was the original plan, but Amazon’s Kindle Select Program ended up changing my plans. We’ll get into that a little later on though.

From Web to Book

                There was never any question that I would need an editor. Some authors have amazing and honed skills; they can spot typos, inconsistencies, and grammar mistakes with eagle-eyed precision. Some of us having typo-based drinking games readers play when on our sites. I’m the latter.

                Finding a freelance editor is a daunting task. A lot of the ones you find through Google are very expensive and difficult to book. I got quotes upwards of $3,000 dollars for editing on Super Powered: Year 1 (To be fair: they charged by word and it was over 200,000 words). Fortunately, if you’re plugged into the writing community you can find many editors who are newer in the game and hungry for work. They tend to have more accommodating schedules and reasonable prices. In my case, I got lucky. One of my best friends from college opened up a side-business doing editing. Shameless plug: She does great work and can be reached at cooley.edit@gmail.com.

                Once the editing was done, I had to think about the structure of the book. SP published twice per week, with chapters ranging from 1000-1500 words (sometimes more, but never less). Year 1 ended up having 156 chapters, each of which was far shorter than the length of an average novel’s chapter. It took a lot of puzzling (till my puzzler was sore), but I ultimately decided to keep it as it was. This was because:

                1. The breaking points in the chapters worked for the overall flow of the story and I didn’t want to start jamming them up.

                2. As I mentioned, Year 1 is really long. Putting the chapters in bite-sized pieces allowed a reader to take a few chapters down whenever they had time, without feeling like they were pulled out of the narrative or lost their place.

                Despite my worries, this actually went over quite well, and when I put out Year 2 I decided to keep the structure once more.

                The last thing to tackle was the cover. For my first release, I made my own, and I regret it to this day. A decent graphic image artist can get you a cover for $100-$200. I now know other authors who spend far more on custom images people paint by hand, so that’s a great option if you have the free capital. Bottom line: make sure the cover is professional looking. We all know the old adage, but the truth is people judge an e-book first by its cover, then it’s summary, and then its price. If you don’t grab their eye when they’re scrolling through countless other books, they never even get the chance to become customers.

Going Live

                When I converted the book (a tedious process documented at here) and uploaded it to Amazon, I thought that was the end of it. Oh how wrong I was.

                First off, during the upload, I had to do something that had sincerely, never occurred to me: set a price. I, like most web-serial folk, give my work away on the site, only making a small bit from ads and donations. The idea of charging people for what I already gave away at first struck me as crass. However, since Amazon doesn’t allow free e-books without a lot of hoop-jumping, I made peace with it. I eventually settled on a price of $3.99: high enough to show the amount of value I felt the work had, but low enough not to trip anyone’s mental circuits as a major purchase.

                When that was done, Amazon next presented me with another choice: Did I want to enroll in the Kindle Select Program? This essentially means you agree not to sell through anyone but them. In exchange you receive: the ability to make deals and promos, a higher percentage of international royalties, and a piece of the communal Prime Member pot when Prime members borrow your books. The promo deal intrigued me, and having just finished making the .mobi I was already dreading doing an .epub for Nook, so I signed on.

                With that, it was just a matter of being reviewed, posted, and put up for sale as an Amazon e-book. At long last, my journey was completed.

                Right?

The Aftermath

                When I graduated high school, I decided (on a whim) to go to college in a town ten hours away from my hometown where I knew exactly zero people. For most of my adult life, I referred to that as the impulsive decision that had the largest consequences. The e-book of Super Powered: Year 1 overtook that honor within months after it was published.

                While I originally planned to put out a portable story for my more dedicated readers, the book quickly took on a life of its own. I didn’t realize it when I published, but superhero stories are a huge indie author bonanza right now, and I’d published right into the niche where books were being gobbled up. It was great; it meant a few dollars in my pocket and new visitors to my sites.

                Then, as it always does, reality set in. There were forums with readers asking me questions on Amazon’s site, so keeping a good relationship with them meant hitting it several times a week. The longer I spent on the site, the more I got to see the various authors scrapping to keep their sales rank and review numbers high. As more sales came in, it occurred to me for the first time that it might be viable to make a living off that. It became a pipeline of both income and new readership, and like all pipelines it required management if I wanted the flow to continue.

                I will say this to all of you who are looking at taking an established web-serial and making it into an e-book: you have a tremendous advantage over many of the other authors clamoring for attention. Having a reader-base right out of the gate is a great step-up, the only reason I saw such initial success was because of the kind readers who took the time to review the book and spread the word. They gave me such a good leg-up, in fact, that I’m only now beginning to learn about promotion and advertisement. Don’t be shy about asking them to review, I’ve found most readers want their authors to meet with success; it translates into more products available for them to consume.

                In closing, I’ll say that taking a web-serial to an e-book is a very time-consuming and potentially expensive process, however it can be very lucrative even if you aren’t looking to branch out into more traditional publishing mediums. It’s a tool, and like any tool only the wielder can decided if it’s correct for that they want to accomplish.

                There, now that ALL of that is done, let’s finally move onto to office drinking. To start, the “coffee” pot can warm a fine mulled wine if you-

                (Offstage whispering)

                Out of time? This is a written blog, that doesn’t even make sense. You can’t do this! I will not be silenc-


Writer DrewDrew Hayes is a little bit writer, a little bit performer, and currently being fed to the blog sharks.  You may find his  manifestos and his serial “Super Powereds”  at at his website. 

Previewing how your serial novel website looks on various devices

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about design . I know several several folks have already put out their opinions on how to design navigation for a blog-based webfiction/ serial novel so I won’t revisit that topic.  However, I haven’t seen many blogs among the veterans regarding pointing out the need to design for multiple platforms.

Over the past few years, Google Analytics data for my website shows that a steady increase in people reading my stories from mobile devices — including tablets and smartphones.  The “real estate” for your words on a screen can vary significantly among visitors to your serial novel.

While my site does have a mobile view  that defaults to text without no images (and only menus) — there’s no guarantee that is what a person surfing in will see.   As I acquired an iOS table for reading stuff and surfing, I started to find my old header aggravating.   I noticed that the header on the tablet was eating up a lot of screen space. Because it’s bad form to have content fall too far below the first screen, I decided to try to slim down my existing header.  So far, okay with the results but I’m still muddling with the layout.

If you’d like to test how your site looks, you might like to surf over to the following two links and look at how this experience translates across different screen-widths.

Studiopress

This site allows you to preview what your site looks like at different widths (i.e., for those readers who may be viewing on tablets and phones).  A sample using my website is shown below. You have two phone widths on the left and two common tablet views on the right.

studiopress

Screenfly

If you need more advanced/specific capability (as in selecting out the actual device, i.e., iPhone 5) you can also try Screenfly at http://quirktools.com/screenfly/ and it’ll allow you to pick specific devices under various categories including tablets, mobile phones, television/monitors and offers a custom size selection tool in case your option isn’t identified.   In other words, you can have the same functionality as the above link but with more options. 

quick

The good news is for those of you who are using WordPress.com/org  systems, I think these platforms have built-in mobile capability and are tolerable on many devices.   I’d be curious to talk to you on BLogger sites about how it’s working for you!

Next week! Indie Recon -an online conference on self-publishing – 2.25-2.27

Sorry folks for a pretty quiet 2014. I am mulling writing a short series on promotion (as there are a lot of newer writers  trying rather hard these days to find readers) but need some time to put those thoughts together.

Just a head’s up. Indie Recon is back this year and starts next week!

The schedule is available at http://www.indierecon.org/p/schedule.html

Like last year, I think everything is free and available to attend online.

Also announced is an in person convention in Utah, October 10th & 11th, 2014 dedicated to self-publishing.

 

Musing on the online novel, webfiction, serials, and other online written content

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