2012 — Webfiction’s Small Bookstore Problem and 2013 Resolutions

When I started my first online novel several years ago, I used to read the forum threads at Webfiction Guide and blog comments at Novelr quite extensively.

Looking in between the lines of some of the posts, I could see a lot of excitement for writing novels online, but a budding frustration with the ability to advance the notion of “webfiction.”

I recall one astute commentator noting that all it would take was “one big story, one success story” to help push the entire profile of online novels/webfiction forward.

And so here we are at the end of 2012 with a large number of exciting things happening in the web/electronic fiction realm – particularly for serials.

  • Ebooks continue to increase their share of overall book sales
  • Amazon launches a new Kindles Serial program
  • Margaret Atwood enters the world of online fiction through Wattpad.com and Byliner.com 
  • Danielle Steele and other established authors say HEY WHY NOT and announce plans for digital singles
  • Major coverage of “serials” in Time, NPR, WSJ, and other journals in Canada and the UK
  • Major startups launch: Jukepopserials.com  and Plympton.com, with Plympton completing a successful Kickstarter and partnering with Amazon Kindle Serials within a matter of months.
If there is a time to advance the plight of the online independent novel writer, it is now. And yet, can it really be done?
The effectiveness of these other entities is clear. They are well-funded and capitalized to market themselves to an audience.  Granted, serials are not everyone’s cup of tea but there is that small percent who enjoy this serial song and dance with the author. These readers are used to anticipation and to delayed gratification.  

They’re the reading world’s version of roller-coaster riders.Gamblers. Just like the authors who decide to step into online serialization and hope that they don’t crash and burn out in front of an audience.

But can a successful park or casino be built around webfiction?

If one takes a look at the marketplace right now for indie webfictioneers, it’s dismally small.

Of these, it is also impossible to determine the percentage of these works that is complete, save at Webfiction Guide.  This figure may be roughly 16% of listed works.   Tuesdayserial offers 50 “Graduates” with an indeterminate denominator (so no way for me to easily calculate completion rate).

When one looks at the big guys — Wattpad (with its millions of stories) or looks at the webcomic world — with tens of thousands of comics online — you start to realize that the ecosystem for serials and online fiction is very tiny.

In sum, the ability to have something a reader wants is a gamble.  The storefront the indie online novel/webfiction writer inhabits (via these directories) is much beloved (and we do love our folks for hosting these listings) but doesn’t have the choices that the larger players have or the visibility.

Can indie online fiction flourish?  Can it really do all that well when what we have to market as a community is tiny?

That is what really remains to be seen.   So 2012 had its big exciting news stories and the “great lucky break” that some have been clamoring for.  And I venture that the big bump most of the indies hoped for couldn’t happen because we weren’t big enough to ride that wave.

So, my only conclusion for 2013 is going to be this — if I want to see the storefront to grow, I’m going to have to (as a part of this online community)

  • Try to recruit  people and their projects (as I discover them) for the existing indie directories.  Try to force a breakdown of the existing silos as well between the online serial cliques.   (It  vexes me to this day that Tuesdayserial doesn’t list WFG or Muses Success on its front page and features one defunct directory instead.) 
  • Engage in publishing world/writer conversations about the big guys and their experiments in serialization, looking for ways to tactfully bring up these directories as sources of free fiction
  • Cheer other authors on to complete what they’re doing, since a good webfiction directory should not be full of half-completed projects and it seems that the turnover rate is very high. 
  • Look for ways to knit my stories into other platforms (to drive people to my independently managed sites)
And last, but not least — I vow to  keep writing and completing my stories! 
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