Guest Discussion – Najela Cobb reflects on serializing prose vs. webcomics

Najela Cobb (Twitter, Facebook) and I started chatting via comments on an earlier post about webfiction/serial novels . In that conversation we started drawing comparisons between the two niches, particularly since webcomics are, to a degree, more successful than webfiction /serials in reaching an online audience.

This former prose serializer or “webfiction” writer recently ventured into a new story, but this time in the webcomics market. She just Kickstarted her webcomic, “Beyond Beauty” this past week.

This sounded like a good time to formalize our previous chat into a quasi-interview. Hopefully Najela’s responses offer some food for thought. And if you, also, are a serial writer with webfiction cred doing something new and are interested in being interviewed, please contact me with your name, URL (of your past or current work), and briefly describe what you think you have to share with other readers (current and future) of this blog.

And with that business stuff out of the way, off we go.

Please tell us about your former serial.

I worked on a serial called It’s All Relative (IAR).

Here’s a description: “The magical world of Atheria is unraveling at the seams as powerful hybrid creatures disrupt the essential balance. Amidst the chaos, a young revolutionary promises change and freedom at a cost. Three college students and their friends find themselves on different sides of a war where the line between good and evil is not so clearly defined.”

The story hasn’t really changed too much, but its execution has seen various incarnations. Its most recent form was posted at I believe it started in late 2007/early 2008 on freewebs and ended in 2009 on Blogspot. Extras, parodies, and collaborative stories are still available to read.

What sort of promotion (e.g., advertising, link exchanges, social media, mirror fiction directories or sites) did you do when you first started to put the story online?

I did promotion through Livejournal groups, Project Wonderful, Pages Unbound, Web Fiction Guide, and was active on forums. I also did review exchanges and collaborative fiction with other web fiction authors.

What successes did you think you accomplished in posting your serial?

My biggest success in posting IAR was watching the webfiction community take shape and grow over time. Posting online helped me develop a thick skin. I’ve learned to put some emotional distance between myself and my stories, which I think is a good skill for any writer to have.

What issues did you feel you could not overcome with the serial (e.g., lack of reader interaction)?

The main issue I couldn’t overcome was my inner editor and my lack of time. I had a decent amount of reader interaction, but I couldn’t get the story to go in the direction I wanted to go. I didn’t have any direction in the first place. The fluid nature of serial writing in general allows you to deviate from the plot, but every chapter has to move the story forward in some way, which is something I didn’t understand at the time. If my story were an anime, it was more like a sprawling “epic” like Bleach or Naruto when it should have been more concise like Cowboy Bebop.

Did you finish it and try to publish it as an eBook? Did you pull it down?

I pulled it down not too long ago when Chromatic Press announced their intent to publish proseserials. I wanted to give it one more try, but “It’s All Relative” is meant to be presented in a fully visual medium (not a light novel). I plan to adapt this story as a comic, but I wanted to finish something smaller first.

At what point did you decide to try the webcomic route? Why?

I took a graphic novel writing class shortly after graduating with my B.A. in Creative Writing. I have always been a fan of webcomics, but I don’t draw well enough to do one on my own. While I was taking this class, I started the prose version of “Beyond Beauty.” In Februrary 2012, I started looking for an artist to finish off my script from my graphic novel class, but by April the artist hadn’t gotten back to me. I decided to shift gears and adapted my prose script for “Beyond Beauty” into a graphic novel script. I wanted to do this as a webcomic because I missed the online creator based community. Once I started posting in October 2012, I realized that I was a small fish in a big pond. In webfiction, it seems to be the other way around, but I’m starting to see things shift as more people come onto the scene.

How did you find your artist and work out the payment and rights sharing for Chapter 1? For example moving forward, who owns what? How have you two decided to deal with future reprints and profit sharing?

I found Crystal (aka Scotty) through deviantart. I typed in “comic book commissions” in the search bar and her name was the first in the results. I looked through her portfolio and saw that she was talented, passionate, professional, and reasonably priced. I blew threw the archives on all her the comics in portfolio and was impressed.

I haven’t had “The Rights” talk yet. My main focus was just getting the comic out there. I think once the Kickstarter is over, I will have to hash out the details with the artist over the rights. I do want to give back to my artists when they do great work. Webcomics have failed because the writers don’t pay their artist fairly and when you get that kind of reputation, it might be hard to find other artists to work with.

Do you feel your webcomic is more successful than your webfiction work?

My webcomic is more successful than my webfiction because a webcomic is more permanent. If I wanted to change the beginning, I’d have to pay. I have a better understanding of how stories work based on the playwriting, graphic novel, and animation writing classes I’ve taken. I’ve gotten a lot of more comments on my webcomic than I did on my webfiction, but I’m less active in the comments too, which is difference I’ve noticed between the two mediums in general.

What are your statistics like for this webcomic version vs. the webfiction?

When I do an advertising sprint for the webcomic, I can get up to 20,000 views a day. This drops after a few days, but it’s always averaged out at 500 views a day. With the web serial, if I did an advertising run, it would get up to 8,000 and drop off to about 30 views a day.

Was there anything different you did in terms of promotion?

I advertise way less than I did with my webfiction and I only use project wonderful and tumblr to promote it. I try to go to places where I’m naturally more active. 4 years ago, I was always on facebook and twitter, but not so much now.

If this has been more successful, what do you attribute this additional success to?

The webcomic is more successful mainly because I haven’t rewritten anything. I haven’t website hopped either. Beyond Beauty will be hosted on its own site. I think finding a chapter size and an update schedule that works is easier to do for a comic. Since it was hard to find a consistent size and schedule since production wasn’t always the same as it was for webfiction since it wasn’t finished yet. That aspect is probably easier for a finished project in either medium.

Should the Kickstarter for Chapter 2 not fund or the funds collected through Kickstarter are not enough to cover the project costs, what will you and the artist both do with the project?

I originally planned to try to raise more money, but I scaled it back by quite a bit because I wanted a better chance to get the project fully funded. I always knew that I would have to come out of pocket if I ran a Kickstarter project. Even the Kickstarter guidelines recommend this. I needed just enough to “kickstart” the project into gear and cover some of the rewards. My hope is that it over funds so I can use that extra money for reward fulfillment and to go into funding chapters 3 and 4 so there isn’t too much of a delay between postings. I also might look to Indiegogo because of the option to keep any money you make.

On a related question, how will you view success on both the Kickstarter and the actual release of Chapter 2 moving forward? In other words, in an ideal world, what happens from the moment the Kickstarter completes?

Success would be if the project funds, but even if it doesn’t it was an amazing process and a great learning experience. Whether the project funds or not, the fact that total strangers believe in my work has validated my goal of one day turning to writing as my main income. Seeing so much support lets me know that can happen sooner rather than later.

The moment the kickstarter completes and the money is deposited in my account, I will make payment arrangements with the artist. My artist works quickly, so I don’t have too many worries there. After that, I’ll be ordering proofs so that I have a tangible way of quality control. After that process is completed, I will be ordering all the rewards, putting reward packages together, then shipping them out. My timeline is ambitious, I did put August 2013 (partly because the main character’s name is August). It’s doable, but I will keep people updated if it can’t be completed within the time frame.

Will you return to serializing prose with this storyline? Or another? If it’s a maybe, what are the conditions you would consider doing so?

I have a ton of ideas for a series of fairytale retellings and a magical school story. I need to learn how to complete things and manage my time wisely before I start these projects.

Serializing another story is definitely a yes now that I understand the medium a bit more.

When you say you understand the medium better, what would you do differently?

I understand that the things you can do in a comic don’t really translate to other mediums like novel writing. There were whole stretches of prose chapters where the characters were just talking or doing something silly. In a comic, this could have been covered in about 2-5 pages. Not only that, but many web serials are more heightened than their dead tree counterparts. IAR, despite my efforts, was not really as “extreme” as it could have been. I have some more life experience so I’m not as clueless about writing and the world in general as I was when I was 18-20 years old.

Many of the online stories I read push the boundaries of what can be done. There seems to be more drama, more grit, more everything– things you wouldn’t necessarily be able to get in a traditionally published book. I don’t think I’ve ever read a serial thinking that I could do it better, in fact, I feel inspired by the things that people are doing in web fiction (and indie publishing in general). Traditionally published books tread too lightly, too light to leave too much of an impression. Many of the books that leave me giddy and craving more have been web serials and indie fiction. In terms of serializing again, I would do many things differently. For starters, I would try to be more consistent in my schedule and get a sizable buffer before posting. I tend to get overeager about posting things and jump into it, then scramble around trying to keep up the momentum. I love stories that contain artwork, so I’d definitely try to incorporate a visual aspect for my potential serials. For starters, I’d write the best book that I can without letting my inner editor get in the way. I’d try to push myself outside of my comfort zone for sure and I think any story can benefit from not playing it safe.

How may people contact you if they have further questions?

Serial fiction:
Kickstarter for her webcomic:


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