Questions newbies should ask when investigating serial publishers and platforms

For some, we prefer posting our own serial. However, others might be interested in being “published” as opposed to self-hosted.  Other than the 500 pound gorilla (Amazon Serials) there are actually half a dozen or so “publishers” out there.  Unlike the open publishing (free) platforms Wattpad or Fictionpress, these publishers often involve a submissions process.

As more of these entities appear on the scene and people flock to submit to these start-ups, a word of caution.  Not all digital publishers are “saviors” for unpublished authors.  In fact, some may be no different in practice than traditional publishers. Please make it a point to read blogs like “Writer’s Beware” to educate yourself on some horror stories that our print colleagues have learned the hard way.

I’ve read a number of case studies about small to mid-size publishers taking writer’s books and going to town – adapting them, tossing them in bankruptcy court as collateral, and so on and so forth. These are heartbreaking stories for authors and sad stories for the readers who get involved.  Just because you want to publish online doesn’t mean that the offline warnings don’t apply.

Certain questions, I feel, really need to be asked. For example – will this entity

  • Pay for your work
  • Claim copyright /license on your work. For how long ? Forever? Five years? One year?
  • Relinquish any claims (above) should they functionally stop existing as a company (e.g., their website disappears, goes dead or inactive, or loses readers in droves)
  • Transfer their licenses/copyrights to other companies should they cease to exist/go bankrupt/get bought out
  • Claim rights to derivative works on other platforms (e.g., audio dramas, games, comics from your novel)

Let’s assume that you have these points addressed satisfactorily and deep down you know you’re working with good guys who have laid out good terms. Then what? Sure it’s great you’re going to be published. Yay! But how are you being paid?

I would hazard that most payment models for these sites are based on straight sales of a subscription or some other metric measuring your popularity or reads.  But then it’s critical to become popular. And how exactly are you going to do that?

The adage “write well and often” certainly holds true as does “you need to promote yourself.” However, the publisher ought to have some responsibility for this promotion as well, particularly since they’re either borrowing or co-owning your product.

The one thing “establishment” is supposed to bring to the table, no matter the entertainment sector is MARKETING. And this is the facet that I wish authors thought about first.  

There are two lines of inquiry I encourage newbie serial authors to think through.

1) What is their baseline popularity (or “Am I moving into an empty house?”): 

  • What does the host/publisher have in terms of existing entertainment capital? Are they already popular ? With who?
  • How many visitors/users do they have? How many stay to read stories? What kind?
  • Are all their followers other authors hoping to make it rich? Or do they have readers actively involved/reading their content?
  • If they claim they can do all this, can  they back this up by giving you data every month? Or are you just guessing /trusting in their success?
  • How much money do they put into a marketing budget? Online ads? Banner exchanges?
  • How responsive are they to readers and authors?

2) Whether small or large in “popularity,” do they have a clear plan to grow that base?  

  • How many have a plan to get new readers?
  • Which readers? Is this an audience you can’t access yourself currently?
  • How  is this supposed to happen?  What does this plan involve? Is it all based on more of the usual online strategies (already being used by everyone who ever wants to write or publish a book )?
    • If yes, can they prove their success? What kind of click-thru rates do they have? How long do those visitors stay? Can they tell you if they are reading  your story? Why not? (Consider, all self-host folks can tell reads/visitors.)
  • How does their plan differ from other start-ups? Is it all online? Is it all ad based? Is it a campaign built on retweets and likes? Are they solely dependent on their authors to do the legwork?
  • Do they have an offline component? Do they go to book fairs, libraries, conventions? Do they have a good relationship with the blogging reviewer community? Or other partnerships that you think can help you?

Earlier in the year I blogged about why I felt the paradigm for online fiction was flawed and needed changing.

I mentioned that we had a fragmented fiction system out there with a lot of communities all inventing the same thing over and over.

To be honest, it’s not a bad thing provided each of those entities could demonstrate success or likely potential for future success.  I’m okay with lots of happy little independent publishers, so long as they were all accomplishing the goal that most authors wanted .

But are any really successful? That’s the question I have to ask as I look across the board. There’s really no articulated vision by a lot of these start-up publishers. And this inability to address the questions in this blog is why I continue to be  reluctant to submit to the majority of these publishers.

Hopefully this, too, will change someday.

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2 comments

  1. I appreciate the amount of effort you’ve put into researching online publishing, along with the perils that go with it. As someone who is only beginning to consider the options, research and consideratons from someone experienced is immensely valuable. Thank you for the article!

    1. Sure – thought it would be nice to try to keep a concentrated blog on the online serial. Best of luck with whatever options you decide to pursue. Feel free to poke me with any questions… also make sure to stop by Webfiction guide forums if you want to chat with other authors.

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