Let me relate a few seemingly disparate ideas and somehow magically (hopefully) spin this blog post into some advice.
1) Lunascence fiction archives announces it’s shutting its doors. Most people don’t really know what it is — after all, when we think fanfiction most of us operating in fandom circles think of Fanfiction.net and Archive of Our Own. But for at least a few year’s it’s been a fairly active and healthy spot for reading all sorts of stuff if you have watched it through the lens of Project Wonderful advertiser data. The reasons for it closing come down to economics. In spite of the heavy demand /traffic, the person who registered the site and pays for hosting cannot keep up with bills due to a lack of donations and a shortfall of advertising revenue.
2) Wattpad’s crowdfunding page disappears off the main page. When last checked, the projects largely topped off around a few thousand dollars. Far better than the average publishing project on Kickstarter but not the success that one expected given the high popularity of stories/authors on the site.
The truth is free fiction on the web tends to attract readers (if good and promoted/visible) but these examples illustrate that it is hard to find sustainable models for converting readers into patrons. A few authors have managed to make decent funding off donations.Both Wildbow of Worm and Alexandra Erin of Tales of Mu seem to be such examples. (Incidentally, congrats to Wildbow for finishing an epic run with “Worm” this week, clocking in millions of words and I think somewhere in the 1000s of updates! ) That said, very few serial authors otherwise have come forward saying that they make more than a few dollars here or there off donations. When we gather around the watercooler at Webfiction Guide or Twitter, most of us seem to joke about how the compensation most of us receive (if any ) can perhaps buy some pizza or be funneled back into a modest advertising budget at places like Project Wonderful.
And yeah, this is kind of sad. We already know it’s hard to find the readers on the web for online work. A lack of comments and a lack of compensation can be pretty demoralizing for an author. These, aside from the sheer difficulty of keeping a serial going, are among the reasons many people lose steam and throw in the towel on their serial. (Short of having a loving burning need to write in the open space of the internet or MASOCHISM, not many people I think are able to keep writing.)
It doesn’t help that people regularly scare up reasons why not to publish on the web. For many years the common wisdom still holds concern about web-publishing impacting future traditional publishing prospects. (Not necessarily true by the way as evidenced by the story of Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War ” and, more recently, Pacat’s “Captive Prince.”)
Still, publishing is even weaker than it was a few years ago and we are squarely in the middle of a self-publishing paradigm shift whereby some stars find their indie success and hard work paying off. The fact is that with the right combination of luck, audience charm, and hard work, the path to commercial and popular success isn’t closed off simply because one didn’t go the traditional route.
So for those of you who are discouraged and wanting to give up, do a little self-assessment. You may never find popularity or money while serializing. But it isn’t over.
True, the web may not be a great place for making money off your webfiction but that same work has the opportunity and possibility of becoming something else in its next phase. An ebook. A paper book. The means, the methods, and the know-how are all out there waiting for you if you’re willing to take what you have and talk to the self-publishing and independent writer crowd.
So don’t give up on your serial. Finish it. It costs you nothing to upload to Smashwords or Amazon. If you need help, ask us. Some of us before you have done it already. Make a complete work and reach a whole different audience — the one buying millions of phones and tablets and e-readers and who knows what else as we continue to stomp down the path of an exciting digital age. (You’ll be glad to know that at least a handful more of us can say that in this stage we may not be making fistfuls of money but we are selling. )
You won’t know your measure until you try it at least once with one completed serial, one book.
And readers? The point of this blog wasn’t to say that authors in this community expect donations. But for those who ask and have earned your trust and have regularly entertained you, think about it. They have no way of knowing the value of their work if you either don’t donate or reach out to them. Readers, be cheerleaders for the authors who deliver.
And authors, keep running the race.
To the end game.