As we head into 2014, it’s rather perplexing to find myself wondering if webfiction made much progress this year overall. Webfiction (or online serials if we follow this year’s fashionable name for this writing format) may have made considerable progress if one looks at the story of Wattpad , Kindle Serials, and Jukepop Serials this past year. There’s a lot of media energy around those start-ups. Wattpad has brought electronic fiction to the attention of the major traditional publishing houses. Kindle Serials has proven its mettle and seems like it’s here to stay. And Jukepop’s author community has revitalized the Twitter/WFG forums.
The shrinking independent community
Smaller startups like text-novel.com and fictionaut.com look to be plateauing based on their read /viewer stats on their newest works. Plympton and Eat Your Serial have evolved into different types of publishing entities altogether.
More worrisome is that a large number of independent players in webfiction remain silent (novelr.com) or slid off grid. The publisher 1889.ca/Ergofiction has largely gone quiet in forums and social media channels. (ETA: Ergofiction’s home page is also gone, replaced by an interior design page.) Fluffy-Seme.com and Weblit.us (originators of the #weblit hashtag) have gone offline. Novelr.com — one of the more influential blogs on webfiction — went 100% dormant in 2013. The podcast Webfiction World lost its mainstay hosts and Webcast Beacon realigned their content to focus more on webfiction readings and allied with the long-running podcast EpiGuide.
While it is good to see larger more corporate entities participate in digital fiction, there is not necessarily much trickle down effect to other authors. None of the big three are open to advertising or cross-pollination. So their success hasn’t necessarily reshaped anything for those not within those platforms.
If there is one small branch being offered to the webfic community it comes via WordPress. Wordpress.com highlighted serial novels/online novels during the month of August (http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/going-serial-2/) . However, there’s not been a necessarily obvious increase in traffic to a wide group of authors posting under the various fiction tags on their sites.
Therefore the plight of marketing the independent sites seems to be left to those entities like EpiGuide, Webfiction Guide, and Muses Success. However, for those who think these are the venues that will bring readers need to be aware that these are not solutions.
EpiGuide celebrated its fifteen year in existence recently. (Congratulations!) I suspect it will ride out the ups and downs of the digital fiction world for a while longer as they have both the web video series and webprose to cover (and web series do seem have more viral capability than web prose).
Webfiction Guide and Muses Success Directories: Not your marketing strategy
I have always encouraged folks to use the directories to list their works. But expectations of these directories themselves have to be grounded in some kind of reality.
What is that reality?
I know that website ranking tools are not necessarily reliable. In fact, short of the website owners telling us directly their statistics, we can only use them to guess at a range or magnitude of visits coming to directories (and “how” as you can see hints here at the now quiet novelr.com in a post by the main site maintainer for WFG, Chris Poirier).But spend one or two hours on google trying to look at these sites and you have to realize that, at best, you are getting a few hundred visitors to these websites (with WFG likely outperforming Muses Success). How many of these visitors actually engage cannot be guessed at with this pseudo-data, but there’s no reason to believe that 100% visitors actually stay and browse the directories.
This, of course, makes sense. There’s only so much these directories can do because they’re not marketed and the social influence of those who developed these platforms is kind of limited. (Most of the coders/editors are not active on Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook.) None of these guys are aligned with bigger names out there in content creation. Those big names align themselves with the corporate /venture-capital funded entities, after all such as Wattpad or Amazon.
Of interest to me (although it may not be true) is information from TrafficEstimate.com on WebfictionGuide.
My assumption is that if the data is even partly true, then the lesson is for those who put great efforts into WFG (in terms of ensuring visibility) that the directory may be a decreasingly ineffective platform to “market.” For those who put a lot of stock in directories, this kind of data should be a wake up call. While we should continue to thank the directory owners and hosts for their support, the reality is that author efforts to market their work should not rest upon these directories. If their traffic/influence continues to go down then an author needs to look at other options. There’s sometimes considerable energy being devoted to worrying about persons’ ranking on the WFG sites (Top Web Fiction, Novels Online) while the data suggests that there are fewer visitors coming in to begin with. The site itself is operating in a fairly passive mode with few new readers coming into the system through new methods (other than organic search) other than those brought in by other authors. In particular, this year, WFG indices and forums received an infusion of authors from Jukepop Serials.
The idea that other authors also are going to help you market your work has some value. Other authors can make a difference in terms of raising the visibility of your work via links/tweets. However, the continued turnover and disappearance of sites I mentioned before (many of which were author-created) should be a warning. You can never rely on the existence of other sites to take up the general cause and make “webfiction” famous so that you, as an author, can benefit. You are, as an author, ultimately responsible for your own marketing as pages and directories come and go .
It’s not all doom and gloom, however, for the webfiction/serial novel community. While the ebook field is crowded and appears to have plateaued in 2013, there are small hints at ebooks helping specific authors. While I don’t have data from those folks who have published their ebooks and linked them squarely to their own fiction sites, there’s anecdotal information out there suggesting that it does contribute. As we evolve into an era of tablets over e-readers, one hopes that going from ebook to website will become a norm.
In closing out 2013, I have to say that I have no new resolutions to offer. Last year’s post still holds true. Instead of spending time regurgitating that content, I’ll be revisiting the must-read posts at Novelr.com and mulling the future.