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 http://iarstory.blogspot.com. 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)?



Wordpress, Wattpad, and FictionPress: a comparison of numbers


I’ve been serializing Memory of AUSOS on a free WordPress account since December 2010, also mirroring releases (with a several week lag) at Wattpad and FictionPress. From August 2011 to May 2012 I went on hiatus while I focused on personal issues and on getting my other novel, The Ghost Tiger’s Lament, finished… during which time I totally neglected the serial. I published “Ghost Tiger” the first week of April 2012, and was approached by Wattpad for a feature towards the end of May. I started posting Ghost Tiger on Wattpad in June, and was officially listed as a feature on July 5th. I also relaunched AUSOS at the same time (in May), posting twice a month rather than weekly as before, and this time making sure to keep the mirrored releases better updated.

Also, my social media presence is pathetic.


I did some minor advertising via Project Wonderful shortly after I first launched (December 2010, though the site itself has been around since October 2010), and peaked in traffic at a, uh, very modest 150 visitors a day. Since my relaunch in May 2012 I’m at a relatively consistent 400-600 hits a month (if I update in a timely fashion :P). The only other “promo” I’ve done is announcing updates on Twitter (if I remember to), and listing the story on Web Fiction Guide and Muse’s Success.

As I only have the free WordPress tools, I can’t drill down as specifically as SgL has on her stats, however — i.e. I have no idea what percentage of those hits are readers, returning or otherwise, and what percentage are SPAMBOTS.


Frankly speaking, my record on Wattpad is modest compared to the success other featured stories have had (i.e. up to millions of hits). There could be any number of reasons for this: I write in a relatively unpopular genre, I don’t do much promo, I don’t do much networking, etc. But I have been very happy with the results anyway, and the opportunity it’s given me to reach countless new readers.

My stats as of Jan. 19, 2013:

[Title (Genre*) | Date first posted | Total accumulated “reads”**]

* up to two selections allowed
** hits added up per chapter

1. Memory of AUSOS (Fantasy/Science Fiction) | February 2011 | 970

181 reads on the first chapter
14 reads on the most recent chapter (out of 20 installments total)

The first story I ever posted on Wattpad. And the only one, for a long time. Before my feature, I had at most 10-12 installments posted (recall that I’d been on hiatus for months, and before that I’d only been updating the Wattpad listing when I remembered to). I do remember having about 200 reads by June 2012, right before the feature was listed. That said, it’s a bizarre story in a very niche genre, so I’ve never expected much attention on it, and am not at all surprised by the low follow-through rate.

2. “Thousand-Year Cat” (Fantasy/Short Story) | May 2012 | 304

This is a roughly 8k short story* with romantic undertones that I originally self-published back in 2011. I posted this on Wattpad mostly as an experiment (this was before I had been approached for the feature if I recall correctly), as it’s my one story with the most “mainstream” appeal, or at least the most appeal among the majority of the Wattpad population. I did get much better hit rates on it than I did with AUSOS. (And judging by comments, readers adore the story.) Even so, I doubt I would have gotten half the attention this has if it hadn’t been for the subsequent feature.

* approaching novelette territory, actually, considering the length

3. The Ghost Tiger’s Lament (Historical/Fantasy) | June 2012 | 314,104

28,539 first chapter
11,147 last chapter (out of 23 story chapters, though there are 3 additional appendix chapters that are included in the total count above)

(Completion rate was 50% at one point according to SgL — I didn’t record this though, alas. Nice to know I’m still getting readers working their way through though — or trying to. :P)

Well, that’s a drastic difference there. For the record, I had about 300 reads prior to the feature getting listed. I was actually really worried about the story’s potential reception when I first got featured. Obscure historical time period, obscure setting, melancholy narrative arc, most decidedly not YA, and not really a typical fantasy novel in many ways. But, well, aside from some pathetic tweeting/social media notification, and a guest post on the official Wattpad blog the same day the feature listed… I didn’t do much. And yet readers flocked to the story the moment it was listed. Some of them even liked it. 11k readers have apparently liked it enough over the last six months to finish the whole thing.

Which is honestly pretty mindboggling to me — as a self-publisher who’s quietly kept track of the scene over the past 2-3 years, I’m well aware that many people have been able to give away thousands of free downloads via Amazon (and receive subsequent sales boosts). But out of those sales/downloads, it’s impossible to know how many people are actually reading to completion. My Wattpad stats, on the other hand, are very clear. And very humbling.

Are those readers subsequently crossing over to read my other work? Well, honestly, I don’t have enough comparable work out there. (I don’t even have the Ghost Tiger sequel out yet. :P) But a few readers are branching out, nonetheless (there was a definite boost in stats on AUSOS and the Cat story post-feature, if not so drastic).

Still, without the feature, this particular story would have definitely wallowed in obscurity. Is it possible to find visibility on Wattpad without a feature? Yes… but from what I’ve observed it requires a lot of investment in the community (frex the annual contests/events, forums, comments, etc.) and networking with other writers/readers on the site — and you probably need to be writing in a popular genre. YA, romance, paranormal…

4. The Land of Eternal Winter (Fantasy/Adventure) | Jan 16, 2013 | 24

The first chapter of my most recent, not-yet-released novel, which I decided to post for further comparison purposes. This is definitely an improved hit rate compared to when I first posted AUSOS (*crickets*) and when I posted the Cat story (about 10-16 hits over the first couple of days). Beyond that, I can’t say much yet, as it’s far too early and there are any number of factors that could be coming into play:

– I’m now a known entity on Wattpad.
– This is a fantasy with much more mainstream appeal.
– I tweeted it to my nonexistent followers.
– There is a human face on the cover.


I only have AUSOS posted on FictionPress, better known as the little sibling of the much bigger Fanfiction.net. AUSOS was written with the intention of serialization; the other works I have listed at Wattpad were not. Also, note that FP provides two different kinds of stats records*; I’m not entirely sure they match up (and only one kind gives chapter breakdown), but I will provide both.

* Also, the fanfic/fp community has traditionally valued comments/”reviews” much more than they have valued silent hits (despite typical reader behavior skewing to the latter) — take that as you will.

My “legacy” stats (since December 20, 2010):

Total views: 1311
– 241 on the first chapter
– 71 on the most recent chapter (out of 39 installments total — I break down updates differently here than I do on Wattpad)

That number on my most recent chapter is really an outlier though. Most of my other installments have about 10-30 hits (the earlier chapters have a bit more). I have outliers on a few chapters (99 on ch. 35, 108 on ch. 37). I’m frankly not sure why — possibly those were links I promoted on Twitter or that people got in their email alerts, or people like clicking to the last available chapter to judge whether or not they’ll like the rest of the story. But like I said, I’m not entirely sure how these stats are calculated, so who knows.

Monthly breakdown for the last six months, plus January so far:

[month | views | visitors | ratio of views to visitors]
January 2013 | 129 | 36 | 3.58 : 1
December | 191 | 57 | 3.75 : 1
November | 290 | 71 | 4.08 : 1
October | 378 | 108 | 3.5 : 1
September | 50 | 17 | 2.94 : 1
August | 5 | 4 | 1.25 : 1
July | 34 | 14 | 2.43 : 1

What happened between September and October is two things: I got sexy official cover art (FictionPress used to not display cover images, and when it started, I think sometime last year, I was using placeholder art). I also made a rather belated switch of categories from Manga to Science Fiction, a much more high-traffic category. Unfortunately I can no longer remember when I made the category switch exactly, but it must have been toward the end of September or sometime in October. And in August I believe I didn’t have a chance to update as I was overseas.

The subsequent decline in numbers is expected — regular browsers of that category now recognize that story either as one they’re interested in following or not. And I suspect some have been leeched over to my main site (since there is still a lag in updates). Also, as I post two installments at a time on this site, it’s hard to judge exactly how many people are returning readers and how many are new readers.

What has been interesting to me though is that there is a clear genre/audience discrepancy between the two sites (Wattpad and FP). I don’t have the data to back me up and I’m not going to say it’s a gender or age difference (I strongly suspect the female population is in the majority on both sites, and that ages of active readers/writers skew young on both sites as well*) — but I do wonder sometimes if certain types of readers are actually more comfortable on FP than on Wattpad.

Which may or may not tie in to the fact that there is also a significant difference in discovery/reader behavior on both sites. FP readers rely somewhat less on the social reading aspect (there are forums there as well and that certainly plays a factor, but my guess is that typical story discovery results from regular browsing) — whereas on Wattpad it’s much more difficult to browse “neutrally” (nor is the site structured in such a way that you are encouraged to do so). “Growth” on FP is of course much slower in general because of this, but “cricket chirp” situations are arguably fewer too.

The other major difference, potentially, is reader attitudes toward finished and unfinished stories. Due to the overlap from fanfiction culture, FP readers are used to following serialized work — it is more or less expected for a story to be uploaded and consumed in chunks (in contrast, a story uploaded in its entirety at once is quickly buried behind newer updates and forgotten). When I was approached by Wattpad, however, and I asked whether I should upload my whole story at once, or by installments, I was told that Wattpad readers by far prefer completed stories that they can just sit down and dig into. And based on casual observation, at least, I think it is true that Wattpad readers enjoy reading through an entire story in a single sitting. I don’t know how much of a difference there is, but it does seem to be there.

Of course, FP has been revamping itself in recent years, so who knows if these differences will persist.

* if you look at the fantasy/romance/YA categories on the respective sites, you’ll see that there isn’t that much of a difference actually


Isn’t this post long enough already? I’m tempted to end on something pithy like “go where the readers are, not where the writers/social media gurus are,” but I think I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.

The terminology debate part 3 of ?: the "web series" and how Reddit bummed me out

In the midst of a second mid-life crisis and evaluating possible school again (yes, it’s sick to think I’d even entertain grad school again), I picked up some new screenwriters and screen reader blogs.

I love writing serials. And I love LOST.  The idea of writing a drama of characters with other crazy people really excites me, so I’m researching their tricks, their language, and their career advice while I flirt with changing career paths.

While reading “The Aspiring TV Writer” (http://aspiringtvwriter.blogspot.com )  I noted their announcement about a new blog devoted to “web series,” “The Tangled Web We Watch” at
http://tangledwebwewatch.com/ .

Perusing their FAQ and link pages, what’s immediately clear to me is that the blogger and other folks in the traditional tv/movie business use “web series” to be synonymous with “web television,” more like “The Guild” or “Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog” than to refer to any other serial.

Given that currently “web series” is also one of the tags/classifications that online novels/webfiction /prose writers use, this is an evolving situation that I have mixed feelings about.

Of course, I’m happy for -any- term behind new media to get some kind of traction because at the moment web content is still fighting against the perception that independent is amateur. The well funded web series at least are attracting and maintaining interest of an internet-savvy audience.   Certainly thanks to some of the better independent web tv shows, I think the audience on the internet is open to independent work.

However, as the “web series” definition appears to move towards tighter definition, those of us whose content doesn’t even come close to serving as “prose TV” have to evaluate whether it is a good definition to use in our tagging, blogging and posting.    Sure, it might be okay to brand yourself as a pictureless/video-less “web series”…but the expectations are being put into play quickly that your content must be episodic in nature. It might have to be similar to existing web series out there because the audience prefers it.

In general, webcomics and webseries are starting to become associated with specific genres/types of content, and for web fiction/online novels this is a problem.  Our sandbox is highly diverse, much more inclusive of all types of genres than what appears to be happening in those two content sandboxes.

The writing community needs to stop making up new definitions and settle on something to describe fiction on the web that stands on its own.  To grow an audience, we are going to have to eventually give up this strategy of attaching ourselves to multiple terms.   The fiction we write is getting lost. Completely.

And on a random depressing note, see this week’s Reddit thread in r/writing:


We have a lot of work to do.

Goodreads group for serial fiction

My apologies for the last week and half of blog silence. I’ve been away for about ten days on vacation in Hawaii and am now catching up on things.

One of those things happens to be Goodreads which I know for many of you is probably not something you’re actively involved with. After all, it’s a community for readers (not authors) .

That said, it looks like the Web Serial group there is picking up a few new people thanks to Jukepopserials folks making their way onto the serial ship. I suspect that as Amazon serials makes a small dent in the mindset of authors, that you’ll see a few new visitors every so often show up there to say hello and chat.

So, plugging this site for your awareness:

You can sign up using existing Twitter or Facebook accounts. See you there!

The Terminology Debate Part 2 of ? – Amazon muddies the term "serial" (and what I’d be doing if I was in charge)

I’m sure by now most of you already heard about Amazon.com and the announcement that the company was launching serials for their Kindle user base. Or perhaps you saw media surrounding the Plympton Serial Kickstarter or heard about its partnership with Amazon in various media outlets.

If not, I suggest checking out the many articles on this already out there.

While I think it’s a rather interesting concept to attempt to float in front of readers who are largely accustomed to receiving whole books/products on their e-readers… what I thought was far more interesting was the debate that emerged over several sites as to whether Amazon was really publishing serials at all.

In some of the comments that surfaced in the blogosphere one chief quibble was whether the works Amazon was releasing were truly being written on the fly or were, to some degree, works that were really done (“in the can”) and  would sliced up for “this serialization model.”  Perhaps this clarification emerged more recently. It appeared at least one or two of Plympton’s announced works were “complete books” with no clarification on the other works by other publishers that are feeding into the serial program.

To echo the main point made in a blog from some time ago by Claudia Hall Christian at Tuesday Serial (see http://tuesdayserial.com/?p=2334 )  — it seems that the term “serial” has become a mix of things.

In essence she tried to draw a line in terminology, pointing out that there is a difference between

  • A book already completed, but broken for distribution into several pieces.
  • A book not completed and is being written nearly in the public eye, with the content being published close to time of writing, pieces at a time.  

And yet Amazon and Plympton seem to be invoking Charles Dickens (and Tolstoy and Hugo, etc.etc.) in describing both types. Yet – we know that Charles Dickens largely followed the second mode.

So here’s the part where I express some mild irritation.
 As a reader and buyer of ebooks, I admit feeling cheated by the idea that both types fit into this “categorization.”  The first type appears to be about making you buy the book in pieces (and holding a complete work back and possibly paying more for the pieces than the whole) .  I think this could become annoying since I don’t like spending more money on a “complete work” than I would have for the paper/dead-tree version.  Unless the book was the next Harry Potter and my excitement level remains high, I really DON’T want to be shelling out more money over the long-run for a work that I will later want compiled or will toss (if it’s not worth it).  I’d rather not see the first type entering into this space. At the best it misleads, at the worst it ruins the market for the second type.

But as an author, I do not want to see a culture of offering excessively up-front low prices on a serial that you do not know when it will end.   That means authors could commit to giving readers a 10 dollar book for 99 cents.

According to the conspiracy theorist (or analyst) within me, I realize the risks and benefits must balance out.  Inevitably, Amazon serials will end up mysteriously ending around a certain page number because the profit model is not very good except at that specific “sweet spot.”

It’ll be funny when the publishing world gurus run the numbers in a year or two on average length and sale price of serials.  I bet we’ll see the number of pages normalize into a very  narrow bell curve.  If so, you all owe me a no-prize.

Some other points to ponder.

If a book is not only being written in pieces, but takes user feedback is that somehow even better as a serial? 

I was thinking about the Amazon press release and am kind of in the camp that this is simply an attempt to make readers excited about serials, ignoring the fact that some were already complete books before they were subsumed into this grand experiment.

On the other hand, some authors seem quite perplexed by Amazon’s concept of “feedback” being used to inform work.

It seems some authors who are unfamiliar with serials think “feedback” is a scary thing.

However, I’m guessing that the current world of publishing produces books mostly in a vacuum. An author doesn’t get feedback until they’ve finished something and handed it over to an editor and then an audience.

This is where I find great amusement in discussions on “feedback.”   Those writing serials “in the wild” already know that we’re already writing with feedback in mind. We just don’t WRITE what we’re told.

Each week I read the comments of my readers.  Most of them know not to give me plot points, but most talk about what annoys them or bothers them.   Their feedback is a barometer. I try to balance subsequent installments with revelations or more detail if people express confusion.  Or I take a tangent to play with characters that the readers really enjoy.  None of these are changing the fact that I”m still writing a novel with the ending and major guideposts clearly marked on some map I keep hidden away in my files. It just fills the writing path with a few detours, or slows down the speed a bit in getting to a destination.

Should Amazon only serialize “novel” type stories?  

I hope not.  Several authors have already tried to write “tv shows” as serials already on Amazon.   (As usual, I refer to those not already reading David Gaughran to do go to his blog: https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/tag/serial-fiction/ ).

Serializing “novels” shouldn’t really differ from TV broadcasting “open ended shows.”    And those of us who have been reading or writing webfiction know quite well that both the online novel and online drama  already coexist within the webfiction realm.  One of the most arguably successful webfictions (in terms of reader traffic/unique visitors) is more or less a school drama set over the course of several years.

More or less, soap operas can be written with a meta-plot and many seasonal plots that work together to keep readers entertained.  The “seasons” can be compiled into volumes that become “ebooks.”

The problem is whether our audience here in North America can tolerate this relatively low frills experience.  Serial fiction will be lacking in certain things that make serialized tv dramas sexy for consumption — i.e., the attractive actors, cinematography, and musical scoring.    Whether our society who prefers video games to books would be okay with naked uadulterated text remains to be seen.

I think it might be difficult to capture the TV generation, but not impossible.

The term transmedia hasn’t really quite taken hold of the public’s imaginations, but transmedia — whereby an intellectual property exists in many media spheres (and interacts with others) is a buzz word amongst content creators these days.  Amazon (with a mind of developing a serial consumer) could work with Hollywood writers/famous authors and their guilds and come up with a very good serial fiction model that builds off TV shows format.   They could be experimenting with networks to integrate serial text stories into programming. Slap up an Amazon.com/BonusMaterial   url at the end of every show.   Push transmedia onto us until we consumers become primed to expect it.  Get a Neil Gaiman to write more Doctor Who novellas, and we’re ALL there with you reading.

In time, people in North America will understand the online novel(la) or webfiction for what it can be. Not just as an extension of a transmedia experience but an experience also in itself.

Monetizing this is not impossible. There are alternative formats that Amazon and others can explore.

Whether the content is standalone or “bonus,” somewhere in the various blogs made a really good suggestion for a hybrid subscription concept that Amazon could consider for long-running serials that don’t follow the novel format.  Amazon could build in a a renewable subscription element that can be altered at some time-interval. (This  would be no different from iTunes “season pass” for TV shows.)

Wonder if Amazon is already working on that idea. If not, Amazon, call me when you do.

Would gladly serve on your focus group 🙂 . For Free.

ETA:  As an addendum, while surfing the “Google Play” store, I noticed that their “Short Reads” series officially includes novellas and serials.  Oddly enough these were published in June 2012, well before Amazon’s “big news.”   If you do have a chance, surf through and look at the reviews for some of these multi-parters (as seen on Goodreads).  It would seem that readers are quite unhappy with a few things that have happened with length/quality of the installments.  Take note Amazon.