News: Starter Serials Enters the Fray and other “serial player” changes

Hi guys – Back from a fan convention with a few stories to tell whenever I can recover from all this traveling and crazy convention prep!

The end of May marks the soft launch of StarterSerials.com by Drew Hayes and his posse.  (The man doesn’t sleep apparently). He had written me via email to solicit my thoughts about “what’s needed in the indie community” and where a new webfiction or web serial site might fit in.

To give you some background, Drew was part of the Digital Novelists network launched more than five years ago.  That site was essentially a webring/hub of site and a close-knit community of writers who posted works and helped one another out by sharing traffic. They had a community that gathered at weblit.us (defunct) and via social media.

He shared the below pitch in its protoform a few weeks back. This is the new version, hot off the presses.

StarterSerials.com is a site with a single purpose: to make it easy for authors to start their web-serial without having to choose between ease and appeal. There is no monetary cost, no lessons on hosting, no domain registration, none of it. Just submit, get approved, and begin.

On top of just simplicity, StarterSerials.com is about new web-serial authors learning about the process, making their early mistakes (because we all make a few) in a safe environment with a community for support. Established authors will be volunteering their time as Mentors: offering guidance, writing blogs, and answering questions as they arise. Problems and challenges are inherent to the task of running a web-serial, but the writers won’t be facing them alone.

So if you’re an author, head to the site and send us a submission; join the incredibly talented people already writing. If you’re a reader then make sure you bookmark it, because come July there will be an explosion of exceptional content.

 

In that email exchange, we discussed a few things including his motivations in establishing the site and discussed my thoughts about what was being done well on other writing communities and what wasn’t.   I gave him my feedback on where he could consider going with a new community. There are, after all, lots of places popping up trying to do the “publishing house on the web/social community” concept.  While there are several “free” places that combine reading with writer/reader interaction there aren’t any that want you to “graduate” from them and end up working on your own in the web publishing sphere, namely taking your stuff and going to your own site.

We also talked a bit about platforms, including Drupal and WordPress. As many of you know, I find WordPress a pretty nice content management system. Its ability to export/import entries to a lot of different blogsites gets it major points with me. (Anything with dummy-proof backup wins as I’m one of those dummies when it comes to accidentally deleting or messing up a website.)   I was pleasantly surprised when looking at the website to see that WP will be the choice platform for community members.

In the emails, I did ask him up front about monetization. Social sites can basically take your page views and monetize them and mine your data.  I have no illusion that some of the big guys I’ve talked about are much different from Facebook or Tumblr in that regard.  But the value they return (i.e., free reads/books for those who can’t afford them or have access to them) often diminishes any background concern I have about data mining or ad-revenue . At least for now there are no ads and Drew was up front that if any advertisements do appear on the site in the future, the intent is primarily to cover operational costs.

This, for now, is openly different from the other models out there (which are really about page views, ads, and social network data).

Of course, we all know that on the internet there are no guarantees of anything but if the site is able to help bridge the gap for some webfiction authors to get to their own site and writing in a healthy, sustained manner, I’m all for it.   The webfiction realm has lots of casualties in terms of stories that never complete and it’s not healthy in the long-run.

Based on what we discussed, I decided to sign-up and check it out myself as one of the volunteer helpers, time permitting.

Starterserials.com is open for interested writers to sign-up.

Writers have until July to generate a backlog between now and the official launch.   The forums are also open for casual hellos I guess as well :).  See ya there!

 

New Page (Old Post)

As a housekeeping note, the initial listing of  where to publish, read, or list serials has been moved from a post to a more permanent page at  https://theonlinenovel.wordpress.com/where-to-read-or-list-serials . This just makes it easier for all of us in later referencing. Also checked a few sites that were in my queue to evaluate. (Several now have made it very clear whether it’s free to post and/or read.)

Please update your bookmarks!

 

Open for advice

I have had a few emails come my way recently and that is perfectly cool to continue contacting me that way.  You can find my contact on the Submissions page.

On Becoming Part of the Collective

I should probably start by introducing myself. I’m Jim Zoetewey, and I’ve been writing a web serial called The Legion of Nothing for the past 7(!) years that I’m turning into a series of ebooks. About a month ago now I announced that I’d become part of a group of superhero prose fiction writers.

PenAndCapeSociety_logo_smallSo before I do anything else, I should make it clear that this wasn’t my idea. It was Drew’s. In fact, I wasn’t even in the initial group of people emailed about it because Drew couldn’t find contact information for me.

Nonetheless, I was invited, and joined. Why? Because it’s an incredibly good idea.

In fact, it’s an idea that I proposed a couple years ago, but didn’t actually put into practice. The moral to that? If you have a good idea, sometimes if you wait a while, someone else will put it into practice and save you the work.

That said, I suppose I should explain what the idea is, and why it matters.

The idea is that people who write prose superhero fiction should join up, create a group, and promote each other’s work. The Pen and Cape Society includes people who write web fiction, posting only on their website. It also includes people who are focused solely on writing ebooks as well as a number of us who are doing both.

In my mind, that’s where the strength of the idea lies. It could only become stronger in my opinion if we also managed to connect with similar groups who are cross promoting each other’s superhero web comics.

The web has a long history of groups getting together and doing this exact same thing–cross linking sites in a webring, listing the comics or blogs you like on your own blogroll.

We could theoretically have gone with an “only webserials” group or an “only ebooks” group, but going with an “all of the above” group connects more people.

It assumes what I think is a fairly basic insight: websites and ebooks are distribution methods, and only writers care about the distribution method. Readers just care about a good story.

Web fiction writers have often fallen into the trap of promoting themselves only to people who already read web fiction. This is done in various ways, ranging from only promoting one’s work on Web Fiction Guide to only contacting other web fiction writers about crosslinking.

What this group does is make people aware that they can find the same thing in different forms in more than one place–not only ebooks, but also for free online as a serial.

In short, forget the distribution method, we’ve got the same kind of product in two different places. This has the side effect of introducing people who read ebooks to the idea that web serials can be good. It also has the side effect of introducing people who read serials to the current small, but noticeable boom in the availability of superhero fiction.

It’s funny. When I was working as a freelance computer consultant, creating websites and small businesses computer networks, I became part of a business networking group. It connected me to clients I would never have met on my own. More than four years later, I still do work for some of these people.

Similarly, this has been the best month for The Legion of Nothing’s first ebook since its launch. Plus, when the Pen and Cape Society’s website went live I received at least one hundred new visitors to my web serial in the first week. Not all of them stayed, but some definitely did. My stats have been up since then.

I can’t speak to the effect of the organization’s existence on everybody. Drew Hayes (Superpowered), Vaal (The Descendants) and Jeffrey Allen (Portal) report that their websites received a noticeable number of new visitors. Drew, Ian Healy (Just Cause Universe), and R.J. Ross (Cape High series) all report that their ebook sales are up. That said, they’ve all got other reasons that their sales might be up (like releasing new books), so they’re not completely sure of the cause.

Cheyanne Young (Powered series) only has one superhero book out, and feels like she’s got nothing to compare it to.

Aside from the group website, we haven’t done much cross-promotion as yet, so getting some effect from what we have done is a good sign. Hopefully this will grow with the release of an anthology we’re working on, and other projects we’re talking about.

If nothing else, we’re all now in each other’s “people who bought this also bought…” section on Amazon, something that can only help us.

It’s said that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. Creating a group of people who mutually benefit from promoting each other’s work expands your word of mouth whether it’s for a computer business or selling ebooks. In the end, that’s why groups like this matter.

News update: Changing of the playbook

Paywalls, post Patreon

The latest cover of Big World Network (a subscription based serial fiction and enhanced content site) looks like this.   BWN was one of the few sub/firewalled serial fiction sites to engage with the small community of writers that hang out at WebFictionGuide.  It looks like in spite of their efforts to find readers via conventions and other means that they’re trying something new.  Their new site relaunches next Friday with promises of a different method of compensating their creators and possibly a better way to loop in casual readers. bwn

A new webcontent serial experience for kids and families

Publisher’s Weekly announced the launch of “Storybird“‘s long-form format this past week. This site promises to focus on content for children who have really been neglected so far in the ebook realm and in the web serial realm thus far.

From Publisher’s Weekly: According to Mark Ury, who founded Storybird in 2010, the membership base of nearly four million members on the platform can be divided into three core users: educators (the platform is used in 300,000 schools worldwide), families, and, the “largest bulge,” tween and teen girls, who make up roughly 80% of the membership.

One caveat — you cannot publish your own writing alongside your own illustrations. The intent is to pair writers with illustrators (who I presume have been picked by Storybird) and I guess to keep some control over what is being generated.  Some further exploration of the site suggests you have to use illustrations or you cannot really unlock the interface. It’s also not yet clear what/how the writers who create the work will be compensated except those also recruited by Storybird. Further details on writing and copyrights are laid out in the Professional Writer FAQs.

In it’s current form this site is not favorable to writers — but more so the illustrators.

The Wattpad Prize

April 30 marks the last date to submit a complete original work for the  inaugural Wattpad Prize.

Winners for ten categories will be selected from a jury of Wattpad readers. The prize for winning is fairly modest — namely getting a hard copy of your work and a feature in June which generally translates to higher visibility for your work.   We’ll have to see how this fares — the “Feature” for one month is nothing to sneeze at given the userbase but one wonders why the Feature isn’t being extended out farther. In any case, you still have a few days to get your story posted, completed, and tagged if you want to throw your hat in the ring!

Readmill’s Epilogue, Medium’s colonization and other Newsbits

The end of Readmill, Hello Medium

Readmill was — while it lasted — a really  attractive reading (smartphone) app. However, like many “content apps” there’s a point where you can’t simply survive on being a good concept.

Over the past few days, Readmill has tweeted, emailed, and posted its “Epilogue” statement . This notice is effectively giving the community a way to download their books and data before closing up shop.

It looks like Dropbox has acquired Readmill (and its founders) but I’m not quite clear that the blog offers how Readmill staff will work with Dropbox (which is largely known as a filesharing site.)

Meanwhile Medium has created an App as a means of delivering its content. ( For those of you unfamiliar with Medium, the site has its roots with several founders of Twitter.)

Currently its app is “Read Only” but one can imagine they will progress towards emulating other “content providers” such as WordPress or Blogger in developing a mobile app designed to encourage mobile blogging.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised to discover that fiction was live and well on Medium. I discovered a Flash Fiction collection as well as one for posting fiction to Medium.

In a way, this change of fortune seems to be a part of the natural ups and downs of online fiction and serial novel production.  We’ll have to see who rises and falls in this next year.

Other Newsbits

  • Another community newspaper embraces the digital serial — this one promises to feature illustrations.  I rather enjoy watching this concept playing out in smaller papers around the U.S.  I’m not sure why this is suddenly popular again with smaller papers but I enjoy the idea of featuring content uniquely relevant to the readership.
  • Wattpad gets a high-profile bump in the New York Times.  Granted, this comes weeks after the NBCNews blog and doesn’t feature anything new for those who are long-time readers of this blog but the NYTimes is a unique landmark — since it is a place that has a long history with books and its bestseller lists.  It is odd, though, that it’s appeared in the “Technology” section — as if the Culture section had no interest in it.

Analytics, Kickstarters, Distributors, Oh my, mega news/blog post

Sometimes the news front is pretty quiet. For a while there I thought webfiction and serials were heading into a dark period.  However, just when you think it’s time to give up a lot of things start to converge in interesting fashion.

Do analytics mean as much as you really think they do?

I’m not quite sure how to feel about Jukepop (formerly Jukepop Serials) and analytics and how they’ve spun the feature in their blog and then subsequent PR.   Analytics are good, by all means. But interpreting them is fraught with the potential for overinterpretation.

For example, a downturn in views/votes could be due to lack of interest in your specific story. Or it could be a by-product of “low tide” in traffic or people just forgetting to vote.

People forget that website traffic itself has certain secular trends due to the impact of holidays and vacations.   To go as far as to interpret a dip to “this part of your story probably wasn’t great” is an extreme viewpoint and I’d argue that it definitely is useful to see if there might be problems with your story progression at that point, but to use that info as a proxy for “early commercial viability”  as their press release states is where I think this is overinterpretation.  Jukepop authors generally are out there on social media working hard for votes. Good stories do seem to rise to the top but “votes” are not necessarily about viability– in fact, no one can really mindread sales.

Then again, to be fair, I’m not sure how to view Wattpad ‘s analytics either as there is little stated about how they work or change over time. A recent post in a deleted thread (since rehosted as a Wattpad “story”) by one author provides an interesting bit regarding the read/vote system in place. Basically, as of March 2013, some things changed – – namely to stop counting any views from accounts not signed into Wattpad.  I get this from one perspective — it avoids shenanigans from outside accounts that could otherwise write a script and refresh the heck out of a page to alter counts.  If discoverability is triggered by pageview and vote combinations, of course you’d want to protect the system from those tempted to exploit it.

Unfortunately, I don’t know that analytics have resulted in much transparency overall.  I’ve willingly posted my Wattpad stats here (and the link is still active) because I’d like to see people talk about it more openly — not for bragging rights but as a means of understanding what is going on with both Wattpad and Jukepop in terms of discoverability.  See — I still believe that these are valuable in their own way for connecting with the readers that you otherwise can’t generate on your own (via your massive social network skills or circles family and friends) but I think there are certainly some pluses and minuses to these sites that one should consider if using them exclusively or in addition to your own host.

 

In any case, moving on from the soapbox to give you some STRAIGHT NEWS.

Kickstarters and Collectives

It’s been a while since I’ve seen any hint of kickstarters for serials or webfiction. The last batch I saw were mostly “publishers” such as Plympton and Maglomaniac .  However, it’s encouraging to see some single works come up to bat.

It looks like “The Peacock King” is finally back from web-death and has reached their funding goal for their Kickstarter.

Meanwhile, Jim Zoeteway of “Legion of Nothing” announced two things on a blog post today.  First, he’s part of a new Superhero fiction collective “Pen and Cape Society” which includes another webfiction/online novel writer Drew Hayes (who guested this month on this blog).

He’s been talking collectives for a while for good reason (such as sharing or increasing traffic and synergizing on marketing). I’m glad to see him finally get this off the ground with fellow writers in the superhero genre and wish them luck. The superhero genre is going gangbusters in the indie ebook and webfiction realm so think they’re going to kick statistics butt pretty quickly.

He also announced plans for a Kickstarter to publish his next volume in the ongoing webfiction series for reasons explained in that entry.   His goals look pretty modest and reasonable (i.e., cover and editing). Will be interesting to see how it unfolds!  For those of you who are experienced Kickstarters — I’d go check these projects out and talk with the authors.

Distribution – Sparkler Monthly

This is not new news per se. However, a new marketing coordinator reached out to several people this past week with a reminder about their new distribution service.

I think it’s easier to understand certain facets of it as you now look at the shop for the respected webcomic, The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, by EK Weaver

In a way it’s a fulfillment service for books and merchandise for small-time creators who do not have time or means to keep up with all the shipping and work associated with running a small storefront.  Having run a storenvy store on/off for a short period of time, I can tell you that it is a lot of work to deal with small things like merchandise or ship out hundreds of books or posters. MEH.

I did approach SM about a project of my own and found that their terms were clear and their overhead was really reasonable. While what they decide to take on also must keep in line with their mission and audience, I think it’s good to explore.  I knew I threw some odd ideas at them but found at least the folks willing to talk through what their equities were.  In any case, I’m still mulling the ideas that came out of the email exchanges and will, of course, post if I run some more ideas/pitches at the team behind SparklerMonthly.

Wattpad Prize

End of last year, the folks at Wattpad announced a new type of prize to join their current vote-drive Watty Awards.  Details are sparse (and have changed) regarding this one. Early blog posts (http://www.wattpad.com/wattpad-prize)  suggested that this would be professionally judged by industry folks and would be open to folks on a wider basis than Watty Awards. (For your reference Watty Awards are only open to stories started and ended within a specific time period. Stories that did not meet those requirements were ineligible for consideration. Also Featured stories were not eligible either.). The most recent blurb said this contest would be judged by “expert Wattpadders”

Not quite sure why they backed off or if the exclusion/inclusion criteria will change but guess we all shall find out next week what they really mean on April 2.

I do hope that this does turn out to be a transparent and open judging process that employs some of the professionals authors  on Wattpad.  It’s been clear that the Watty Awards sometimes are more about popularity as some entries have been nominated that are grammatically weak and unpolished.