serial novel

Online-novel News and Views, Stories from around the web

In China, you can actually do this and make a living

For the long-time readers of this blog, you know from time to time we get hints that digital fiction actual works somewhere.  Light-novels are a viable format for publishing in Japan.  Cell-phone and web novels thrive and even can be lucrative in China.  In this piece, online novelists in Hong Kong get a shoutout. One thing I find particularly intriguing is the mention of a publisher, Sun Effort, whose catalogue focuses specifically on online novels.  Also think this is a first as well for a web/online novel as “Red Minibus” was turned into a live-action film with a debut on the international circuit.   So there we go, Hong Kong has charted the way. Now if we could only get a small piece of their success in the English speaking world 😉

Sparkler Monthly Creator Contest

Sparkler Monthly is running a low-key but interesting creator-driven contest. This contest asks creators to share how you as a creator share what you do with your audience.  Entries can be in any format (drawn, sung, video’d) and will be accepted through the end of June.  Good luck!

Jukepop community overhaul

In this latest blog , Jukepop announces a new facet to their comment/review feature.  Jukepop (Serials) initially began as a vote-driven site. In more recent months, they’ve added a comment feature for various stories.  Now, comments have become front-page territory as the main JP page not only shows updates but comment activities of authors and readers. It’s an interesting move and certainly will reward activity by authors and readers for simply “being present” on the community.

I’m sure those who benefited from the previous layout (i.e., Top 30 stories being top  real estate) will not be too thrilled but this shift in the other direction might actually at least let us evaluate the level of activity on Jukepop and encourage people to “delurk.”  Hopefully at some point, however, they adjust the layout so that the feed is not the center of attention  vs. the actual stories or randomize the feed. The idea of a feed can be abused easily by authors seeking to constantly have front-page real estate and can take away from the books that the site features.

Wattpad Fanfiction Writer gets a Deal with Simon and Schuster

In one of the more interesting acquisition stories out there– the series “After” written as a “One Direction” fan fiction has gotten picked up for both a book deal and movie deal.  It’s not the first Wattpad work to go both book and movie but it certainly is the first time I’ve heard of a fan fiction being optioned without little scrubbing as those of us in the fanfic community term it.  Basically the statement in this Time article is that the story will go on with just the band member names being removed.  I wonder how One Direction fans feel about their fandom being used to leverage promotion for the book, particularly since the content is purportedly “Fifty Shades of Gray” inspired.

Other news stories:

Have a story? Want to write a story?  See the Submissions link!

Advertisements

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.

From Web-Serial to Book

Hey all. My name is Drew Hayes, and I’m here to talk to you about drinking responsibly… while working in an office.

                (Off-stage whisper)

                Really? They want to hear about that? But I had this whole bit about making liquor injected donuts.

                (More off-stage whispering)

                Well, alright, I guess we’ll give them what they want. Ahem, so, my name is Drew Hayes and apparently I’m actually here to talk about the process I went through of taking my web-serial, Super Powereds (hosted at DrewHayesNovels.com) to an e-book.

History

                Super Powereds was actually my second web-serial, following a comedic project called No More Ramen. My first web-serial was a test of self more than anything else, seeing if I had the gumption to actually put my work on display for the masses (masses here meaning the five readers I managed to accumulate). With SP, however, I decided to write it because it was the sort of project I really wanted to read but couldn’t find. All of the super-hero stories were either nothing but action with no emphasis on character development, or eschewed the abilities so completely that they may as well not have been there. I wanted to see realistic people coping with their own abilities in a world where you never know who can do what.

                Super Powereds is the story of five(ish) people with super human abilties going to college. In my world, people with powers who want to serve as crime-stopping cape-wearers, Heroes, must get certified just like any other response personnel. This lead to the Hero Certification Program: an incredibly difficult course running four years in parallel with college. There’s also a bunch of sub-plots and blah blah blah, but we’re not here to talk about the work itself, we’re here to talk about taking it from medium to another.

                Also, if there’s time at the end, liquor donuts.

Making the Change

                When I started SP, I never imagined I would see it on any kind of digital format other than my website. This was 2008, and while there was undeniably an indie book scene on Amazon, it wasn’t nearly as touted and well-known as it is today. And, to be frank, SP didn’t have the makings of a classic book. It was long and sprawling, with a multitude of characters that require a wiki to keep track of. I’m pretty sure that even now, with good reviews and a history of sales, I couldn’t get an agent to touch the thing.

                The e-book actually came about in response to reader request. Many of the people visiting my site would e-mail me or comment about how they enjoyed the story, but it wasn’t practical for them to sit at a computer all day. They wanted a digital version that would be portable and easy on the eyes. After a bit of debating, and a lot of research, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to throw an e-book into Amazon’s Kindle program to accommodate the people kind enough to read my words.

                Now why Amazon, I’m sure you’re wondering. In the digital self-publishing world, there are three main entities I’ve become aware of: Amazon, Smashwords, and Nook. Amazon is actually the most limited of these, in that the file type used by its propriety Kindle (.mobi) will not work with any other e-reader. Smashwords usually sells both types, while Nook sells .epubs that will work with pretty much anything except a Kindle. Ultimately, I went with Amazon for 3 reasons:

                1. Kindle Apps: While the structure of the Kindle seemed limiting, there was another side to it. There are Kindle apps for iOS and Android, turning nearly every phone and tablet into a Kindle with access to the owner’s library. Nook, at the time, had nothing approaching this, so going through them would have meant a far more limited options for the readers.

                2. Price: Listing on Nook and Amazon are commission systems, where you pay them a portion of your sales. Smashwords, on the other hand, requires money upfront for formatting and various other options. You can make a free book on Smashwords, however it’s not quite as streamlined a process, and for the first-time e-book maker I was, ease was invaluable.

                3. Exposure: Though Nook has rallied in recent years, the honest truth was that I viewed Amazon as having the biggest network available. Even though I wasn’t anticipating much in sales, I’m optimistic and ambitious. I saw no reason to hamstring myself from using the network with the widest reach and greatest opportunity to gather new readers.

                For the record, I’m not trying to advocate that just Amazon, or Amazon at all, is the right choice for someone launching their first e-book. All I can tell you is that it was right for me at the time. Some of you might be asking why I didn’t do all three, or at least Nook and Kindle. That was the original plan, but Amazon’s Kindle Select Program ended up changing my plans. We’ll get into that a little later on though.

From Web to Book

                There was never any question that I would need an editor. Some authors have amazing and honed skills; they can spot typos, inconsistencies, and grammar mistakes with eagle-eyed precision. Some of us having typo-based drinking games readers play when on our sites. I’m the latter.

                Finding a freelance editor is a daunting task. A lot of the ones you find through Google are very expensive and difficult to book. I got quotes upwards of $3,000 dollars for editing on Super Powered: Year 1 (To be fair: they charged by word and it was over 200,000 words). Fortunately, if you’re plugged into the writing community you can find many editors who are newer in the game and hungry for work. They tend to have more accommodating schedules and reasonable prices. In my case, I got lucky. One of my best friends from college opened up a side-business doing editing. Shameless plug: She does great work and can be reached at cooley.edit@gmail.com.

                Once the editing was done, I had to think about the structure of the book. SP published twice per week, with chapters ranging from 1000-1500 words (sometimes more, but never less). Year 1 ended up having 156 chapters, each of which was far shorter than the length of an average novel’s chapter. It took a lot of puzzling (till my puzzler was sore), but I ultimately decided to keep it as it was. This was because:

                1. The breaking points in the chapters worked for the overall flow of the story and I didn’t want to start jamming them up.

                2. As I mentioned, Year 1 is really long. Putting the chapters in bite-sized pieces allowed a reader to take a few chapters down whenever they had time, without feeling like they were pulled out of the narrative or lost their place.

                Despite my worries, this actually went over quite well, and when I put out Year 2 I decided to keep the structure once more.

                The last thing to tackle was the cover. For my first release, I made my own, and I regret it to this day. A decent graphic image artist can get you a cover for $100-$200. I now know other authors who spend far more on custom images people paint by hand, so that’s a great option if you have the free capital. Bottom line: make sure the cover is professional looking. We all know the old adage, but the truth is people judge an e-book first by its cover, then it’s summary, and then its price. If you don’t grab their eye when they’re scrolling through countless other books, they never even get the chance to become customers.

Going Live

                When I converted the book (a tedious process documented at here) and uploaded it to Amazon, I thought that was the end of it. Oh how wrong I was.

                First off, during the upload, I had to do something that had sincerely, never occurred to me: set a price. I, like most web-serial folk, give my work away on the site, only making a small bit from ads and donations. The idea of charging people for what I already gave away at first struck me as crass. However, since Amazon doesn’t allow free e-books without a lot of hoop-jumping, I made peace with it. I eventually settled on a price of $3.99: high enough to show the amount of value I felt the work had, but low enough not to trip anyone’s mental circuits as a major purchase.

                When that was done, Amazon next presented me with another choice: Did I want to enroll in the Kindle Select Program? This essentially means you agree not to sell through anyone but them. In exchange you receive: the ability to make deals and promos, a higher percentage of international royalties, and a piece of the communal Prime Member pot when Prime members borrow your books. The promo deal intrigued me, and having just finished making the .mobi I was already dreading doing an .epub for Nook, so I signed on.

                With that, it was just a matter of being reviewed, posted, and put up for sale as an Amazon e-book. At long last, my journey was completed.

                Right?

The Aftermath

                When I graduated high school, I decided (on a whim) to go to college in a town ten hours away from my hometown where I knew exactly zero people. For most of my adult life, I referred to that as the impulsive decision that had the largest consequences. The e-book of Super Powered: Year 1 overtook that honor within months after it was published.

                While I originally planned to put out a portable story for my more dedicated readers, the book quickly took on a life of its own. I didn’t realize it when I published, but superhero stories are a huge indie author bonanza right now, and I’d published right into the niche where books were being gobbled up. It was great; it meant a few dollars in my pocket and new visitors to my sites.

                Then, as it always does, reality set in. There were forums with readers asking me questions on Amazon’s site, so keeping a good relationship with them meant hitting it several times a week. The longer I spent on the site, the more I got to see the various authors scrapping to keep their sales rank and review numbers high. As more sales came in, it occurred to me for the first time that it might be viable to make a living off that. It became a pipeline of both income and new readership, and like all pipelines it required management if I wanted the flow to continue.

                I will say this to all of you who are looking at taking an established web-serial and making it into an e-book: you have a tremendous advantage over many of the other authors clamoring for attention. Having a reader-base right out of the gate is a great step-up, the only reason I saw such initial success was because of the kind readers who took the time to review the book and spread the word. They gave me such a good leg-up, in fact, that I’m only now beginning to learn about promotion and advertisement. Don’t be shy about asking them to review, I’ve found most readers want their authors to meet with success; it translates into more products available for them to consume.

                In closing, I’ll say that taking a web-serial to an e-book is a very time-consuming and potentially expensive process, however it can be very lucrative even if you aren’t looking to branch out into more traditional publishing mediums. It’s a tool, and like any tool only the wielder can decided if it’s correct for that they want to accomplish.

                There, now that ALL of that is done, let’s finally move onto to office drinking. To start, the “coffee” pot can warm a fine mulled wine if you-

                (Offstage whispering)

                Out of time? This is a written blog, that doesn’t even make sense. You can’t do this! I will not be silenc-


Writer DrewDrew Hayes is a little bit writer, a little bit performer, and currently being fed to the blog sharks.  You may find his  manifestos and his serial “Super Powereds”  at at his website. 

Previewing how your serial novel website looks on various devices

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about design . I know several several folks have already put out their opinions on how to design navigation for a blog-based webfiction/ serial novel so I won’t revisit that topic.  However, I haven’t seen many blogs among the veterans regarding pointing out the need to design for multiple platforms.

Over the past few years, Google Analytics data for my website shows that a steady increase in people reading my stories from mobile devices — including tablets and smartphones.  The “real estate” for your words on a screen can vary significantly among visitors to your serial novel.

While my site does have a mobile view  that defaults to text without no images (and only menus) — there’s no guarantee that is what a person surfing in will see.   As I acquired an iOS table for reading stuff and surfing, I started to find my old header aggravating.   I noticed that the header on the tablet was eating up a lot of screen space. Because it’s bad form to have content fall too far below the first screen, I decided to try to slim down my existing header.  So far, okay with the results but I’m still muddling with the layout.

If you’d like to test how your site looks, you might like to surf over to the following two links and look at how this experience translates across different screen-widths.

Studiopress

This site allows you to preview what your site looks like at different widths (i.e., for those readers who may be viewing on tablets and phones).  A sample using my website is shown below. You have two phone widths on the left and two common tablet views on the right.

studiopress

Screenfly

If you need more advanced/specific capability (as in selecting out the actual device, i.e., iPhone 5) you can also try Screenfly at http://quirktools.com/screenfly/ and it’ll allow you to pick specific devices under various categories including tablets, mobile phones, television/monitors and offers a custom size selection tool in case your option isn’t identified.   In other words, you can have the same functionality as the above link but with more options. 

quick

The good news is for those of you who are using WordPress.com/org  systems, I think these platforms have built-in mobile capability and are tolerable on many devices.   I’d be curious to talk to you on BLogger sites about how it’s working for you!

Wither Webfiction and Weblit? Reflections on 2013 – A reality check.

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.

wfgguide-estimate2 webfictionguide1muses-success-websitelooker 2013muses-success1

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.

webfictionguide-3
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.