Blooking Needs A Community

Richard from Undead Flowers posted a comment here – quite some time ago – that sparked off a series of thoughts and half baked ideas in my head. It’s returned to haunt me again and again:

I think that if we wanted to do something about sorting out the chaff from the wheat, it would need to be done quite far down the line. Take political bloggers, for instance: they have a community, and the ‘better’ bloggers are those that get referenced more by the others. So quite rapidly, you have a grassroots mechanism in place where certain blogs are highlighted.

This isn’t quite possible with fiction blogs because they don’t reference each other in the same way. To do something similar you’d probably have to set up an independent site where you could vote for and review your favourite fiction blogs. At least, that’s all I can think of that might do the job.

Richard’s point is gold, real gold: in two paragraphs he circles out a major problem facing blooks – one that I’ve never even thought about.

Funny thing, isn’t it – the blogosphere? How important that sense of community (real or imagined) is to the blogs of various genres. How blogs can turn out to be small coffee shops – where people come and share and think and talk.

Richard’s comment highlights another more important aspect of covering blooks – Novelr isn’t on top of everything there is out there. I may have started Novelr out of passion for blooks, trying to see how far we can push the boundaries of blog fiction (or online lit, for that matter), and I know I can’t possibly cover all bases. Take, for instance, this illuminating post in Collected Voices:

While the satirical nature of TV Controller gives it an added advantage (a daily dose of bitchy comedy never goes amiss), what it has in common with Belle is an instantly gettable, simple top line. With ‘The diary of a London call girl’, or ‘the secret blog of Britain’s youngest TV controller’, even new readers know exactly what to expect. A two-dimensional character, who doesn’t go on a transformational journey is actually an advantage in blog fiction. Stories confined to one or two posts are the ideal length of narrative.

That part of the post was an aha! moment for me – another thing about blooking I hadn’t yet considered.

Richard’s right. While this blog and Blooking Central (Cheryl’s doing a fabulous job covering blooks – much better than I am, I might say) is doing fine for the moment, we’ll soon need something bigger, something better – something more community-based … where blookers like us can converge and share and write.

I’ll be trying my best to find other blookers to voice out and guest post here at Novelr – it’ll be a small step to building a community, and a first one at that. But let’s look beyond: where to next? A forum? A mailing list? Who? Where? How?

I’d like to hear from you all.

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Category: Writing Web Fiction
  • Scott McKenzie

    Damn it! This is what I was planning to write about in my next post for you, Eli ;)

    I totally agree that we need a community but I believe there are some stumbling blocks that other communities (regular blogs, podcasts, music) don’t tend to suffer from. In my opinion, this is what we need to get over:

    1. You can dip in and out of regular blogs, but not online lit. You can’t just come along half way through. If the blog you’ve just discovered a blog and they’re up to chapter 50, you have to read chapter 1-49 to catch up. We need to give potential readers as many easy options for reading out work as possible.

    2. I’ll be honest – I don’t read many other online novels. I suspect most other writers don’t either. A lot of my time that I dedicate to online lit is either maintaining my site or writing my next novel. We need to read and pro-actively recommend each other’s work.

    3. We need a strategy to get people to buy into the idea of reading a novel online. We can’t just stick it out there and expect people to read it. The concept needs to be sold as well as the content. For example, one idea might be to post a chapter a day at 11am and encourage people to read it on their lunch hour at work.

    4. A lot of writers are protective of their work to a fault. They think that once they’ve written something, it’s a guaranteed best seller and should not be “given away” online. One nice person has accused me of “prostituting my talent” by publishing my first novel online. The way I look at it is that I’ve written a novel that some people have enjoyed, but if I’m pinning all my hopes on that one novel then I’m not much cop as a writer.

    I’m planning to create a more community-focused blog for the publication of my next novel. It needs buy-in from other writers out there though, so I’d love to hear other writers’ opinions on this – anyone else out there?

  • Gloria Hildebrandt

    I’m interested. Keep me posted. I agree with the need to promote other people’s novels. I posted a comment on a writing blog about a YA novel I’ve just discovered: L.Lee Lowe’s Mortal Ghost at . I’m not in the market for YA fiction, but one glance and I was hooked.
    And Eli, I’d be willing to guest post something for you.

  • Cheryl Hagedorn

    Thanks for the encouragement, Eli. I’m pedalling and peddling as fast I can. I’m also trying to look at more fiction blooks.

    Just in case you missed it, Cheeseburger Brown had some interesting ideas on promoting works of fiction. His bit about the Darth Vader diary really struck me.

  • Duane Poncy

    I’m all for more community, but I’m not sure I have any sure-fire ideas to help it happen. Elohi Gadugi (the nonprofit I run) has tons of web space and bandwidth, and the expertise (as well as the mission) to dedicate it to a community-building endeavor in behalf of writers.

    My experience in experimenting with internet community tells me that we need a lot of feedback about what people want, and what they will actually participate in. And then we need them to participate in building it.

    I am more than willing to dedicate the time and space if we can get the feedback and do it collaboratively.

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  • Eli James

    @Scott: continue writing the post – I’m already itching to paste your 4 points in a post, but it’ll only be fair that you write first.

    @Gloria: I’ll take you up on your offer! *what do you want to write about?*

    @Cheryl: I remember following that Darth Vader blog! That was before I set Novelr up, and it was GREAT: funny, witty, references to the movies and the general sense of playfulness … I remember clearly he posed a what-if scenario: what if Vader had a reasonable working relationship with his minions?

    The campfire in the 3rd post was mind blowing.

    @Duane: well. Now’s the time to brainstorm, then. I’m thinking something along the lines of 9rules notes (which in itself is based on BBpress). But I can’t begin to imagine the PHP prowess needed to craft it into something that works for us.

  • Duane Poncy

    Well, I’m not familiar with 9rules notes, but will look into it.

    We should start, I think, by making sure we all have some agreement on the basics of what’s needed. A sort of vision for this thing.

    Then, I think a combination of bbpress (or 9rules) and wordpress with its rating and social networking tools, I think we could create a fairly sophisticated site.

    I won’t say I’m a php whiz, but I am fairly competent at the basics.

    Let me look into 9rules, and set up a “sandbox” to play around with.

    Meanwhile, more feedback?

  • KSB

    Thanks for the mention. Very interesting point about the ‘community problem’ facing blog fiction. I’m sure the solution does begin with more writers reading the online work of others. After all what successful paperback writer hasn’t spent hundreds of hours with their nose in a book? And aren’t people browsing bookshelves drawn to books with a gushing quotes from their favourite author?

    What about some sort of Amazon-style recommendation system that tracked what fiction blogs you enjoyed?

  • Richard

    Blimey, I’d forgotten I’d written that! Thought-provoking post, Eli!

    @KSB. I’d wondered about an Amazon-style thing too. We’d need a hub of some sort. And hubs may be hard to come by, largely because they’re often the responsibility of one person on whose shoulders a lot will rest.

    Also, while I do read an awful lot of fiction blogs, I’m not sure that other writers do and I’m not sure how to persuade them. I get the impression that may writers just read others to ‘learn’ from them. And people tend to feel that they learn from acknowledged masters in their field, be that Leo Tolstoy or Dean Koontz. I doubt anyone really feels that there’s a lot to be learnt literarily-speaking from Richard of Undead Flowers (to take a random example!).

    @Duane. Let us know what you come up with. I have no PHP skills or anything like that but what you say sounds interesting and promising.

    @Scott. I think your third point is key. Although I think the idea of writing a novel online is not necessarily the way to go. Your first point is important here: people are rarely invested in reading a lengthy piece of literature online. It takes a lot of time, mental energy and discipline. With the printed word, I can sit down and relax with an aesthetically pleasing printed book, but with a blogged novel I’m tied to a computer screen and often just read it during breaks while I’m doing other stuff.

    Sorry to sound pretentious, but the aesthetic and relaxation aspects of reading just aren’t there with online fiction.

    Character blogs are a way around this, to an extent. One of my favourite character blogs is Wilf’s World which is very easy to pick up and put down at will (although I do actually read it religiously!). The problem is that, for me, I want to write stories with a beginning, a middle and an end so I’m not sure I’d find the character blog very satisfying.

  • Duane Poncy

    I would like to invite participants in this conversation to a discussion board I cobbled together over at our Creative Blogs site.

    I took the liberty of reposting Eli’s article above as a take-off point.

    The site is
    if I can get some feedback about what folks want, I will use the bbpress install as a sandbox and try to build it around our discussion. We can make it look however we like, right now it’s just a basic install with a few plugins.

    If you are interested in continuing the conversation, come on over and let’s talk.

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  • Bradley

    So, I tend to agree with your post, Eli, but I find myself in an interesting position here – unlike most of you, I’m NOT an author, blook or otherwise – I’m a reader.
    That’s even what my blog is about. I do think that all the authors of blooks and web novels could do with a little more community, but I think a certain amount of that will form organically, with time.

    On the other hand, it’s important to remember that you aren’t going to successfully build up your prose solely on the backs of your fellow authors. You need people who read but don’t write. That is, one of the most important parts of a blooker community will be referring readers.

    @Richard and others:
    As far as a hub, Lexy Erin has recently set up a site that may serve at Pages Unbound. I’d like to see it grow as a hub for both readers and authors.

    Oh, and Eli – I’d be happy to guest post, assuming that your offer is open to readers and bloggers, as well as blook authors.

  • Eli James

    Oh yes, definitely! My online time has been suffering a LOT lately, and any guest post would be brilliant. I’ll email you.

    Thanks, Bradley.

  • Alexandra Erin

    It’s not really a “community” yet (I do plan on adding a forum), but I’ve started a site called Pages Unbound which is meant to be a portal for longform online literature, with a reader rating/review system.

    It was immediately met with some vehement criticism by a couple of publishing industry types who noticed it, assuming it was a self-publishing website a la Storywrite or that was going to attract 1,000,000 would be writers trying to get discovered by being read by the other 999,999, but the key to the site is that it really is intended for the benefit of -readers-.

    Just discovered your first piece of web lit? Got to the end of the archive and are desperate for something to read? Pages Unbound to the rescue.

    I don’t filter or screen for quality… I feel that the buzz/digg/topsite-type approach allows readers to do that for themselves. The idea that people need professionals to help them “filter the crap” is an idea hopelessly mired in the pre-information-age.

    It’s not the best site in the world (“Damn it, Jim! I’m an author, not a web developer!”), but it’s a start.

    The link’s in my name if anybody’s interested.

  • Eli James

    I’ve heard about Pages Unbound through Sebastianky already, and I intend to review it, once I’m comfortable enough with the entire site.

    The idea that people need professionals to help them “filter the crap” is an idea hopelessly mired in the pre-information-age.

    We’ll need filters, definitely. People who share the same reading tastes as we do, (eg: a person like Sebastianky), will act as one … and admit it: we just don’t have all the time in the world to filter through dross.

    There will be filters. Not professionals, yes, but other people, other forms.

  • Alexandra Erin

    I’m not arguing against the usefulness of such a site as Sebastianky’s (and would like to see more, if only to represent a wider range of tastes… and because the audiences each one attracts individually could come together as one mass audience), but I believe it’s possible to overstate the importance (read: necessity) of such pages. I don’t have any statistics, but I think the majority of casual content consumers on the internet do not make use of such review sites, instead relying on what I call the “bored-click-bored-click-bored-click… Ooh!” method. They spend their time filtering the dross anyway.

    Don’t get me wrong… I will be very happy with any exposure referred to me by any reviewer. At the end of the day, though, I feel the future of the medium (and any individual venture within it) will depend more on its ability to capture casual clicks, which in depends more on authors putting themselves in the path of random surfers than any sort of critical commentary site which will primarily be read by people who are already part of a cozy little de facto community.

  • Eli James

    The way I see it is that different people have different ways of finding fiction. Pages Unbound provides one very good way, and blogs like Sebastianky’s provide another good one.

    They are, I believe, different means to the same end.

  • Alexandra Erin

    Yeah, and at the end of the day, even Pages Unbound isn’t the best solution for a “point of entry”… while I plan on advertising it a bit more once the holidays are over and people are all back at their computers, it’s still mostly going to appeal to people who’ve already got at least their foot in the door as far as weblit (how’s that for a word?) goes.

    I feel that what will hook new people and bring them into the larger audience is stories themselves. While I feel that a certain amount of “education” might be helpful for people who’ve never considered the benefits of reading a story on their comptuer, very few people learned about the existence of webcomics from some resource site and then said, “I believe this sounds like an interesting medium to explore and I shall now find an example of it which appeals to me.” They found a webcomic they liked and that eventually led them to look for more (usually by following links from their “gateway” comic.)

  • CrazyDreamer

    I’m tired, so I’ll make this short:

    I think that it is entirely true that there is no one good universal point of entry (POE). Nor is any one site capable of being our community. But you know what? Pages Unbound is a good POE for some people. The Open Directory Project category for online fiction is good for others. An individual story is for those who like it, assuming that it’s got an adequite links section. And you know what else? This looks like a bit of community right here. So does Pages Unbound, in a different way. And I’m trying to set up my own bit of community. (It’s not yet ready, though.)

    No one site is going to serve any of these functions, but put together we’re pretty good. The community exists, or is starting to, it’s just not connected well enough to be obvious yet.

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  • alexander

    Eli, I’ve been trying to build something similar in fits and starts since the early 90’s, with my email list, then geocities site, then my own full website all titled The Leaking Pen. They failed, miserably, but that was because they all became just a small club for me and a few friends.

    I’m trying again with
    I started the site up after trying and failing to find good sources of serial fiction online. Of course, the moment I started the site, i ran into it EVERYWHERE. But the point behind Dream Fantastic is a community, both for writer and readers, and the intermix between the two. It may work, it may not, but like most internet based communities, one thing I know. No one community will do it all.

  • Eli James

    This’s really good, Alexander. The more people (and communities) we have in this, the better. Keep it up! Adding a link in the blogroll immediately.

  • Joseph Gambit

    I actually have a website that I would like to throw into the mix. It isn’t necessarily a hub for blooks…. but it does have potential to help people find blooks, online characters, and to start writing themselves, in a place where others interested in the craft will read the works and comment on them, and even participate in the work, to the extent that the author desires.

    The twist is with my site the emphasis is not on the writing itself, but on the characters in the blooks.

    Alright let me explain. Basically I put together a ning site (as quoted from above ”Damn it, Jim! I’m an author, not a web developer!”) For those that don;t know ning basically lets you create a watered down version of a personal myspace or facebook.

    What I am doing with the community is encouraging people not to sign up as themselves, but rather to sign up as fictional characters. They can fill out a fictional profile, upload pictures of the character, even upload videos, and of course blog about their daily life.

    The result has been a small mix of independent writers messing around, mixed with kind of a lot of fan fiction. My hope however, is that anyone who is writing a blook can sign up under the guise of their main character, and use that characters interactions on the site to promote their own blook and get the word out.

    There are also a bunch of other things I am working on developing but I wont get into them.

    If anyone is interested the link to the site should be in my name. Thanks for listening