Why A Publishing Industry Slump Is Good For Us

Money In The EyeGavin Williams writes No Man An Island and The Surprising Life and Death of Diggory Franklin. In this guest post he talks about how a traditional publishing industry slump presents a unique opportunity for the growth of online fiction.

The illustrious Alexandra Erin, one of the successful online novelists (and by “successful” I mean it’s her day job) recently wrote that the publishing industry is currently tightening its belt in the face of a possible recession. That means there will likely be less sales, less new books, and less new writers. Because in the face of falling sales, the big companies will be unwilling to take risks on new authors until the crisis is past. And, readers will have less money to spend on unknown writers. They’ll want something they’re sure to find entertaining and worth the money, since we’ll all have less of it.

Now, this is where some news anchor would say “This is a good time to PANIC!”

Now, it kind of is. If the rising price of oil destroys our economy and causes a depressed period, that will pretty much suck. I’m not going to sugarcoat that sad fact. So, what chance does the new art form of Online Novels have against a powerhouse industry like Traditional Publishing? Especially in the face of a crisis of global proportions?

Well, because we have an opportunity here. The Chinese symbol for crisis is the same as the one for opportunity: Crisertunity! (Thank you Homer Simpson) If the common reader is going to have trouble finding disposable income to spend on paper books, we can present a great alternative: free online text. It’s environmentally friendly, takes zero manufacturing time, saves trees, and entertains daily.

The Old Way: Traditional Publishing

You know how it goes. A plucky young writer goes into his or her private sanctuary with a typewriter/laptop and punches out the next great American Novel. (I’m Canadian, but we’re talking myths here) It’s a work of genius, with rich drama and realistic characters. The earnest would-be novelist sends it to agents and publishers, writing query letters, hoping for the best.

Form letters come back, saying the manuscript isn’t “right” for their publishing house or agency. Or that the writing is excellent, but that marketing it would be difficult. Perhaps a rewrite? The writer goes back into seclusion, writing like a madman, until it’s finished. Frank Herbert’s “Dune” was rejected 13 times by publishers. James Joyce’s “Dubliners” was rejected 22 times, and then the first run was bought by one person and burned. They had to try again.

Finally, the young writer (probably no longer young) gets an agent and gets published. And then waits for a year while the manuscript is edited and printed, cover art finalized, marketing planned… Until finally, one day there is their book, on a shelf in a store, for the world to find and love.

Readers will spend fifteen, twenty, twenty-five dollars for a paperback. And from there to the neighbourhood of fifty bucks for a hardcover. And that plucky young writer? Well, after the publisher pays the corporate owners, the editors, the publicists, the artists, the printer and the agent, not much is left.

And if a recession closes the publishing world’s doors to everyone but the big names, the bestsellers? You get zero.

The Alternative: Faster, Leaner, Cooler

A new economic model is emerging thanks to the Internet. The Music Industry has already proven it works, and that the culture needs to adapt. Downloads. Why buy a CD with two good songs and ten bad ones, when you can download the two songs you like? Ipods and MP3 players make digital music more convenient than CDs. Some bands are taking this to heart: Radiohead offered some of its music online for free, and fans could leave donations. The whole industry is trying to recreate itself.

Bands are getting fans to help them publish music, instead of turning to big studios. Fans get to feel like part of a community, vote on favourites, comment on albums, and decide who’s worthy of funding. These are exciting times.

Online novelists can benefit from these experiences. Web design gets easier all the time, especially with free alternatives like WordPress and Blogger. Instead of getting an agent and a publisher, writers can publish their stories themselves, electronically. Instead of waiting a year to see it in print, it can go up right after you finish typing it. Instead of waiting a year for a whole book, readers can have a new chapter every day. They also help edit the book and improve the writing, through comments.

Online novels can go beyond the confines of regular print. Interesting layouts, uploads for artwork, videos and music, links to past chapters or related stories, character profiles, the websites can be designed for interactivity and creativity. Online stories can be a wholly different and engaging experience from the paperback you’re used to.

We don’t have to chop down trees to make paper: we’re environmentally friendly. We don’t have to pay a printer, a publicist, an editor or an agent. We certainly don’t have to pay a fancy publisher in a suit, who makes money for putting their name on the cover and little else. Through reader donations and web advertisements, the only person being paid is the writer themselves.

And fans don’t have to drive to the mall to find a bookstore. They get new chapters in the comfort of their own home. We’re cheap on gas, too!

While the Publishing Industry is busy twiddling its thumbs waiting for Dan Brown to write a lame sequel, or for someone to create the next Harry Potter, we can get out there and experiment. Try new styles, thrill readers, shock audiences, fly without a net. Most online writers do it as a hobby, a sideline. There’s little financial risk. We enjoy writing, it’s an inexpensive hobby. All it takes is pen, paper, and imagination. And, if we’re online, it takes the computer and keyboard we already own. We don’t need employees, manufacturers, stores, overhead, publicists. We just need to type.

For Alexandra Erin, there’s a little more risk involved. It’s her full-time job. But, think of the alternative. You (as a reader) can wait a year for your favourite novelist to publish a book, and then read it in a day, and spend twenty to fifty dollars on it. Or, you could send your favourite online writer a dollar a month. Or five. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but the Internet is huge. If we get lots of online fiction out there, cast a big net, we’ll draw in more audience, and slowly but surely that dollar from one person is one thousand people, or ten thousand… It’s not impossible.

It just takes trying.

Novelr is trying to forge links in the online community to make finding online fiction easier. Alexandra Erin is doing the same with Pages Unbound. Writers like me usually have links on our sites to our friends and favourite stories, so audiences can find new material and expand their horizon.

As I pointed out in my previous article, you get back a lot in return. A new chapter every day or every week, or somewhere in between. The chance to communicate with other fans and the writers themselves. The chance to build communities, and explore new worlds of imagination. There’s a lot to be excited about in online fiction.

The traditional model can sit there, waiting for trouble to pass it by. Meanwhile, we can take the art of writing to a new audience and a whole new level, by being faster, leaner, more creative, and interactive.

Now is not the time to panic. Now is the time to jump in and make the future.

Here’s a list of why Online Novels have an advantage over Traditional Publishing in these leaner, meaner times:

  1. The publishing world is making it harder to get published.
  2. The online world is constantly growing in audience, and is easy to use.
  3. The publishing world compensates agents, editors, publicists, typists, printers and owners, and then the author. It costs a lot of money to prepare and print a book, and it costs readers a fair amount to buy one.
  4. The online world compensates the author. And, it’s inexpensive for readers.
  5. Traditional publishing is slow. It might be a year after a contract before a book is in print.
  6. Online publishing is instantaneous. I wrote this article today.
  7. Traditional publishers and agents send you form letters if they don’t like you.
  8. Online readers comment directly on your chapters, telling you what they love and hate in equal measure, teaching you to take criticism and how to improve.
  9. The publishing world is shrinking down to its favourite best-selling authors and genres. Which means, not you.
    The online world is craving innovation, experimentation, entertainment and fun. Which could be you.

Need I say more?

Gavin Williams writes No Man An Island and The Surprising Life and Death of Diggory Franklin. If you like his work feel free to drop by Pages Unbound and leave a review for him there.

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Category: Guest Bloggers · Publishing · Writing Web Fiction
  • http://jpsmythe.com/fact James Smythe

    Need you say more? Sort of, yes. See, whilst I agree with a great deal of your argument – the industry is changing etc – I don’t agree that blog fiction is a vlid alternative to print fiction. It just isn’t. We can use your music analogy to see that the only bands who succeed in this new world of creation are the famous ones, the ones for whom the very act itself is all the marketing budget they need. Bands who don’t have a fanbase can’t ring up that publicity, and selling copies of their own cd through, say, Cdbaby simply cannot bring them enough money (with a few notable exceptions).

    And the same surely has to stand for online writing. It’s fine to say that, well, this person has made a success of it, that person makes a success of it: yeah, there are always success stories. But there are so many who fail that to suggest that people can make a success of themselves by publishing blog fiction is a folly. Sure, there are no hard and fast rules, per se – of course it could work out for you, and I hope it does! – but the odds are stacked well against you.

    I’m not arguing that there isn’t a real place for online fictions – God knows I have argued enough that there is – but I think this DIVE IN! attitude is wrong. Online fiction is notoriously patchy – there are very, very few fictional blogs with real literary merit, mainly because, as you say, things can get posted immediately with no thought for the editing process, or actually letting something breathe – and actually persuading people to read it is notoriously difficult (outside of online communities). When I was doing my PhD I was reading hundreds of fictional blogs because I had to. Now that I don’t have to I am reading four or five. That’s it. The rest? Not good. And it is fine to argue that readers can act as editors, but as someone once said to me, who wants the whole world chipping in their opinions on your work?

    There’s then the problem of reaching an audience: if we forget about the problem of the technology (because, really, Kindle is not the saviour, not yet) we get to the problem of letting people know a) about your thing and b) why they should read it as opposed to this new thing with a shiny cover in a 2 -4-1 deal that I can take on holiday or read in bed rather than in fragments as I drink my coffee. Most blog fictions will never see audiences past the tens, let alone hundreds or thousands (or thousands and thousands needed to start turning any sort of profit when you resort to lulu and, in a way, conventional publishing). That’s just the cold, bitter truth.

    I know I sound like I don’t have faith in this system – I actually do, but not yet. Your last point, that the internet is a place where people can innovate, experiment and have fun with fictional forms? That I agree with wholeheartedly. But I don’t necessarily think that those forms are short novels broken up into chunks and put onto a blog with no editing or quality control bar what the author brings to the table themselves.

    I’m starting teaching a course in writing Blog Fiction in September, and I’m really worried: I think that the students might see it as a viable means of making a living from writing when I don’t think it is, and I’m worried that they will think that they can just write something and stick it on the net and that’s that, done, published. That isn’t that. It just can’t be.

  • http://www.nomananisland.wordpress.com Gavin Williams

    Dear James: Yes, it can. I need to say more, so be it.

    I didn’t say that online fiction is a valid alternative to print fiction. I would never want to replace a good paperback with a computer. What I did say is that the online economic model is better than the traditional publishing model, and there’s a difference there. With Lulu.com readers can print off their favourite works and snuggle up with them in bed, and at a similar cost to buying a new paperback.

    Sellaband.com and Slicethepie.com are proving that independent bands can be supported by fans instead of corporations. They build fanbases through Myspace pages and small tours of bars, the hard way. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it shouldn’t. There’s a statistic that hundreds of thousands of people write new books every year, and only a few hundred get published. Well, it makes sense that if there’s thousands of online novels, only a few become successful. That’s the normal statistic. How many kids go to art college? How many are famous?

    It is rare that someone’s talent is strong enough that the world recognizes them. But the earlier article “1000 True Fans” indicates that it is possible for good talent (not stellar) to carve out its own niche in the world and survive comfortably. I don’t want to be Stephen King, and the bands on Slicethepie don’t want to be the Rolling Stones (except in our wildest fantasies). We just want to share our stories and songs with the world and see what happens. If five people like it, that’s awesome. If five million do, so much the better.

    That’s why I point out that there’s little financial risk for online authors who do it as a hobby. We don’t have to put our asses on the line in a Recession. We can go to work, do the 9 to 5, and pay the bills. Then, for fun, we can write. And advertising like Project Wonderful will help us make some extra money while our audience slowly grows. Devoted fans will show support, even if it’s only a dollar a year.

    The point of my article is NOT that you should start online publishing for personal success. That’s risky and far-fetched. My point is, the model itself is better than Traditional Publishing. It’s faster, leaner, environmentally friendly, and a more fulfilling experience regarding fan and author interaction. The more of us doing it, the more links we make to each other, the stronger it gets.

    The DIVE IN attitude is the only one to have. A) Literacy begets Literacy. The more you write, the better you get at it. The more you read, the more fluent you become. Posting chapters every day, and having the world chip away at it, will create tougher and better writers, and higher reader expectations. So, dive in and become a better writer. B) Not diving in means not seizing the opportunity. Traditional publishing isn’t going to streamline itself in favour of writers and readers, it’s going to do what it can to benefit it’s profit margin the same way it always has. Online fiction isn’t going to write itself, so diving in is the only way it’s going to happen.

    Online novels are growing in audience. It’s not as big as webcomics yet, but give it time. Advertising helps. Word of mouth helps. Sooner or later there will be success stories that the real world will notice, the same way it’s noticing the shift of the musical industry towards online product. Radiohead went on its own. Coldplay is trying it with baby steps. Authors are testing the waters.

    I’m not suggesting making this anyone’s day job. That’s risk that’s unnecessary at this point. Only a few can handle it. But those few only found out it works by trying. And there’s no risk in trying. My article’s point is not “pie in the sky money-making opportunity.” It’s “we can become better than the traditional model, and that’s better for the artist and the reader.”

    The Traditional Model makes billions of dollars a year, of which only a small percentage goes to the actual writer. Would you rather pay twenty dollars to a publishing house and two dollars to a writer, or just pay the writer two dollars? In a Recession? Or, alternatively, pay eleven writers two dollars? Would you rather read one book a year from your favourite author, or one chapter a day with interaction built in?

    You don’t have faith in the system. Why should you? It’s new. But it’s a risk-free system. The only person I know doing it as a day job is Alexandra Erin, who waited until fans reached a set amount of donations so she knew she could quit her old job. She watched how many readers were coming a day, how much advertising was bringing in, and how fast people were donating. And then she took a leap of faith. Until then, she worked. I suggest doing the same, don’t take unnecessary risks. But, write.

    Hard Truth that you should be Telling your Students: any kind of writing is not really a viable way of making a living. For every one hundred new books published, there were at least one hundred thousand written. The Traditional Model is selective, and designed for mass appeal. Online, there are niches, and it’s easier access. Your students can have readers. Whether they make any money is up to them: their hard work, their talent, their willingness to be inventive and to communicate with other writers, blogs, advertisers and communities.

    It can be. It will be. The Music Industry is already aware of it. Coldplay recently said in an interview “Being with a major record label is a bit like living with your grandparents. You know you need to move out, but you like your grandmother. But eventually it has to happen.” Fans and artists don’t need permission from corporations anymore. The Internet set us free to find what we like and support it ourselves.

  • http://jpsmythe.com/fact James Smythe

    ^ This makes a lot of sense, and clears things up for me. I tend to worry and panic when I read things that could be perceived as suggesting that print fiction is dead/web fiction rules all, and I actually agree with you wholeheartedly on nearly everything you say. I also agree that online is a better system than print in many ways – freedom, acceptance, not taking a cut off the top of the profits – but as a writer myself I want to be conventionally published. I’ve had things online, had some great feedback, and I like that, but what I really want, for better or worse, is my book on the shelves of bookshop, and the chance to reach the biggest audience possible.

    A cliche: I don’t care about the money. I care about people reading it, and the respect. And the respect isn’t an ego thing: it’s actually an interview and job-prospect thing. I’ve got a PhD in Critical and Creative Writing, and am currently looking for job posts teaching CW at University level, and they all require nowadays that you are a conventionally published author. Despite my thesis concerning online fiction, despite many of the jobs saying that an awareness of online fiction is a desired quality, they still want me to have a book in the shops that the students can buy. It’s a bizarre attitude, but that’s the way it is.

    I’m all too aware that people don’t make money from writing, almost universally: what’s worrying is that online fiction leads people down alleyways of the promise of readers and, somewhere down the futuristic line, money, regardless of what people say. The internet is the future, remember?


  • http://www.nomananisland.wordpress.com Gavin Williams

    There are readers. The money depends solely on how well you bring readers in. But there are readers, even in small numbers.

    But if someone’s writing to make money, they have just as much a chance at winning the lottery. That’s why I emphasize that online writing is an emerging artform that can compete with traditional publishing, and I don’t claim that an individual can get rich and famous doing it. Because that’s unrealistic in any field.

    But, chances are, the Internet will be the future for television, literature, communication and music. It’s faster, cheaper, and easier on the environment. How long do you think people will keep cutting down trees before someone figures out a system like the Nintendo DS or Gameboy for books, and to do it in an inexpensive way?

  • Alexandra Erin

    Looks like I’m coming late to the party, but I’d like to address one point in your first post, James… you act like the success stories being the exception far outnumbered by the number of failures is something new and unique to the internet!

    Does everybody who puts together a band get studio time? Does everybody who walks into a recording studio come out with an album deal? Does everybody with an album deal get air time? Does everybody with air time get rich and famous? No.

    Likewise with books. Not everybody who goes the traditional way ends up getting published, not everybody who gets published gets read, and not everybody who gets read gets an appreciable income, much less a living wage, much less fabulous wealth.

    What the internet does is it makes it so that more people than editors and agents can see the ones who “don’t make it.” This makes it easy for people to dismiss it, but that’s short-sighted. Saying that “For every Radiohead, there’s a couple hundred garage bands on MySpace and CDBaby that are going nowhere.”… but… those bands would still be there, without MySpace and CDBaby. They’d just have even less reach, less impact, and less earning potential.

    The internet lets those little bands get whatever following around the world they have the potential to get, and whatever money that brings. It’s not an all-or-nothing game. If they make $25 a month off it… well, no record label would sign them with that kind of earning potential, but that potential is still there.

    I don’t think print is dead. But individual publishing houses and bookstores are in a bad shape, and as a result, they’ve never had less to offer authors.

  • http://jpsmythe.com/fact James Smythe

    No, I don’t think that it’s new to the internet, and equally so, from a basic ‘getting it out there!’ point-of-view I think that the internet is far better than lulu, say, as a way of getting your writing available to people. I love blog fiction – as I say, I spent 5 years doing research into online fiction for a thesis, I really do love the stuff – but that five years taught me that the general public a) don’t like reading stuff online (sweeping statement, but true) and b) the general public don’t take you seriously as a writer if you say “I write online fiction”. They just don’t.

    I think the rejection is obviously far greater as well in the print field, mainly because you can’t reject yourself if you set up your own blog, but one thing I can say with absolute certainty is that, in print, standards are higher. Nothing comes to press first draft, everything gets seen by editors, everything gets poked and prodded – for better or worse – by people other than the writer. I write, and I know that my choices aren’t always best, and that I let stuff slip through the cracks.

    I don’t argue that it lets the ones who don’t make it get read. That’s wonderful. I would far rather that everyone writing on the internet wrote there because they wanted to, first and foremost, but as a way of getting writing out there I will never, ever argue that it is wonderful. But Gavin says above that, “chances are, the Internet will be the future for television, literature, communication and music. It’s faster, cheaper, and easier on the environment. How long do you think people will keep cutting down trees before someone figures out a system like the Nintendo DS or Gameboy for books, and to do it in an inexpensive way?” and he’s right: there’s a high chance that someday a writing device will sweep up the market. It will never, in my lifetime, get rid of print books. I firmly believe that. And I firmly believe that for nearly every person who leaves school and wants to write that Great American Novel, their number one aspiration will be print.

    {Incidentally, Gavin, that Nintendo DS program exists – currently only out in Japan, but heading to us soon, frontloaded with Dickens and Hardy and classic authors. It will be interesting to see what this does to the market.}

    One final point: in my thesis I argued that people nowadays should write books and consider the implications of the internet when writing them, that dumping a text written as-is onto the net and expecting it to be readable is, in many cases, unacceptable. Concessions need to be made for formatting, audience, you need to think about how it will be presented, the space on the page, everything that you never think of when writing a novel. It isn’t a case of – as you both know – cut-and-pasting into wordpress. It’s something else entirely. I argued that writers needed to start thinking about this so that they could write something and present it two ways, both in print and online, and in both formats it would stand up heroically. It doesn’t take away from anything, and it can only help in the future, when texts are on the net and all tootled up for whatever that means. But the core things that I think a decent piece of literature needs – strong narrative voice, good writing, good characters, editing (both by the self and others) and a story – those things should be the same however you present your work, no?

  • http://www.nomananisland.wordpress.com Gavin Williams

    But the wonderful thing about the internet is that people let you know when your narrative and writing and characters suck. They may not be formal editors, but they know what’s working and what’s not.

    Online writers are evolving. They figure out new formats for posts and websites, they incorporate artwork, they post fanart… Lulu editions won’t make anyone famous, but after having built an audience online, many fans want the whole story on paper, and Lulu makes that possible. I finished my first online work, No Man an Island, on June 7th, and alread 9 people who have read it before bought copies to have on their bookshelf.

    And not every story online was written that day. Alexandra “shoots from the hip” with a new chapter every day, which is daring and organic. But No Man an Island was a ten year process, and nine of those years were on a word-processor nowhere near the Internet. Sarah Suleski of “Alisiyad” wrote the bulk of several manuscripts over years, and now she’s cleaning up chapters and posting them. Everyone finds what works best for them.

    And then readers let them know what works and what doesn’t. The entire artform is emergent, it’s still finding its way and its own voice. Bloggers like Eli here on Novelr, writers like Sarah and myself, are slowly drawing together in mutual support, and planning for new editing processes and forming teams to create ways to help online writers improve their craft.

    Because the day will come when it will be seen as legitimate. Not by baby boomers, certainly. But Digital Generations? They’re already looking to the Internet and cellular phones for movies and television. And they don’t read enough — but if the books are there, the advertising is there, and the formats are interesting enough, it’s possible we’ll change their minds.

  • http://jpsmythe.com/fact James Smythe

    And I agree with all your points, aside form one vital difference. You say that if the books, advertising and formats are there people will read them. You are still missing the problem of quality control. I read a lot, and, as I said, I have read a lot of blog fictions, a lot of which were lauded amongst the community as examples of great writing. And they weren’t. Some were brilliant – and as I say, they are still in my RSS reader – but some were dreadful, subpar and badly written. And they were found, for the most part, by following recommendations. That isn’t to say that people don’t recommend bad print fiction, or that it doesn’t exist, because it clearly does – we’ve all read The Da Vinci Code, right? But the sheer ratio on the internet is incredible. There is a huge amount of drizzle for every sunny spell, and that cannot be escaped.

    It’s a noble thing, to start establishing this concept of a community that can act as editors, but there then becomes further problems. How do you say that everyone should have a say? Why would you want feedback from everyone? Why should you get feedback from everyone? It’s fine when you respect people – I’ve been chatting with Eli for a while, and if he emailed me and gave me feedback on something I had written I would listen and take it to heart. But if somebody I didn’t know left me a comment that said something was patchy or whatever I would ignore it. How could you not?

    And so, that quality issue still pervades. I love Blog Fiction. I love the concept, I love the idea. I was part of a community years back that thrived on it in the early days, and I love the idea that it could thrive now. I have delivered papers and written a thesis on how great it is. But for 99% of the world who try and write nowadays it isn’t what they are reaching towards: it’s the fallback, when they discover that they cannot get traditionally printed. It is, for most writers, a way of vanity publishing. For that 1% who WANT to write on the internet, who do see it as an emergent form that they can make full use of and expand their ideas with, and actually put technology to use to further the art of storytelling, for those people I am in a little bit of awe, because they are brilliant, and I’m willing to bet that those 1% have some of the best writing you’ll find on the net as well.

  • http://www.nomananisland.wordpress.com Gavin Williams

    But that’s the point. The best 1% of anything dedicate their time and their faith to what they love. How many athletes represent their country at the Olympics? How many kids from minor hockey make it to the NHL? How many take creative writing and then become bestsellers? I’m lucky, I have a brain that’s great at spotting future trends and making predictions, so I can see that what has to happen in 100 years (digitial print media) could very well happen in 50. Or 25. So why not start working on making it reality now?

    There’s no risk, no loss, no worry involved. Putting all your hopes on traditional publishing is a crap-shoot. It’s like winning the lottery. Making zero money never getting published traditionally sucks. Well, making zero money publisihng on the Internet sucks less: because readers find it. And sometimes, if it’s good writing, the audience grows and you start making some money. There’s nothing to lose, except the possibility of that specific manuscript ever being published traditionally. So what? It probably wasn’t going to be anyway, and if you’re talented enough to write a publishable book, it will happen sooner or later, if you keep trying. In the meantime, you become a better writer posting the online story, because you’re practicing writing every day.

    Quality control is not the problem you make it out to be. Editors and publishers are NOT genetically gifted in the means of improving a story. They don’t have some special key or computer or a god’s magic quill. They have years of training in how to promote and mass market the same stories year after year. They know how to reach a big audience with a universal story.

    What they don’t do is fit individual niches. I’ll refer you to different articles here on Novelr: 1000 True Fans, and The Long Tail. You’re a PhD: you think you can’t control quality just as well as some editor at a publishing house? You think there aren’t more people like me on the Internet? I was a Dean’s List English major, taking courses in creative writing. I’m a lifelong reader. I’m halfway through two masters degrees. Eli and I (and others) are hashing out how to improve online writing, support authors and push the envelope. We’re working out the process of how to draw attention to online writing and raise its profile. It could take years. It could happen overnight. But it won’t happen if we don’t TRY.

    Traditional Publishing does not have all the best writers and editors, and the magic power to create the best writing. Look at some of the crap that gets published every year. Look at some of the bestsellers. It’s middle of the road, suit everyone kind of stories, and they’re derivative. Tell me you don’t question the sanity of the world, when Danielle Steele has the numbers that she does.

    Now, you can buy into their system. Or you can try to create a new one that fosters independence, creativity, and new forms of writing, at no risk. Because you can also continue writing for traditional publishing and be a double threat.

    The difference is, someday the old paper model will become unsustainable. Why not be good at both and make the future easier for other digital writers, because you were a pioneer?

  • http://arcanadium.monoxide.ws/ Spotty

    I’ve been chatting with Eli for a while, and if he emailed me and gave me feedback on something I had written I would listen and take it to heart. But if somebody I didn’t know left me a comment that said something was patchy or whatever I would ignore it. How could you not?

    This is where I need to step in I think.

    Firstly, there is a difference between accepting feedback from everyone, and taking everyones feedback to heart. I agree, no, you shouldn’t change everything you write because some random person suggests it. But then again, if they’ve taken the time to leave feedback… maybe there is something wrong with that sentence, maybe it is a little jumbled and hard to understand.

    No, noone is perfect, I know I don’t have my own personal editor for my work. I’m greatful for all the comments on my story with suggestions though. I might not agree with them all, and certainly, not all of them are incorporated into what I’ve written, but they are still a valuable resource to me. To quote AE’s comment policy for ToMU (which I seem to be doing alot recently :/ ), “You agree that corrections or technical improvements you offer are understood to be helpful suggestions”. Ok, so this isn’t the context it’s meant to be taken in, but I think that’s an important part here. They are helpful suggestions, that’s it. Advise my friend, is firstly cheap, and secondly, easily ignored if you don’t feel it is the right advice.

    Quality issues will always be around. The thing in print is this; it is difficult and costly to self-publish, so not many people do it. On the internet, it is cheap, and relatively easy. As you’ve pointed out before, the same issues are prevalent in music, etc being published on the internet too.

    But the core things that I think a decent piece of literature needs – strong narrative voice, good writing, good characters, editing (both by the self and others) and a story – those things should be the same however you present your work, no?

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. The wonderful thing about the internet is that you only need about two of those to start off with, a story and good characters. No, you won’t make any hit lists without all of them, but the others can be worked on progressively and revised as you get feedback (as you would in a print form from your editor/friends/whomever). Undoubtedly, it’s probably slush, but someone is likely to read/struggle through it if it has atleast those two, and if they are anything like me, will probably leave comments about things that need fixing up, especially if it’s mostly just technical issues; jumbled sentences, spelling, grammar and the like.

    Or I could be wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. My 2c either way.

  • http://jpsmythe.com/fact James Smythe

    Gavin, I wholeheartedly agree with you. As I wrote above, my entire argument of my thesis, when it came down to it, concerned ways that authors can embrace both print and online fiction.

    Honestly, though, I don’t feel that I can quality control my own work as well as an editor. I’ve been really lucky to have my tutor and a great writer-friend (published, incidentally) editing stuff for me, reading and commenting and helping out, and pointing out things that I’ve missed. Qualifications mean nothing for your editing, I don’t think – didn’t I read that Alexandra Erin left university? – editors get their jobs because that’s what they do, and it is what they are good at.

    And, personally, quality control is an issue for me with blog fictions. I wasn’t basing my statement on the lack of editors, per se; rather, it was based on me reading blogs and judging them. My job requires me to read past my taste and look for good writing, and the vast majority – nearly all of, in fact – blog fiction isn’t good. I cannot say the same about the bookshelves at my local Borders, where the ratio of good to bad is far, far higher.

    And most of the people who write blog fiction write it because they were rejected from the traditional publishing world. I did a lot of interviews for my thesis with blog authors, and this was the case in a lot of them. Did they all want to be traditionally published? Almost every single one. That was the goal, the absolute best thing that could happen. It is, for every writer nowadays, surely, the dream? And that will never change, even if the means of presentation does: the validation afforded by somebody else saying that they think others would like your work, and they want to publish/publicise/distribute it for you will always, always be the dream. If that is a publisher, great. If it’s a community of writers who only endorse what they see to be The Best Blog Fictions, that’s great as well. Anyone can start a blog, and nowadays they do.

    Look, when push comes to shove, we’re arguing the same thing. Using the internet to publish fiction is a way of the future, and that isn’t going to change. We agree on that, right? I think it’s great that people write and that people want to read, and it’s brilliant that communities exist to help people become better writers. It’s exciting, yes, but I have to look at it with a tempered excitement, and qualify it with relevance to my own writing: I would rather be published in a way that my Mum can actually enjoy reading my work than not. It’s as simple as that for me. I don’t care about the financial side, the glory, the ego-rubbing, none of that. I care that conventional publishing will get my writing to audiences (and, as stated before, help me get the jobs that I want and am qualified for). And I care that, in the nebulous future of all-digital, my first novel – which was designed for the net, full of hyperlinks etc, and then transported to paper, incidentally – will also be available online and for the world to read on their future-Kindle devices, and everyone can enjoy them however the heck they see fit.

  • http://arcanadium.monoxide.ws/ Spotty

    And most of the people who write blog fiction write it because they were rejected from the traditional publishing world. I did a lot of interviews for my thesis with blog authors, and this was the case in a lot of them. Did they all want to be traditionally published? Almost every single one. That was the goal, the absolute best thing that could happen. It is, for every writer nowadays, surely, the dream?

    I’m also not going to argue anyone else’s experiences here, but my own.

    I started writing because I wanted to write; to be perfectly honest, I needed an outlet, and I found writing cathartic. Being read, much less published never even entered my mind. It still doesn’t really. It was due to a friend or two of mine who I happened to let slip that I wrote that AD ever made itself known beyond my browser. Don’t get me wrong; I love my readers, every one of them. But getting published? Nope, not really a concern of mine. I know my own writing is passable, but not up to scratch. I also know it isn’t mass-marketable; neither would I want it to be.

    Do I want to make money off it? It’d be nice to make a few pennies off it, since I’m out of a job at the moment, but honestly, beyond advertising dollars when I get enough posts up for Project Wonderful to consider me, I don’t expect much there either.

    The quick summary: Anything is better than nothing.

  • http://sixfigurewriting.com SueC

    Thank You Gavin – why oh why do writers not “get” what is possible online? They use forums, discussion groups, even have ablog – where they post brochures for their print books!! Is there zero curiousity abotu how ot MARKET your “product”? Is it the old “I’m a writer not a salesperson” mentality? For the few who GET OVER IT there is success online…

    the myths abound: “unsuccessful writer publish blogs” “only get-rich-quick writers make money” “I writer because I love to write not to make money [yeah RIGHT]” “only conventional publishing reaches readers [when the OPPOSITE is true – WILL PEOPLE PLEASE READ SETH GODIN???]”

    But then I have to ask – why be concerned when other writers don’t understand how to be successful – meaning, you earn a living – writers online; and I’m sure I don’t know.

  • http://sixfigurewriting.com SueC

    …and I apologize for the typos. This topic gets me riled. The Seth Godin book is Meatball Sundae. A brilliant description therein about how some smart – and now rich – self-publishers avoid the corporate conglomerate publishing world.

  • http://jpsmythe.com/fact James Smythe

    SueC, I do write because I love it, not because I am under any delusion of the money – I know full well that, even if/when I am conventionally published I will probably not make a penny. This is why most writers, online, print, whatever, have another job. I’d say it’s a cliche, not a myth, but I write because I feel I have to, because I love it. No more cynical a reason than that, unfortunately. Don’t start claiming to know why I write, because that’s ridiculous. If I wrote for the money I would have stuck at my copywriting job, something that paid incredibly well. I didn’t. Why? Because it was pretty soulless, actually.

    As I said above, I have written stuff online, and quite a lot of it. I also happen to want to publish my writing conventionally. When did this become a sin, some cardinal error that somehow stops me having the right to a) have an opinion on the state of online publishing and b) voice that opinion on a website that I thoroughly enjoy reading? I maintained a blog for 2 years that dealt with my own place in the online-writing market, and recently I changed it to be a more personal blog concerning my writing. I “get” what is possible, and more importantly I like what is possible.

    It’s nothing to do with the money Sue, and I don’t think any part of this argument is actually to do with that. Like it or not it is about the words on the page, and nothing more. You don’t have to “get” the internet to see that.

  • http://sixfigurewriting.com SueC

    Well, that’s all fine, whatever floats your boat, I don’t know you, and wasn’t talking to “you” specifically (I was responding to Gavin you see). I have no way of knowing what anyone’s motivation is, and BTW would never use the word “sin” as you call it, so I don’t know what you’re talking about with that one…

    It’s just tiresome to listen to writers (again, not, specifically, YOU) complain about being broke and how they wish they could make money from their writing, but they love putting words on the page and don’t do it “for the money” and it’s about the writing, and so on and so forth. Of course! that’s one big reason people decide to pick up the pen in the first place, because they love it. Go ahead! No one is saying you shouldn’t! But I have to ask, if that’s true, Why publish at all then? Personally, I don’t get that much of a kick out of reading and writing just for myself. But everyone is different as to what motivates them. No value judgment here.

    As Gavin said, above, “It just takes trying”. Actually, Gavin’s post (to which I was responding) did actually talk about how to sell your work online – as well as give it away. Lots of options out there now and more every day! That’s what I was talking about (in my response to Gavin). It’s the “options” part so many writers (again, not, specifically, YOU, James) don’t “get”. (PS, “traditional” publishing is just another option … so if you want to pursue that no one’s telling you not to.)

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    I’ll be taking some time to absorb the ideas in the comment section here – just about every major concept we’ve covered before has reared its head (again!) in the commenting section: editing and filters and promoting the medium to new readers, etc etc.

    Just a head’s up: James will be doing a counter-point guest post soon on Novelr. He’s highlighted a lot of the obstacles in our way before online fiction becomes a viable alternative, and I’d like to hear more from him on it. As they say you have to identify a problem before attempting to solve it – this is a good opportunity to figure out how.

    PS: SueC – fascinating blog you’ve got there. I presume you’re catering to the freelance writing crowd?

  • http://www.nomananisland.wordpress.com Gavin Williams

    My point is, was and always will be, that Online Fiction is an EMERGENT artform. Traditional Publishing is the dominant model. Of course almost no one wanted to publish online instead of on paper. It didn’t exist as an option. But no one considered Impressionistic art at first, and no one would have predicted the way movies are made today, eighty years ago. Nuclear reactors, genetics, space travel, were all pipe dreams until someone did something about it.

    Online fiction is written differently than traditional prose, and suits a different type of audience. No one’s saying “stop writing traditional books.” It’s “start writing online fiction too.” Now is a great time to start, because the publishing world is closing doors, while the Internet is opening them.

  • http://sixfigurewriting.com/blog SueC

    Thanks Eli, yes I started writing it to help both myself and my friends to find online work, ideas, and efficiency tools to make more time to write.

    It sometimes takes my breath away to see how many new ways to communicate are growing out of the Web – but there still seems to be such a strong resistance (out of hand dismissals even, often clearly based on ignorance) among “traditional” writers, maybe from the early days of blog-as-teen-diary or something? Or maybe so many writers still want to point to their book with a big publishing house label on it, in the window of B&N? Not sure. But why not do it all? (It being understood that this also means “do it WELL”. ) You can only increase your audience, or maybe even reach them more directly, more interactively, more honestly and intimately?

  • http://dionysiadesign.com Morgan O’Friel

    And most of the people who write blog fiction write it because they were rejected from the traditional publishing world. I did a lot of interviews for my thesis with blog authors, and this was the case in a lot of them. Did they all want to be traditionally published? Almost every single one. That was the goal, the absolute best thing that could happen.

    I guess I’m another voice offering up my own experiences. I’ve heard this arguement around three times in as many days, and it always makes me twitch. Why? Because I’m not that person.

    I want to write online. I don’t have any desire to go into “traditional print publishing” for my fiction, and being scorned wasn’t what prompted me to dive into this field. I’m one of the wierd ones who prefers online fiction to traditionally published work, and wants to be one of the people supplying it.

    There’s no ulterior motives, no ‘it’s better than nothing’ motivation. This is my medium of choice, and I can’t see that changing anytime in the future.

    In fact, it generally makes me sad when I find out that a lot of the brilliant web talent isn’t here because they want to be, they’re here because they feel it’s their only option. Especially because there’s so much to be said about the joys of net fiction (as Gavin, Alexandra, and the others mentioned above). Everyone has their own choices to make, of course, and far be it for me to say that they’re making the wrong ones, but it does make me a bit bummed to know that brilliant talen will eventually be leaving us for something they deem to be bigger and better.

    Would I like to make money through web fiction? Sure — I’d love to make enough money through the year (by ads or what-not) to support the hosting fees. But if I don’t make that goal, it’s really no hair off of my back. Usually, what I spend on hosting fees and advertising, is the same amount I would spend at the movies in a year . And to be honest? I don’t really like a lot of movies, anyways. ^^;;

  • http://www.wibblypress.net Stormy

    And most of the people who write blog fiction write it because they were rejected from the traditional publishing world. I did a lot of interviews for my thesis with blog authors, and this was the case in a lot of them. Did they all want to be traditionally published? Almost every single one. That was the goal, the absolute best thing that could happen. It is, for every writer nowadays, surely, the dream?
    I seriously haven’t spent the time worrying about getting traditionally-published for ages. I have no illusions about being the next Gaiman, not of 5-6-7-figure advances, I am happy doing what I’m doing.

    When I put my work online, I never had any angst about giving away my first rights – my only worry was that no one else would read my work (a fear long since put to rest).

    I like, nay, love the serial format. I love being able to release parts to my readers 2-3-4 times a week, and getting immediate feedback (yes, that’s the danger of the instant-gratification society, but it’s serving me for now).

    I know where I’m going with my work – I’m not going to email my page stats to an agent and go “pweeeease pubwish meeeee”, that’s just not who I am.

  • http://srsuleski.com/ srsuleski

    I feel… I must… throw in my 2¢

    At least, about this topic:

    And most of the people who write blog fiction write it because they were rejected from the traditional publishing world. I did a lot of interviews for my thesis with blog authors, and this was the case in a lot of them. Did they all want to be traditionally published? Almost every single one. That was the goal, the absolute best thing that could happen. It is, for every writer nowadays, surely, the dream?

    Hmm. When I was a child, before I had the internet available to me, I did like to think about being published one day. But mostly it was just the dream of having people reading my stories, besides my family and friends.

    I used to think that traditional publishing was the only way to accomplish this. And this depressed me… not because I’ve ever tried to get my novels published and had them rejected… but because I dreaded it. I dreaded the entire process. I’ve never wanted to dive in, because to me it looks like a pit of lava. It’s not the “rejection” per se that I fear… it’s the endless ulcerating about what a hundred faceless editors or agents might think of my work. Writing to try and target the masses, make myself salable, create a product. Having it turn into “work” rather than “joy.”

    I never liked the idea that to validate yourself as a writer, you have to “get published” and “make money.” There’s always the stigma attached to writing, like it’s a waste of time if you’re not trying to sell it. Like it’s self-indulgent crap if an editor somewhere hasn’t given it the stamp of approval. That’s what I’ve always resented most about the whole deal. And that’s why I’ve never even sought that approval. My writing is My Joy and always will be, even if it’s not paid its dues and earned the right to be considered “real writing” by going through the traditional process. In fact I can think of no better way to kill my love for writing than trying to make myself believe that it’s only worthwhile if it’s run the gamut.

    Not gonna lie, I am poor (my car cannot go over 50 MPH, ok) so yeah, the candy coated dream of having writing as “my job” is probably still fluttering around in the back of my mind.

    But I don’t view that as reality, at all. I never have, and never will. The notion of making a living off of my writing is a gum drop fantasy, not an actual dream. Because I know that trad. publishing is a business, concerned with money, marketing, and sales. I have no place in that sort of world. Even the thought makes me shudder like a thousand tiny spiders just ran up and down my spine. So my “ultimate goal,” in reality, is to get as many readers as possible using the most practical and enjoyable means available to me.

    I have a Donate button just because I can, and I’m touched and grateful to anyone who chooses to hit that button. I know it’s never going to replace that car engine for me, or pay the rent, or buy groceries, but hey, it does help fund my advertising to draw in MOAR READERZ!


    I do want to have a physical, dead tree version of my work, but I’m fine with using Lulu for that.

    Yeah, I do know that many people won’t take my writing seriously, or will lump it in with the 99% of rough out there to every 1% of diamond, etc. etc. I know that, to a certain extent, online fiction/lulu publication will never result in me being seen as more than one of the millions of lackluster wannabes.

    But I figure, ef them. I’m enjoying myself, I’ve got readers, and that beats writing in the dark and dreading the corporate meat grinder as the only way to ever be read. When I made the decision to give away my first publication rights, I thought (and said to friends) “Let’s face it, I’m never even going to try to get published traditionally, so I’m not losing anything.”

    Nothing to lose, everything the gain.

  • http://srsuleski.com/ srsuleski

    One more thing to add…

    I find that a TON of absolute CRAP gets published traditionally. I worked in a library for 6 1/2 years and was constantly put off by the loads of tosh I saw every day. Most of it was a result of publishers clearly being out to make a buck and nothing else.

    I’m not nearly as disgusted with lackluster blog fiction as I am with putrid published crappiles of steamy commercialism. Because all blog writers are doing it for the love of the game, so to speak, and I’m finding lots of stories that I am becoming addicted to. It’s fun and I’m not going, “ARRGH what is wrong with the world that this got published?!?” every time I come across something that’s not very good. I just move on till I find something that grabs me.

  • http://www.lethebashar.blogspot.com lethe

    How does a blog novelist not become excited at the prospects of the Net? Just look at Obama’s campaign and how the Net played such a huge role in his success. Compared to Clinton and McCain, Obama and his supporting staff proved themselves to be light-years ahead of the competition. I don’t think it’s a hard claim to make that writers attuned to online possibilities are better off than those who continue to live in a dead-tree world. I think Gavin’s article is right to wave the flag “Change is Upon Us.” The commenters were also right to point out that Change doesn’t necessarily imply Success. My point about Obama is that his awareness made his success possible. As writers become more aware of non-traditional forms of publishing, they put themselves in a better position for success in a changing market. Continuing the Obama conceit, but along a different thread, consider this from an article in the NY Times:

    “But at the same time, Mr. Obama’s notion of persistent improvement, both of himself and his country, reflects something newer–the collaborative, decentralized principles behind Net projects like Wikipedia and the ‘free and open-source’ software movement. The qualities he cited to Time to describe his campaign–‘openness and transparency and participation’–were ones he said ‘merged perfectly’ with the Internet. And they may well be the qualities that make him the first real ‘wiki-candidate.’

    When I read those words “openness and transparency and participation” I couldn’t help but to think of my experience writing my blog novel, which brings me to my second point. The ethos of the Net will inevitably influence the role and the work of the blog novelist. Those writers who embrace the technology and what the technology has to offer will reinforce and perhaps reinstate the Novel’s original pupose: to be novel! Over time, it seems, the word has lost its original meaning. Just as Cervantes revised the romance, blog writers can revise the dead-tree novel, and in doing so, breathe new life into the form. These writers will transform the form merely out of boredom, curiosity or playfulness. Therefore, “openness” to me implies openness to technology, openness to change, openness to other ways of doing things.

    The blog novel is fairly transparent by nature. If you’re like me you’re going to keep revising the chapters you have written in addition to writing new ones. Your readers will know that the manuscript is constantly in flux and its condition are changing (think wikipedia and Obama’s notion of “perisistent improvement”). Furthermore, along the lines of transparency, you’ll find blog novelists at Novelr talking about their work, talking about subjects relating to novels and fiction. The very presence of the author-at-large means greater transparency. Links to other work by the same author creates a paper trail, and the spirit of the Net almost requires the writer be available and open for questioning, at least for emails. No more barriers.

    Finally, participation. Perhaps the distinguishing feature of blog novels is the possibility of reader feedback. How that feedback shapes the progression of the novel is key. What will the writer do with it? How will it alter her own ideas for the direction of her novel? This can dramatically alter the writer-as-God model. Reader are actually influencing the writing of the novel, in media res. In addition, veteran bloggers cans assist aspiring blog writers to enter the stream. As for myself, I was awed to discover to what extent writers I don’t even know are willing to critique, edit and review my work. It is this spirit of communal creativity that makes writing on the web a unique experience.

    And one more thing: what does “decentrallization” mean to the online novelist? The writer-as-God-model may go by the wayside, or not. But it definitely will diminish some, I believe. With the Net, we begin to see the emergence of something more dynamic between writer and reader. Not so unilateral, not so Bush admin.–more like, well, Obama.

  • http://mortalghost.blogspot.com Lee

    A lot of good points, so I’ll only add that we shouldn’t talk about the online novel as a single form. It’s certainly evolving, and I hope there’s room for the openness Lethe mentions. For example, I’m one of those writers who place a great importance on style, who sees story as inescapably bound to the form of its language, so my fiction is not particularly eventful. This of course means that my work will never be particularly popular, but it’s what I do – and want to do.

  • http://mortalghost.blogspot.com Lee

    An interesting addition to the discussion from Slate about how we read online:


  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Great find, Lee. Thanks!