Monthly Archives: September 2009

  •    Paul Graham on post-medium publishing:
    The reason I’ve been writing about existing forms is that I don’t know what new forms will appear. But though I can’t predict specific winners, I can offer a recipe for recognizing them. When you see something that’s taking advantage of new technology to give people something they want that they couldn’t have before, you’re probably looking at a winner. And when you see something that’s merely reacting to new technology in an attempt to preserve some existing source of revenue, you’re probably looking at a loser.
    I know I don’t usually quote footnotes, especially not in an article I’m linking to, but I just love this:
    Some types of publishers would be at a disadvantage trying to enter the software business. Record labels, for example, would probably find it more natural to expand into casinos than software, because the kind of people who run them would be more at home at the mafia end of the business spectrum than the don’t-be-evil end.
    (Thanks, Janoda). #

Why A Reviewer Class Is Important For Online Fiction

MCM is the author of several successful (and extremely addictive) web novels, which he publishes at his site, His latest work is The Vector – which is also a business experiment in a fiction format he calls ‘Serial +’. Here he talks about how a multi-tiered, superstar class of reviewers can help online fiction. This post is part two of a two part series; the first part can be found at Alan Baxter’s blog.

In my previous post over at Alan Baxter’s site, I talked about why a reviewer class is vital to the overall health of the weblit community. But creating that class shouldn’t just be about copying what the Old Publishing industry does. We’ve got more potential, so we should use it.

This is all going to be based on the Long Tail:

Web Fiction's Long Tail

In a nutshell, the head (left) is where the hits are, and the tail (everything else) consists of niches of various shapes and sizes. Mainstream publishing tends to focus on the head, leaving the rest of the graph totally undiscovered. It’s done this way out of necessity: churning the tail would take more resources and split more attentions than anyone can afford. Or, at least in the old system it would.

On the web, we are a massive collection of niches… far more niches than you can possibly put tags to. From a distance, it looks too busy to comprehend, let alone assign a reviewer to. The problem many weblit authors have is that their work doesn’t fit into a genre very cleanly. If you write erotic werewolf scifi mysteries, you probably get ignored by most reviewers, because they have no idea what to do with you. But that’s the old paradigm… on the internet there are as many experts as there are niches. What we need to do is find these connoisseurs and give them the tools they need to be heard and taken seriously, and encourage their authority over their niche.

For this example, we’ll make up a reviewer named Bob. Bob specializes in erotic werewolf scifi mysteries. Don’t judge him. Bob is the one who separates the wheat from the chaff without punishing you for your genre. To the readers and writers in that niche, Bob is the one that you trust for the truth. He becomes a Super User, if only on a limited scale.

Bob's niche

Above him, we have an umbrella niche for werewolf stories, with Jen as one of the top reviewers. Dealing with a larger pool of books than Bob, Jen can’t possibly read everything. Instead, she saves herself time by reading the best-ranked books coming from her sub-niches. Bob loved “The Werewolf’s Wife”, so Jen can safely pick it up, knowing the baseline quality is there. If she thinks it will be a good fit for her larger, more diverse niche, she can review it too.

Jen's niche

Repeat the process up and up the chain, and at each level, we’re treading closer to the head of the tail. If “The Werewolf’s Wife” is a work of true genius, it will float into the realm of the higher-level reviewers… these aren’t reviewers who are BETTER than their lower niche counterparts, they’re just appealing to a broader base, giving them a bigger readership pool and more influence. Not every book will make it up the structure, but there will be more mobility than ever before.

Now let’s say “The Werewolf’s Wife” made it to the upper levels of the “mystery” niche, and had magnificent reviews. The next book by the same author should (theoretically) not need to start from the bottom anymore. It can premiere near the top, thus removing a lot of the clutter waiting to be discovered by the micro-niche reviewers.

The Reviewer Hierarchy in Web Fiction

So how do we create this system? It’s pretty simple: first, we need to have a set of standards for reviewers. It needs to include an attribution clause, so as books travel upwards, the reviewers who discovered them are given credit. The reviewers need to establish themselves in their niches, rather than aspiring to be generic. Sites like the Web Fiction Guide could promote this notion of rockstar reviewers.

Authors need to play a part as well: link back to your reviews, send your readers to check them out. Trust isn’t a finite resource, so don’t be stingy with it. The more you teach your audience to trust your reviewers, the more the more powerful those reviewers will become. By helping Bob become well-respected in his niche, you’re giving yourself a head start with all subsequent books. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and the more work you put into it, the healthier the whole system will be.

Making an efficient and dependable reviewer class in the weblit world will help give everyone more credibility, so that when the rest of the world notices what we’re doing here, they’ll feel like it’s fully developed and ready for use. Otherwise, we’re just a wild west of half-wit writers waiting for the established players to arrive and bring us civilization.

MCM is still heavily invested in the future of online fiction. Read one of his books here, or spar with him in the comments below. (Oh and, I read The Vector. It rocks.)

  •    Dan Holloway on when NOT to self-publish:
    Self-publishing works best for niche markets that you know well. Why? Simple. There’s only one of you to do the marketing. If your market’s too diverse you could end up talking to thin air. If, on the other hand, your book’s called “A History of Orchid Growing in Queensland” and you’re the president of the Queensland Orchid Growers Society: why do you need a publisher?
    I like him already. (via) #
  •    Indie publisher McSweeney’s have released an iPhone app:
    We hereby announce the debut of the Small Chair, a weekly selection from all branches of the McSweeney’s family. One week you might receive a story from the upcoming Quarterly, the next week an interview from the Believer, the next a short film from a future Wholphin. Occasionally, it might be a song, an art portfolio, who knows. Early contributors will include Spike Jonze, Wells Tower, Chris Ware, and Jonathan Ames. This material will not be available online and is pretty sure to be good stuff.
    I expect nothing less of McSweeney’s – this is why they’re a) profitable, b) cutting edge. Expect more publisher-released apps on the iPhone soon. #
  •    Book titles, if they were named today:
    Then: The Gospel of Matthew
    Now: 40 Days and a Mule: How One Man Quit His Job and Became the Boss

    Then: Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Newton)
    Now: Why Do Apples Fall Down and Not Up? Answers From The Cutting Edge of Physics

    Then: The Catcher in the Rye
    Now: PARENTS BEWARE: Your Angsty, Depressed Teenager may be Drinking to Extremes and Surfing Porn on the Internet
    There’s a note in the comments from a guy in publishing, who says that books with simpler titles actually do fare better … though if only because they’re easier to find on Amazon. (via) #
  •    In China, publishing online gets you read:
    “In America, people have the American dream. In China, people have the online dream,” said Dai Yingniao, a college junior who says almost all of her friends read online fantasy novels about time travel, romance or some mixture of the two.
    Bookstores in China now have sections devoted entirely to Internet novels. #
  •    Chris Clarke, of Muse’s Success, has released a Web Fiction Table of Contents Sidebar Widget for Wordpress. Works with any widget-ready blog theme. #
  •    John Moe on not reading Infinite Jest this summer:
    But I’m still angry at the events that took place and I’m still angry with these two heroes of mine who killed these two heroes of mine.
    This is the best thing I’ve read all week. #

An Addendum

Scriptwriter John August wrote recently on the recent WordPress attacks:

Over the weekend, there was a lot of uproar about a worm attack on WordPress installations that wrecked some notable blogs. Amid the sometimes-smug observations by the unaffected, I found one point that needs to be elevated to basic principle:

Most people shouldn’t be running their own blogging software.

When I last blogged about the security issue, I asked two questions: 1) what are the odds? and 2) should we be thinking about switching platforms? These two questions resulted in a number of replies – in Novelr’s comments, via Twitter; via email. But my 2nd question wasn’t what some of you thought it to be. I was asking, rather, if we should be thinking about building yet another CMS, when WordPress itself –  a remarkably polished project, I must say – was compromised by a worm attack.

I’ll be posting a summary of the few features we’ve discussed soon, and hopefully also a couple of mockups of what a good fiction format should look like (my copy of Photoshop doesn’t seem to like Snow Leopard very much). But while the need and the feature set for a format is clear, the how-tos and the implementation is still far from obvious. Till they are, however, I’d like to know your thoughts on this security issue – how safe do you feel on WordPress? Would you consider switching? Or should you prefer a hosted service, like August suggests?

  •    Here’s a beautiful little short story about an alternate Internet. (via) #
  •    Old WordPress versions – apart from 2.8.4 – under risk of attack:

    Otto42 of OttoDestruct, a key WordPress developer and supporter, reports that there is an “attack” on older versions of WordPress right now. The number of sites hit by this is growing every hour. Protect your WordPress blog now: UPDATE NOW!!!

    Update your WordPress blog before you continue reading this post. That’s how critical this issue is.

    Two things: 1) what are the odds? 2) should we be thinking about switching platforms? #
  •    Chris Matyszczyk of CNet’s Technically Incorrect blog meets up with a couple who believe the Kindle has not only changed their reading habits, but also their selection of books. They say that this is a good thing, because they’re no longer influenced by such superficial things as a book’s cover.
    “Now, I just choose on the basis of what sounds good, not what looks good,” he said. “Any covers on Kindle are black and white and grainy. They just don’t seem significant when compared to the book’s content.”
    Just wait till the Kindle gets a colour screen. #