Why Do You Read Online Fiction?

Johnathan Harris on digital storytellingI’m going to be talking about self-promotion w/r/t online fiction in a couple of days, but I first want to ask you, all of you: why do you read online fiction? If you’re writers, and I’m assuming you are – this being Novelr and all – then why do you read this thing that we do? What makes it so different from books? What makes it better? And why?

Do you read it because you write it? Do you read because you’re part of the community now, and you’ve gotten to know the other writers around you, and you’re reading their work the same way you might read the blog of a loved one? Do you even read at all?

If you don’t, not as many as you would like: why? Is it because of the medium?

(I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I have found that I do less long-form reading when I’m online, and to be able to read through a masterpiece like The Grapes of Wrath – a copy of which is sitting on my table at this very moment – requires the unplugging of my computer and the physical removal of my web browser. This isn’t good, for obvious reasons: I have probably read less in the past 6 months than I have in the last three years combined.)

There has been much talk lately of self-promotion in online fiction. Many of us seem enamored with the idea that web fiction writers; indie writers – these new, fringe groups (of which I am a part) deserve to be treated professionally: at the same level as traditionally-published authors. But perhaps these are answers to the wrong questions. Most online experiences today are made to be simple, easy, and addictive. Web fiction is unique in that it has little of the three. And so here we must ask ourselves a series of questions about our work: do we attempt to emulate the rest of the web? (Much of Novelr has attempted to do just that). Or should we attempt to find other possible methods for online expression? What are our answers to the following questions:

  • Can it make someone gasp, or cry?
  • Does it feel as special as a love letter?
  • Does it compare to masterpieces of other mediums?
  • Could it have gone further?

And: why should you read online fiction? Because when you have found the answer to that, one that is not couched in defensive or capitalist terminology, then you would have found the answer to the self-promotion problem. Till then, I’d like to know this: why do you read online fiction? It’s a good place to start.

(Image at top taken from Johnathan Harris’s presentation on digital storytelling.)

[Update] A clarification:

I believe I should respond as well: I read online fiction because I started writing it. This is a cop-out (and is certainly not the answer anyone wants to hear), but it is the truth. I would not have considered reading in this medium if it wasn’t for the fact that I considered writing in it.

Now this is in itself a compelling reason. The reason for me asking is this: are there any other compelling reasons? One of the oldest problems we have in online fiction is that there are too many readers who are other writers, and marketing often feels like cross-promotion: writers selling to other writers. This is simply ridiculous. So I am asking you in the hopes of finding someone who was compelled into reading without first considering writing. If there are none, then I’ll have confirmed a suspicion I’ve had for sometime now. (I’ll explain in a latter post.)

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Category: Marketing
  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    PS: I’ve asked a few people in the past, and their replies are going to be part of Afterglow, a Novelr project attempting to answer that very. If you’re one of those people, you don’t have to answer – I still have your replies on my computer. =)

  • http://quillsandzebras.wordpress.com anna


    So, in response to your post, I read online because:
    1. It’s free.
    2. It’s ideal for lazy people like me. No need to go through the hassle of finding a good book and buying it; I can dip in and out of things quickly.
    3. I’m used to it – when I was younger I read loads of fanfiction online, and so reading from the screen doesn’t bother me.
    4. The sense of community and direct access to the author is another plus.
    5. It doesn’t take up space on the bookshelves.
    6. The indie aspect of it – supporting unknown authors.
    7. And last, but not least, I enjoy it.

    Can’t think of any other reasons at the moment, but I shall add to the list if I do.

    I guess the most important thing is that I don’t read webfiction because I write it, but I write it, because I read it. Does that make any sense?

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    A TYPO OMFG WHERE? (coherent replies tomorrow morning)

    I believe I should respond as well: I read online fiction because I started writing it. This is a cop-out (and is certainly not the answer anyone wants to hear), but it is the truth. I would not have considered reading in this medium if it wasn’t for the fact that I considered writing in it.

    This is in itself a compelling reason. The reason for me asking this is: are there any other compelling reasons?

    @Anna: you started writing fan fiction. Which is about the same reasons as mine. Now, if the whole idea of self-promotion is to find readers who are not other writers: what other compelling reasons are there?

  • http://www.fluffy-seme.net Isa

    I read online fiction because it better fits my life :) I spend the bulk of my time working on the computer, it’s easier to sit in front of the screen (where I can toggle back and forth between various projects, email, etc) and read something then it is to read something written on a page.

    In fact the ONLY time I read words on a page is when I’m on the train/subway. That is really the only time print medium works for me as a reader.

  • http://beckyswritingblog.wordpress.com/ Becky

    Note – this may get a little incoherent. It’s my stream of consciousness on the matter.

    Well, as I said on Twitter I know why I read online fiction. I read it because I enjoy it – if I don’t enjoy it I don’t read it.

    Now I also admit that fiction can stretch the mind in many ways, but that’s a compelling reason to read it.

    1. I can’t stand Robert Jordan’s books – people can rave all they like about the depth of them and how they stretch the mind. I can’t get into them. I like to be stretched but entertainment comes first. I would presume the people who rave about his books have different tastes.

    2. Most people who read fiction don’t want to be stretched. A friend of mine likes to say that Publishers aren’t interested in the people who buy 100s of books a year they are interested in the majority of readers who buy one book a year to read on the beach. He’s oversimplifying but he has a point – most of the book buying public are *not* avid readers.

    The first thing that needs to be admitted is that it’s unlikely that online fiction is going to attract people who aren’t avid readers. This might sound like a problem but at least it tells you who you are aiming for – the avid readers of your genre.

    However even avid readers are loathe to take risks – faced with a choice between buying the new novel by their favourite author and that of newly published author they’ll plump for their favourite author (most of the time). And this when both are traditionally published – indie authors are out on an even longer limb.

    But this is the thing – indie fiction is perceived as a risk. This is a hangover from books where reading something often required an investment of money and certainly one of time. But while this remains the case with indie published paper and even ebooks it isn’t the case with online fiction. Weblit, after all, is usually free unless you choose to donate or buy an upgraded version – and it costs a potential reader only a few minutes to read the first part or two to see if a particular piece is to their taste. There is *no* risk involved and potentially a lot to be gained, but people still perceive a risk. This is what needs to be addressed.

    Now as I said I’ve never perceived a risk in online fiction. Back in the early 1990s I was on a mailing list about vampires, and members also shared their fiction. It was of variable quality, but much of it was good. I also had parents and friends who were unpublished writers. I knew that being unpublished didn’t always equal bad.

    Between these two things I’ve never perceived a risk in trying weblit (and yes I’ve occassionally found things that make me want to extract my brain and scrub it clean, but I’ve found that in paper books as well).

    Now how we persuade people that they really have nothing to lose is another question, and one I’m not sure about yet. The Web is younger than I am after all. Weblit is still a comparitevely new thing after all and new things are often slow to be fully accepted.

    If I come up with any answers I’ll tell you (though I think MCM is on to something with his superuser thing – if someone a lot of people trust says it’s safe they’ll be more inclined to try it).

  • http://airtheremin.wordpress.com Sebatinsky

    I read web fiction for the same reason I read traditional fiction – I enjoy reading it. We spend so much time on the differences that we often forget how similar the two media are.I mean, we’re not talking about the transition from epic poetry to prose, here. This is more like the difference between scrolls and codices.

    You can take a book anywhere, but you have to plan ahead and bring the book you want. I don’t take a computer everywhere, but I do have a netbook that travels with me a lot, and with it I can read any web fiction I want. I also spend a lot of my time at a computer – all day at work, for a start. Web fiction is convenient in that way.

    I can curl up in my bed with a book, and I can’t really do that the same way with my netbook.

    Web fiction is also different (not necessarily better) in that the serial format is frequently used. In this way they parallel webcomics (other things too, but in my experience, it’s webcomics). This means that I can read several web serials at once, reading bits once or twice a week. I tend to prefer reading a novel in very few sittings.

    It is nice to be able to talk with the authors, and I am now a regular corespondent with at least one web fiction author.

    Finally, I am convinced that the future of storytelling is electronic, and probably web based. I don’t know where it is going, but I do know that what we are doing now will be part of the foundation people look back on when discussing how we got where we eventually wind up.

  • http://airtheremin.wordpress.com Sebatinsky

    Oh, yes, and it’s free! And easier than the free alternatives with physical books. That’s actually probably the #1 reason for me.

  • http://airtheremin.wordpress.com Sebatinsky

    “The first thing that needs to be admitted is that it’s unlikely that online fiction is going to attract people who aren’t avid readers. This might sound like a problem but at least it tells you who you are aiming for – the avid readers of your genre.”

    I totally disagree with this. I think this is where we are NOW, but a web serial is actually less demanding than nearly any other form of entertainment. You could argue that TV is more passive, but I can’t think of a web lit author who posts updates that take me even close to 30 minutes to read. Even for people who read quite slowly, I think 1/2 hr is the upper limit of the time commitment for a web serial installment.

    So,yes, the people who read web fiction are avid readers (or they’re writers), because they are the people who care enough about reading to seek out a budding and underdeveloped medium for fiction. I don’t, however, see any reason that this should continue past the developing stage.

  • http://quillsandzebras.wordpress.com anna

    @Eli Sorry – I wasn’t clear – I started by *reading* fanfiction. I didn’t consider even writing it ’til several years down the line.

    And the typo is “till”. Till = cash desk. You meant either until or ’til. :P

  • http://www.epiguide.com Kira

    Like Eli I began reading online because I was writing online. This dates back to around 1996, when there was a heckuva lot less material to enjoy. And back then, as now, I read online stuff for the same reason I write it: because I can’t find what I want in other media.

    What I missed was good old-fashioned serialized storytelling, from Dickens to Days of Our Lives (the latter from the era of the late ’80s and early ’90s — not the dreck it is now). (These days, serialized drama is rife on primetime TV, but it wasn’t quite as popular back then.) The benefit of a serial for me is the ability to get to know characters intimately, follow them through trials and tribulations, and watch them grow or self-destruct, depending on their particular vector.

    The reason I read online is because the stories I love can go beyond what a TV show or even a book can do. They can take a non-linear view of their story, letting me uncover corners of their universe as I choose. They might have diaries or maps or illustrations or secret file drawers or newspapers… all that tremendously enhance my experience.

    The first story I read online was a funny, silly soap satire called “Crescendo Cove,” with ridiculously over-the-top punny names and with no pretense toward literature whatsoever. And yet through links I could learn more about the characters and their histories, and thanks to the author’s clever writing and site features the world came to life. The bios even changed the farther along I got into the story (including material from later installments). I *loved* that the author seemed ‘aware’ that I had read as far as I did, and adjusted my experience accordingly. Obviously he wasn’t really doing this for me, personally, but it felt that way.

    Another early story I admired was “Dead Kelly,” a creepy ghost story/murder mystery. Here I could move from page to page, enjoy the eerie pseudo-3D graphics, and chat with the author about the plot and characters.

    So as you can see, it’s the interactivity that has got me involved in online reading. I know ‘interactivity’ is a buzzword that seems meaningless, but for me it means exploration, give-and-take between the author and audience, and thus a deeper sense of engagement in this fictional world. When I have the sense of uncovering secrets that may not be absolutely necessary for plot purposes, but are still enlightening if I choose to go down that path, I feel more involved in the story. More of an ‘ownership’ of it, in a way. It’d be like walking onto the set of “Roseanne” and peeking inside their kitchen drawers, or reading Willow’s diary on “Buffy.”

    So that’s why I read online. I don’t necessarily love it more than watching a terrific television drama or reading a fascinating book. But the webserials I follow serve as additions to those other forms of entertainment, not substitutions for them.

  • http://www.epiguide.com Kira

    Psst Anna — “till” is actually the older form and yes, is entirely correct. ;)

  • http://beckyswritingblog.wordpress.com/ Becky

    @Sebatinsky – I should have been clear. The reason I said I didn’t think weblit would attract non-avid readers is that these are the people who read on holiday. It’s not if it’s active or passive – it’s about the where and when.

    Having said that I’ve had another though. Serial Weblit is the modern equivalent of the Victorian Penny Dreadful. These were cheap partworks aimed at the working class. The quality of the writing was sometimes questionable, but that’s not the point. The point is that people who didn’t fit the normal definition of avid readers read them … well avidly – sometimes banding together to make up the price and share the issue when they couldn’t afford the penny cover price. I know the 21st Century isn’t the 19th, but people’s brains are still wired the same. It has to be possible to sell this format to people again – actually in the soundbite generation surely the serial format should be more not less favoured. The question is how do we persuade people?

    I’m going to think this through and make my own blog post on it over the weekend.

  • http://roydss.blogspot.com Miladysa

    I read it because it’s instant – like instant coffee.

    I’ve got a busy life, I live in a rural community and I don’t have the time or can’t be bothered (most of the time) to go shopping for books in one of the out of town shopping malls or drive into the city where all the bigger bookshops are.

    I can’t be bothered to trail through Amazon either, by the time I’ve looked through the books, made a decision and waited for them to arrive I’m in a different place. Plus new books are far too expensive these days.

    With weblit/webfiction I can start reading something in an instant and if it doesn’t suit I’m on to something else with the click on the mouse.

    I’m probably going to upset quite a few people by my next comments so before I start I want to state that they are not aimed at any particular writer or website and I’m just being honest.

    Lately I have found it a bit of a chore to find something new to read online – not because a story doesn’t interest me – but because I don’t want to sign in, sign up, earn points or be distracted by *blinking* ads while I’m trying to concentrate on the text on screen. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with these things just that they don’t suit me. Ads are fine – I advertise my own site – I just want them to keep still!

    *I read online because I want to chill out with an instant read
    *I enjoy interaction with the writers
    *I’m only ever a click away from my next read
    *Some sites have fantastic artwork or other story extras

    As long as I can find an instant, pleasant, chilled reading experience online I will continue, if not, I will probably move on to downloading my fiction to some kind of reader.

  • http://airtheremin.wordpress.com Sebatinsky

    @Becky The penny dreadfuls are kind of what I’m talking about. I don’t think there’s a very large population who read on holidays – those people just don’t read. The casual readers read 1 book a month or less, and it’s generally got very low reading comp. requirements. John Grisham, JK Rowling, and Stephanie Meyer got rich off of these people. Often, these readers become regular readers for a short time, and only with the one author – or at least, this has been my observation.

  • http://peacock-king.infernalshenanigans.com/ Irk

    I started reading online fiction back in 1996. The appeal then was partially that I was sixtenn, I’d just found the internet, and everything was amazing and new (and, for some reason, typeset in Courier). But the other appeal was that I wanted new and different stuff to read without having to go buy books. I was pretty intrigued with episodic stuff that had a history or fanbase around it, and extras such as journals, character bios, stuff like that.

    I was also heavily into fandom at the time, and fanfiction encompassed a lot of my reading. There it was also the possibilities that dragged me into those little spin-off worlds. the value of fanfiction, and what keeps drawing readers into it, is that it eliminates the limits of the original material that spawned it. For instance, you can explore a side-character’s backstory that would have never fit into the canon story for reasons of pacing and time constraints. Also, the fandom really keeps the readership going. With people in newsgroups and email lists (I did say 1996, after all) gathering around something and discussing it, it builds up people’s excitement. Fans start up memes, make fanart, do awkward Photoshops (this is where I started my career in graphic design) and even write their own spinoff fanfics for fanfics. The interaction really drove everything. I noticed I stopped reading fanfiction when it became harder to find the more vocal community members in a fandom, or when a site that people used as a hub would go down.

    I don’t read a lot of WebLit now, though I do still read quite a bit on the internet. The reason has been that I’m too distracted and busy writing. I’m going to get an e-reader so I can read stuff away from my computer in the more traditional way. Call that my own lifestyle change, though I think it’ll be different when I clear some things out of the way on the to-do list. Right now it’s easy to feel guilty if I’m not working during the week, and if it’s the weekend I try to make myself get away from my computer for sanity’s sake.

    In any case, online fiction has had the biggest draw for me if there’s obvious expansion possible for it. There was a multi-author fanfic project that really had my attention for a few years where authors all wrote in the same fanon universe and propagated their own world which expanded the original story they were basing all the ‘fics on. I loved watching it all develop and watching them slowly fill in the cracks. I think the big opportunity that WebLit brings with it is that you don’t *have* to stick to a continuous serial format for stories. You can add in shorts and supplemental jaunts and vignettes and all sorts of things, and readers enjoy that special stuff a lot. It means not having to bloat up a tightly-paced continuous story while still giving readers the extra stuff that they love.

  • http://iarstory.blogspot.com Najela

    I started reading it before I started writing it. Then while I was writing, groups like Pages Unbound, Web Fiction Guide, and others came online and exposed me to more.

    I like reading online webfiction because it’s usually compact, instant, and interesting to read. To read an actual book, I also have to step away from the computer and most of my life is on the computer. I can read the stories and do other things before or after I finish reading.

  • http://webfictionguide.com/ Chris Poirier

    Like many others, I read online because I’m online a lot, and it’s easy. I get most of my news online, I read *all* of my comics online . . . it’s not much of a stretch to read fiction online, either. And, for the record, I’m not a big reader. So the “bite-sized” nature of a lot of web fiction fits my life.

  • http://www.twitter.com/janoda JanOda

    This is utterly cool.
    I started reading webfiction because I’m easily addicted.
    I read the entire backlog of Something Positive once because I was preparing for my exams, and wasn’t really in the mood. Took me almost a day :p Then I was finished and clicked the advertisement which was Tales of Mu. I read that back log in 3 days. Then I kept coming back with intervals to keep up with the back up. And then there was a link to Novelr somewhere and I kept discovering new stuff to read (I read the entire backlog of Novelr too). And then the WFG came around and I couldn’t escape anymore.

    I guess the answer is I’m compulsive. I like to read, and when I start something I’m fairly easily hooked. I’m not good with updates though. Backlogs are ideal because I can keep on reading, if I’m waiting for an update in a story that has a slower phase, I’m easily hooked om something new, esp. when it has a backlog, because I can get really into the story then.

    So I guess I read webfiction when I feel like reading and am sitting behind my desk, and once I’m into a story I want to read everything there is. And talk about it, and obsess a little. Until the next one comes around.
    Maybe I am a fangirl, who changes her idol every 3 months :p

  • http://beckyswritingblog.wordpress.com/ Becky

    @Sebatinsky I think we know different people. I know quite a few people at work who fall into the holiday readers subset. They generally claim they don’t have time to read on work days, so they’ll but one or two novels a year just before they go away. While they could probably gain a lot from a web serial they also tend not to be internet users (except to shop perhaps).

  • http://roydss.blogspot.com Miladysa

    @Becky “They generally claim they don’t have time to read on work days, so they’ll but one or two novels a year just before they go away.”

    My husband is one of these. 2 or 3 books at Christmas – Chefs, Autobiographies & Military. Holidays he’ll grab a few Andy McNabs, John le Carré etc. at the airport. Online fiction? Not unless I employ sanctions.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    I’m tired now, so I can’t respond to each and everyone at the moment. Going to do it tomorrow. Just wanted to tell you all – before I go to sleep – that while some replies were expected, most of them were eye-opening. I’ll be posting individual replies in a bit. Thank you, all of you.

    PS: @Anna: It’s not a typo! See! =P

  • http://srsuleski.com/ srsuleski

    I always spell it till. I just don’t like the look of ’til. Well, now that the important issue is addressed….

    I’m going to disappoint you Eli by being one of those people who has read web fiction primarily because I write it. It started with reading a friend’s short stories posted on her LiveJournal, and through her I heard about Pages Unbound, which gave me the idea to put my stuff online. So in a way I started reading it before publishing my own, but I did have, “Ooh, what is this? I could be doing this,” in my thought process from the start. Reading other people’s work, participating in the PU forums, was all more or less networking. Then, by becoming involved in WFG, reading it became somewhat of a job.

    However, it’s not like I don’t think it’s a good medium and secretly would just rather read traditional books instead. Okay, so I have bought a few Lulu copies so I could read a “real book” but that’s mostly because I am more or less the exact opposite of JanOda — I have trouble plowing through a backlog and can usually follow a web serial better if I’ve caught it fairly early in its serialization. I know I could always pace myself and read a finished/established story one chapter a day, but I feel compelled to read till I’ve exhausted the available chapters. I find that daunting if it means I have to read 50 chapters. So while I like to follow web fiction, I prefer to read novels in book form, and so if a story seems interesting, I welcome a print version.

    To cut that ramble short, I have found lots of quality stories that I’ve truly enjoyed, as a reader, not just a networking author, so I know that there are gems to be read online. It keeps me interested.

  • http://webfictionguide.com/ Chris Poirier

    Hmmm. Sarah’s got me thinking of a useful new feature for fiction websites. >:D

  • http://srsuleski.com/ srsuleski

    And what is that?

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Alright, individual replies:

    @Becky: On the riskiness of indie/web fiction – that depends on how it’s presented, I think. I find it curious that if the New York Times online puts up fiction – as it is so occasionally does, for special occasions, and the like – people would read aforementioned fiction just as they would the news. It’s the context in which the fiction is presented in – post it in Tor.com, say, and you’ll have no complaints from a reader, post it on your website, and it’ll take some pushing to get a reader to read.

    @Anna: what made you read fan fiction in the first place?

    @Sarah: Hey, I read for the exact same reasons you do, so it’s not a disappointment or anything. I must admit, yours was the answer that I was expecting everyone to give.

    @Sebatinsky: Thank you for your comment. =) I particularly liked it when you pointed out that online fiction is, after all, free.

    @Miladysa: Chefs, Autobiographies & Military =P Those sound like sectors we should consider branching into, ae? On a more serious note: thank you for pointing out that browsing online is simpler, and easier, when you’re living in a rural place. On your husband’s reading preferences: perhaps that speaks for the majority of the population today. Why read when you’ve got pundits, movies, music and blogs?

    @JanOda: A little secret: I started reading Legion of Nothing when I was supposed to be studying for an exam. Finished the entire backlog in one afternoon. Of course, that was a year ago, and Jim hadn’t so many updates then … but still. I’m like you, in that regard – if I like it, I don’t stop.

    Interesting to note that you came into the field from webcomics. If there’s anything the past few years have shown us – it’s that webcomics provide us with more readers, and members, than we realize.

    @Najela, @Isa, @Chris: now that’s something that I didn’t expect – more people reading webfiction because they live online. I still attempt to split my reading into ‘offline’ and ‘online'; I’d never have expected people to move completely online so quickly …

    But then, to be fair, I must admit that I’ve been reading less and less offline material. Not sure if this is a good thing.

    @Irk: it seems you share roots with Anna. The question, then, becomes: how did you stumble into fanfiction? When you first discovered it, was it immediate attraction to the genre?

    @Kira: On Dead Kelly: interactivity. =) Yes, writer-reader interaction has always been something we can boast about, because the Internet just rocks that way. My experiences are similar to yours, in that regard, and I am thankful for it. I’m not particularly sure that non-linearity is something that readers will like, though – I’ve always considered it the domain of the literary postmodern novel, or for post-structuralist experiments.

    In sum: it seems that people here read because it’s:

    1) easy (as opposed to traveling to a nearby town/bookstore)
    2) interactive (you get to talk with your favourite authors)
    3) free
    4) suitable for lifestyle (you live online)

    There are others I think, but I’m rushing to class at the moment. Will post a follow-up in a couple of days. Or weeks. Soon.

  • http://lleelowe.com Lee

    In terms of fiction, mostly I read short stories online. Otherwise, news, some blogs, some lit magazines, some science stuff, some oddities (graffiti sites, for example), plus research of course.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    I do have to admit that short stories are more attractive than longer form fiction. It’s the lure of instant gratification, I’d say.

  • http://gavinwilliams.digitalnovelists.com G.S. Williams

    I’m a bit behind on this discussion and my web-reading in general, I’ve been busy with an ongoing family emergency that is now resolved.

    So, let me chime in now:

    Eli already knows my reasons for reading from my Afterglow submission, but in short it’s because traditional fiction has become very traditional, ie. repetitive, and I have done so much reading in my life that I want something new and challenging and exciting.

    Online fiction is still emerging, and evolving. If I had more time and resources, I’d write more of what I want to see — stories following multiple characters, with a design that let’s you follow one at a time, or all at once, so that you see all the perspectives on a story’s events. Diary entries, photos, character sketchbooks, maps, really interactive media flowing in and out of excellent prose. Comments and forums and reader/writer relationships.

    I do find that a lot of online fiction is just as dull as traditional books, just niche-centric. I’m tired of vampires and magic. What excites me is when someone does something extremely well — like Sarah Suleski’s ability to capture emotions and relationships in Queen of Seven, or Chris Poirer’s skills with action in first-person present tense, which is very difficult to do. Alexandra Erin has rich characterization and a tremendous imagination.

    The best of web fiction right now comes from authors with some very good skills — but I think we have yet to tap the full potential of the medium. But, given the fact that most of us do this sporadically and part-time, there’s still plenty of room for development.

  • http://quillsandzebras.wordpress.com anna

    Can I just point out that spelling it “till” IS wrong. Till = a cash desk. If you don’t like ’til, write until. Nuff said. :P

  • http://lleelowe.com Lee

    Anna, check your dictionaries, please, regarding ’till’ – perfectly legitimate, though in British usage (OED) it’s considered slightly more informal.

  • http://www.epiguide.com Kira

    It really isn’t, Anna. Sorry. In fact, ’till’ can be considered more correct than ’til — people write ’til as if ’till’ is supposed to be the shortened version of ‘until’ — but it ain’t.

    From dictionary.com (among many other sources):

    “USAGE NOTE Till and until are generally interchangeable in both writing and speech, though as the first word in a sentence until is usually preferred: Until you get that paper written, don’t even think about going to the movies. • Till is actually the older word, with until having been formed by the addition to it of the prefix un-, meaning “up to.” In the 18th century the spelling ’till became fashionable, as if till were a shortened form of until. Although ’till is now nonstandard, ’til is sometimes used in this way and is considered acceptable, though it is etymologically incorrect.”

    You’ll just have to grit your teeth and bear it, I’m afraid. :)

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James


  • http://quillsandzebras.wordpress.com anna

    I have been led astray my whole life by a rabid English teacher…? I… I don’t know what to say anymore. My life will never be the same again.

  • http://dansedesirable.blogspot.com/ Christine Danse

    @Eli: Hey there. Stumbled onto your blog via a Google search and <3 what I've found. Just wanted to add my two cents on something.

    You wrote, "I find it curious that if the New York Times online puts up fiction – as it is so occasionally does, for special occasions, and the like – people would read aforementioned fiction just as they would the news. It’s the context in which the fiction is presented in – post it in Tor.com, say, and you’ll have no complaints from a reader, post it on your website, and it’ll take some pushing to get a reader to read."

    It don't find this curious at all. You're right, it's all about context. The New York Times online and Tor.com share a trait that most personal websites do not have: they are trusted "gateways." When a story has been posted on the NY Times, people trust that it's there because it's worth reading and cleanly edited, so (I would assume) they don't perceive reading it a risk. It's exactly the same thing they expect from a traditionally published story.

    I've noticed that it can be hard for people to have an opinion of something *without* a bias — harder for some than others. Take, for instance, my mom. My dad can cook a perfect gourmet meal, and my my mom will shrug her shoulders. Serve her some just-OK food at her favorite ten-star restaurant, and she's rolling her eyes in pleasure. Because the restaurant served the meal, it *had* to be good, right? If the NY Times posts a story, it must be worth reading, right?

    There's good fiction out there, and the not-so-good. Gateways serve to help readers by filtering through hundreds of manuscripts and serving up the "gems" they think readers will enjoy. Unfortunately, they can leave a lot untapped talent slushing around in rejection letters. Enter the Internet, connecting writers directly to readers. Suddenly, we can decide for ourselves who's worth reading. This is where the risk enters in — every story we read is a potential disappointment, because it hasn't been prescreened and approved by a gateway.

    Great post, great thread! Thank you!

    Oh, and for the record, I have *always* read because I write. And that includes print books. I've just always been a writer first, and that's true for my webfiction, too. :)

  • John Lame


    I’ve also just arrived here via a Google search and definitely plan to explore further. However, just wanted to add my two cents since they seem slightly different than what has already been expressed.

    First of all, I’m not a writer. I used to be an avid reader but free time is scarce and I’m now lucky to be able to read a handful of books a year.

    Also, I don’t actually read web fiction as a rule (which makes my response to this blog post questionable at best). But I’d like to, or rather I wish that web fiction was as good as (regular?) fiction. The thing is, I don’t really enjoy short stories, and the (very small amount of) free online fiction I’ve encountered has been way too brief. The best thing by far about good fiction (for me) is spending days and weeks with the characters, learning to hate them or falling in love with them. I typically wont read something if its going to be over in a few hours.

    So why would I prefer to read novels online rather than on paper? Mostly because of the convenience factor. I simply can’t always be carrying around a copy of whatever novel I’m currently reading, but I can pretty much always connect to the internet. On top of that, I’d like to be able to quickly search the text of the novel to remind myself who this character is, or where that character was last seen. At present I do usually carry a hard copy of some book or other with me when I can, but when I get the occasional 15 minutes to actually read it, I’ll spend 5 of those minutes flipping back trying to remember what was going on.

    Lastly, I’d like to comment on the “because its free” statements people have made. I strongly disagree (to the point where I’m actually slightly annoyed). The reason I arrived here was because I don’t have my current book with me and I thought to perform a quick Google search to see if I could *purchase* an online copy that I could access from anywhere. To my dismay, Google kept giving me pages and pages of “free online fiction” sites. I don’t want free stuff. Now maybe things will change someday, but currently I feel that free stuff is mostly terrible. Not because its free, but because there’s so much free stuff out there that it becomes impossible to find the good stuff amongst the bad. I want an editor I trust to stand guard at the gates and only allow passage to fiction meeting certain standards. I will gladly pay for the result and I would think most other serious readers would as well.

    Anyway, that’s all for now. Hopefully I didn’t rant too much. This blog looks pretty cool and I’d hate to alienate anyone here right off the bat. Oh, and @Becky: I can’t stand Robert Jordan either. Terry Goodkind on the other hand is amazing (imho).


  • http://lleelowe.com Lee

    Hi John,

    Finally someone who is honest. Yes, indeed, most online novels are not very good.

  • Chris Poirier

    A reliable assessment by two people who never read any. ;-)

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    @Chris: It’s not entirely their fault. I was building Pandamian to provide a launching point for the new reader, to be an ‘editor (John) trusts to stand guard at the gates and only allow passage to fiction meeting certain standards’ – even if it’s only to pull new users into the medium – and I’ve sort of stalled on it. His comment pushed me to do work again.

    I am thankful for that. =)

  • http://lleelowe.com Lee

    Hi Chris, I’ve sampled enough – and you know very well that I have high literary standards (which, admittedly, I myself can’t hope to reach).

    And Eli, though I never precisely falsify my views, I do like to be provocative – and to prod people to do better! There is a perfectly good place for light reading, but it ought to be as well written as the best Peter Temple crime fiction, for example, or China Mieville’s wonderful SF. And yes, I believe there is a place for literary fiction, however you care to define it, both online and for free.