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