Thinking About Self Promotion

This is a short post – I’m here to say just two things. First, I’m going to be gone for two weeks or so; I’ve got my end-of-semester exams in a week and I know I should be studying. Second, I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about self-promotion in online fiction. I believe that there is a need to be serious about this – to do serious thinking in the sense that we should be talking about the whys before talking about the hows; i.e.: just because you can advertise in Facebook doesn’t mean that you should.

When Novelr first started the main problem we had was on how to publish/write online fiction – the best methods of presentation, the best platforms, the nuts and bolts of the medium, if you will. That problem has largely been solved. Today, most of us know how to publish and write online fiction, and that is a good thing (it has been 4 years, after all). What we haven’t solved, however, is the old problem of the writer/reader divide: most of our readers are other writers. Most of our marketing efforts are centered into getting other writers to read our work. This is a little silly, and a little sad. There should be better, more efficient methods of finding new readers, that aren’t based on randomly yelling on ‘any and all’ social platforms.

I’m fairly certain that we’ll all have a lot to say on the topic. To that end, I’ve created a new category on Novelr – Marketing – to help reflect this focus. But before we do all that thinking and wrangling, there’s a video that I’d like to share (don’t worry – it’s short and it’s rather cute):

Tell me what you think of it, when you’re done watching. See you in two weeks.

Possibly Related Posts:

Category: Marketing
  • Eli James

    A bit of meta-commentary: the very fact that I shared the video with you proves the video’s premise, no?

  • Dary

    I’ll have to poll this one next week, but I’m pretty sure a large swathe of my readership aren’t serial writers, or even writers! I never got much out of the weblit scene in terms of readership but as soon as I started advertising through webcomics it jumped massively (from around 10 readers in six months to 350 in two months! No idea if that’s even registers on the radar in terms of The Scene, but it was quite a surprise to me!)

  • Chris Poirier

    @Dary — Yeah, webcomics are a good place to go. It’s a large, mostly untapped audience, and — especially with genre fiction — where you’ll find people looking for particular kinds of stories. Truth is, even a fringe webcomic will get more readers in a month than WFG does.


  • Eli James

    @Dary: Chris is right. Webcomic advertising is the only self-promotion strategy that has been proven to work (so far). The reasons should be fairly obvious – webcomics have a high concentration of potential online readers, since they’re reading online already anyway.

    As for writers-as-readers: yes, I should think so. This effect’s been slowing down lately, as the web-fiction community has gotten more insular. It’s harder for newer members of the community to get the older members to read their work, and it’s not good to try, anyway. Not worth it. And I must admit, I’m not happy with this state of affairs. There has to be something better. The video above offers one idea: a ‘there’s good free novels online, you know!’ epipheo campaign.

    @Chris: That’s the other angle to it, of course. If readers can be somehow funneled to WFG … but that bears thinking about.

  • Dary

    The insular (cliquey!) nature of the scene is what’s turned me off it. It looks (to me anyway) like it’s just a collective of writers reading and promoting each other, and accepting or rejecting newcomers based on their collective opinion what’s good/not good. There doesn’t seem like much effort is being put into promoting outside the community for some bizarre reason…

    I really am surprised at how few seem to embrace the marketing potential of webcomics. I think I’ve only seen one or two series bother with them? They seem more interested in advertising on each other’s websites… which won’t do anything to expand the scene. Fair play if that’s all they want to do, or they can’t afford webcomic advertising (though I maintain a budget that’s only “a pint a week”!), but surely the more series that go out and make a dent in the wider market (where there are far more willing readers) the better for everyone?

    I would hazard a guess that sites like WFG will grow as the scene grows, rather than the reverse. People will get to them through serials, rather than getting to serials through them.

    SO…in order for the scene to grow, it needs people to expand their borders! You’d think that was common sense XD

  • Chris Poirier


    I did advertise WFG on webcomics, early in the game. Spent a shitload of money on it, too (>$500). Didn’t really work. I think the problem with advertising a directory is that it won’t attract anyone not already interested. You can’t target a want that doesn’t exist yet.

    With an individual story, you can target your ads much more effectively, because there probably are already people doing something you can leverage off of. In your case, I’m sure you could find a good number of webcomics that are directly on point, so it doesn’t surprise me that you were able to get a large number of readers that way.

    For my own part, I’ve stopped advertising Winter Rain because I’ve realized I don’t care to put in the money and effort.

  • Chris Poirier

    Hmm. This just gave me an idea. The only question is if I want to spend the money . . . .

  • Dary

    Yeah, I’ve been really lucky with finding webcomics with the same sort of demographics. Research pays off!

    Any idea how webcomic directories have built themselves up? That might provide some help, in the same way a webserial can learn from a webcomic.

  • Chris Poirier

    @Dary — The big webcomic directories are popularity contests, and are all pimped heavily by the listed webcomics. Every day, rankings are set by collective reader votes, and authors offer incentives to get their readers to click through. WFG doesn’t get that kind of pimping from our listed authors, generally, nor has there historically been much interest in starting up that kind of site.

  • Eli James

    @Chris: I wasn’t aware of the webcomic directories w/r/t the community. I’d always assumed that the barrier of entry to webcomics was (and still is) way lower than that for webfiction, given webcomics’ visual nature. Care to elaborate further …?

    @Dary: From my experience, advertising on webcomics is the only strategy that the older, more established serials seem to be using. And they’ve been using it for a very long time. It’s only the newer serials that are so taken up with the idea of ‘BE EVERYWHERE, JOIN EVERYTHING, GET OUT THERE’, which is really rather ridiculous, given the time/effort to reward ratio.

    My contention is that we need to find sites with high densities of a specific kind of web surfer: people who are open to the idea of reading, online. I don’t dare to articulate this idea in an article right now, because I’m not sure where or how we can find densities like this. The webcomics option is one place, but it isn’t free. There should be a better alternative out there, somewhere, and I’m determined to look for it.

    I’ve got a few ideas floating about in my head. None of them seem to be worth writing about, though. But anyway … I should be studying now. Will be posting again in two weeks.

  • G.S. Williams

    First: The Neil Gaiman comic was pretty cool. The Choose your own Adventure reminded me of Narnia’s Silver Chair, but it was fun. I agree that the internet fundamentally changes the way we will communicate, and we are currently in cultural shift.

    However, the Epipheo video is not as ground-breaking as it wants to claim to be — it’s still just a television commercial, with none of the interactive features it claims people on the internet want. The only difference between an online video and a television one is that you can email it, embed it on a site, and share it. That is a lot better than just asking people at the water-cooler “hey did you see that on tv last night?” But it’s not interactive.

    I think we need embeddable videos to promote webfiction, like youtube book trailers, and I think we need to advertise on webcomic sites.

    I think for any grand shift in writing and reading on the Internet to occur, we need to expand the audience. Then we will better explore and discover the capabilities of the new medium.

    So far what we know is that we can interact actively (instead of passively) and share quickly. Well, on a writing site that translates into sending friends links about the site, and commenting on the site itself. I think people need to start making analytical comments (like students do in the margins of books) for others to read and discuss, and hear the author’s thoughts in return. Lately, a lot of commentary seems to be of the “I like this, wow!” supportive type.

    Other things that can be done are polls on story directions, character names, locations, auctions too. Who knows what else…

  • Eli James

    That’s missing the idea of the Epipheo commercial, Gavin. The point that I want to make here is that people share articles/links/ideas with each other on the Internet whenever they have epiphanies about something. That’s what governs web linking culture, and it’s something that has potential for leverage. Imagine if we can induce within new readers this idea that ‘Hey! There’s fiction on the web! Good fiction!’ in the unique way that would spread such information, virally. Wouldn’t that be cool?

  • G.S. Williams

    Eli my friend, I already agreed with that :) I’m just pointing out that the only new feature of an epipheo versus a television commercial is that it’s linkable/shareable/embeddable. Yes we should be using them. I was just pointing out that the video itself claims the advantage of the internet over previous forms of communication is that it’s active not passive, and interactive. The video itself is none of those things — you watch it the same as you watch a tv commercial.

    I’m just saying I think it’s funny that the makers know why the internet is awesome, but their own product isn’t as awesome as the internet’s potential.

  • G.S. Williams

    On the Internet’s interactive potential and how writing fiction might change:

    I think we’ve seen a few things that can be done:

    AE auctions names of characters and buildings etc. so readers feel involved.

    Polls for character names, plot elements and directions.

    Including hyperlinks to other chapters, character sketches, photos, videos, enhancing the story.

    I think a few months ago I said on this site that if I had time and resources I would try to design a story, maybe a murder mystery, that incorporated photos and video as necessary parts of the plot.

    But what if we could go further? What if we could create a story experience that interacted with the reader? What if they could be emailed by a character in the story, and help solve a mystery?

  • Becky

    I suspect that people are not going to be persuaded by any video alone that there is good fiction free online. To get an epiphany from a video (or anything else) you have to believe it is true.

    How will they believe it? When someone they trust (what MCM calls a superuser) says so that’s when.

    We have the message – now we need to find the messenger, and that, I suspect, may be the hard part. We need to find someone with reach who is willing to tell the world the message. After that the medium – be it a youtube video, a blog post, a mention on a show or something else is secondary to getting the right person to say it.

    Or to put it another way – Weblit needs to find its “Frank Zappa Link”.


  • Eli James

    @Gavin: Good point on interactivity. You’re right (and meta-commentary too, now why didn’t I think of that?!) To be fair, though, a Youtube video is an ideal format for viral linking/posting. It’s easy, it’s short, and it’s inherently accessible. Not to mention rebloggable.

    BTW, Gavin, if you want to check out interactive web fiction experiments – The Amanda Project might be something you’d like. It certainly came to mind when you suggested email for readers helping to solve a mystery – TAP is a little like that.

    @Becky: That’s not necessarily true. Consider this: Google alone cannot make non-geeks use Google Wave. So what do they do? They get Epipheo to make a vid. Note that linking/sharing culture online is governed by people sending other people simple explanations that ’cause epiphanies’ – Novelr’s experienced this kind of linking a number of times already, with some of its better articles. But since this is on Youtube, and is cute, and provokes epiphanies, people begin to post it to their blogs. (This is far more effective than anything I’d ever write.) A superuser links to it, sooner or later, and this begins a viral education campaign – exactly what Google wants to happen.

    Now take Apple. In 2001, Apple had a core group of fanboys, and Jobs was confident that Apple’s quality was superior, that if they were given a chance, people would choose Apple over other products. But they didn’t, because they couldn’t give Apple a try (add that to the semi-insular nature of the then Apple fanboy culture …). So what does he do? He starts up the Apple retail stores, and puts them in places where ordinary people would drop by, and designs it well enough so that people try it out for themselves. And only then do the superusers kick in – more people buy Apple, more non-geeks talk about this amazing experience they’ve had, more people buy Apple – and it becomes viral.

    So arguing that a web fiction needs a superuser to first to sell the message is wrong. It is wrong for two reasons: 1) who’s going to convince the superuser in the first place? and 2) who is that superuser anyway? The answer is that we don’t know, and if we rely on picking out superusers, then we’re limiting ourselves to only niches and communities we can think of. There are many more (stay-at-home moms? office grunts?) that we may never know of, and targeting superusers within each community is a gross waste of time.

    The article you’ve linked to has a good point, and it is this: if you want to convince people – superusers, even – to take up a cause, then you’ll need to start convincing them now. And while videos may not be the best format, like you say, the idea that epiphanies make people share and link is a useful one. It’s one that I’ve not thought of before, and it came as an epiphany to me, and therefore I posted it on Novelr. Now how’s that for a viral marketing campaign?

  • G.S. Williams

    I looked at the Amanda Project earlier in the year — I think it’s interesting, in that it allows readers to fully participate in creating parts of a story. I think there is a lot of potential in this area, and I like brainstorming here. :)

    Videos would be immensely helpful because they will quickly get across the point of web fiction, without expecting someone to sit through an article about it. It’s fast, it’s shareable, and it’s effective. I just like making meta-commentary. I’ve been doing it my whole life — if there was a movie about me, there would likely be more voice-overs than dialogue.

  • G.S. Williams

    Apparently some of what I’m suggesting has been thought of:

    The guy who created CSI has a “digi-novel” where you read a text book, and are given access to an internet site with movie clips bridging between chapters, and also you can input a phone number and get called by the story’s killer character.

  • Eli James

    I’ve heard of Level26, but I’m not particularly interested in it. It feels gimmicky, and contrived, and if you think about it, it doesn’t do much to push the limits of this medium. It’s a mashup: of video, and book, and social networking site, and that’s not really something to shout about. =|

  • G.S. Williams

    Yeah, looking over it, it’s not quite what I’m picturing. It’s still predominately passive audience: you read the book, watch the videos, listen to a recorded phone call — and who really needs another social networking site?

    I need to spend more time looking at the Amanda Project, but from what I remember it was a little too loose for me. I want to see (or create) something that is very author-driven (creating a story world, even if it uses links, pictures, videos and emails) yet allows the audience to actively interact — so they become characters in the story, too.

    Maybe I shouldn’t be brainstorming this here?

    Plus, if you would finally enable comments on your mini-posts, I’d gladly discuss the postmodern need to identify writer with book, and award with genre, etc.

  • Eli James

    Oh, but I have, Gavin! It’s been up for sometime now. It’s the (0) displayed after the mini-posts, link to that particular one can be found here.

    PS: brainstorming in this thread is perfectly alright.

  • Dary

    “I want to see (or create) something that is very author-driven (creating a story world, even if it uses links, pictures, videos and emails) yet allows the audience to actively interact — so they become characters in the story, too.”

    Isn’t this just effectively a Role-Playing game?

  • Becky


    Let me try this again, because I’ve been thinking about it.

    When said “The Vector” was worth reading people arrived at MCM’s site in droves because a trusted source said it was good.

    More recently when “Refuge of Delayed Souls” was featured by Blogger as a blog of the day @Miladysa said on twitter that her traffic shot up. Again a trusted source said it was worth checking out.

    So it’s not a thing we have to wait for – “superusers” have already pointed some weblit writers out.

    There’s the place to leverage an Epiphany if anywhere – find the times (those can’t be the only two) when a source a lot of people trust has approved of a piece of weblit and use them to make the point. You’ll need someone with a better advertising brain than mine to work out how to present it, so people actually stop long enough to receive the message, but I think it could work.

    And I have a question – how did the first webcomics build themselves up? What about the Podcast novelists? Is there anything we can learn from the way they got readers/listeners interested?

  • Eli James

    @Becky: On webcomics – I’m still studying the ecosystem. I’ve been asking around about it, and most people conclude that they have an easier time of it because pictures and videos are always easier to read/view as compared to written fiction. Tell me if you figure anything out, alright? I’m going to need help on that one.

    On blogs/superusers linking and boosting traffic: well yeah, that’s pretty obvious. It’s been like that for a some time now – even Novelr has had occasional boosts from large blogs linking to it.

    But one of my contentions is that we’re getting the short end of the stick: not many mainstream blogs (think – link to webfiction. So either you convert them, by selling them an epiphany, that webfiction doesn’t suck, or we the community begin to find and create platforms where the emphasis is on readers, not writers, and using that to focus attention on good web fiction. I’m sorry if this a little rambly, because I’ve thought about all these aspects of web fiction only recently. You may well have a point when you say that:

    There’s the place to leverage an Epiphany if anywhere – find the times (those can’t be the only two) when a source a lot of people trust has approved of a piece of weblit and use them to make the point.

    I find that very interesting. Would you care to elaborate?

  • Becky

    @Eli Don’t worry about rambling – I am going to ramble as well.

    Like I said exactly how it would work is a bit beyond me.

    But what I’m thinking of is if there is some way to collate all the times it’s happened into an attractive and hooky package will hold a person’s attention long enough for them to get the message.

  • Becky

    I was looking at the stats on my blog when I had an epiphany of my own.

    We need to start stumbling and digging the reviewers, and not just for positive reviews.

    Let me explain:

    I’m a bit haphazard about blogging. I run out of ideas and grind to a halt, but on Wednesday I posted a review of webfiction urban fantasy serial “Black Alice” on my blog. The next day I noticed a blip in traffic. Initially I assumed this was because I had announced the post on Twitter but when I checked the stats over half the blip was coming from Stumble. Somebody – I think it may have been the authors of “Black Alice”, but that is mere supposition – stumbled my review and people came to see.

    Now it must be said that my blog doesn’t see much traffic at all – the blip was an extra twenty-odd visitors on Wednesday and about half that yesterday, but it still got me thinking.

    Weblit writers target other writers because that is the circle we hang out in. These are the people we know and breaking out of your circle is always hard.

    The question being asked is how do we do this? Well my point above is people don’t trust weblit and they won’t until a trusted source tells them they can, but with the odd exception the trusted sources ignore or ridicule us – which doesn’t help at all.

    So what can we do? We’ll have to create our own trusted sources. This of course is a twofold problem.

    1. How do we make people outside our circle aware of these sources
    2. How do we get people to trust them once they are aware of them

    The answer to #2 is simpler. They have to be trustworthy. This means they have to be willing to talk turkey about the bad attempts at weblit out there. We do ourselves no favours by not being honest. If a reviewer only posts positive reviews it looks suspicious. If something is bad we need to say so, or outsiders will never trust us.

    This leads into my answer to #1, and why I said above that we need to start stumbling and digging the reviewers.

    To break out we need to promote the reviewers more than the individual writers. More importantly we need to promote those reviewers who are reliable posters (so probably not me at the moment) and who are informative and honest.

    Digg, Stumble, and similar are a good way to do this. If you read a quality review, which you find accurate and useful in deciding what to read, hit the social bookmarking sites with it. And it’s important that this not just be positive reviews, to persuade potential readers that weblit is worth the risk, we have to show them sources who not only tell them when it is worth reading, but when it isn’t.

    It’s a certainty that not everyone who comes to look will decide to trust this new source of information, but a percentage will. It’s not a quick solution, nor even the sole solution to breaking out, but I think it may be an important part of the long, rocky road to generalised acceptance of our medium.


  • JanOda

    I totally missed this, and I’m probably going to ramble as well.

    First, I think it’s about time that Youtube implements links to the rest of the internet in their vids. ATM you can link in your video to other video’s, but I want that expanded urgently. Then real interactiveness can be born.

    MCM once called me a superuser, but I never really agreed, because I don’t currently reach a non webfiction reading audience. Not that many at least. I know I have converted a couple of people via twitter, and have guided a lot of writers to the WFG (I’m still proud that once, 14 new listings in a row where all people I sent over), but I’m not a real converting superuser. (YET :p )

    As for interactive stories/writing, I think MCM’s use of the medium is EXCELLENT, and is what more people should do, instead of just dumping all the text online. The internet has such great possibilies, I wished more people where more inventive about posting it.

    Another great example was the Arab Bank by Jim Hanas, a story set in Cannes, and he updated it every day during the Cannes Film Festival, which was an excellent idea in my eyes. Never found out if it worked out though. (

    I have been thinking about advertising Web-fiction for a while, because I had an epiphany when I first started reading online fiction, and I have been trying to promote it for a long time now, because I feel the need to share. So far my various efforts aren’t leaving that much of a trace.

    I have said it here before, web-fiction authors urgently need to fish in fresh lakes, because now a lot seem to be fishing in the same small pond, stealing readers of each other (because people can only follow this much webserials at the same time). Authors need to start thinking about CONVERSION.

    People read online ALL THE TIME, in fact, people have never read this much in history (sms, email, internet…), so that isn’t the barrier. It’s the idea that they can also read fiction online that needs to be ephipanied. The reason why webcomics work well, is because those people already know they can read fiction online.

    I do believe that now that E-books are definitely here to stay we are very close to a turning point. People finally read fiction on a screen, so that barrier is almost down.

    After that it’s breaching the self-publishing barrier, and that’s a whole different matter.

    To ephipafy web-fiction, and to slay those barriers, you need to promote what makes it different and better than regular fiction. For me this is the addictive possibilities (there is always a next button :p) and the interactiveness, in general I think the short chunks and regular updates are important factors too.

    These are the qualities we need to spread all over the place. And the time is now.

    As for Becky’s remark about Stumbleupon, Digg and Reviewers, I cannot agree more. It boggles my mind that no more webfiction authors have thumbed up the WFG. After all we all love it, we all think it’s a great site, and we all think more people should see it. I’m a regular Stumbler, and the thumb up reaction is almost automatic whenever I see something interesting. I really don’t understand why not more people embrace this. (Chris, I really think the WFG needs a better ABOUT page though, for people landing at the WFG unknowingly, there is too little info and conversion material in my eyes. I often think the WFG seems to be designed for people who already read online fiction, but I think there is room for more Ephipafying Content) (I’d also love it if people could add a twitter account to their profile, so I could finally get a hold on the readers, but that’s probably a too big strain on your time)

    But as Becky says, it’s important to pimp the reviewers. If I could I’d add every well written review at the WFG and E-fictionBookClub, however, since adding the same sites all over again has bad results, I stopped adding them. If other people would do this I could thumb up reviews more often. ALAS.

    I really think authors need to quit the self-promotion a bit, and start on the Format-promotion. It boggles my mind I don’t see tweets in my feed about the WFG every day. Sometimes I want to smack some authorheads together :p

    Sorry for the very long post, the bad wordplays with ephiphany, the possable spelling and grammar mistakes, and the incoherent order of my remarks. I have the worst hangover in AGES.

  • JanOda

    Almost forgot!!

    WHY aren’t webfiction people more active at CONS? If I were in the states and a webfiction author, I’d spread some WFG and Web-fiction love all over those places. But I’m in the wrong country, in the wrong timezone and only one person.

  • Chris Poirier

    @Becky — something I think most authors don’t get is that even bad reviews get people to click-through — something we’ve seen time and time again in WFG’s stats. Even moreso if that bad review is well-written (a well-written review should contain enough straight observation that the reader can see past the reviewer’s own conclusions). But, generally, the old adage seems to hold up: there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

    @JanOda — Eli’s helping me redesign WFG, at the moment, and he’s being a great help. He’s the perfect foil to my tendency to put too much information on a page. And you’ll be glad to know he’s got a nice big “New to web fiction? Click here for a primer!” link on the home page.

  • Miladysa

    It’s taken me ages to read through all these comments, it was well worth the effort.

    Re self-promotion:

    I think we need to look at combinations rather than ONE big thing.

    I have only played at advertising Refuge of Delayed Souls – probably no more than 6 weeks’ worth if it was all added together. I did include web comics and they were an excellent source of new readers.

    My traffic increased dramatically with the Blog of Note mention – an immediate 5,000 unique visitors in the first 24hrs. Currently running at approx 1,500 visitors per day from the Blog of Note source at this stage. I expect it to tail off soon.

    Stumble web fiction, Stumble reviews – why not? As I said above, combinations.

    On a personal note, I do not believe that web fiction should revolve predominantly around reviews. The idea that a crop of super reviewers and their reviews should drive web fiction is, to my way of thinking, a step backward rather than forward.

    In 2010 I hope to be working with a group of people, from a variety of backgrounds, within what has been referred to as “one of the most deprived areas of the UK”, to produce a web fiction project. (fingers crossed).

    The idea is for the group to produce web fiction, create videos and work together with local musicians, artists and creatives to produce a mixed media web fiction project.

    Now some hot shot reviewer may come across the eventual web fiction site, form the opinion that the fiction showcased there is crap and write a damning review. Other people may believe that is what web fiction is all about – a web based literary elite. That would be a shame because as far as I am concerned they are missing the far bigger picture of what web fiction CAN be given half the chance.

  • Becky

    @Chris I agree that there is no such thing as bad publicity. That’s the other reason to highlight quality negative reviews. Not only do they show that the reviewers aren’t just promoting, but they are publicity anyway. A high quality negative review is worth hundreds of uncritical gushy positive ones.

    I wish weblit people would stop being so scared of anything like this. Reviewers are not publishers – them not liking your work will not kill it, only you can do that.

  • Chris Poirier
  • Becky

    @Chris It amused me.

    Now that is the sort of negative review you don’t want to be stumbling. It’s no more use to a potential reader than a gushy positive.

  • JanOda

    I think the #indieaction of April Hamilton fits in here nicely, and she’s included the WFG in the link list, which I think is cool, because we are after all part of the self-publishing movement.