A Fear of Punditry

Novelr is four years old this year. Four years can be a long time indeed.

In the past six months a couple of things have changed at this site. Some of you – the older readers, I’m sure – may have noticed these changes. Novelr has begun to move away from helping writers write for the web, and has lately been posting links to, well, new-sy stuff. Things like the recent iPad launch, for instance, or articles on Margaret Atwood’s Twitter account.

This isn’t a good thing. I suspect one reason for this change has to do with the fact that there isn’t much left to explore about online writing. Novelr has done a fairly good job of connecting one good idea to another: there was information out there on how best to write for the web, how best to design for readability, and so it didn’t take much for me to constantly keep a lookout for the best ideas and to link those to the particular challenges of online writing.

Writers now know, more or less, how to write their fiction for the web. And if they don’t – well, they’ve got a decent chance at figuring it out. I daresay that Novelr has done a good job of teaching people these things. Writers ask each other for advice now, something that started here, and spread later on to other places. And many of the ideas that are in circulation in the community today were originally developed on this very site.

But Novelr is no longer needed today.

Or – if it is, it isn’t needed in its current form.

The easy topics have been written to death. For the past couple of months I’ve begun to feel increasingly uncomfortable as I’ve updated Novelr – I thought, rather, that I was starting to sound like a pundit. I don’t like pundits. I’m terrified of becoming one. Pundits tend to be more interested in complaining about things than in doing anything useful for the community. And for the large part – this is true. You don’t have to be a special someone to write about the state of the publishing industry today – indeed there are many people who’re already doing this, on their publisher blogs and the like.

I don’t want to sound derisive, but there are only so many articles on the future of publishing before you feel like tossing your laptop out the window.

What I want to do now, however, is to work on doing. On making things better for writers. Novelr’s had four years worth of good ideas all stored up in its archives – and it’s about time someone put them to good, coherent use. I want to do just that. We still have problems, after all:  problems that I believe – with experimentation – we should be able to overcome.

In the coming months I’ll be working on a startup called Pandamian. The site’s not up yet (it’s just a fancy splash page, at the moment), but we’ve started work on several interesting ideas, behind the scenes. Most of these ideas were taken from Novelr’s archives. Some of them will be released in the next two to three months. Others would take longer. The core philosophy, however, is that Pandamian will do everything in its power to make writers – particularly online writers – as awesome as they possibly can be.

But What About Novelr?

I’m far-sighted enough to know that Novelr will no longer be as central to the web fiction community as it has been, in the past. This may be a good thing, particularly so for web fiction. When it was first created, Novelr’s sole purpose was to figure out how best to present fiction on the web. I’m happy to say that we have figured it out, more or less, rendering Novelr’s original purpose – well, moot.

So two things will happen at Novelr. The first thing I plan to do is to compile everything we’ve learnt – and that means everything, or four years worth of ideas – into an ebook. In true Novelr fashion, the ebook will be available on the web, as well as as a pdf file. And the best thing about that is that I plan to make it free (unless, of course you read it and you feel like donating) – but I’ll be happy so long as you point new writers to the Novelr book, and tell them to ask good questions about the information presented within.

The second thing I hope to do is to write about what we’ve learnt, doing Pandamian. I’ll be honest here – I’m not sure how that would play out. Pandamian’s problems are large problems – problems like promotion and reader acquisition (ooh yes, I did just say reader acquisition) and big, thorny things like elitists filtering and community building and the like. I want to document the process – I’m not sure if it’d be helpful to the individual writer – but I think it’ll be an interesting topic nevertheless.

I’ve got a lot of work to do, soon. Till then, drop me a comment, or subscribe to Novelr for Pandamian updates. More stuff (on various other things) coming soon.

Note: this post has been edited after publication, for sentence structure and clarity.

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  • http://secretloft.ca Derek

    It will be sad no doubt to a lot of old readers and new (like me) that this site will no longer be. I think your PDF is a great one! Make sure there is an ePub version of it too, I think it’s begging for one. As for Pandamian I’m intrigued. I’ve had similar ideas in the past as well. I’m a web developer by trade, so please contact directly if you need any help, of any kind.

    Good luck in your new ventures, I’m sure many people will follow you there.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Oh but Novelr’s not going to be deleted, Derek! I’m going to write about what we’ve learnt with Pandamian here at Novelr.

    You see, Pandamian deals with high-level web fiction stuff (i.e.: what’s the best way to promote web fiction? – failing which, what’s the best thing to build to promote web fiction?), and so while it won’t be as useful to the individual writer, it still would be of some interest to the community.

    Essentially, what I’m saying is that I’m now interested in driving things that make writing fiction, on the web, so much better for the writers who are currently doing it by themselves.

    It’s a broad set of aims, of course. The things we’re going to build may be a solution to any one of the following problems:

    1) is there a better way to publish in the age of the Internet? One that, ideally doesn’t involve running the gamut of a traditional publishing house?

    2) is there an easier way to publish fiction on the net? I wrote about a format for online fiction – what would that look like?

    3) what can we do to make web fiction more credible?

    4) is there an easy way for online writers to launch on the iPad?

    5) I believe that reader-writer interactions can be made better. How do we go about doing that?

    6) Is there a better way of doing what Smashwords says it does?

    And so on so forth.

    One thing I do know is that it’s going to be a hell of a ride. I can’t wait for it to begin!

  • http://secretloft.ca Derek

    Ahh, sorry got a bit confused there. Yes I’m so glad you will still take the time to write about these issues. As with so many great technologies before, I think that online/digital fiction is still very much in it’s infancy. You are truly a trailblazer.

    Looking forward to more Novelr in the future!

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

    Glad to hear you’re working on making Pandamian a reality, Eli, I know it’s been important to you for awhile. Let me know if I can do anything.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Thanks Gavin, Derek. =)

  • http://lleelowe.com Lee

    Lovely splash page.

    As to whether writers actually know how to write for the web, I don’t believe I’ll get started on that one. It’s a bit like saying writers knew how to write for the cinema in the early part of last century. Art evolves … and evolves and evolves.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Oh, good point, Lee. I was referring to the general principles of how to post fiction, how to organize your site, where to go to find other writers … that kind of thing.

    I think you’ll be very pleased with what we’re trying to do with Pandamian. At the very least – Pandamian will be a platform to experiment with some of the concern’s you’ve had about quality and criticism and filtering, online.

    It is, also, somewhat elitist (i.e.: as an elitist filter).