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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