On Getting Readers To Comment On Web Fiction

There’s a fairly interesting discussion on reader comments going on right now at the last Novelr guest post (by IsaKft on O’Reilly’s TOC conference). See, for instance, this comment by Bill:

Fluffy_seme is totally right, a frying pan doesn’t make one a better chef, just like a BMW doesn’t make someone a good driver.

I think that her observation applies to web fiction writers unnervingly well. A lot of weblit authors feverishly discuss the latest blog platforms, or the newest site designs. But many web fiction writers are still making the same mistakes that writers were making when the cutting edge technology was a Smith-Corona.

They’re writing cliched, underdeveloped characters in cliched, underdeveloped stories. It is the exception rather than the norm that authors actually keep to their update schedules. And frighteningly too many writers are rude and condescending to those who don’t gush over their work.

There’ll NEVER be any technology that will change that. That’s the responsibility of writers.

It just so happens that I think Bill’s right. When discussions pop up about reader interaction in web fiction, the majority of the solutions being bandied about are technological. And of course some of the solutions are technological. No-one would argue against the utility (and comparative ease!) of the like button vs the comment box, for instance, and you’re more likely to get ‘liked’ than you are to get a good long comment. Certainly the method of response affects the kinds of responses you get, to a certain degree.

But there are other factors to consider as well. Are readers not commenting because:

  • Your story sucks?
  • You don’t have enough readers?
  • Your story is good but it isn’t engaging.
  • Or perhaps you’ve been rude in the past?
  • Or you don’t respond to comments? (or you don’t have a mechanism that emails commenters when you’ve responded!)
  • Or you’re writing the kind of story that doesn’t encourage comments? (For example: I find that I don’t comment when reading literary web fiction, I tend to think it over and then shoot the author a thoughtful email at the end of the entire book; whereas I comment like a fanboy when reading superheroes).

I suppose what I’m trying to say is this: getting better reader interaction is a function of several different variables. And certainly, tech-related mechanisms are about half the solution. The other half is caused by story/response-related variables, and as an author your job is to test these things, to figure out which of those variables are the ones that are giving you the reader:comment ratio that you currently have.

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Category: Writing Web Fiction