I Was Wrong About The Kindle

It’s been a year since Apple first released the iPad. Back then, I declared the Kindle dead, and argued that the iPad was going to be the reading device of the future.

I was wrong, of course.

The lesson I learnt here is that one technology very rarely replaces another – or, as David Pogue calls it: “things don’t replace things, they just splinter”. Even if cannibalization happens, it takes years before you see no more of one technology: television didn’t kill radio, and mp3s didn’t kill CDs (or at least, not yet) – and so the iPad won’t kill the Kindle.

But I was wrong about another thing: the iPad is a different device altogether. See, for instance, this Kindle ad:

The value proposition is clear: the Kindle is cheap, readable under sunlight, and light enough to hold in one hand. None of which describes the iPad.

Now, I’m not saying that people won’t read on the iPad. I spent my last holiday reading five books and two web fiction serials on one, taking notes on the reading experience as I went along. The iPad is great on a sofa – and is even better when you’re using it to read what you would otherwise read on a computer screen. But it’s no paperback – and you can’t use it on trains or in parks or on beaches the same way you would a Kindle.

Yipeng's Kindle

Yipeng, one of the co-founders at Pandamian, is known to call his Kindle ‘shitty’. (He’s in charge of .mobi conversion, if you’re wondering, because he owns one: see above). And yet he’s read a ton of books on it, and downloads still more to load onto the device. The reason? The Kindle is meant for reading, and reading alone. No distractions. No web surfing. No addictive pig-killing games.

With speculation of a free Kindle to be released later this year, it’s now rather clear as to why the Kindle is built the way it is – cheap and plasticky, with a user interface that kind-of sucks. It doesn’t need to be amazing. It just needs to be good enough for book nerds – like me – who’re sick of lugging heavy paperbacks around.

(Incidentally, I find it interesting as to what the Kindle gets right – typography on the Kindle screen is gorgeous, and the fact that it’s got battery life of close to a month helps when you’re bringing it with you on a long-haul flight. Plus – and this is obvious – the Kindle store has all the might of Amazon behind it).

I’m not sure what the future of ebook reading is, but – seeing as Apple appears to be relatively disinterested in eBooks – I’m fairly confident that the Kindle, the Nook (and other devices like them, no matter how horrendously constructed) would be a big part of it.

Novelr Hacked; Back Up Now

Just a couple of quick announcements:

1) Novelr was compromised for most of today and part of yesterday. Those of you using Google Chrome (or a browser with a Google search bar installed) would’ve likely seen a warning screen telling you to STAY CALM AND WALK AWAY. If you didn’t, and you visited Novelr in the past day or so, I must say that I’m sorry about this, and I recommend that you run a virus scan on your computer, just in case.

(You won’t need to if you’re on Mac, or Linux, but I suppose I don’t need to tell you that.)

2) I’ve hardened up security on Novelr’s WordPress installation. If you see something funny over the next couple of days, do feel free to drop me an email. For those of you out there with WordPress installations of your own, I’d recommend you install this, this and this plugin, and follow some of the guidelines in this document.

2a) I’ve been running WordPress for close to five years now, and must admit that I’m very annoyed with a day spent on hunting down exploits. Annoyed enough to consider switching to a static site generator like Jekyll … though I’ll probably have to put that off till when I’m freer.

3) I’ve implemented Disqus comments. As some of you probably know, the last week or so saw some pretty rabid discussion in the commenting section of Novelr. The Disqus system allows you to flag comments you find particularly nasty, and it allows me to collapse comment threads I have no interest in reading. My thanks to L. Lee Lowe, Jim Zoetewey, and Chris Poirier for helping out with some of the more ridiculous commenters.

The best way to complain is to build things. Let’s do that, and carry on.

Sunday, 6 March, 2011

Margaret Atwood On Publishing

Margaret Atwood delivered this funny, insightful keynote at the O’Reilly TOC conference that just wrapped up a few weeks ago. Normally I post links to videos like this, but Atwood’s delivery (and her humour) make this worth watching in its entirety.

Atwood offers no answers to the problems of publishing. But she does paint a clear picture of the tensions that many authors face in today’s publishing industry (traditionally published or otherwise). My favourite part is this bit (at 8:32) about a dead moose and a dead author:

… helpful industry hint: never eliminate your primary source. This is an example from biology. It is a dead moose. Every dead moose maintains the food chain for at least thirty other life-forms. I’ve drawn here only a few of them.

This is a dead author.

The author is a primary source. Everything else in the world of publishing depends on authors. They don’t have to be dead, but dead ones are particularly lucrative.

It gets better. Go watch it.

Friday, 4 March, 2011

Good Enough Is How Disruption Happens

I’m surprised by the number of people who – after getting used to the idea that Amanda Hocking is making a bucketload of money via the Kindle store – come around to complain that her writing is lousy. Or that she needs an editor. Or that she needs ‘more work’.

These people then extrapolate that complaint to the quality of indie books in general, and how the future of publishing is doomed if we – as publishers, or authors – cannot maintain proper quality control. It’s an old argument, and I’ve heard it countless times before.

Now, it may be true that Hocking is a so-so writer. I’m not going to go there – the writers who read this blog are likely to be better qualified to make that call. But even if we say that her quality of writing is average, we have to accept that that is exactly the point – Hocking’s work is good enough, and good enough is how disruption happens.

Record labels in the music industry weren’t displaced by better technology – they was displaced by lower quality, relatively low-res mp3s. As were the video-rental industry, and the newspaper industry. Youtube videos – while entertaining, cannot possibly compare to a properly produced movie. And yet millions of people tune in every day to short videos and low quality movie torrents uploaded to the Internet.

It’s tempting to see this and conclude that people don’t care about quality – or that they don’t mind stealing work for private consumption. But that isn’t necessarily true. People do care about quality. And, given the right context, people can and will pay for digital content.

All we’re seeing here is the net effect of new technology being used to give people something they want but couldn’t previously get. People live with low quality mp3s because we want a painless way to own individual songs. And they live with low-quality Youtube videos because they’re short, sweet, and painless to procure. (Indeed, the main value proposition of the Internet seems to be that it makes things painless, to the point where consumption becomes casual).

But there are two sides to that equation. Where one part is the Internet giving people things that they wanted but couldn’t previously get, the other part is that it’s new technology that we’re talking about. The fact that it’s new technology being used almost always means that the early adopters would be lower in quality when compared to the incumbents. It took television a couple of years before it became the polished industry that it is today; so it will be a number of years before digital-only record labels and newspapers and publishers reorient their operations to reflect the new dynamics of the web.

People are buying Amanda Hocking ebooks because they’re cheap, they’re easy, and they’re good enough to read. And that’s the metric that matters, really, because that’s how disruption works: it almost always begins with ‘good enough.

Tuesday, 1 March, 2011

Post-Launch Pandamian

It’s been a week since we launched Pandamian, and I’ve got a few quick notes on how we’ve fared.

Pandamian Beta  The Easiest Way To Publish A Book Online 1298918832041

User Feedback

There’s this mantra in startup-land that applies to product launches: you know you’ve launched too late when you’re not embarrassed by your product.

By that metric, I suspect that we’ve taken far too long to launch. Our early users are rather happy with what we’ve built, and (surprising – to me, at least) most of them are understanding that we don’t yet have feature X or Y.

Miladysa's Tweet on Pandamian

And I’m not complaining about that. Most of them have made it clear that they’re expecting a host of new features, and every other day or so we get tweets or emails asking us about feature X, or bug Y, or how to do Z.

(I also suspect that the writers who are currently moving their work to Pandamian are doing it because we’re working to add ebook conversion. And maybe that’s a good reason to have your book on Pandamian. But at the same time I’m embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t ready for the launch. )

The Cathedral And The Bazaar Write Chapter 1298918875193The Cathedral And The Bazaar Home 1298918865970

What’s taken me most by surprise, however, are the number of requests for a directory of Pandamian books. We’d built Pandamian with the writer/publisher in mind, and so the idea of a browsing tool was a little … startling, to say the least.

I’m for building a Pandamian directory, but I also think we should delay implementing it immediately. After all, we’ve yet to complete:

  1. Adding multiple books per author
  2. Adding the ability to upload and use cover-art (which is really a nice way of saying: set up a method to handle static objects like images)
  3. Theming
  4. Feeds
  5. Complete ebook conversion

And several of these features are non-trivial to implement. (Also: remember that a directory is itself a non-trivial thing to build, if we’re to do it right). And so I think we should put up a crude, stop-gap solution to this, and come back to fix it up properly in the future. Probably better to focus on one thing at a time.

Press Coverage

We’ve not publicized Pandamian as much as we could, and that’s exactly the way I like it. Right now the really tricky thing is to build something people would use (or really: that writers would love to use), and we only need about a hundred users to source feedback from.

Which, by the way, we have.

I think it’s important to take the time to get the software right, before scaling it up for people. Quantity is easy to scale; happiness is not. And so it’s a better idea to maximize the latter at this stage, before thinking about sheer numbers.The Cathedral And The Bazaar Customize 1298918901280The Cathedral And The Bazaar Revise 1298918894599

Why We’re Doing This

I think it’s worth revisiting why we’re building Pandamian, just to put the hectic programming of the past week in perspective. I recently wrote about Amanda Hocking, this amazing 26 year old writer who’s found success on the Amazon Kindle store. What people tend to forget is that she spent a hellish amount of time researching ebooks before publishing to Amazon, that she did all the book-covers herself, and she took a significant amount of time to study J.A. Konrath’s publishing blog.

I’m encouraged by her story, but I also realize that for the majority of writers, there remains a rather formidable technical learning-curve to publish to the web. (I spoke about this challenge at the Internet Archive late last year). We’ve seen our fair share of writers struggling with blog engines, and web design, and site templates, here in the web fiction community, and it’s never nice to have to stop writing to deal with tech.

My contention, however, is that it’s necessary to make publishing easy and available to everyone, and it is the fastest, most efficient way to force publishers to change.

If we can make it possible for writers to publish without ever worrying about the underlying technology, and we can make it such that they really, truly own the distribution of their own books; then – I think – we would have accomplished something meaningful.

Sunday, 27 February, 2011

The Very Rich Indie Writer

Meet Amanda Hocking. She’s been in the news for quite a bit now, and I’ve been meaning to write about her since January (or really, to write about the phenomenon she represents – and what it means for web fiction). But if you don’t already know of her, allow me:

Amanda Hocking is 26* years old. She has 9 self-published books to her name, and sells 100,000+ copies of those ebooks per month. She has never been traditionally published. This is her blog. And it’s no stretch to say – at $3 per book1/70% per sale for the Kindle store – that she makes a lot of money from her monthly book sales. (Perhaps more importantly: a publisher on the private Reading2.0 mailing list has said, to effect: there is no traditional publisher in the world right now that can offer Amanda Hocking terms that are better than what she’s currently getting, right now on the Kindle store, all on her own.)

And that is stunning news.

Kindle Store Economics

Why this is happening, and how it can happen, is a question that’s been explored by other indie writers experimenting with sales on the Kindle store. J.A.Konrath is arguably the best authority on this, and the logic goes roughly as follows:

If you’re an indie writer, you get to sell books at a price way, way lower than what a Traditional Publisher can sell at. And yet you make more money, because your only costs are to an ebook and cover art designer (whereas the traditional publisher has to support a legacy system, plus the traditionally published author gets a 30% cut, while you get 70%).

In the meantime, readers are more inclined to buy your stories, even if you’re an unknown author, simply because your book prices are cheaper. So you get high sales, low ebook prices, but high revenue once you’ve hit sufficient scale. And the best thing is that it’s infinitely scalable: your ebooks are out there, getting sales every single day. No shelf-space, no print runs to worry about.

You’re making a killing, and are able to compete with traditional publishers at their own game.

Well, in the context of an ebook store, that is.

The oft-repeated argument that people use w/r/t Konrath is that he was a traditionally published author before moving to the Kindle store. But Hocking and her peers, who have never been published the traditional route before (who were inspired by Konrath’s exploits, and who are now selling way more than Konrath ever has) are together invalidating that argument. You don’t have to be traditionally published to sell a lot of ebooks, and you don’t have to be A-List famous, either. Take this monthly sales list of top Kindle indie authors, for instance:

Friday, 25 February, 2011

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.

Thursday, 24 February, 2011

The Apps Will Not Set Them Free

IsaKft is a writer and entrepreneur who runs fluffy-seme, a web-publishing platform (formerly a digital publishing house: see this guest post for her experiences as a digital publisher). Today she talks about her experiences at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change (aka TOC2011) conference, which concluded last week.

I have never seen so many iPads in one room before in my life.

It was like walking into an Apple store, except the business casual gurus at the podium were not Steve Jobs but representatives from the various factions of digital publishing. I don’t know if tech can save publishing, but looking around the room as the speaker blathers on about ePub3 I can guess what the professionals think.

O’Reilly’s annual Tools of Change conference is all about pushing the boundaries of publishing and applying innovation to tired paradigms and business models. It sounds exciting and certainly many aspects of it were exciting. The Startup Showcase was a room full of interesting ideas (including mine!) for every facet of publishing: community lead storytelling, ultimate dictionaries, digital ”˜DVD extras’ for books there was no shortage of innovation on hand.

But other aspects of the conference were more telling. For example, I arrived at Data-driven Marketing and Product Development eager to pick up some new tricks only to find myself sitting in Design Process 101. I sat through a ten minute explanation of iterative design basics that have been around since the 80ties, while a fascinated audience of publishers took careful notes on their iPads, before I left.

Seriously? Are the leaders of publishing so far behind that methodology that was ground breaking when cellphones were the size of tissue boxes is news?

Moving down the hall I slipped into Can You Afford Not to Consider Accessible Publishing Practices? That I misunderstood what was meant by ”˜accessible publishing’ was a happy accident, because this was probably the best lecture I saw. Dave Gunn broke down the technology that is making access to publications for the disabled cheaper and easy to pull off, but what stood out for me was the point he made about how the futuristic tech of today is built on tools originally designed for the disabled. Computers can analyze movies because of Closed Captioning, cars can respond to voice commands because of recognition software, inventions that track eye movement are bringing us closer to machines that we can control with our minds. This was what I came here for. This was really interesting stuff.

This was also the least attended of all the panels and workshops I saw. There were maybe forty of us in a room arranged to hold two hundred.

There’s an old joke about the first web bubble and the death of the business method patent. Once a relatively obscure legal structure, business method patents surged when entrepreneurs found they could use them to patent completely normal transactions simply by adding ”˜on the internet’ to the description.

Tuesday, 15 February, 2011

Shoutout: Cross-Promotion April 1st Fiction Swap

Lyn Thorne-Alder and Wysteria have a cunning plan, which they’d like to share:

Lyn Thorne-Alder: I was thinking this week of the common complaint that most of weblit’s most active readers are, well, each other.

Well, why not use that?

When I started reading web-comics, they would often, on April Fool’s day, draw each other’s strips in a sort of round robin. Why not do that with weblit? Enough of us read each others’ work that it wouldn’t be that hard to write a guest post in their setting. We’re organizing this on a semi-random semi-by genre style, and hope to have participants lined up by the beginning of this week so we have plenty of time for organization and writing.

Wysteria: We have sixteen authors lined up so far, via Web Fiction Guide, Weblit.us and Crowdfunding Creativity. Everyone has been really enthusiastic about it, which is fantastic. We’re hoping to connect the circles of the venn diagram and reach as many authors as possible. We’re planning to close the gates at midnight at the end of Valentine’s Day, February 14th. If you want to participate, more details are available by emailing wsteria at gmail dot com. Please include:

  • Your name:
  • The name of your project:
  • The URL of your project:
  • Any other questions, ideas or special considerations:

Some questions that have been asked, in no particular order!

Who is eligible? You! If you are a web author and have an email address, anyway.

Will the guest story be canon? Not unless you specifically arrange that. It’s fun. There may be barracuda ninjas.

I would say, for the record, that this sounds like a ton of fun.

Saturday, 29 January, 2011

An Update on Pandamian

I received an email from a Novelr reader recently, asking what’s happened to the site. No updates for over a month, slightly more than half a year to my self-imposed New York Times deadline, and a couple other worrying things besides (like – for instance – what’s happened to the Web Fiction Writer’s Guild? Probably one thing or another … though all – regrettably – understandable.)

Speaking for myself, my ‘one thing or another’ has been splitting my time between school work and programming for Pandamian. A funny thing I’ve found out about programming: when I write code, I can’t write English. And vice versa. And I’m rather amazed at all the programmer-writers out there. How do they context-switch so easily? I’ll have to wait some more to figure that out.

Thoughts on Pandamian

We’ve been at it for close to 6 months now, and I want to be honest about what we’re currently doing. And the truth is that we’re in pretty bad shape. We were adding features and removing bugs all the way right up to December, and then Christmas happened and we all stopped working. Not a good idea – it’s the new year now, and a new semester, and everyone’s work-loads are off the charts.

But here’s the tricky thing about building a consumer-facing product: build too little features and you risk fizzling out on launch-day; build too many features and you risk wasting time and energy on the wrong things. I sometimes wish I can tell where that thin line is, so we could stop programming and just launch.

As it stands, Pandamian has only got a small core of features worth talking about. We’ve got ebook conversion, though it’s about 80% done, and with the odd bug here and there. And we’ve got simple chapter posting, editing, deleting, comments, a built-for-readability front-end design, and some basic comment moderation.

That doesn’t sound exciting now, does it?

It doesn’t, and here’s another thing I’ve discovered about software development: each and every one of those features is a little Pandora’s box of Alice’s rabbit holes in and of itself (description courtesy of Jason Kottke). It is easy to do a basic version of editing, posting, deleting and comments, but if you don’t want things to break for an average user, then you’ve got to think about a whole bunch of other problems.

For example: your user has lost a password. You’ll have to regenerate a key and store it someplace so the user can get it once he’s verified. And you have to send an email to verify aforementioned user. And when you send out an email, you have to worry about being marked as spam. Which means that you have to set up Reverse PTR records for your server, and then you have to configure DomainKeys Identified Mail in your DNS, and then you have to verify it by sending test email to either a dummy GMail account, or to a Port25 email verifier. Every single step of which may take hours, each.

And remember: all this is to make sure your users don’t ever lose their passwords, something they probably never even think about. I’m not making this up, I tell you.

Thoughts on open source

Of course, we’re not over-engineering every feature right now. Just the ones that are most important. Some things we’re leaving for later, which is supposed to be the case when you’re building a web product today – the relevant mantra being ‘build fast, launch fast, fail fast. Rinse and repeat’.

But one thing that’s come up more often than not is this idea of going open source. Why not? people say, You’ll get a whole bunch of other developers ready to contribute to your project.

And they’re right, of course. I’m a big believer in open source, not the least because there are significant advantages to the model (plus it’s very often win-win-win). So when people first began asking me about it, I was taken off-guard. I hadn’t considered the possibility. No-one in Pandamian had. And now I’m wondering if it makes sense.

The problem with releasing Pandamian as open source is that it’s all written in Python. And that means you can’t just run the software on any old host. We chose Python because Yipeng, my co-founder, wanted to learn the language. And also because it’s beautiful. (Why or how a programming language can be beautiful … let’s not go there in this post, okay?)

I’d never considered this before, but I think that if you want a successful, widely-used installable web app, it has to be written in PHP. WordPress is written in PHP, as is Drupal, and bbPress. And this makes sense, because most hosts run PHP with a MySQL backend out of the box, and it isn’t too difficult for a non-technical person to install and use a PHP app.

But I don’t like PHP. Even when I’m hacking up a WordPress theme I write all these variable names with a dollar sign in front of them and $I $feel $like $curling $up $in $a $corner $to $cry.

The one good thing Python would give us, should we go open source, is that we’d probably get more interest from fellow programmers. But ask a normal user to install and run our software and he’d probably give up. Which isn’t what we intended, of course. The whole idea of building Pandamian in the first place was to allow writers the ability to do this digital publishing thing with as minimal fuss as possible. Ideally, without having to look at a single line of code.

Would we release an open source version of Pandamian in the future? Maybe. Would we recommend that someone else do so? Oh yes, indeed. I talked to Hugh McGuire of BookOven over the Christmas holidays, and am happy to report that he and his team are currently building an open source version of what we’re doing. That makes him a competitor, but it also makes him a enabler in this field. And God knows we need as many enablers in publishing right now.

On the Upcoming Launch

We’ve decided that we’re going to launch in February, whether we like or not. And that means polishing up every interface screen in our software, perfecting that ebook conversion feature, and squashing all our bugs. I’m not sure if what we’re building is the right thing, but I hope that releasing this early, first-iteration version of Pandamian would give us some idea of what to build next. As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, 22 November, 2010

Makers and Money

One of the first things people ask us when we tell them about Pandamian is: “So how are these writers going to make money?”

It’s an obvious question to ask, of course. One of Pandamian’s core features (which – I’ll admit, we’re currently building, and which is turning out to be a huge pain in the ass) is the ability for writers to sell books through their own ebook store, or – if they so choose – to do some sort of automated uploading to the Kindle/Smashwords/Feedbooks stores.

Our answer is unsatisfactory to most of these people: “We’re not sure that they can make enough money to support themselves. We can’t guarantee that.”

And we can’t. But the discussion does lead to an interesting question: can writers make good money if they choose to go down this path of digital/self publishing? Can writers expect to make money?

Good Dreams

I think the short answer to that question is: yes, it’s not inconceivable that some writer, somewhere, would eventually make enough money selling books on the Internet that he or she would be able to quit his/her day job. And that writer should count himself very lucky indeed. The long answer, however, is that it really depends on the number of people who are attempting to do this.

Most writers I know that publish traditionally don’t make enough from their books to write full-time. They work day jobs instead. And they keep at it because publishing – as a field – is validated by the J. K. Rowlings and the Stephen Kings – authors who are able to command an audience large enough to do nothing but write, full-time.

Making enough to write for a living is the dream, and it is a good dream. It’s why so many people keep trying to get published. And aspiring authors know that it is possible – statistically unlikely, but possible – to live this dream through the mechanism of publishing, because there are all these success stories, the kinds you experience when you watch a Harry Potter movie, or when you buy a Twilight book. And while they don’t say this explicitly, they believe alternatives like digital publishing aren’t viable mechanisms for success because there is no proof of success.

But that doesn’t make sense, does it? Because there are so many writers jostling for publication, it becomes increasingly unlikely that none of them would ever become successful. And so when people look at self-publishing and say that it’s rubbish, what they don’t understand is that it doesn’t seem like a viable alternative – because there are comparatively few people doing it.

My contention is that the more writers move to digital publishing (that is – they publish and sell on the Internet before approaching a traditional publisher) the odds that some of them succeed increases proportionately.

Saturday, 30 October, 2010

Other Sides – A Web Fiction Anthology

Other Sides is an anthology of web fiction published by Ergofiction and supported by Novelr. MCM is one-half of the team responsible for the project, and he’s here to talk about the process and intention behind the book, and why perhaps we should all support them.

One of the biggest problems with web fiction is getting people to give it a try. As soon as you say “it’s available for free on the w—”, half the people tune you out. Available for free? On a website? Ah yes, you mean a BLOG. I’ve heard of those. Other Sides cover, showing shiny pathwork design as background to text.My cousin has one where she posts photos of her kids building forts out of pillows and quilts and dining room chairs. How quaint of you.

Convincing people to invest time in your writing when is always a struggle, but getting them to take web fiction seriously is extra hard, because it plays into every prejudice you can imagine. Self-publishing, the cult of the amateur on the web, free = bad… we’ve got it all, and more! And the tragedy is, there are a lot of great stories on the web that don’t get the recognition they deserve simply because of how they’re presented. It’s not just a tragedy for the writers, it’s a tragedy for the readers, because they’re missing out. But how do you help people take that first step? How do you show them what web fiction has to offer?

Many, many months ago, the ever-sharp Ergofiction editor A.M. (Anna) Harte was having this very discussion with me as I was crumbling under the weight of a truly epic workload. The conversation went something like this:

ME: Pity me, I have no time to finish my work, or eat, or sleep.
ANNA: The best way to spread web fiction is to offer a sampler of some great writers.
ME: I see you are ignoring what I am saying.
ANNA: And we can offer the sampler as an ebook so people more comfortable with Kindles and iPads can partake.
ME: Oh dear, I see spots. Goodbye, cruel world!
ANNA: And when the new readers see how great web fiction is, they will want to read more!
ME: [gurgle]
ANNA: I like this plan. Do you like this plan?
ME: [dies]
ANNA: Excellent! Submit your story by the end of the week!
ME: Yes, master.

And that, in a nutshell, is how “Other Sides” came about. And once you get over the initial shock of reanimating corpses, it’s actually quite genius. We have a book of some really great web fiction writing, wrapped in a tidy package and distributed in ways that will not scare the average reader. We have print, even! Real people can browse Amazon, come across “Other Sides”, and say: “Hey, that looks like a nice collection of short stories! I will buy that for only $6!” And when they read it, at the end of every story, there is a little blurb that tells them more about the author, with a link to more of their writing. And when they visit that link… they are partaking in web fiction. And it won’t seem so bad.

The great thing about web fiction is that it’s addictive and personal, like a massive bowl of candies right next to your workspace. A bowl of candies that nobody can eat but you. Mmm, candy. Strandline is like the caramel-filled ones, and… sorry, what was I saying? Oh, right: once someone becomes aware web fiction exists, they almost never leave. Just like the bowl of candy. “Other Sides” is what I hope to be the first step of a bigger campaign to bring our little community to the rest of the world. It’s the thin end of the wedge, if you will. A wedge of chocolate.

So if you haven’t already, please go read “Other Sides”, and leave a review on Amazon. And tell your friends about it. And make your family buy you copies for Christmas. Because the more people that discover web fiction, the stronger the community will be, which will energize our writers and make our stories even better, and eventually, “web fiction” will be a label to aspire to.

Also, if we hit 10,000 downloads, Anna will give me my soul back.

MCM is the technical half of the team behind Other Sides. (Anna does the editorial work). He writes at 1889.ca, and is currently the lead for the creation of a Web Fiction Writers Guild. Go download Other Sides today – he’d really like his soul back.