I’m 2 months into publishing my fiction in a serial format and thought I’d post a few thoughts about my experience so far. There are writers with *FAR* more experience in the format than myself, but my hope is that this can be useful to people at an earlier stage. Experts sometimes develop a novice blind-spot where they can’t accurately predict what newbies don’t know…
My Writing Background
My background is that I’m quite new to fiction, but used to write for a moderately popular Canadian personal finance blog and am a retired academic (so I’ve written quite a number of academic papers and a couple of theses).
I wrote a fantasy novella (17k words), was unhappy with the quality of my writing as I went, and tucked it away for a few months. When I re-read it and did my first pass of editing, I kept cringing at parts of it, but at the same time felt like there was something interesting there. It wasn’t worthwhile to me to put money into editing and a cover, so I had my wife copy edit it for me and was looking for somewhere to post it. My goal was simply to have it read and (hopefully) get useful feedback – I didn’t expect to make any money from it.
The only serialized fiction I’d read was “Super Powereds” by Drew Hayes, and I read it as complete books after it was complete.
I started off with r/redditserials and decided to post every 4 days. All the advice on writing web serials stresses how important a predictable update schedule is. Blogging was the same thing – you need fresh content to keep readers engaged. I’m still doing every 4 days, but my general feeling is that this is too slow – if I was doing it again I’d probably post daily or every 2 days.
I’m now 16 chapters in. I let the chapter length happen organically, they range from 350 to 1,300 words.
I got some upvotes, but have no idea if anyone was actually reading. To date I still haven’t gotten a comment on any of my Reddit fiction.
I found a number of other sites setup explicitly for web serials and have been posting at 6 of them.
wattpad.com was the first site I came across. For all chapters posted to date I’ve gotten 25 views total and no comments (so no one is reading here). I suspect this site is better as a place to publish and direct readers to instead of a place to find readers.
royalroad.com was the second place I published and probably the best result. I’ve gotten 2 reviews and a comment (yay!). The second review was INCREDIBLY useful – I agree with everything they said, so that’s probably been the most useful part of the exercise. I’ve gotten 1,376 views here, so I feel like this gave me a fair shake to get my writing in front of readers (and it’s on me if they’re not interested).
scribblehub.com was added when I was a ways into the story. I just published all the chapters I’d already posted elsewhere then continued on the same schedule. I’ve gotten 361 views, 26 people have favorited my serial and 7 people are “readers” (whatever the difference is between favorite and reader). I’ll take it!
tapas.io has been a complete waste of time. I have 2 views of chapter 6 and nothing else. I suspect, like wattpad, the idea here is you find your own readers and send them to their site (it isn’t about helping new readers find your work).
archiveofourown.org was another dud for me, although others have had good success with it. I just posted here, didn’t do any additional promotion, and despite a steady posting schedule I haven’t had a single view.
webnovel.com was something I came across as an ad on Facebook and I posted my series to it when I realized it was an open platform. I’ve found it really buggy – it let me post the first 3 chapters when I made my account, but has since locked up and won’t let me post anything further.
The sites all look surprisingly similar. I think it’s been worthwhile posting to a number of different sites – it only takes me seconds to post the update to each and it’s free. I should probably find any other sites that do the same thing and post to them as well. I imagine people could have vastly different experiences based on where they post. If I’d only posted to Reddit, Wattpad and Tapas I’d be feeling quite depressed right now.
I’m thinking about ending posting on Wattpad and Tapas at some point (probably at the end of what I have written), but I’m not sure how the sites would feel about a final post saying “keep reading this over <here: link to another serial fiction site>”.
The first comment I got mentioned that I need a cover. I suppose even for web fiction this is important. With blogging it was highly encouraged to have a custom theme, so I think this is just an expectation of the form. I got out my own image editing software and made my own cover, so this is pretty amateur hour.
Comparing Yourself to Other Writers
At the best of times it’s pretty pointless comparing yourself to other writers. This is doubly so with writing web fiction. A few times I saw someone start a new series and get tons of upvotes and comments on Reddit. I was a bit bummed and thought it was the meritocracy in action, until I realized that they had previous serials published and already had a readership. Other writers who seem to be posting for the first time have a slow burn similar to mine.
Beyond this, there’s just a style difference and an appetite for certain stories. If I was writing erotic fiction for a popular kink or Harry Potter fanfics, there’d be a built in market that’d be receptive to what I’m producing. Maybe combine both! “Who’s a bad wizard?!?!” Finding the readers who are interested in what I’m writing is a HUGE challenge, but it’s a challenge for every writer.
My first comment from RoyalRoad was from another writer there. It’s nice that writers are supporting one another. Blogging used to be like that before everyone wanted to “get rich blogging!”.
I’ve gotten 3 ratings on Royal Road so far – a 4, 0.5 and 5. 0.5 is the lowest possible rating you can give, so that reader was deeply unhappy with my work. Some writers get upset about low ratings, but I understand not everyone is going to love any particular piece of writing. Anyone’s favorite book probably has 1 star ratings on Amazon. If I can get enough people to look at my work, there’s a readership lurking with the 4 and 5 stars. HOPEFULLY, Royal Roads algorithm figures out how to avoid directing the 0.5 star writers to my writing (and instead to something they’ll enjoy), but until then the low rating just tells all of us that I’m not the person to write for that reader.
I found blogging helped me master the topic I was writing about (personal finance) and I’ve found publishing web serials has helped me identify areas for improvement that I need.
Personally I realized that I had to adjust the rythm of the story to end each chapter on some sort of cliffhanger / reason to continue reading. With 4 days between posts, it’s too easy for readers to wander off and forget about the story. I imagine this is worthwhile just in making a standard story more engaging.
My descriptions are pretty lackluster – I’m all about plot. I don’t think there’s any value in trying to write a different style than you enjoy, and I don’t care for incredibly descriptive writing, but I do need to adjust this. In the story there are a group of people playing D&D and their party in the game and the only description of any of them is that it’s hinted that the halfling is short. I can do better! =)
The characters of the players are far better developed than their personas in the game.
I’m a numbers guy and I think the statistics from some of the sites (particularly Scribblehub) could be very useful. With a serial, every reader is going to start at the beginning, so views can show you what the attrition is with your readers (when they stop reading). This could be minorly useful with understanding a chapter that lost you more readers than usual – don’t do that again! But also it lets you extrapolate from a small readership how engaged readers are with your work. I’d need more data to compare this to, but I suspect you could get a quality metric for writing from this, even with a small readership.
In spite of this not being the greatest thing ever written, I’d like people to read it. Now that I have 13k words available, I’m mulling over the best way to get people to look at it. It’s a pretty niche story, one review suggests that only readers who are familiar with table-top roleplaying would even understand it.
I’m thinking about posting on r/professors (since the main characters are academics). I’m a member of a number of roleplaying Facebook groups and have thought about posting there as well. I’m already dreading the “hey jackass! Nobody wants to read your shit!!!” responses, but I suppose that’s part of having a thick skin as a writer.
I’m also debating writing up my experiences writing web fiction and posting it to r/selfpublish and r/writing Maybe people will click on my reddit username (jcc-writes, in the upper right of the page you’re on) and look at my writing ;-P. Maybe I’ll make some writer friends…
Self-betterment is about the only thing web serials have offered me so far. I feel like it’s incredibly precarious whether each reader will come back for the next chapter, so trying to monetize right now seems absurd. Even trying to build a readership with an email list seems like a really bad idea – I can’t see many readers being willing to provide their personal information.
If I had a larger, more enthusiastic readership I’d probably be thinking about trying to collect personal information and starting a Patreon (perhaps with a different story behind it).
I’m a long way away from this.
You have to define your own metric for success with web serials, and starting out they should be very modest. The first goal could just be to congratulate yourself anytime someone reads what you’re written. Pat yourself on the back for any views. Aspire to engaging someone enough that they leave a comment / review / rating. Even if it’s bad. In any sort of forum where users can contribute, there are FAR more silent readers than participants, so understand that for every comment you probably have hundreds of people who didn’t comment. My most recent “success” has been that I’ve gotten at least 1 view every day since April 28th on Scribblehub. If someone is looking at my work every day, that gives me a chance to build a readership and grow. Moving forward success will be a set number of pageviews for my “best” day (currently 103 views yesterday is my maximum) and a minimum floor of pageviews (say a minimum of 10 views a day?).