Seems these days old men like me can’t keep up with the pace of publishing. And if that’s how I feel at 28 (my birthday’s this month!), I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a sixty-year-old literary agent or legacy publisher.
Honestly, I’m excited because I love adapting.
Let’s start with a couple of Cinderella stories about people who put their novel online. I mean, they have a little more grit and grist than Cinderella herself, but they’ll do.
In the blue corner, we have Fifty Shades of Grey. You’ve heard the story. Girl likes Twilight. Girl makes sexually violent fanfic off of twilight. Girl posts said sexually violent fanfic on her website. Publisher responds to large influx of web traffic.
In the red corner, we have The Martian. Perhaps you didn’t know this, but Andy Weir spent a significant time as a computer programmer, publishing short stories on his own website for years before he decided to release The Martian as a serial on his site. It picked up a ton of traffic, he was approached by an agent, and sold both paperback and film rights in the same week.
Of course there are others, particularly in the nonfiction market. The Pioneer Woman. Julie and Julia and so on. It was only a matter of time before this trend picked up in the fiction market as well — that the publishing industry picked up on more than merely the audience of those with large followings, but actually picked up the content of those sites as well — that turned the novel online into a novel in-print.
Wattpad came onto the scene, offering the novel online through accounts that serialized stories to their readers. Then a million sites showed up: Booksie, Fiction Press, Figment, Widbook and a dozen others, all of them making money off of authors desperate to put a novel online.
Ultimately, this is all one giant stew of up-and-coming writers who have realized what Cory Doctorow said in multiple forums:
The main problem the modern artist faces isn’t piracy. His main problem is obscurity.
And people remain desperate to break-in, so dozens are eager to take advantage of those with a penchant for the literary version of prostitution. That’s true. But should you simply give away two or three years worth of work for free, even if it is serialized?
I don’t know.
I’m starting to think of my work like a funnel. I’m more interested in being relentlessly helpful and connecting, directly, with my readership. I see value in everything I do and that means at very least trading information — an email, a name, an address. If I’m going to be giving away free copies of my work, I’m trying to give those readers a chance to connect with me directly through every chance I get. Sometimes that’s a giveaway through Noisetrade. Sometimes that’s white pages on the site. In any case, the novel online only works if you connect with these people. Make no mistake: the viral phenomenons listed above worked, but they only worked because of their consistent roles as early adopters. They’re the exception, however much we laud the novel online.
It’s 2016. Things have changed for the novel online.
In the coming months, I’m going to be illuminating more of what it means to develop an audience who actually want to connect with your work, who actually become advocates for you BECAUSE you’re offering them something that will actually improve their quality of life.
As Tim Grahl would say: you build an audience by making lasting connections through being relentlessly helpful.
We’ll get you there, but for now, I’m curious for your opinion:
How has the novel online changed your idea of what it means to experience fictional stories?