Web Fiction: The Slowly Coalescing Community

Once upon a time, most of the fiction on the web sucked. Well, I should take that back. There are novels by published writers online. Classics also.

Stephen King once serialized part of a novel online except that people didn’t meet the minimum number of donations or something and he didn’t finish it. If I remember correctly, it was called “The Plant.” Project Gutenberg continues to publish any classic novel they can publish for free.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that until recently much of the fiction I found on the web was pretty bad. I’m not talking about fan-fiction here because I haven’t read it and thus can’t judge it. I’m talking original fiction that I mostly found unintentionally on people’s personal websites.

Mind you, not all of it was bad, but I’ll just say that Sturgeon’s Law (90% of everything is crap) was in no danger of being proven wrong.

Part of the problem, of course, is that there weren’t any sites that gathered that fiction, indexed it and pointed out the stuff that was worth reading.

Stories Online
Okay… Well, that’s not completely true either. There were sites that gathered it. One example is StoriesOnline. It illustrates a basic truth of the internet: everything starts with porn. Well, maybe that’s not fair, but in this case, it might be a little fair. Though not all of the stories are erotica, each story in the listing includes a section called “codes” that indicates what sorts of acts one might find within. For example, “inc” is probably short for incest. I haven’t read much in it, but having taken a look at a couple of the highly rated non-pornographic stories, I wasn’t impressed.

Tales of MU and Monetizing the Story Blog
Within the last year, however, something happened that changed the whole situation. That thing is called Tales of MU.

Tales of MU tells the story of Mackenzie Blaise. She’s a half-demon who’s attending college in what’s essentially a high fantasy world superimposed upon twentieth century culture and values. That doesn’t sound all that impressive in some ways, probably because we’ve all seen that done unintentionally and badly.

In the case of Tales of MU it was done quite intentionally and well, managing to be a character based story with gripping arcs. The result was that Alexandra Erin currently makes her living off of writing Tales of MU. Some 10,000 people (or more) hit the site daily.

She makes money off the same combination of revenue streams that web comics do.
1. Advertising
2. Merchandise (t-shirts, books, etc…)
3. Donations: In Alexandra Erin’s case, she has the incentive of writing a bonus story if donations equal more than $300 in the course of a week.

One other thing about Tales of MU. It includes sex. Even if sex isn’t happening all that often, characters are talking about sex (one of the characters is a fertility spirit). The sex seems to happen in the service of the story, making it possible for me to read it, but sometimes end up wishing that there were less of it and even skimming the sex scenes for the character development.

Similarly, another writer Mei-Lin Miranda (author of An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom seems to have written a good story and has good business sense as well. Apparently she’s a blogger and web developer under another name and has experience making money off blogs. As you might guess from the name, An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom also contains a fair amount of sex.

I don’t know for sure because I haven’t read it, but I’m told the story is quite good and that again it’s sex in the service of a story.

Still, I can’t help but find it interesting that the fiction blogs that seem likely to be making the most money also contain more (and less typical) sex than average. I’m not meaning to demean the writers by that, I’m just wondering if (for example) les/bi/gay/transgendered sexuality appears so rarely in traditionally published fiction that online fiction fills a niche. On the other hand, it could just be that two people with good business sense happened to be writing stories that include a fair amount of sex.

I can’t think of any relatively traditional stories that enjoy similar success. Still, that doesn’t stop people (like me) writing more typical stuff from trying. Lately sites have begun to spring up listing the stories and reviewing them.

Pages Unbound
Alexandra Erin (abbreviated AE) started Pages Unbound to promote writers and the demand for online fiction. It was a major step forward both in making people (such as AE’s multi-thousand person audience) aware of other online serials and in making serial writers aware of each other.

Pages Unbound allows readers to review serials and serial writers to list and promote their serials. It also includes a forum where the writers discuss issues related to online writing.

Web Fiction Guide
Recently a group of authors that first became aware of each other on Pages Unbound (and even more so later in the Novelr forums) have started another review site called Web Fiction Guide. I’m one of them. It differs from Pages Unbound in that a group of editors reviews fiction, trying to create consistent standards for online writers and make it harder for “fanboy” reviews to dominate a listing. Readers can still review on Web Fiction Guide, but the editorial reviews are more prominent.

Web Fiction Guide also includes articles and interviews in addition to reviews — or it will at any rate. It just opened a couple days ago.

Community Voices
Finally, I should include community voices/critics in this article. The most important/visible of them at present is Eli James of Novelr. He writes about issues related to writing, writing online, and on issues of the online writing community. Novelr also includes a forum for writers to discuss various issues.

DustinM of Blog Fiction covers similar issues.

Both of them were writing about online fiction before the most recent growth in it.

A newer community voice is Wibblypress. Wibblypress is a group of writers, but the group also writes articles about online writing and does interviews with writers. It will be interesting to see what Wibblypress becomes.

With all the stuff appearing, it reminds me of the early days of web comics. The major difference being that I’m inside this one to some degree — which is kind of cool.

7 thoughts on “Web Fiction: The Slowly Coalescing Community”

  1. Thank you for the kind words, Jim. That’s a pretty good summary of the online fiction sphere so far. I’m bookmarking.

  2. No problem. What you’re writing is worth reading as well as being a fairly significant gathering point for people who write online.

  3. Thanks for the mention. I hope you’re right to compare online writing to the early days of online comics.

    BTW, my site differs subtly from Novelr. It is meant to cover a subset of web fiction, blog fiction. Which is people writing blogs as a fictional character and telling a story through the blog format.

  4. Having recently come into the online writer’s community, I’d like to thank both Eli, Dustin, and Web Fiction Guide. I’ve been reading Novelr religiously since I created my three interlinked fiction sites. My attraction to Novelr has been as a source of information and as a stimulating, provocative read. Sometimes I’m so inspired by the articles that I’ll read near-essay length responses, and many other readers will too. Which shows that Eli has a knack for engaging an audience. As for BlogFiction, Dustin’s site, I too have lots of praise. Dustin did a web critique of the presentation and layout of my fiction blogs. So thank you Dustin. I also read Dustin’s blog regularly (am subscribed). As for Web Fiction, I’ve just listed my blogs (with the help of Chris).

    In short, I’m excited about my webfiction project and thankful I’ve had so much help from the online community.

    As far as quality goes, I have high standards for my work and this sometimes means posting less frequently than others. I only subscribe to one other blook and that is The Tom Drake Experience. Seth and I began writing our blogs at about the same time. We encourage each other when we don’t get any hits, which is pretty much still the case. But we enjoy what we’re doing and we read each other’s work.

    I’m hopeful quality online fiction will emerge in the near tomorrow and readers will want to read more penetrating works.

  5. DustinM: It was too subtle for me to notice at the time I wrote this apparently. Thanks for clarifying.

    Lethe: Thanks for dropping by. I’m hoping that an audience for independent online fiction will emerge in much the same way webcomics have. Right now we’re still in the “need more publicity stage” of things.

    With any luck, the success of “Tales of MU” means that success is also a possibility for others.

  6. Ni-howdy, Jim! I just saw this. Thanks for the linkage.

    I didn’t choose to write a story with a lot of sex in it; it just appears to be what I write about. I tried to write stories without the sex–for 30 years. No matter what I do, it’s where my stories start. As for the LGBT aspects of my story, again, it’s just what comes out of me. I’m bi, my husband’s bi, everyone we know has at least a little quirk. I write what I know. :)

    I am as surprised as anyone that my story has caught on. I am not at the “making a living” level yet. I do think it’s possible, though, and I make enough to justify continuing. I’ve made far more off the story so far than most first-time novelists do.

    Come by and give me a read some time. You can close your eyes during the squicky parts. :)

  7. I have read parts of it and enjoyed what I read. It’s on my list of stories that I intend to read when I have time to sit down and make my way through the archives.

    I’m not offended by having sex in a story, but there are situations in which I get impatient with it (which is also true of violent scenes despite a strong interest in the martial arts).

    So sex won’t keep me away… It’s just not enough to keep me reading if I don’t care about the story in some other way. From what I’ve seen of yours, I’m likely to read the whole thing.

    Thanks for dropping by. I’m noticing though that the hazard of writing an essay like this is that so far almost everyone I’ve linked to has shown up and read it.

    So I guess I can’t be mean.

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