Serial Online Writing: Literature’s New Frontier?

About a month ago, my interest was piqued by a New York Times Article on the Wattpad App, an app that is forming a new online literary community of readers and writers. I was fascinated by the article, which discusses how the app allows for readers to comment on works, which writers post in segments on the website or through the mobile app. Of course, as writers, we are always looking for people who would actually be interested in reading what we have to say, and sometimes it can feel a little lonely scribbling at our secluded desks, doubting whether anyone would actually want to read what we have written. Websites like Wattpad have existed for a long time, of course, especially for fanfiction. What is different and striking about these new applications, which include JukePop and Medium, is that they are technological start-ups, using social media tools to link writers and readers together.

But what are the pros and cons for a writer hoping to share their precious work? If you have been following the news at all, you have probably heard some recent success stories about writers such as Andy Weir, whose successful novel The Martian was originally posted online or Jack and Jasinda Wilder who were able to prevent their home from being foreclosed using the profits from their romance e-books.

Can using these writing apps eventually lead to more traditional forms of publication? Do they necessarily need to? Can one make a living (or at least some money) from this avenue of writing? And how does publishing writing through these apps change the writing process- for better or for worse?

The jury is still out on a lot of these tricky questions. Some writers have been able to “make it” through these new non-traditional forms of writing, and, in my opinion it’s worth giving them a shot.

But before you post or submit to the following websites, you should think about your ultimate goal for a particular piece of writing that you have. Would it be better to save it and submit it to more traditional journals, newspapers, or magazines that accept fiction or freelanced articles? The answer to this question depends on your own personal goals and desire for prestige. Most of these sites lack traditional “gatekeepers” who will approve your work. Some of them do have bad writing on them. Thus, you might be hesitant about having your writing published on such a site, thinking that it should only be a last resort for people who can’t otherwise get published. That’s a valid concern, but not one that I think should prevent you from at least trying out these sites. There is plenty of excellent writing on these sites and dismissing all of it as unworthy simply because there is not an authority that is deeming it publishable is not fair to the writers on these sites.

Another defining feature of these sites is that writers rely on readers’ endorsements to popularize their work. This isn’t so different from traditional means of publication, in which writers whose works are “bestsellers” become well-known. However, in this case, you have easier to access readers, because the sites remove the middleman between you and the reader. Thus, you can more easily cultivate a base of fans and followers. Of course, the flip side is you are competing with all the other writers on these websites for readers.

Financially, posting on these sites is probably not going to pay off immediately (except for possibly writing for JukePop, which gives cash rewards to its authors under certain circumstances). But then again, most of the time you won’t be compensated for being published in a traditional journal or magazine either, and if you are it won’t be enough to make a living. These websites are opportunities to make yourself known, which could lead to a book deal with a traditional publisher in the future.

Most of these sites allow you to retain publishing rights, so you can publish the stories again somewhere else if you want to. However, you should note that a lot of times traditional publishing outlets, such as book publishers and most newspapers and magazines, often do not accept submissions that have already been published. You would have to check with the particular place you are submitting, but most of the time having a story published online, even if it is through one of these websites or through your own blog, counts as a previous “publication.” Of course, not all publishing outlets are strict about this, and there are always exceptions- for example, the writer of “The Martian,” Andy Weir, still got a book deal with a publisher after his novel had already been published on his website and put on Amazon as a self-published e-book.

One more consideration is that writing posted online can be easily plagiarized. But if you post through sites like the ones below, often times, they can offer some protection from plagiarism because they can establish that you published a piece of writing on their site on a particular date.

What are the advantages to the writing process that these sites can give you? Well, first of all, you can get reader feedback that can be valuable for your editing process. This could help you improve your writing in general or help you revise the particular story you are working on. Second of all, these sites can help motivate you to write on a regular basis in order to cultivate a following of readers. They can allow you to do interesting things like make your story into an interactive “choose your own adventure” serial: you can engage your readers directly by asking them to vote for what should happen next in the comments.

At the same time, writing in serial installments is not necessarily the best way to construct a coherent story. Most published writers compose several drafts of novels, which can involve going back and changing crucial details at the beginning of the story. You can lose this process if you only build on the chapters that you have written before without editing the piece as a whole. But just because these websites tend to publish stories serially doesn’t mean you have to write them that way. You can write a complete story and then publish it in chapters on a site. I doubt that famous writers who published their novels serially, such as Charles Dickens, just wrote chapters as they went along- they usually had a finished manuscript ready prior to publication.

Here are a few examples of emerging online writing websites that publish serial fiction, journalism, or blog posts. The majority of these also have mobile apps available.

Wattpad

Wattpad allows you to post stories and comment on other people’s writing. Most of the stories are serial installments that together make up a longer short story, novella, novel. They have sections for every type of prose genre imaginable from Mystery to Science Fiction to Romance, and they also have poetry and fanfiction. Wattpad allows you to choose what copyright you want to use for the writing you submit to their site (you can retaining all rights, make it public domain, or do something in between). You can also edit your posts once they have been put online.

Website: www.wattpad.com

JukePop Serials

JukePop is similar to Wattpad, in that it allows you to read stories and comment on them. However, it differs from Wattpad in that it restricts whose writing is posted on their website. People make submissions to their website which are then “curated” by the JukePop staff, so that only certain stories are selected for publication on the website. Then, once a story has been accepted, readers can vote to endorse the story. Authors who have popular stories are eligible to receive cash rewards. JukePop. Writers retain the rights to their serial stories, and they can choose to publish them elsewhere after they have been published on JukePop.

Website: www.jukepop.com

Medium

Medium is another site that allows people to publish their writing online and read other’s writing and recommend articles through social media. However, it is focused on journalistic and nonfiction writing. They allow you to post articles freely on their site, so in that sense it almost like a blogging platform. Writers retain the rights to their work. To post on Medium, you need to have a Twitter account. In my opinion, Medium’s layout is confusing and not very user-friendly, and I am still uncertain why a blogger or journalist would choose to use it over a different platform. According to this New York times article, the defining feature of Medium is that you can leave “notes” that link to your own posts, which differ from comments because they create more of a conversation and network than regular blogging. I’m not entirely convinced, but then again I haven’t played around with Medium that much yet.

Website: www.medium.com

Other Blogging Platforms

Of course, other ways of publishing your writing online include using tools like this blog, which is a WordPress blog. I’ve also used Blogger before. In my experience, WordPress has been more useful for allowing me to customize what I want my blog to look like and how I want to categorize my posts. It also has connected me to more writers and readers than my Blogspot blog, which I mainly used for sharing updates on my travels with my immediate family and friends. Both are definitely good platforms for blogging. However, I am hesitant to post any creative writing on a personal blog, just because I worry that it can easily be plagiarized. That’s my personal decision, of course, and perhaps not the one that you will make.

WordPress Website: www.wordpress.com

Blogger Website: www.blogger.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Serial Online Writing: Literature’s New Frontier?

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