Everything else is online: why shouldn’t fiction be? That’s the question that writers, amateur and professional, have been asking themselves for the last few years now. After all, it’s the century of the influencer, the YouTuber, the blogger. Media is transitioning to the digital space, and anyone can be a star, even a fiction writer. Online fiction published by independent authors is growing in popularity and accessibility all the time.
But there aren’t many resources for writing fiction online. It isn’t like self-publishing or print-on-demand deals. It’s not like blogging or writing for a magazine. It’s not even like publishing for a literary journal. And if you want to make any money on it, you will have to navigate the online world of advertising, maintain a profile on Patreon or Ko-fi, or else collect your work online and publish a book through a more traditional method. All those assume you’re able to gain a following and that some of your followers are interested enough (and financially able) to support your writing directly.
This series of blog posts aims to provide you with an understanding of the online fiction space and to help you decide whether or not you want to post original fiction online. I myself have made a few fairly successful forays into publishing online original fiction under pseudonyms in places like r/NoSleep and Creepypasta.com when I was in my early teens, and since then I have been keeping a careful eye on the horror fiction community especially. Recently I have begun to examine the fantasy community online, and though I have not ventured into romance, I’ll eventually investigate there as well. These three genres: horror, fantasy, and romance, are the most prominent online, and I will be discussing them more in other posts.
I am far from an expert on these matters, but I doubt anyone truly is. The internet simply evolves too fast to capture more than a passing snapshot of any community. Any influencer, be they a writer, vlogger, or model, must adapt to these changing environments and influences, follow what their readers want and expect, and match their needs.
Should You Post Fiction Online?
In my experience, only a few types of writers should be posting their original fiction online. Even on workshop-focused websites. Any work that you hope to publish one day through a press, publisher, or literary journal, should be kept offline as much as possible. This is mainly to protect your “First Publishing Rights” availability (e.g. What most literary magazines ask you to grant them upon publication), and because the atmosphere in online communities is sometimes counterintuitive to editing and developing work. Some sites are too positive to really give critical feedback, others are far too harsh and lead to low enthusiasm.
Thus, I recommend anyone writing original fiction with the intention of publishing by traditional methods to keep their drafts off of the internet.
I do, however, encourage these writers to go looking for other writers working on similar projects and to exchange drafts with one or two others. Writing workshops in the digital age often look like this.
So the only people posting their work online are the following:
- Fan Fiction Writers: writers who are not writing original fiction. In case you aren’t aware, I will also take the opportunity to point out that publishing fanfiction as if it were original does infringe upon the original writer’s intellectual property, and this is a serious crime so… perhaps don’t. Besides; the fanfiction community is by far the most fun and friendliest writing community you will ever run across.
- Hobby writers: writers who do not intend to make money or attain publications, who are just in it for the fun of writing.
- Writers intent on self-publication who decide that serializing and online monetization are the right approaches for them. There are several financially successful writers who have used this method in the past.
- Young Writers whose work is not yet ready for traditional publishing, but who want exposure to writing circles, positive encouragement, or critique.
If you fall into one or multiple of those categories, then posting fiction online is probably right for you right now. It may not be in the future, or it may be right for almost everyone.
For now, let’s talk about who will be reading your fiction when you post it online.
I’m very sorry to inform anyone who might be in denial, but the online fiction space is the last place you look for literary-minded, craft-conscientious readers. You may occasionally stumble across the odd poet, but you’ll have much better luck engaging an audience with an interesting plot than with a beautiful description. If you’re just getting started online, it is far more important to present an engaging narrative than craft perfect sentences.
Online, your reader demographics will likely skew younger and more feminine (source). This is true across all genres and platforms except perhaps Reddit. Women are, on average, more engaged in writing and reading online, and they will interact more often and more frequently with your work. You are also more likely to have LGBTQ+ readers.
If you want me to talk to you like I’m a soulless influencer drone, telling you how to get popular online, I could tell you that writing narratives that appeal to these demographics would be a smart decision. As a writer myself and a reader of online fiction, I will tell you that there is nothing more condescending than a story written just to get clicks and views. The quickest way to write a boring story is to write something you have no interest in and no drive to explore, and if your story is boring, nothing will save it. Especially not online, where YouTube is just a new tab away.
The most frustrating part about writing online is the locating and fostering of one’s audience. Writing fiction online is trickier than growing an audience on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook (though all of those things can help you grow your audience). Your readers don’t have an endless wall of posts to scroll down, and they aren’t tapping just to read a few words and move on. There isn’t a “watch next” feature that’s going to offer up your content at random.
Getting your foot in the algorithmic door when you’re posting short stories and serial fiction isn’t just about posting and reposting your work; it’s about building reader engagement and interaction. This is true for every type of online content, but it goes double for fiction. As an author, you aren’t asking your reader to passively consume a video or image: you are asking them to interpret your writing, your characters, your world, your plot, and whatever stilted metaphors you might have included in your descriptions. Making your writing easy to read and interesting will increase your reader engagement, and the more engagement you have, the more readers will find your content.
Your mileage will vary based on the platform you publish on and your publishing schedule (the topics of other posts), but ensuring your content appears often and with high ratings at the top of your category’s search results is the quickest way to gain the audience that will (hopefully) support your writing career.