The (as yet) Unfulfilled Promise of Web Fiction

November 28, 2020

Why did ebooks become a thing?  Why didn’t books migrate straight to websites that you could view on any web-enabled device (let’s call this “web fiction”)?  After all, wouldn’t web fiction have been better for all concerned - avoiding the need for extra file formats like .epub or .mobi?

If you Google for “web fiction” you come across quite a few websites from around 2010, with lots of earnest discussion of its potential.  For example there’s lots of talk about a renaissance of the kind of serialised fiction that the Victorians were so fond of and the scope for future instalments to take account of readers’ feedback in the comments section etc.   But many discussions also recognised that it wasn’t really getting much traction with readers and was losing out badly to ebooks.  Here’s one example:   

The reading experience

One explanation for this is technological.  For fiction of any length, a comfortable reading experience is pretty important.   Dedicated e-readers like the Kindle are more pleasant to use as the resolution is about 3 times higher than your average computer monitor.  The e-ink used for the screen is closer to the experience of reading on page, with noticeably less glare.  And of course, there’s the fact that e-readers are very portable, so you can read pretty much wherever you want - you certainly can’t do that with your desktop (and even laptops are considerably less portable than e-readers).  

But the resolution of mobile phones and tablets has been improving to the point where the latest models match or surpass most e-readers - and there are various things you can do to reduce glare from the illuminated screen if that bothers you.  So in terms of technology, there are now few compelling reasons why readers should prefer ebooks to web fiction.  I’ve recently created a website edition of my novel, which I think works reasonably well on mobile devices and gets pretty close to replicating the experience of an e-reader through an ordinary browser - have a look for yourself here.  

Lack of platform

So what’s holding web fiction back?  I think the other explanation for its lack of success - and perhaps the main one - is the absence of widely used platforms where writers can promote their work. There used to be a site called Web Fiction Guide which had a reasonably high profile, but that has recently closed to new submissions.  They say they are switching over to a site called topwebfiction - but getting listed there appears to be by invitation only (and as it appears to be dominated by superhero fiction, I don’t fancy my chances).  So the only place it looks like I'll be able to list the new website for my novel is a site called Muse’s Success, which doesn’t seem to have much profile. 

So why bother with web fiction at all?

Given all this, you might well wonder I bothered to create the website for my novel. I had started the website a couple of years ago as an experiment but never got around to finishing it.  More recently, I noticed that downloads of the novel as an ebook from Smashwords seemed to be tailing off - I’m not sure why.  This prompted me to finish the website so I could submit it to Web Fiction Guide - but of course, I failed to check that it was still open to submissions.  If I had done, I might’ve had second thoughts about finishing the website.  I’m not too downcast though, as I’m pleased with how it’s turned out - and I can think of a few examples of fiction that seems to have been successful in website format (such as this one), so I don't see it as an entirely hopeless endeavour.  

I also took the opportunity to add an updated author’s note together with some bonus material at the end.  Most of this is previously unpublished.  It includes a couple of pieces that wouldn’t really work in ebook format (other than pdf) because they require a very specific typographical layout.

The future

Now that the technological advantage of e-readers is much diminished, it’s possible there could be more of an opening for web fiction.  You could argue that sites like Wattpad are already exploiting that opportunity (and I see that a few new ones are springing up, like Radish).  I guess you could call them web fiction because all the reading is done through the browser on your device - and these sites certainly provide a promotional platform (although you have to upload your material to them - they won’t link to a website that you’ve set up).  They may also attract an audience who would not be inclined to read an ebook - perhaps because they do most of their reading on the web, through a browser.  In fact, it’s possible that some of these readers have moved so far online that the whole idea of a physical thing called a “book” is pretty alien to them.  

As someone who’s pretty into books, I have to admit that I find this last thought slightly horrifying.  But I suppose the key thing is that although words are busily migrating from paper onto screen, it’s not as if people have stopped reading altogether.  Indeed, it’s possible that overall, people spend more time reading than they ever did before - the difficulty is how you draw those people into reading fiction when there is so much other distracting stuff out there.  I don’t have an answer to that, except to hope that there will continue to be demand for a reading experience that is deeper and more satisfying than 240 character social media posts….


What to read next: in praise of randomness

October 25, 2020

In an increasingly algorithm-driven world, it’s often difficult to find recommendations for your next read that will surprise you - or encourage you to read stuff that you probably wouldn’t have chosen if left entirely to your own devices.  

If you are a massive fan of a particular genre, then the “people who liked this also liked this” approach on sites like Goodreads or Amazon is probably fine.  But it’s the literary equivalent of only getting your news from Facebook and finding th...

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Micro-reviews (September 2020)

September 30, 2020
Kingdom of the Wicked, The Translator and A Woman of No Importance

Kingdom of the Wicked by Helen Dale

This was a really interesting piece of alternative history (so far in 2 volumes).  Its starting point is a set of characters and a story we’re all familiar with – Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, the High Priest Caiaphas and the end of Jesus’ life.  It then transplants them into a world where the Romans have had an industrial revolution, leading them to develop technology quite similar to...

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Covid-19, post-viral fatigue and chronic fatigue - Part 3

July 21, 2020

This is the third and last in a series of posts about my experience of both post-viral and chronic fatigue, prompted by media reports that quite a few people who’ve had Covid-19 seem to be having similar problems.  Click HERE for Part 1 and HERE for Part 2.   In this one, I’m going to focus on treatment – and in particular, whether there is anything other than rest/relaxation, pacing and/or the passage of time which might help.

The main treatment recommended by the NHS is pacing, which i...

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Covid-19, post-viral fatigue and chronic fatigue - Part 2

July 20, 2020

This is the second in a series of posts about my experience of both post-viral and chronic fatigue, prompted by media reports that quite a few people who’ve had Covid-19 seem to be having similar problems with fatigue and a peculiar range of other ongoing symptoms.  Click HERE for Part 1.  In this one, I’m going to focus on the frustrating lack of a proven medical explanation for what causes post-viral or chronic fatigue (and how, with no clear explanation, it’s difficult to know what m...

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Covid-19, post-viral fatigue and chronic fatigue - Part 1

July 19, 2020

There’s been an increasing amount of media coverage of people taking a very long time to recover from coronavirus/Covid-19 and reporting a wide range of symptoms, but particularly fatigue.  As far as I know, I haven’t had Covid-19– but I have been diagnosed in the past with both post-viral fatigue (on several occasions) and, more recently, with chronic fatigue.  So I thought I would write about those experiences in a series of posts, if only to reassure people suffering with similar pro...

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Micro Reviews (May 2020)

May 31, 2020
Little Eyes, State of Wonder and The Capital

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin

This has had lots of glowing reviews but I’m afraid I gave up half way through. The premise sounded interesting.  A craze develops for cute-looking 5G gadgets called Kentukis. These are intended as a kind of artificial pet for their owners, but are only active when “inhabited” by other individuals who have signed up to be “Kentuki-dwellers” (they can see and hear through the Kentuki’s camera and mic and ma...

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Micro Reviews (April 2020)

April 29, 2020
What Was Lost, Middle England and The Quantum Spy

What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn

I really enjoyed the first section of this novel – which is set in the 1980s and features an eleven year old girl, Kate, who’s obsessed with becoming a detective.  It reminded me a little of an excellent self-published novel by Stephanie Newell called The Third Person, which I reviewed here.  Kate then disappears in mysterious circumstances.  The middle section jumps 20 years ahead and introduces us to Ku...

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LibraryThing in the time of coronavirus

March 30, 2020

At the end of last year, I joined LibraryThing, mainly out of dissatisfaction with the recommendations on Goodreads, which I found to be very hit and miss (more miss than hit, to be frank).  I was going to wait a while before doing a review of my experience to date, but LibraryThing has just announced that it is now free (partly in response to the coronavirus pandemic and everyone being in lockdown), so I decided to put my thoughts down now.

Better at recommendations than Goodreads?

I'm afraid ...
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Micro-reviews (January 2020)

January 29, 2020
Myxocene, The Last and Spaceman of Bohemia

Myxocene by Troy Ernest Hill 

“Myxocene” is a name that some have proposed for where we might end up if we continue to degrade the planet at current rates (the “myx” comes from the Greek “muxa”, meaning slime; adding “-ocene” on the end gets you “age of slime”).  Anyway, that’s the jumping off point for this excellent and thought-provoking speculative thriller (which, by the way, is also self-published).  Freelance journalist Sara...

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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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