I’m going to take a short detour now to look at the development of communities of self-publishing online. In a previous post I discussed various avenues of self publishing, including print on demand and podcasting. There is an interesting phenomenon now cropping up where communities for original works are appearing, much like communities for fanfiction (FanFiction.net being the most popular example).
Here are a few I’ve found. They vary in how much of a social media approach they are taking and they vary in professional slickness. As a caveat: I have not read the user agreements of any of the following sites. You must read the user agreement very carefully before posting to such a place, as there is always the possibility that you may be giving away copyright and you must not do that.
Right, with the obligatory copyright warning out of the way, let’s look at a few of the bigger bookish community places:
Wattpad is clearly selling itself as a social media page. It allows users to post fiction, non-fiction and articles. Users can then read, like or comment on pieces. It has categories including a fanfiction grouping, though seems to be pitching itself more at original works. According to Wikipedia, Wattpad as of 2014 receives over 1000 story uploads a day and has 25 million unique visitors a month. It also receives 85% of its traffic from mobile devices. So far funding has been venture capital based and it’s not clear how the site will monetise, though presumably it must eventually.
Widbook is another community for publishing and sharing written material. This is also a professionally put-together site, although it does not as yet have a Wikipedia page and the About page feels a bit more not-for-proffity than Wattpad. It has the mission statement Our mission is to enable people to share stories and improve the writing and reading experience of ebooks, and there are some press releases aimed at pitching free material for teaching. As a side note, I like the asthetic of Widbook. Clean and elegant.
Bookrix is based in Germany and has a clean, easy to follow layout. Also, no Wikipedia page for this one. One thing that does strike me as (potentially) good about Bookrix is that it uses ads. If Bookrix is making money from ads they are less likely to be planning to make money from you. Bookrix has come under criticism for over-selling itself as a place to be discovered as a writer (see below), but that is more or less true of all these sites.
PublicBookshelf is aimed squarely at Romance readers. Because this site is aimed at a genre that has a lot of enthusiasts who crossover with fan-fiction–this might or might not make the online Romance reading audience more inclined to pick up a free ebook and give it a go. I’m not sure… but PublicBookshelf do clearly state that you keep all copyright and as a place to do some additional cross-promotion for a book or book series my feeling is that PublicBookshelf probably isn’t terrible.
I haven’t included sites like Booksie, FictionPress, ABCtales and Critters, as those are sites that seem to be more pitched at getting critique and feedback rather than acting as community hubs for final draft and complete self-publishing of finished works.
Wattpad (along with Scribd, which I haven’t included) has attracted criticism as a place where pirate copies of copyrighted material has already turned up. The writer advocacy site Writer Beware has criticised BookRix as overselling itself as a way to be discovered. You should go read the whole article but the crux of Victoria Strauss’s point is:
Writers, do I need to elaborate–again–on why posting your writing online at a manuscript display or peer critique website is unlikely to help you build a platform? Sites like BookRix are very attractive to writers–but not so much to readers, who don’t particularly want to wade through a mass of unvetted manuscripts in search of something good to read. The likelihood that you’ll be “discovered” as a result of uploading your book to BookRix is miniscule. A few hundred clicks on your “web book” does not an audience make. Agents and editors will not be impressed.
Which seems fair enough to me.
I started out thinking this was a fascinating phenomenon–and I was wondering whether the young’uns were getting involved with new movement I wasn’t a part of–but… having looked through these sites and seen that some of them have been around for 5+ years already (and generated relatively little buzz outside their own circles), I’m afraid I’m a bit unconvinced that these sites are providing something you couldn’t get either through a much more focused critiquing site (Critters or the Online Writing Workshop being good examples for workshopping unpolished work), or through plugging your finished work online and selling for $0 via Amazon, Drive Thru Fiction or iBooks.
The thing is, these sites look appealing if you are desperate to be published, but consider whether or not you personally are willing to trawl through dozens, maybe hundreds of (relatively) un-gatekeepered material to find something really good. I think if you can’t see yourself using a site as a place for your own recreational reading, I don’t think you can expect other people to do so either.
That’s just my take on it though.