A short interview with Wildbow

Hey guys, just wanted to share a short and quick interview I did with Wildbow. He needs no introduction here, so I just wanted to share the link.


I plan to do more interviews with different kinds of people, including web serialists. Who knows, you might be featured soon! :eyes:

Great interview, thanks for posting!

Didn't realize this would go up in as many places as it did. I get requests for 2-3 interviews a week, if I had to guess, and most are for school projects or blogs with small readerships.

Questions were good. I felt bad I had to 'no comment' a few toward the end.

No comment answers are the hazard of asking writers what's in the next section of a work. It's not impossible that they'll tell you something, but the chances of hitting something that they won't tell you are pretty good.

I think the big difference between serials and indie games is that the latter have been an accepted part of the industry since its inception, whereas independent fiction - especially self-published works - has been looked down upon for a long time now.

I figured I'd share it around, a lot of people are interested with what you have to say, as you know.

No worries about the 'no comment' answers. Those questions will be answered eventually as you near Worm 2.

@ Dary - As someone who has always been an aficionado of indie games, who grew up collecting the CDs that came in magazines with the freeware/indie/shareware games and who dug through troves of abandonware, I think there was a definite and undeniable cultural shift in the time period I named. A ton of games that were labors of love hit the mainstream in a short span of time. Minecraft, dwarf fortress, cave story, spelunky, la mulana, aquaria. Some stuck in our consciousness better than others, but it was in the wake of these games appearing that we saw a more concentrated push.

Indie games moved away from the typical label of freeware/shareware and into the label of 'indie', something exciting and neat, that didn't imply cheapness. I won't say that freeware/shareware games weren't ever proof of concepts that could eventually get expanded into something bigger, but it was far rarer. In the wake of this turn, there was a demand and a push to take these products and release them as something more polished.

Before, much as you have to do nowadays when you're talking about serial fiction, you often had to explain, even to gamers (much as I sometimes have to explain to writers) what you were talking about. There wasn't an assumption of profitability even if you could produce something of quality - so there was a stigma attached.

Oh, I'm not arguing that there wasn't a big surge around then (because that's undeniable), just that it had nearly thirty years of momentum behind it (especially here in Europe, which has always had a strong home computer scene).

I mean, the fact that magazines came with tapes/discs of freeware just proves that the games media has always been open to the concept. We grew up with it.

What inroads has webfiction made outside of its own bubble? We've had a serial turned into an Oscar-nominated film and yet...

@ Wildbow In the interview you mentioned that the light novel community, though active, may be holding the serial community back with its obscurity. Do you think that there is enough room for both? What other sort of growth would you like to see?

It's not so much a question of there being room for both, Rev. It's that I've seen elements of the fandom from the light novel community look at successful web serials and reject them wholesale, because of lack of power ups or concrete progression (typically exaggerated in your shounen-ish or wuxia style LN), or missing tropes/thematic elements. It's a sub-community that has very particular tastes from what I've seen & heard.

Then, turning things around, I've seen people who read web serials comment on light novels and be very frustrated because the convention is so very different.

Just as an (key/primary) example - in standard literature, the protagonist is most often defined by their flaws. Villains are defined by their strengths. In many light novels, conversely, you'll see protagonists defined by their strengths. Light Novel antagonists may be defined by their own strengths or by their flaws.

So what emerges is you get an fair subset of the LN audience who sit down to read The Zombie Knight Saga or Worm or Twig or Legion of Nothing and they don't take to it because the protagonist is weak. The readers of the aforementioned serials might tune into a popular light novel and it's powerup after powerup, abilities that are gifted and not earned, and they dismiss it as 'mary sue' and leave it at that. It ends up being a pretty fundamental divide in taste that's hard to bridge - requiring a great deal of strength on other fronts of the work (beyond power level, protagonist strength/weakness).

I think there are other elements that also conflict on this fundamental level. I worry about going into too much depth with it because I don't want to malign light novels because I'm unable to really grasp their appeal, but something like just the iron-clad adherence to some tropes and conventions, versus breaking new ground. Not universal, mind you, but there's more of a formula that gets followed, or variations on a prescribed and community-celebrated theme.

My concern is that the two communities don't really mesh. Some flexible readers do enjoy both works, don't get me wrong, but more people are just frustrated by a growing difficulty in finding the kind of things they want to read. I think this gets in the way of building up a critical mass and finding a way for serial literature to just sorta smoothly settle into a more mainstream role and responsibility.

Interesting, I understand you now. I am new to the serial community but I have seen parallels like that in the web-comic community. Sub-communities can be (but are not always) fairly entrenched. Thank you for the quick reply and for clearing things up!

Thanks for posting this nippoten, Wildbow. I'll read any of these that get made.

That's what I'm here for :)

I'm currently reposting Legion of Nothing on Royal Road in addition to my regular website, and it is interesting to see the difference. Though on the one hand, I know that people are reading my work since I do get comments. I also know that nine months in, I'm definitely not at the top of the heap. I don't expect that I should be, but that's despite posting daily, something I can only do because I'm posting stuff that I wrote a few years ago.

When I initially started posting, I actually got a lot of readers on my regular site, but that didn't translate into readers on the Royal Road site. I'm not sure if that's because the people who like non-standard stuff for Royal Road simply go to my site, or what's going on there.

I've read a bunch of the LitRPG and light novel styles, although I'm definitely outside of the fandom. I'm trying to say this without putting value judgements on it, but it seems that a lot of the problem outsiders have with the genre is that the writing is relatively unrefined. So things like unearned powerups are common and that's fine because to some extent the reader is looking for a power fantasy. But at the same time the writing qualitatively suffers from that lack of refinement, so there's a lot of tell-not-showing and poor description. The average fan is probably a bit younger and less refined in their tastes though, as well as being focused on the ideas themselves rather than the delivery, so the authors can get away with that where another audience would walk away.

I think Ready Player 1 did so well because it managed to speak to this audience while being well-written enough to not put off more general readers, but it might be the other way around - it was a good enough story that also happened to hit some of the tropes that the light novel audience appreciate.

@Jim: I'm assuming you started posting chapters on RRL and linked to your site, which already had the entire story up? People will just jump to your site, read the whole thing, and then neglect to leave any comments or reviews on RRL. You have to actively direct them back to RRL and ask very nicely for reviews in order to get anywhere. Ratings and reviews are king. I have a fantasy romance short story (i.e. definitely not the popular genre) with less than 200 followers on the first page of the Best Rated list simply because the average rating is so high. Daily posting helps you get exposure, but climbing the rankings is where the exposure becomes self-sustaining.

That makes a lot of sense. It's funny. I've actually gotten a couple more reviews and several more ratings in the last few weeks. Just this weekend, I noticed that Legion of Nothing had a small jump in readership--which was explained today when I got an email from someone saying that they'd found Legion on the list of stories that were popular this week. Honestly, it's not that high up (page 8 or something), but apparently even that's enough to produce a jump in readership.

Yeah, once a fiction reaches a certain critical mass in terms of reviews and starts climbing the rankings, it really creates a noticeable effect. This is why I charmingly (annoyingly) beg for reviews in an author's note every chapter :P

I also collected and played lots of the shareware freeware magazine games. That did move over into the web scene, first Newgrounds and then a lot of other sites and labels making small flash games online. most of the communities i used to frequent for free games have largely died though. Most people are making those kinds of games for phones only, and with microtransactions built in, sigh.

as for things to break through... I'm working on it!