--THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO PROMOTING WEBFICTION--
Okay, this is going to be a HUGE post, but I wanted to be as thorough as I could. Below is the total sum of my experiences promoting my serial (as well as ten years promoting other types of creative works on the internet). I want to make sure that the community has the best tools that it can get to better spread and build the web fiction reader base.
Unice5656 of Fantasia (link: http://royalroadl.com/fiction/98/fantasia) helped coauthor this post and wrote the very awesome and thorough section on promoting on Royal Roads Legends. We touch on a lot of the same themes (like guest posting), but there are specifics to implementing these themes to your own platform and on one like Royal Road Legends.
Let's get started...
GUIDE: Promoting your web fiction
The best way to gain an audience is to go where they already gather. This will be a constant theme in this forum post. The main principal in outreach is this: you want to foster relationships with others in your niche (preferably those with a wider audience) and get your material on their platforms. This works best in the blogging community, but there are ways to do it effectively in web fiction.
Keep an eye out on other people's sites for guest posting opportunities. Writing and updating consistently for a long time can be a strain, and every author could use a break from time to time. If no one is offering up a guest slot, approach them with an email and ask for one, but only do so after you have built some kind of rapport. I would not go to the heavy hitters right off the bat. If you just started posting yesterday it is very unlikely that say, Wildbow will take you seriously. Start with the smaller guys and work your way up.
It is also important that you keep niche and genre in mind when you guest post. Just because Wildbow gets a lot of hits does not mean that his audience is a good fit for you. If you write about sailors singing sea shanty rap battles, it is far better that you find someone with a tenth of Wildbow's audience that writes the same thing as you. Those readers are far more likely to stay.
The best part of guest-posts is that it gives you credibility to readers on that site. Instead of shouting self-promotion into the void you are on a site that they already trust and are vouched for just by being allowed by their favorite author to post there.
A guest-post can take many forms. It can be a non-canonical chapter in another author's story, it can be a short story in a common genre, or it can even be humorous and prank like. Once a year The Web Fiction Guide does an April Fool's Serial swap where authors write an April Fool's post for other author's serials. This is not just a good way to bring in new readers, it is also an opportunity to meet and collaborate with writers. That rapport that you want to build that I was speaking of earlier? This is a good way to do that.
Make sure you put a short blurb about your own work and a link to your serial at the end of EVERY guest-post that you do, or else this will all be for naught.
Allowing guest posts on your site:
If you are feeling the stress or life gets in the way, reach out to your fellow serial writers and offer them to guest post on your own site. It is very likely that they are going to tell their own audience that they have posted on your site and it is a good way to keep the material in front of your reader's eyes when you do not have anything to post yourself (hence keeping your promise to your readers and keeping momentum).
Outreach does not have to be directly related to web fiction either. Your readers have more than one interest. I will occasionally write nonfiction blog posts for philosophy blogs (http://philosophisenow.blogspot.com/2018/02/virtue-ethics-in-face-of-nihilism.htmls) and this too has helped me bring in some readers. Further, places like Cracked.com are constantly looking for writers to create articles for them. Just make sure that you write something that your ideal audience will be interested in. If you write a fantasy, a list article on Cracked about the history of D&D is a good start. But if you write a sci-fi there may be little crossover in an article about the history of cheese (unless it's a cheese-based sci-fi).
Outreach with forums is simple but time-consuming: find the forums that your audience gathers on and be a part of that community. That last part is as important as the first. The last thing you want to do on a forum is self-promote and expect results. You have to give more than you take. Answer people's question, discuss your passions genuinely, and be there for a while before you start dropping links. Most forums will allow you some sort of tag (like this one) and you can put a link there to start.
No one likes the guy who steps into a forum, asks everyone to solve their problems, and then complains about something. HELP people, give them a reason to trust you and they will return the favor in kind.
If you are a lurker, and always have been, don't feel like you HAVE to join the discussion just for outreach. Forum posting is something that you should do only if you like doing it.
Reddit is a great place to generate traffic to your site, however, Reddit abhors self-promotion. Thus, there are few places that you can actually post to that will be aligned with your serial that has any weight or worth. There are places like https://www.reddit.com/r/shamelessplug/ that you can post to without worrying about backlash, but it is unlikely to get you any kind of momentum. Below is a few subreddits that you can post to and a few thoughts about how to post there successfully.
Keep in mind that though you can generate traffic from here that you will be doing so from other writers. Though writers are readers they may not be the best people for your audience as writers tend to care about things in the craft (tropes, story structure, prose) that readers don't.
This is a horror story subreddit where "stories are true, even if they are not". It is also one of the most trafficked and popular fiction subreddits on Reddit. Getting the number one spot in this forum can mean THOUSANDS of views on your page, but it is only worth posting there if you genuinely enjoy writing in the horror genre and if it is aligned to your story. So if you scare easily and your serial is a superhero story I would not post here, It is VERY unlikely that you will retain the people who come to your site from there, and it is more likely that you will see a spike in traffic only to see it fall back off to where it was the previous day. If, however, your serial is a horror story or very dark in nature THIS IS YOUR PLACE!
Before you write on /nosleep you should know its specific rules. All stories are supposed to be told in the first person and by someone experiencing something creepy. You must also never comment "out of character" in your post and the link to your serial must be discrete. Stories must be at least 500 words long and at least 1000 words long if you plan on doing multiple parts. Further, if someone can look out their window to disprove your story it will get deleted. /nosleep enforces their rules with an iron fist. I would read the most popular stories for a week or so to get an idea and feel for what the audiences like and do not like before posting.
Stories must be science-fiction; this includes: hard SF, soft SF, 4-, cyberpunk, time travel, space opera, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, dystopian and others under the sci-fi umbrella. Stories must also be 1000 words or less. Links to your site must not be in the body of the post, however, but can be added as a comment.
*r/SexyShortStories (NSFW): https://www.reddit.com/r/SexyShortStories/
This is most aligned for erotica, and possibly good for certain romance stories. The community does not seem to be thriving, however.
A good place to post and cross-post your stuff from the other subreddits. Stories must be at least 1000 words, a link to your site is allowed in the post, and any genre is allowed (except for erotica).
As of right now, the community here is not very large and most people posting are writers (and not readers). This might change in the future but I have not seen more than a couple views trickle in from here.
DeviantArt took a giant hit once Instagram became popular. This is not to say that the social media page is not still thriving, but as 90% of its users are all artists starving for attention, it was only natural that most of them left to where their audience was gathering. With that said, the writing community is even smaller and EVEN MORE STARVING. It is, however, an INCREDIBLY passionate community. This is where you will find most of the poets online and short story writers. Make sure that whatever you post has a link to your site, but do not expect great results. I have tried to post "previews" of my chapters here with a link to the full thing at the end, and though I have attracted a couple of very vocal and active readers to my site, it was not worth my time to put in the energy to really build an audience there. I would not suggest using DeviantArt if you do not already have an account there, and I would not expect those who follow you to go off-site. With that said, if you are going to try it aim for a "Daily Deviation". This is a daily feature of artists that administrators hand pick and it is the most prized feature on the site. You can suggest your writing pieces to the following moderators:
Facebook is "the must place" that most people advise that you go to if you want to be serious about promoting your work. The reality? Skip it if you hate it. Facebook is AWESOME if you can afford to advertise on it, but not so much for organic reach (more on advertising there later). No one likes self-promotion, not even your friends, and if you post your stuff on your normal profile you are going to get a very apathetic return. Instead, you can create a page and gather followers, but Facebook will only put your posts in front of a very small percentage of your followers unless you pay them to "boost it", which means that you have to have a ridiculously high number of followers to see any kind of organic return. Joining groups and trying outreach there might be your best bet, but the groups for serials are small. Only put the time and energy into Facebook if it is intuitive to you and if you LOVE it. Otherwise: pass.
Pinterest is possibly the best place to post if you have an outreach strategy. The half-life of pins is much greater than that of anything else in social media, and it is one of the few places that doubles as a search engine. Pinterest, however, is a long game. If you are going to use it for your web fiction you have to be creating useful and beautiful pins that solve your audiences' problems. A great and free resource on how to do exactly that can be found here: http://selfpublishingformula.com/pinterest
First, you should only be advertising if you have a product (like a paid for eBook) that you can sell for an ROI. If you do not have that you are throwing money away. Do not expect to "go viral" after advertising so that you can get your ROI later. If you are okay with not getting your investment back, absolutely make sure that you have a mailing list in place to capture your audience so that you can sell to them later.
Second, advertising is only effective if your audience is targeted. Further, it takes a lot of constant experimentation to figure out what works.
I am no expert in this field and are very much an amateur. What follows is just my experience. A better resource can be found here: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2017/03/20/advertising-for-authors/
Project Wonderful: https://www.projectwonderful.com/
Project wonderful is a good place to go for cheap advertisements and is generally used on other creatives' sites. Its search function helps you find sites to bid on and you can start advertising with just $5.00. The most effective places to advertise on are webcomics that fit your niche or genre, but make sure that you only bid on highly trafficked sites.
For me, that site was Existential Comics, a humorous comic based on philosophers that are moderately popular. I traded in half of my beer habit to advertise on it once a week (about $10.00) and I would only advertise on it the day that the owner updated their comic. Though I feel like this was the most aligned with my serial, only about ten percent would stick around and read through.
Project Wonderful is not NEARLY as popular as it was even four years ago. It is a good place for beginners in advertising, and a good chunk of the sites that you can advertise on are other artists, so at least you know that you are supporting creatives that you like.
Facebook is where most self-published indie authors advertise and there is a lot that has been written about it. If you have a group page you can start advertising today, but it is not advisable without a hefty budget.
Beyond this, you can "boost" your posts on a page to reach the people you used to reach organically five years ago.
Here are the places that you can use that don't exactly fit with the rest.
TV Tropes: http://tvtropes.org/
This you might want to have grow organically, but there is nothing wrong with dropping your serial in for an example of a trope. Make a list of the tropes that you employ (purposefully or accidentally) and then go to those trope's pages. For example: if you have a damsel in distress (because you are presumably a time traveler from the nineteenth century) you can list an example of your character on this page: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DamselInDistress and then leave a link to your site.
TV Tropes generates a constant trickle to my site, with twenty being the most I have seen in a single day. I have never created a page for my works, however, that came organically and was done by fans.
Get Free eBooks:
You can submit your serial's page to https://www.getfreeebooks.com/submit-your-ebooks/ This has only given me a few views every once in a while.
This is designed to work best with twitter (of which I do not use) but it can be good exposure for new serials as they do take the time to highlight newcomers. The site opens their submissions for links to chapters every Tuesday, which can be found here: http://tuesdayserial.com/collector/ (They also accept guest posts)
The Top Web Fiction:
Being on the front page here on The Web Fiction Guide is good, and you can achieve that by either having your serial reviewed or by reviewing others. Keep in mind though: reviews are for the readers. Though a review swap can be a good promotional tactic, it does the reader a disservice if you are only doing it for the sake of promotion. Write compelling and thorough reviews that are fair and have something to say. Keep the readers in mind and write it for the sake of reviewing something first. The exposure it brings is just an added benefit. (Also: I have never seen a giant flux of traffic, just a trickle, so don't think that the exposure is worth doing it just for promotional reasons). There is a whole discussion of reviews here: http://forums.webfictionguide.com/topic/what-constitutes-a-good-review
By far my most prized and useful tool in promotion has been the audience that I have already captured and turned into fans. Energizing and fostering my fans is by far the most effective thing I have found to do. All of the traffic generating would also be for naught if I did not have a way to keep them coming back. What use is a 10,000-view spike in a day if it bottoms back out to just ten the next? Get your reader's email addresses, it is a direct line of communication to them that you cannot get on any social media.
Building a mailing list is simpler than you think, and it is something that the self-publishing community has been doing and championing for years. Set up an account with a service like Mailchimp (the first 1000 subscribers or so is free) or Converter Kit (a service created by and for authors) and create an opt-in form for your readers to join your mailing list (there is a link to a tutorial on that at the bottom). Then, and this is important, offer and deliver something of high value upon sign up (your reader magnet). This can be a short story, a book you wrote, or even a highly detailed world map of your setting. The better and the more tempting the offer the more likely your readers are to sign up.
I did not have anything off of the bat when I started my serial to offer. So, I offered a weekly "Nihilist's Horoscope" that only subscribers could see. Once some time had passed I was able to offer ALL of the horoscopes compiled into a book. Sign-ups nearly tripled with the better offer.
Now, each time you update have a link in your newsletter to your chapter, which ensures that it will be read by your audience. Further, you can then leave a link to your Facebook page, guest-post, or voting page on The Top Web Fiction. It also allows you to build a rapport and relationship with your audience that is incredibly valuable. You can turn a reader into a FAN, and a fan will proselytize their friends for you.
Though you can set up a "subscription" button in WordPress, services like MailChimp and Converter Kit are far better, give you better freedom with what is mailed out, and makes sure that your newsletters are not going to a SPAM folder.
Keep your momentum by keeping your audience, learn how to start one here: https://revfitz.com/how-to-set-up-a-mailing-list-for-your-web-fiction-or-serial/
GUIDE: How to get readers and become famous on Royal Road Legends
Basically, there are two steps to this. One is attracting readers to find your story, the second is getting them to read it and click Follow. This guide will mostly focus on step one, with a few tips for step two.
How readers find new stories on RRL
There are two main ways people look for new stories on RRL
Browsing the lists generated by the site (By far the most popular)
Best Rated: This list uses a fancy algorithm to determine the highest rated stories on the site. More high ratings gets you higher on the list.
Active-only ranking: This is the same algorithm as the best-rated list but only includes stories updated in the last 30 days. To stay on it, update at least once every 30 days.
People additionally get stories by recommendation/word of mouth. Not a lot you can do about that except to encourage your readers to do so. People also find RRL stories from offsite (such as NovelUpdates and Top Web Fiction) but I have no idea how much traffic comes from different places and no expertise on other sites.
I did a poll of my readers on Chapter 40 of Fantasia to see how they found the story: http://royalroadl.com/fiction/98/fantasia/chapter/55554/chapter-40
Ways people do not find stories on RRL
Promoting yourself on the Discord chat. I believe this is actually explicitly against the rules of the chat and you will get in trouble for spamming.
What readers like on RRL
In order to understand what becomes popular on RRL, you have to understand the origin of the site and the typical reader demographics. RRL started out as a website posting translations of the Korean light novel Legendary Moonlight Sculptor, a story involving a guy who finds a secret class in a virtual reality video game and becomes super powerful while becoming rich and famous in real life and getting the most beautiful girl in the world (literally #1 as appraised by the supercomputer AI in the story) as his girlfriend. (This may sound disparaging, but I was actually one of the original users at this point in time and find the story hilarious.)
Perhaps not surprisingly, the main demographic on the site is teenage boys. A lot of the guys on the site are actually over the age of 20 but continue to act like teenage boys, so I just lump them all together as teenage boys. The last time I had access to demographics, male users outnumbered female users of the site 9:1.
I did a poll on the age of my readers in Chapter 52:
I did a poll of the male: female ratio of my readers in Chapter 35:
Keep in mind that as a female writer with a female MC, I likely have a higher proportion of female readers than most stories do.
I did a poll of the continent my readers are from in Chapter 45:
The long and the short of it is, the typical reader on the site is a teenage boy who enjoys Asian story elements. Tropes that are common in manga, anime, and light novels abound on the site. Stories set in games, harems, wuxia/xianxia cultivation stories, stories randomly set in Japan for no reason, reincarnation stories, all super common and super popular.
Some elements that you should go for, regardless of kind of story
Humour. Even if your story touches on darker subjects, have moments of lightness. People go on RRL to relax and escape the drudgery of real life.
Action. Fight scenes, danger, excitement, leveling up, these things are what teenage boys enjoy. If your story has 10 chapters of build-up before anything happens, it's going to flop. Restructure your story to flash forward to something happening or get rid of the build-up or something.
TLDR; just tell me what to do to get readers already!
Submit the story with an attractive cover (keep in mind that the image size is pretty small, so complex images will not work too well), a good blurb (no more than two short paragraphs, describe your premise without being vague, introduce your MC in an appealing way), and the correct tags. Your title, cover, and blurb are of the utmost importance to attract browsing readers.
Things you should not do
Make multiple accounts to give yourself high ratings. This will get you banned.
Obsessively check your view count and statistics page. This is not good for your mental health and will not help you grow faster.
Other things people have done
[It was for me, but only because both of our serials have a heavy amount of humor in them -revfitz].
A list of our resources mentioned throughout the guide
What constitutes a good review:
Advertising for authors:
Pinterest for authors:
Hope this helps you in your web fiction journey! Please fill in any gaps with your own experiences