So I've been running some polls over the past few weeks and there were a couple of results of note that totally contradict established webfiction advice D: (or at least the advice I've read in the past!)

~ The majority of people just check the site directly for new chapters. Very few are signed up to the RSS, Twitter and Facebook services. I find this especially interesting given the attention that's been given to these things! In the end, it's much easier for a reader to bookmark the main page and check back whenever they expect a new chapter (having a schedule helps!). Signing up to things just adds links to a chain that doesn't need them.

~ Most of the people who have answered my current poll have said they read the story through in one go, which is pretty impressive given it's currently around 150,000 words long!! But analytics support this result: people really are quite happy to sit and read large chunks of story, if not the whole thing, in a sitting. This goes against all advice that webfiction chapters "should be short"! In conclusion: don't worry about length! (and when you think about it, 1,000 words only averages about 4 minutes reading time!) And at the same time - don't worry about having massive archives either!

Just remember everything is subjective and there are no rules! What's true for me might not be true for you. EXPERIMENTATION IS THE KEY!

I'll need a new poll question for Monday. Any suggestions?

I have actually gotten emails to the effect of "OMG I JUST READ YOUR SERIAL FOR 48 HOURS STRAIGHT AND I NEED MORE RIGHT NOW!!!! X_X" So yeah, people do prefer to read large chunks at a time I think.

But, I also think, having well structured chapters is more important than the length. You know the chapter should begin the right place and end in the right place. Personally I'm not a fan of the perennial cliffhanger although I do find melodramatic cliffhangers encourage people to comment :)

So yeah, this is one big pointless post to say "Ditto" XDDDDDD I have nothing else to contribute

This was good to learn! We'll be posting 8 chapters to start, and then one 4500-6000 word chapter per week after that. I was a bit worried about the chapter lengths, but breaking them up just seems so wrong!

Thank you for doing the research.

Because I'm a scientist by day, I have to ask about a possible confound: When you say "readers mostly just show up on the website" (as opposed to RSS/facebook), is that a poll result? The people answering the polls on the site are (I would think) mainly the subset of your readership that visits the site. So they would be more likely than most to respond that they read on the site?

Does that sound circular? I should go to bed!

Thanks again :)

The site is the only way to read the story, so they all visit it XD Which might mean the result are skewered compared to a serial that posts its chapters like a blog. Though it still shows Facebook and Twitter aren't are important/popular as people might think (or they're not in this case, anyway!)

I'd never like the idea of advertising on Twitter/Facebook. Always thought it was aiming at the wrong kinds of online readers. Most people get their readers by advertising on Project Wonderful; hell, most of the earliest members of the web fiction community were from Project Wonderful themselves. I think you're on to something Dary: keep experimenting, keep thinking about the different self-promotion strategies. Not enough writers are thinking in terms of effort/reward ratio - they're just blindly jumping into whatever new strategy the community recommend. And that's not exactly the smartest thing to do, given the limited amount of time/effort each writer has.

That's interesting. I think that bears out the nature of FB and Twitter. I think FB is more about people saying a sentence or two to their friends than using FB as a jumping-off-point. It's very personal and it tends to be insular. I don't really understand Twitter, but it seems to be even more insular than Facebook.

I'm pretty apathetic about these other channels -- even RSS. I used to do political blogging on a regular basis and provided all kinds of ways for people to access it through RSS feeds, but rarely did anyone take the bait. It's my general impression that those tools only become used when you have too many comments to keep up with; i.e. that you've cracked at least the minor leagues in terms of readership.

Very interesting observations. My web novel has not been up long enough for me to be certain whether I am seeing trends or flukes--dangerous to generalize about small sets of data--but some of the data is not what I would expect.

I'm not doing polls, but I have Google Analytics, and recommend it. Some preliminary thoughts (we'll see if they bear out with larger readership numbers):

A high bounce rate is no cause for alarm when you are posting weekly chapters of a serialized novel. It can reflect returning readers reading the latest chapter and then leaving until next time. (View the bounce rate in light of when you published the content in question.)

I set up RSS and email subscriptions and gave them prominent advertising in prime page real estate. And, yeah, not as many people like that sort of thing as I thought.

Twitter isn't doing me a lot of good. My sense is people go to Twitter to twitter, not to look for their new favorite author. I'm not on Facebook.

This is a good discussion to have. Sometimes the accepted wisdom shouldn't be--it's just something someone said once upon a time, on the Internet, and people repeated it instead of thinking it through.

"The majority of people just check the site directly for new chapters." - Dary

I would agree. Refuge of Delayed Souls also averages 135 readers each update via feeburner.

Creating a Facebook page has been a benefit for the story but in a different way than I had first anticipated. Rather than gain new readers, as I hoped it would, FB has helped to identify over 40 lurkers who regularly read the story but who never commented. It has also helped to give me an insight into the age of my readership or at least the sample who have joined FB, the age range is 25-54.

As a writer, I think I have gained 2, possibly 3 regular readers, via Twitter. As a reader, I have been introduced to countless web fiction sites and then proceeded to check them out via WFG.

Since I have been using Twitter & FB, readers have for the most part ceased to comment on the story website. They now either DM or email me their feedback. Although any and all feedback is welcomed, if I am honest, I think I did enjoy it more when readers shared their comments on the site.

"Most people get their readers by advertising on Project Wonderful;" - Eli

I do advertise on PW every now and then. I admit to not knowing what I am doing with PW. The reason why I do not advertise more often is because when I do, it generally brings me visitors but not necessarily readers.

"people really are quite happy to sit and read large chunks of story, if not the whole thing, in a sitting." - Dary

Again, I would agree with this. I currently have approx 60,000 word archive.

Something which I have found interesting is that although the story is the same whether it is published as an ebook or on the site, the readership appears to be different and possibly split about what they like best about the story. Many readers prefer/have insisted on reading the story post by post over a number of months rather than read the readily (& freely) available ebooks. They seem to enjoy the 'webfiction' experience and the anticipation and speculation i.e. guessing the next time frame, characters etc.

Wow! I wish I had found this site and seen this post 4 months ago, before I had engaged in writing Arcana Magi. Then I would have not sacrificed my writing style to write 2500 to 3000 word chapters because people "don't like to read 4500 to 6000 words" per chapter. I have to get back to my 10 page per minimum chapters to get the story moving along and be in my comfort zone.

In terms of gauging whether people are reading my story or not, I found now, based on the number of views counted, that I have people reading my story. Theoretically(SP?) speaking of course. I say this because my mid Chapters 4, 5, and 6 have over 50 views, and I posted those up in February, and Chapters 1, 2, and 3 have between 74 to 136 views going back to January, that can't be a coincidence for me. Mind you that where I post my Novels on, a chapter doesn't stay on the websites front page for longer than half a day. So it's not like a new reader knows my story and has easy access to it when it is up on Fictionaut unless they go through the sites Search Engines. In addition, my group page also fell out of the webs front page, so I fear I may be reaching a difficult period because the easy access is gone and people would not know if I posted a new chapter. Then again as Dary said, most people would link to the page directly, so I'm confident they did so. Perhaps I should note that so my readers could check around from time to time.

Also in regards to the one sit through phenomenon, I decided to let my readers know in each chapter and on the group page, that they could take their time reading each chapter and take advantage of some of the features, like reading in PDF Format, that is offerd to enhance their reading experience. I think that helped readers know they don't have to feel that they have to read the entire chapter in one sitting and can enjoy my story from time to time at their own pace and not mine. It might backfire but as Dary said, Experiment.

My MySpace page is not exactly getting traffic. My inexperience with the website is the reason for it. I may take it out because it's pointless now since I have Blogspot and my Group Page.

I think I ran out of stuff to say. This was pretty long winded. But I still have a long ways to go.


I just uploaded an 8000 word chapter (I really didn't want to break it apart), and was told by a few of my readers who were online at the time that they really wouldn't mind if all the chapters were that long. :)

I'm finding the question of chapter length baffling. I started with the plan to give 'em a five minute read each time, because this has often worked well for newspaper serials. But I knew going in that I didn't really know yet what web readers wanted and would have to play it by ear.

This may be a case where the conventional wisdom is not wise. Some readers, at least, like to sink into a story and luxuriate at length. Others seem fine with a quick installment once a week. It might be that these others would also be fine with bookmarking the current chapter and coming back to it, if it were 10,000 words and they didn't have that much time right at the moment.

The newsprint guys were probably right--about newspapers. But the web is not a newspaper. You throw away a newspaper when you are done, but you can revisit online material any time you like, so I dunno. Is aping the modern newspaper serial the wrong model? Is our market more like that of the serializers in Dickens' time than, say, the Breakfast Serial, five minute installment newspaper guys?

This is a press-to-test situation. If we don't have the answers pegged on this, no one does.

My chapters (at least the ones I've written thus far) are about 6000-6700 words, and I'm so glad that people don't mind reading long chapters. This is excellent. Good work finding this stuff out.

Very interesting discussion. I have mixed feelings about social media as a promotion tool. Personally, I find social media rather boring, but I'm weird and maybe I should be doing a lot more social media marketing. I've been pondering a plan to experiment with some facebook pages for marketing purposes.

To the original poster, thanks for sharing your insights about long chapters being OK. Mine are in the 3,000 to 6,000 range. I worried that was too long, but figured they are what they are. I edit myself and feel I only leave what must be there.

You know I think the question deservedly asked is this:

Who came up with the "I can't read more than 2500 words on the Internet", and what made them think they were the absolute authority to regulate how many words can be written in a novel on the Internet?

I mean seriously, peoples tastes are subjective, we all have our niche genres of reading and writing. But what gives one individual or small group some right to dictate to us writers what length can and cannot be written, especially if they had no intension of reading what they were complaining about in the first place?

I can't stand that type of thinking. None of us are pointing a gun to anybody's heads to force them to read one million words through one sitting.

I didn't understand how people think on the Internet with regards to reading and writing Web Serial Novels, because it was really foreign to me. But now I see writing on the Internet is no different than writing for a publisher. People will always have their tastes in genre and their subjective favorites of what's on the Internet.

Guys, I hate to rain on our little parade, here, but I'm finding this entire thread pretty odd. My guess (and it's only a guess -- I have no accurate numbers) is that, if you took our *entire* audience -- every last person who reads anything listed on WFG, we wouldn't even have the readership of a top 100 web comic.

What I'm saying is that, as a *community*, we have utterly failed to find an audience. Any rules or statements, therefore, on what works and what doesn't would seem highly premature.

Figure out who you want for an audience, figure out what they want to read, figure out what you are *capable of* and willing to give them, and find a compromise you can work with. Then do it. If it works for you, great! Doesn't mean it's going to work for anybody else, because all those variables will be different for them.

Here's my list:

* who I want for an audience: me

* what they read: well-written, character-driven stories written in plain, unadorned language

* what I am capable of: moderately-well-written, character-driven stories written in possibly boringly-plain, unadorned language

* the compromise: the best I can do.


Oh, and one final point about typography and the web. Anybody who puts 6000 words of *anything* on a single web page is an idiot. Long, long, blocks of text on a single page *feel* exhausting to read because you have to scroll and scroll and scroll. You lose sense of how far you are from the top and how far you are from the bottom. It becomes a monotony of text. People are *used* to having a sense of motion when reading, because we have always broken stuff into pages. You get to the end and you *turn the page*. It makes it feel like you are getting somewhere.

If you want to post 6000 word chapters, great! Whatever. But break them across multiple pages if you want anybody but your most dedicated fans to read them.


You mean that link is a perfect example of what *not* to do, right Chris? The format of that story/site drives me nuts!

Guys, I hate to rain on our little parade, here, but I'm finding this entire thread pretty odd. My guess (and it's only a guess -- I have no accurate numbers) is that, if you took our *entire* audience -- every last person who reads anything listed on WFG, we wouldn't even have the readership of a top 100 web comic.

Tales of Mu would make the 40th page of Project Wonderful's webcomic section (although it does has higher stats than some of the series in in the top 100 of TopWebComics.com). 40th.

(that's about 320th on the list)

As a community I think we do in fact have a shared audience - it is a small audience, but it is definitely there. I recognize the same readers across several different sites, and they're not authors, either. They are serial readers. I've seen the phenomenon slowly growing as the medium itself grows. Not lightning-fast, but steady.

I'll see it reflected in Google Analytics too in my referrers - there's a few WebLit sites that are pretty steady referrers to Peacock King, even in small numbers. I find the small numbers to often be of note because one reader can mean even more readers that they know, when they get the word out. Occasionally I'll get five hits from a LiveJournal or something, because a reader decided to mention PK randomly, which is very nice of them. If I had a larger scope of hits I'm not sure if I'd even be able to take the time to notice growth on that level, so maybe I (and the rest of you) should enjoy the tiny days while they last, as they are so very nice and personal.

Oh yeah, and the lurkers - it's easier to detect them if you have content they can't access without having to comment and ask for it. Then suddenly they are like "oh by the way, I really like this story!" while they're requesting. It's pretty nice.