Readers, Reach and Community

It started with me posting this on my tumblr.

It soon became a massive Twitter conversation, and nice as Twitter is it's a bit unwieldy if a conversation lasts more than a day.

And our conversation had morphed from a discussion of my question to a broader one about webfiction in general. We thought it might be good to start over here as others might have input or find it useful. (And if you want to comment on my dilemma in the original post that's welcome as well).

The crux of the conversation on Twitter seems to me - the others may have other thoughts - to be one of reach vs community.

I'm leaning towards the idea that posting in several places in order to reach readers who would otherwise remain unaware of my writing. MCA Hogarth expressed concern that such crossposting of content diffuses your community because it aggregates in several places rather than at a single hub. My response was that a diffuse community was better than no community.

And this seems like a good place to restart the conversation because that's when everyone really started talking rather than offering suggestions.

I've also been asked to restate what my goal is for clarity. I want to find ways to reach at least some of those readers who would enjoy my stuff if they found it but who would never find my main site.


Now that I have more than 140 characters...

My concern (and it is growing now that social media is fragmenting the audience in a measurable fashion) is that crossposting encourages smaller circles of readers to congregate in each little forum, and so they never hit the critical mass that begins to function as advertising. A post with one or two comments on it will attract people who were already curious about the content. A post with forty comments? People will often click on that just to see what all the fuss is about.

I think people also like to find new acquaintances with similar tastes, who are also enthused about the same story. They like talking amongst one another. If people scatter, there's less opportunity for that.

My personal observation is that I really like watching my readers talk to one another and to me, and I'd miss that interaction if they became too diffuse to find one another. I started serializing fiction in 2004, when Livejournal was still a powerhouse and where threaded comments with emailed responses were relatively rare and valuable, so I built an audience there that I'm still carrying despite the fracture of social media outlets into little walled gardens that rarely interact. I honestly have no idea what I'd do if I were starting now and had to build something from scratch. The webscape is too different.

Diffusion is the name of the game. If readers do not cross-pollinate then authors must do it instead, or else all that sweet, sweet pollen remains stuffed in stamens and not in a hive of activity and textual goodness.

After that pause to wreck a metaphor, I shall continue.

The walled gardens themselves (facebook, twitter, tumblr) walk a thin line. They seem to be aware, on some level, that they depend on drawing in new users or keeping themselves relevant. Look at the official applications that link twitter posts to facebook and vice versa. If they had been intending to keep themselves as walled as things used to be even five years ago, these communication services would have taken the approach of the Instant Messenger Wars of the early aughts: AIM resisted having a public-facing protocol for quite a long time, if memory serves, so chat aggregators like Trillian could link to all IM services but AOL Instant Messenger.

And I don't believe that the various *journals had built-in post sharing and interaction.

I think that diffusion will eventually become the norm and not a choice because the landscape seems to be evolving beyond websites and into services, and services tend to become invisible to the user.

But as it stands now, I already have to use so many services to even post my content (web host panels, publishing platforms, flickr, twitter, facebook) that I have long since passed the critical mass of "pain in my ass" and diffuse communities don't bother me. As part of my daily diet of forum use I end up participating in multiple communities, and its only an extension of the groups of friends that I already have, just in a digital medium.

While it may make for extra work for authors, I don't think that having a single large COMMUNITY is desirable. It won't be homogeneous and bigger communities make for more work to keep them coherent anyway. Too much internal friction, that builds to heat, that builds to fusion, that starts to throw off the outliers until it burns down into a white dwarf.

I think this fragmentation has been an ongoing thing for some time.

When I first encountered the Internet (and this was before the web existed) people who wanted to post fiction obviously posted on usenet or mailing lists that were appropriate to their genre. This created a situation where you were already part of a community that was predisposed to be interested in your fiction.

The advent of the web almost immediately started degrading that. These days all the mailing lists I was on are gone and Usenet is a shadow of itself. Sometimes I think the web was as bad for online fiction as it was good for comics.

I wrote a blog post about it in 2010.

And this is the potential advantage of Wattpad. That place is massive. Take a quick shufty at the stats for the number one SF (number 7 Fantasy) story on there and you'll see what I mean. Now obviously most stories still languish in obscurity - some deservedly so, some because the writer posts with no attempt to publicise themselves and some because luck is always a factor - but the built in community of online readers makes it a good potential source, and it's a source that I suspect rarely ventures out of its favoured waters unless enticed.

This means that the difficult bit is getting the readers to your personal hub. What I'm trying is posting Haventon there but several months of installments behind where I am on the site with a note at the end of each installment telling them where I'm up to on the site (currently 11.2 on my site and 2.1 on Wattpad). My hope is that at least some readers will come through to the site because they can't wait and if I can gain a reasonable ranking on the site at least I'll have readers who know my name, which is half the battle. I'm going to keep reporting on this as I experiment.

My one gripe with Wattpad is that it's not currently a good place to monetise but I would hope they'll sort that in the end.


Whew, now that I have the space I can parse this out a bit better.

Your end goal is reaching readers, and I would argue that one does not need to toss in "community" or "potential community" into this discussion at all.

Reaching readers I presume means only internet readers.

For new readers:


This conversation boils down more simply to "how do the other internet marketers increase the discoverability of their website?" This is where the internet, a roiling mass of chaos with few central hangouts, requires you to go diffuse because you can do all the posting you want on your website, but it's one of millions (or hundreds of millions) and to increase your probability of being discovered by a new user means you must increase your footprint.

It's a lot of work


Sure, not all are great - but I'd say try at least a few places and look at the returns for your effort. I vote yes for Wattpad and "meh" for Livejournal (unless your friends list is still going gangbusters and you have a clear community to advertise to that is also still active).

If you are using Wordpress btw to craft your serial, you can crosspost to LJ and tumblr with the addition of one or two plugins. (If someone wants to know which one, I can check.) Or - have Livejournal import your RSS/XML if you're not using a Wordpress interface.

Community. What is it? What do you want it to be?


I think one point that has mystified me is the word "community" being used in one of the 1889 blogs and in this forum. This is where you guys have lost me.

Perhaps for those who have been talking about creating communities can explain to me how a member of a community is different from a fan? I actually don't consider people who are fans of my art or writing to be a community because their interactions are largely with me, not each other. Similarly, all my friends in real life do not make up a community simply because I'm a common element unless I help one of them start forming connections to another. Normally, though, this is a decision or circumstance that I don't control.(In that sense, trying to "create community" is a fallacy. You can only foster it or encourage it, but it's up to others to actually make it a reality. And one author or creator is not enough to do that unless you have really great people skills and a lot of time.)

Or was the original conversation about "community" really an offshoot of the idea that you wanted to create 1000 true fans ? In other words, getting to the perceived level of popularity one requires to make your creative work actually life-sustaining? (See )

To me "community" is different from "fans" in that the community is aware of itself as a group. My observation is that once fans become aware of one another and start chatting with one another and the author, they become far more invested in the work and the success of the author. They feel more powerful because they understand they're not alone... this is particularly important in crowdfunding. A group of people who are aware that they are not alone know that their contribution will matter even if it's small, and they'll put their ten cents in, trusting other members of the community to also pitch in.

My own serials advance on this shared trust, that if someone tosses in a dollar, three or four or ten more people will also do so, and I will get the money I need to post a new episode. If they don't have that trust in one another to help with the funding, they often won't try.

I note that Kickstarter has based its success on this premise: that people, seeing other people care about something and want to make it happen, will be more enthused themselves and more likely to participate. The reason why "most projects that hit 30% funding will make their goal" is based on that element of human psychology: if you know other people are going to help you do something, then you know it's more likely to happen, and you're more willing to invest yourself in it.

And no, you can't -make- community. But you can foster it. And that's why I'm not sure about the fragmentation of the posting.

Hm. While I think communities can make crowd funding efforts successful, it's what happens after the collaborative goal is achieved that defines whether you had a crowd or a community.

Of the ten or so I supported last year, I do not interact with any of the other fans or friends/family supporters any more or less as a result of my participation. In that sense, I think the collective fundraising can be safely called "crowd funding," not "community fundraising." :)

As for spreading posts out, there's always a risk of confusing people, but you can always point people back to the original source (the blog), or I think use something like Disqus to cross sites. (I'm pretty sure the webcomics folks are using Disqus to manage their mirror website comments.)

But having one place for comments also doesn't necessarily result in the comments happening. Most of the web is a passive medium whereby people are content to be voyeurs.

It's true, not all crowds are communities. But communities are more likely to participate in crowdfunding, and in advertising--communities create a lot of buzz--and I think that's a valuable thing. I know that I wouldn't be paying for groceries without it.

While it's true that the web is often passive, and while I think that chasing comments can be counter-productive, I think there's a lot of value to people feeling like if they do leave comments, they'll enter into conversations with others. I have it first-hand from readers that they comment more if they feel like I'm likely to interact with them, or others are. So that's something worth bearing in mind.

You're right that the notion of community-building is ancillary to Becka's goal, which is just to reach readers. I guess I gravitate toward discussions of community because I often reach new readers because of my community. They "hand-sell" my work with their enthusiasm and their involvement, and I'm grateful to them for it. Together we reach a lot more new people than I would be able to alone.

Yeah - I do agree with you on that point. I think fans or communities or whatever people think we're talking about are valuable. I do make it a point to acknowledge (regularly) those who comment even if I will not take their pleas for certain plot points into consideration (darn shippers)... in that sense I also prefer giving fans tools to share work widely on my behalf. I still advocate fanpages and whatever "hubs" one can use to help spread a link or share my work with others.

I don't know if that's really community. To me it's more guided participation, but perhaps I'm just parsing words . Will shut up now and wait for other folks to chime in xD

The difference between community and fan is that "fan"is specific to your work, and "community" incorporates your work into a larger social dynamic around your work.

There are Firefly fans and there are Browncoats. The Browncoats are a community.

Or... Steve goes to your site every day to read your latest update. He's a fan.

Shrley goes to your site every day to read your latest update and then hangs around in the forums because she also wants to speculate on what's going to happen in the next post with Phil andT0by -- not just because because they all like speculating on what you'll do next (though that's a part of it) but also because they've become friends, on some level, through your work. So your website has become a kind of water cooler for them. That's your community.

MCA Hogarth has a community surrounding what she does. You could call it a brand if you wanted to, but I consider "branding" a shallow copy of what you're really going for. Her community isn't just interested in her current story but are also interested in the ones she hasn't told yet, AND are also interested in each other, to a certain degree. I want to say esprit des corps but I'm not convinced that's the right phrase.

I do not really have a community, even on the webcomic side of things, though I do have people who have been reading my comic almost for as a long as I've been doing it (16 years now). I'm pretty good at recognizing communities but I'm not so good at building them.

Building your own community may in fact be more difficult in this day and age because social media doesn't want you to have your own, it wants you to be a part of theirs. And they're much better at building communities than we are. Even the atrocious ones. That said, I'm convinced a community is something you want to have, assuming it's not a destructive or insularone.

I used to receive comments on Refuge of Delayed Souls and felt I had a little community going there until I started to use Facebook, Twitter and Smashwords when I feel the comments and community feeling dropped off together with my enthusiasm. Possibly a case of what came first the chicken or the egg.

I can't remember exactly but I think there were probaby 150-ish people who "liked" the story on facebook and added a few comments although there was certainly no community feel there despite my endeavours.

Twitter possibly gained the story a couple of new readers but no more than a handful.

I received a couple of emails following the Smashwords ebook but that's about all.

In the past, visitor numbers would increase dramatically whenever I advertised on Project Wonderful and possibly 10% or so of those visitors stayed to read. There were thousands of visitors when the site became a Google Blog of Note but I doubt more than a dozen of those visitors ever took the time to read through the story.

These days I have more new readers (people who visit the site and actually take the time to read through the uncompleted story) than I ever had in the past despite the deletion of the facebook page, the cessation of blogging and story tweeting, and with zero paid advertising.

99% of my new readers arrive via I never added the story link to their site (I assume a reader did) however I am happy for it to remain there and grateful for the high number of readers it sends my way.

At the moment I have plenty of readers and no feedback. When I first started out I had a handful of enthusiastic readers and comments on the site. If I ever get my mojo back I would confine the story to my website (with links to it via WFG, Muses, etc) and offer a pdf/ebook option which would only be availabe on my website.

I suppose it boils down to what the writer seeks. In my case it turned out it wasn't about the numbers.

Uber, I think this comment of yours: "Building your own community may in fact be more difficult in this day and age because social media doesn't want you to have your own, it wants you to be a part of theirs." Wow, super-insightful. :)

Kind of depressing though. :)

I mean, it's not like the odds aren't already stacked up against us. And now we have to fight against the pulls of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc.

The number of online communities to post to doesn't bug me much.

My attitude is basically to use as many as I have an interest in and time to use.


Facebook page: Set up to automatically post updates as my status with a link back to my website.

Twitter: Same.

Livejournal: I don't use it. Maybe I will at some point.

Tumblr: I probably ought to check into this if I can use it like Facebook or Twitter.

Textnovel: A site much like Wattpad, but with a focus on contests and providing fiction on mobile phones. I posted large chunks of Legion of Nothing. Got an award, but it didn't bring many people to the site despite having a link back. Therefore, I haven't done much with it.

The key point to my mind is to use all the new media as one more tentacle pulling people back to the site where everything happens, and to do it with as little effort as possible.

If you haven't already seen this, it seems strangely relevant to the discussion:

In the end, I don't want to spend much time posting to a pile of different places. I want to write, do other things I care about, and automate the rest.

... so basically I need to add George Washington riding an eagle to the Points Between, and then I'll get more likes on Facebook! Yes! ;-)

You can never go wrong with George Washington and eagles.

Actually, here's another link that's a bit more relevant. It's an author who is arguing that promoting books via social media isn't as effective as it's cracked up to be.

It might well be more effective with web fiction than novels, but it's possible it's not worth as much effort as many people put into it.

I think it's worth noting that community-building is not strictly a promotional activity... in that you don't really do it for the purpose of promoting your book and getting more people to read it. You do it because it's rewarding, and because it makes sharing the work a richer experience. Or at least I do; community-building is a lot of work, and there are easier ways to advertise. Like writing a new book. :,

I think that's an aspect of why any of us release our work as a web serial. That feedback and sense of involvement.