Web Serial Toolbox: everything you need to start a fiction serial

This is the handout for my Web Serial Toolbox workshop, which I’m teaching today at Readercon at 6pm. I’m posting it here as a reference document for those who don’t pick up the physical handout, or who lose the piece of paper, or in case I didn’t bring enough copies, or if a paper-eating nanotech experiment escaped from a nearby office park and destroyed them all while I was on my way to the con.
This is the bare bones reference document, not a full “how to,” since that’s what I give in my workshop, but some of the rest of you might find it a somewhat useful checklist of things to do if you’re starting, or already running a web fiction serial. I might write individual blog posts at a later date on individual topics if I have time and inclination.

Web Serial Toolbox Reference Sheet

by Cecilia Tan, author of award-winning web serial Daron’s Guitar Chronicles
Web serial/web fiction: “(Also known as “Webfiction” or the “Online novel”) is the prose equivalent of webcomics such as Sluggy Freelance or Girl Genius (among many others) which… have distinct Story Arcs. An author, usually an amateur, publishes a Novel in many short installments (often daily or weekly) on a website.”
(Definition from TV Tropes: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WebSerialNovel)
Another definition (mine): “The online text-fiction equivalent of serial storytelling forms such as television shows, comic books, or soap operas.”

Setting up your serial:


Planning/Artistic concerns:
-how often to post? 1x/week? every day? 2-3x/week?
-length of posts/episodes/chapters? (1000-1500 words people believe to be a sweet spot)
-do you know total length?
-write complete first or as you go “tightrope” method?
-define your genre at the start: genre defines the winning condition for the endgame
(high fantasy: good defeats evil, romance: love wins, mystery: justice prevails, science fiction: the entire world/universe changes, etc.)
Hosting your serial:
-Blogspot
-Wordpress.com
-Livejournal
-Wattpad
-Juke Pop Serials
-Digital Novelists (may be defunct?)
-self-hosting (your own machine or using Bluehost, GoDaddy, or other 3rd party platform hosting: check TOS first! Watch out for rights grabs, obscenity clauses, etc)
-OR SOME COMBINATION THEREOF
Elements a serial website must have:
-your copyright notice
-a way to post chapters and easily navigate forward and backward through them (Next/Previous buttons or links, clickable table of contents)
-about the author info
-“about your serial” landing page or start page: like the back of a book, it tells what it is
-donate button or way for fans to contribute and/or contact you
-ability for readers to comment (some consider this optional: I consider it crucial!)
Optional elements:
-digital product shopping cart (like WP-Estore for Word Press or ZenCart)
-ability to place advertisements on the site
-social networking for readers (i.e. they can “friend” each other, WP has plugins for this)

Promoting your serial:

Listings & directories:
-TuesdaySerial.com – add new listing every week & also promo news, book tie ins, arcs ending etc
-Web Fiction Guide (https://webfictionguide.com/) – list once in this directory
-Top Web Fiction (https://topwebfiction.com/) – list once, fans vote every week
-Muses Success (https://muses-success.info/) – list once in this directory
-EpiGuide (https://www.epiguide.com/forums/) – online forums for all web entertainment
EpiGuide hosts WeSeWriMo every August, hosts a podcast, takes paid advertising, has resources page
Advertising:
Project Wonderful — as cheap as you want them to be
Facebook ads — as cheap as you want them to be
Social Media:
IF YOU DON’T SEND OUT NOTIFICATION EACH CHAPTER, YOU WON’T GET AS MUCH TRAFFIC
-Automate your social media announcements of new content:
• use IF This THEN That (IFTTT.com) to configure triggers/actions
• WordPress plugins and crossposters to Twitter/FB/etc
Twitter – Facebook (personal page and pro page) – Tumblr – LJ – Instagram/Pinterest(if visual?) – G+ – Ello? Tsu? – whatever social media network comes next
– build up a network of followers, make sure you have links on your site that direct people to your social media — this network will grown slowly but be crucial to success
– engagement on social media: “Text Art” memes, copypasta, fan retweets, character accounts
• Nonfiction blog separate from the fiction itself (which will RSS To:)
– Goodreads author page
– Amazon author page
• Email List: MailChimp (free), Aweber ($10 per month), Constant Contact
-Very important to have a way to reach readers that YOU own, not Facebook/Twitter, etc
Other ways to spread the word:
-Blog tours and exchanges with other web serial writers
-Wattpad — use Wattpad like a social media site for most effect
-Goodreads forums (like https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/22783-web-serial-fiction)
-Free ebook at Amazon & Smashwords (highly recommended!) “permafree”
• free ebook newsletters and ad sites (BookBub is the 900 lb gorilla, many smaller, free, cheap) List of promo newsletters: https://www.rachelleayala.com/p/promo-sites.html, Another:
https://ruthnestvold.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/starting-out-as-an-indie-author-where-to-promote-permafree-books/
Revenue Streams:
-Paypal donate button
-Patreon – subscription payments, kind of like an ongoing Kickstarter
-Merch on your site: T-shirts, stickers, automatic downloads
-Merch on 3rd party site: ongoing: Zazzle, CafePress | limited time: TeeSpring, Booster
-Subsidiary products sold elsewhere: i.e. ebooks sold on Amazon, audiobooks sold on Audible
-Periodic Kickstarter or crowdfund (IndieGogo, etc) campaigns (like NPR’s annual fundraiser)
-Advertising: Google AdWords, Project Wonderful, LinkAds, BlogAds, etc. (ADS TRADITIONALLY DON’T GET MUCH UNTIL YR TRAFFIC IS HUGE)
-Juke Pop Serials supposedly pays creators for traffic – I haven’t verified how/if it works yet, though
Reader Engagement:
-CALL TO ACTION AT THE BOTTOM OF EVERY POST (or once a week?)
-comments (as yourself? as a character? both?)
-rewards (offer bonus content for various forms of engagement: donations, comments, help, linking)
-polls
-fanfic or fanart bounty or contests
-other contests
-reader forum/chat room
-convention appearances
That’s it so far!
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