People have been publishing fiction electronically almost ever since the first two computers were hooked together; look at “webfiction” that way, and it’s suddenly ancient and vast and weird and impossible ever to grasp, much less comprehend.
If you’re late to the party, here’s Kip’s intro from yesterday. Kip Manley is the author of the web serial City of Roses Here are some of his thoughts on writing, writing web fiction, the web fiction community and a beer-money advertising budget.
Part I: As usual, the mandatory questions on your writing background
So. You write. Can you tell me when these symptoms first appeared? When were you officially diagnosed with this unfortunate tendency?
Second grade? I wrote a long story (in cursive) (probably six pages or so) about being shrunk down to the size of an ant and visiting an ant colony. I think. It was a while ago. —But I still remember the sickening sense of dread as I scribbled away the night before it was due, vastly exceeding the mandate for this particular homework exercise (it’s too long! I’ll get a failing grade!)—and the vast relief I felt at my teacher’s vaguely befuddled encouragement, even enthusiasm, that one of her charges had displayed such—initiative? —The pull of deadlines, the dread of editorial fiat, the relief of actually, finally being read—somehow I got hooked by this first innoccuous taste of the roller coaster, and I’ve been hunting for cleaner, purer hits ever since.
As I’ve asked all the others, why did you decide to put your work online?
What, a publication medium with zero reproduction costs and instantaneous, international reach at the push of a button? Sign me up! —Except, of course, the costs aren’t zero, and with everyone able to get everywhere, new problems arise—namely, the problem of hey, why aren’t you paying attention to me. (We all know all this. Nonetheless it bears repeating.) —But in a sense, I’ve been putting fiction online in one form or another for a long time now; in college back in 198-mumble, when email was still a brand new thing, and posts to Usenet took three days or more to propagate, a friend was writing an epically funny serial and publishing it to a campus email list. I thought this was such a good idea I immediately asked her permission to do the same thing, which she thought was charmingly stupid. —Paper? Online? Are the words getting read? This is the important question.
Do you think fiction will ever blossom online (for more than the likes of Cory Doctorow and Amanda Hocking, that is), or will the paper-and-ink industry always have more sway?
It’s important to define our terms, here. Blossoming for Doctorow or Hocking implies money, fame, and fortune on a lottery-ticket level (and whether the work is any good or not, there’s still an element of luck involved); and people will continue to buy lottery tickets, and occasionally people will even win them. —I think more people will make some money by writing than ever before; I think fewer people will make as much money as some have historically been able to, but for most it’s always been a secondary proposition. Pace Johnson, but some of our best writers ever have been blockheads, and thank God for that. —As for paper-and-ink: there will always be a market for beautiful, well-made things. The airport paperback will end up on your mobile.
Part II: Some stuff about you and your work specifically
You had a table at the Portland Zine Symposium! How did that go? What exactly do web fiction writers do when they congregate AFK?
Ha! I’ve had better years. —I adore the PZS, and I’ve been tabling there since 2005, so this was my sixth, but it’s still an odd fit; even here, there is genre, there are marketing conventions, there are expectations, and epic urban fantasy serials in zine-shaped chapbook form don’t seem to fit them, judging from the quizzically bemused reactions I typically field. (I haven’t been able to crack Powell’s small-press section yet, either.) —I table at the Stumptown Comics Fest every year, too (I know a lot of cartoonists; I even married one), and typically do better there: fantasy, serial, these are things that comics fans know to expect and anticipate. —This is not to say that comics fans are more open or accepting than zinesters by any means: merely that the lack of pictures is much less of a stumbling-block for a browsing comics fan than the apparent lack of memoir, direct cultural or political critique, or experimental prose is for a browsing zine fan. —As for what we do AFK, judging from the irregular meetings of the Portland Weblit Mafia, it’s eat breakfast, drink coffee, and laugh loudly at inappropriate jokes. There may also be some bitching about Drupal, but I’ve sworn a solemn oath never to attempt to understand that stuff.
You’re also selling some of City of Roses as well, correct? How did you decide to make the step from post-only serials to selling an actual book? What have been your experiences with publishing?
The serial aspect of City of Roses has always been the most important thing for me; had I the budget and the small army at my command, as well as utter control of the city, I’d be making a television show; could I draw (shut up, Barry), I’d be doing a webcomic. As it is, I’m left with mere words. (Luckily, I love words.) —Both TV and comics have a tantalizing pushme-pullyou structure of episodic serials that build something much larger than their individual parts; that’s the magic I want to mess with. So I hesitated to do anything that would lessen the serial aspect of it all. —But there is a final much larger thing I’m building towards, and a number of people had said they’d rather read it on a ereader than in a web browser, so I grabbed the first eleven chapters, the first half, and grumbled and growled and kicked things until I’d compromised enough to make an ebook that could be properly distributed. —Having done that, I took the next half-step or so to make it a thing that could be printed-on-demand. And suddenly I have a book! People look at me differently. There’s a guy knocks people out of the way when I walk down the street now, make way, he says, an author approaches! —So there’s that. (Sales? Not so’s you’d notice, yet, but this is with a beer-money advertising budget, and see above re: the hey why aren’t you paying attention to me problem. —A wise man has said the slush pile’s moved, from the publishers to the agents to the ebook review blogs.)
Greg X Graves, who I interviewed at the beginning of the festival, said, when asked about the community aspect of weblit:
“web fiction as a discipline has barely made it into infancy. Sure, plenty of people have released stories online, but until you have a large community, web fiction remains a club and not a phenomenon.”
What do you think can make web fiction a true community? Do you think AFK events like the one you attended have any part to play? What can take weblit from a nebulous, disconnected group of individuals to a real force in the literary world?
Pace Graves, but again we have to define our terms: if we mean webfiction as a thing where we can all basically agree on the basic boundaries and contours, where stories and authors flow through and are vetted by the same basic channels we are all aware of if not familiar with, then yes, I suppose it is in its infancy, and it is a small community, a club and not a phenomenon. But such a thing is always going to be a club and not a phenomenon, no matter how old it gets. —People have been publishing fiction electronically almost ever since the first two computers were hooked together; look at “webfiction” that way, and it’s suddenly ancient and vast and weird and impossible ever to grasp, much less comprehend. And people have been segregating themselves into this clique or that based on what they write or how it gets written for far, far longer than that. —The solution, of course, is dear old E.M. Forster: only connect. Wherever you find a clique, reach across it, or around it, or right into the heart of it. Join up, spread out, say hi. Table at the Zine Symposium. Post at AbsoluteWrite.com. Tease cartoonists on Twitter. Etc. Etc. Etc.
You are in a small, but growing category of people who put work online primarily for free but sell it as well. Seems like this category is characteristic of the spectrum of people that the internet has birthed: you have people who don’t get paid but they get read, and people who get paid and get read and give stuff away anyway, and people who do something in between. Am I the only one who has noticed this trend? Any thoughts?
It’s the ineluctable logic of the medium. It’s why webcartoonists make most of their money from T-shirts. If you can instantly copy a thing for zero cost—the primary benefit of publishing on the web—then you can’t sell that thing. —I mean sure you can sell it, but you can’t control access to it, and that’s essentially what you’re selling when you sell a story: access to it. I give the story away for free online because I want the reach and I’m willing to do that to get it (and also certain romantickal notions of art being a gift and whatnot, but let’s not bore the folks at home). I sell the chapbooks for money, yes, but it’s not the story I’m selling; it’s the physical assemblage of the story in this particular form with the color cover and the paper and the three staples. I sell the ebook, but some little work beyond the writing went into that, and also it’s a decent chunk of the story; there, I’m basically trusting the maxim that easy trumps free, and that getting a goodly portion of the story all at once in a form you can read on your Kindlelike device is worth the three bucks even though you can read it all for free at the website, which I hope you’re listing prominently. —None but a blockhead ever wrote but for money; luckily, we’re most of us blockheads, or nothing would ever get written. And then where would we be?
If you haven’t got the hint already, you should go check out Kip’s site and read some of City of Roses. Really, go. I’ll still be here when you get back.