So, this got asked by a Patron and I think it’s a great idea to discuss this in more detail. So, here we go…
There are two sides to this discussion, both on a business and craft portion. Let me, however, point out that I have NOT written a web serial since my start with Life in the North and Adventures on Brad, so take everything I say here with a certain grain of salt.
Let’s talk business first:
Webserial Platforms, the Market and Opportunities
Firstly, let’s be truthful, there are a lot of webserial platforms out there. They range from purely free (from Archive of Our Own, scribblehub, Royal Road, Fictionpress, etc.) to those where you can get paid directly (Tapas, Radish, Webnovel, Wattpad (sort of) and now, Vella).
It’s a huge and growing market. And when I say huge, we’re talking hundreds of millions of readers; and yes – in English. The Chinese webnovel market is even bigger and so is Japan and Korea. The online web serial market has mostly been ignored by trad pub, but that’s because they mostly have no access to it.
Not the new technology companies like Webnovel or Wattpad or the like. In fact, the vast majority of the paid advertising sites are run by tech companies. And that’s… a bit concerning in of itself in a way.
The problem is, tech companies understand intrinsically; how important IP is. Which is why a lot of the contracts at places like Webnovel or some of the newer tiny off-shoots are horrendous for content creators. These companies want your IP, they know it’s worth and want to keep it on their site. So everything from exclusive contracts to signing away the life of your copyright to giving them the right to finish your abandoned stories are all part and parcel.
This isn’t to say all of them are like that. Tapas I know from personal experience has a very friendly contract for non-exclusive works. I know Radish gets complaints about payment methods (especially their recent changes); but the contract is mostly a non-issue. Vella’s contract is confusing, but nothing too onerous.
All in all, it is, as usual a case of buyer beware (or author, read your damn contract!).
That being said, there’s a huge market in here. There isn’t any one dominant player (yet!); though both Webnovel and Wattpad have taken a stab at it. Still, online readers are growing faster than I think these apps are able to contain.
It’s why Vella came along from Amazon and why I think they’ll be putting in real money into making it work. This is a very big, growing market and there’s a lot of money to be made here.
However, it might not be a lot of money for authors. At least, not directly. Outside of things like Royal Road’s links to Patreon and people like shirtaloon or Pirateaba making gobloads of money via Patreon; actual earnings from webnovel companies via their token payments, etc as far as I know (and again, I’m not really tapped into this market so I’m happy to be corrected) aren’t breaking the bank. I’ve not heard of anyone pulling in $10-20k a month just from tokens or whatever else you want to call it.
Which leads me to another concern. It’s almost impossible to verify any of this in terms of earnings. While most webnovel companies will let you know details about page reads, likes, etc; token opens and the cost of tokens (or ink or spirit crystals or whatever else you want to call it) are shrouded in mystery.
Now, those of you who have KU are nodding your heads along, because that’s how we get paid. But…
Just something to consider. That in some cases, the very people who might have handed you a horrible contract to start are also the ones handling the ‘worth’ of your tokens.
One of the other aspects of serials is that the most successful ones publish every day and often have huge backlogs. To get really big, you have to be willing to commit to writing in that world for a long time.
See Wandering Inn. See Worm. See even He Who Fights with Monsters or Azarinth Healer or Metaworld Chronicles.
Long worlds, constant updates. Not appropriate for all writers.
Anyway, overall, it’s a great market; but figuring out who to go with and how hard to go is going to require research. For LitRPG, really; Royal Road dominates, with other sites lagging far behind, though FictionPress and Webnovels are getting up there I believe.
Craft is interesting. Web serials are basically a return to serial writing back in the days of Asimov and potentially even the pulp era. That’s thousands of words a day pumped out everyday.
And you can see some of that in things like Charles Dickens work, the way some sentences just drag on and on. When you pay people by the word, they’ll write long paragraphs that repeat the same information, again and again; just to earn more.
So long as the story is riveting, a lot of sins are going to be allowed pass.
Which is the point with web serials – story and characters MUST be good. In that sense, I’d say high level of tropes, easily relatable characters, caricatures of actions and characters and humor – snarky humor in particular, though biting humor works too but not sophisticated humor – seems to do really well.
Serials are consumed in bite-sized pieces, or geared to be consumed in bite sized pieces. Those pieces? Chapters.
Which is another major point – each chapter has to refresh memory of the readers, push the pace forwards (low level of descriptions) and, most importantly, have a hook to the next book. In fact, serials that work best often have multiple hooks at work. Examples include:
– what is big bad X doing right now?
– how do we deal with Y crisis?
– who will he fall for?
– how will this fight work out?
– new character introduced and he says something inappropriate / bad / clever
– new threat introduced, how will it be dealt with?
– oh look, he’s going to get a new skill. What is it?
Each hook basically drives a reader on to the next chapter. If that big fight scene takes 12 chapters, all the better especially if you end with a slider on each chapter.
Which is why people who transfer a novel, with long descriptions and scenes of varying length that might or might not have a strong slider or hook to the next scene / chapter often don’t do as well in serials.
It’s actually one thing I think good serial writers learn, and by learning that, learn to ratchet the tension up in their own works.
Oh, and that’s another thing you see about good serials. Pacing is fast. These days, especially (Dickens aside where everyone didn’t have a million other words to read), serials are fast paced. That means lots of dialogue, shorter sentences and paragraphs, lower level of descriptions and, in most cases, less flowery and verbose language.
Anyway, that’s about it on my thoughts. I think web serials are really cool. It might, in some ways, even be a great idea to do web serials on places like Vella, etc and then transition to putting them on other web serial sites to split income streams. But really, I don’t have the time myself; so take everything with a grain of salt. I watch the market, but it’s not one I am participating in.
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