Workflow for Creating and Marketing Webfiction

Mcoorlim asked:While I’ve dabbled in serial fiction most of my experience (and my day job) is writing novels. How can I adapt my skills from novelist to web serialist in terms of both creative production and marketing?

My reply:

In terms of creative production, the recommended formula for creating webfiction seems to run on a fairly standard model.

The Creative Phase:

  1. Plan out the first two arcs and final arc of your story. Leave the middle vague and flexible.
  2. Typical arcs are 40,000 – 60,000 words.
  3. Break your first arc down into chapters of 2000-3000 words, with a goal of 20-30 chapters. Each chapter needs to have a strong hook at the end to get readers coming back. For more details, check out my book. If you click on the “look inside” on Amazon, it should let you read the whole first chapter which covers the 10 things popular webnovels have in common.
  4. Write the whole first arc.

Marketing and Release Phase:

  1. Pick the sites that work best for your target demographic. (My very rough list is here, I plan to update it later)
  2. Release your first 10-14 chapters simultaneously on those sites, releasing them daily to get your story high up in the rankings and keep it there on the new release list so people will find it. Edit then release each day, so you can respond to reader feedback.
  3. After you’re blown through half your chapters, drop down to 2-3 chapters/week so you have time to write the second arc with reader feedback in mind and can avoid having to go on a long hiatus.
  4. If your story is successful and finds an audience, keep writing it and growing your audience.

Notes:

  • Webfiction is all about momentum and consistency- keeping your readers engaged and wanting more, and giving them a regular dose of your stories on a set schedule.
  • Some sites have donation options, make sure you set those up so you can get money from your happy readers.
  • Make sure you read the terms and conditions of the sites you post on, most don’t put any creative or legal limitations on your work, but it’s good to know.
  • Obviously, you can later compile your story arcs into novels to sell on Amazon. Don’t be afraid to encourage your loyal readers to go and leave good reviews. Sadly, that’s likely all they’ll do, since they’ve already read the story for free and most won’t buy it based on what I’ve seen. (Unless maybe you offer some extras in each published book they might want.) However, a lot of good reviews will definitely help to boost sales from your new audience.
  • If your story still isn’t working after the first arc, finish it ASAP and move on to another story that might find a larger audience. From a publishing perspective, writing the second arc and then segueing into the planned final arc gives you a trilogy. Keep in mind that what might fail as webfiction could still find a solid audience as an ebook, or vice versa.

Good luck!
Rob

Figuring Out What to Write

Some writers have problems deciding on what ideas to use and what to leave on the table. However, the solution is pretty simple- you need to sell yourself the idea before you sell it to an audience. If you’re not interested, an audience likely isn’t either.

One approach to solving this problem is writing a book blurb for your story, which lays out the fundamental ideas of the story in an interesting and lively way that attracts readers. If you get excited reading/writing this blurb, then that story might be for you!

Blurbs are written using formulas, and one of the best I’ve come across can be found here.

However, if writing a full book blurb is still too much for you, a simple core premise logline might be better at getting you started.

A Core Premise is the central idea of your story and a seed from which the rest of the story will grow. With it, you’ll know the story you’re trying to tell, and have a guiding star leading the way to the end!

To find your Core Premise, you’re going to use a very basic technique that writers for movies have been using for a long time. In the movie business, writers often approach producers and directors with ideas for films, but they use a very simple structured version of their idea called a logline to get maximum effect and make the producers interested. If they can use it to sell a movie to producers, you can use it to sell a story to yourself- so let’s get started!

A great Core Premise needs to describe most of the following things:

  1. One or two adjectives about the main character. (to give them personality)
  2. The main character’s role or job. (Don’t use a name, just their role for now.)
  3. Anything that’s important to know about the setting or setup for the story.
  4. What the main character’s clear goal is.
  5. One or two adjectives about the opposition. (to make them interesting)
  6. The antagonist, opposition or challenge they face. (Also no names, use roles instead.)
  7. A hint of what will happen if the protagonist loses, or the stakes involved. (to add drama)

These can be presented in any order, but usually go in the above order, and will produce one or two sentences that look like this:

A mousy college student (adjective, who) working in a used bookstore (setting) must find a mysterious book (goal) when her co-workers are possessed by evil spirits (adjective, opposition) that will escape the store at nightfall (stakes).

An overworked executive assistant (adjective, who) at a large corporation (setting) must choose between her work and her family (goal) when a long-time rival (adjective, opposition) threatens to steal a big project (stakes) during a family crisis.

A high school student (adjective, who) must find a way to tell her long-time crush her true feelings (adjective, challenge) before she moves to a new city and they lose touch forever (stakes).

It’s actually pretty easy and fun once you get the hang of it!

Try using the ideas you brainstormed to come up with a Core Premise that follows the rules above. You don’t need to use all the information you came up with, just the main ideas. Also, don’t be afraid to try different versions of the premise with different details until you get one that you like.

Once you’ve turned at least one of your story ideas into a good-looking Core Premise, then you should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does this story idea grab you and make you want to write it?
  2. Is this story going to be one you think will interest your target audience?
  3. Is this story going to make your readers feel something?

If a premise gets three solid answers of “yes!” then that’s the story you need to write. If none of them get a “yes” for all three questions, then you need to go back and brainstorm some new ideas and turn those into premises that will work for you.

Another Book Blurb Formula

Found this info in a thread on Royal Road on writing good reader-catching story blurbs by Vincent Archer. I thought it was worth sharing, his original source was a bit vague, so I couldn’t trace it. (Bolding mine for emphasis.)

The blurb is supposed to catch your readers’ attention and sell the story, not tell the story.

I’m going to pick from Author’s Society: Fiction book blurbs start with a situation (a), introduce a problem (b) and promise a twist (c). They usually end with a sentence that emphasizes the mood (d) of the story.

So you start with a catch-up sentence, since often, people will drop the blurb if they don’t like the first sentence, and you end with a kind-of-cliffhanger so that people go from blurb to story.

Blurb sample using the formula (along with ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’ and ‘d’) lists:

For nearly twenty years since they’ve opened, the Gilded Gates of the Infinite Labyrinth have brought power and wonders to the subjects of King George III. Fueled by the resources from the place beyond the Gates, the modern age is in full swing across the British Empire (a: situation)

But the Hordes of Napoleon are not standing still. They will not stop until they can achieve total dominance, and ending the British advantage is what they plan for (b: problem).

Jonas Sims never planned to be a Labyrinth Professional and be involved in high stakes games (c: plot twist)

Now he, and the rest of his team have to level, push themselves forward and grow beyond their origins (d: story mood)

Or the Sun may set upon the Empire at last! (final hook)

Another one to illustrate the method:

The town of Las Viadas has two sides, like the twin swings of its saloon’s entrance. One seedy, one bright, and never the two meet. (a: situation)

But sometimes, people go into the saloon and don’t come out, and that’s something sheriff Marcus can no longer ignore. (b: problem)

The thing is, sometimes people who haven’t gone into the saloon come out, and no one finds that strange. (c: twist)

Getting to the truth will not be easy, nor will it leave the sheriff untouched by the weird. (d: mood)

Unless he goes in and never goes out. (explosive suspense)

Of course, you can have a full paragraph for each part rather than one or two sentences. You just need to keep your sentences very short, to the point.

There’s lots of tried “recipes” in writing. We’ve been writing novels and doing mass market publishing for centuries now. Everyone wants to be an amazing writer, but for most of us, myself included, using tried recipes and putting our own touch on them works better than attempts at being “truly innovative”.

You can pick my story and try to see how the classic Hero’s Journey steps apply, and you’ll find they’re all there (well, except the very end, since there’s 5 chapters left). It’s all about the presentation.

Same thing for the blurbs. Classic version works nearly perfectly. The best ones follow the recipe without you realizing it’s there.

It’s not a bad little formula, and I think sells stories pretty well.

(a) Situation

(b) Problem

(c) Plot Twist

(d) Story Mood

(f) Story Hook

You could even use it to sell a story to yourself to decide if it was worth writing. Create a blurb for a story you might write, and see if it gets you exited enough to write it!

Rob

How to Write a Quick Blurb

A “blurb” or “book blurb”- it’s the advertising description that sells your book to the readers. You find it on the back of printed books, or as the description on Amazon.

As for how to write a catchy one, most blurbs basically look like this:

  • Introduction (1-2 paragraphs)
  • Hook (1 paragraph)
  • Cliffhanger (1 paragraph)

Each paragraph is short, just 2 to 5 sentences long, any longer and the audience might lose interest.

Introduction
-who is your main character? (the best blurbs are built around a character, not a story.)
-why should the audience care? (what makes them sympathetic – this is KEY, you need to make your audience like your main character)
-the most interesting details about the character or their world.
-things the audience needs to understand the hook or the cliffhanger.

Hook
-this is the main problem of your story that your character faces
-also, anything special that makes your story unique like special or unusual things about your main character, system, cheat, etc

Cliffhanger
-this is opposition – who or what is standing in the way of your main character accomplishing their goals?
-and stakes- what will happen if your character fails to deal with their problem? What price will they pay and who will pay the price?
-always leave them hanging and wanting to know more!

A few other tips:

  • Don’t refer to any more characters or places than you absolutely have to.
  • Names don’t mean anything to your reader, use descriptions (Not “Bob Smith” but “the last assassin of a lost ninja clan”, or not “Panagea” but “a lost continent filled with warring tribes of powerful martial gods”.)
  • Try to keep the whole blurb under 200 words or less.
  • Don’t use “is” or “have” verbs, use action verbs – “ran”, “conquered”, “convinced” etc.