How Online Creative Writing Has Changed in the Last Decade
When I was 15-16 years old, it was easy to upload a story on the internet and hope for the best. All you had to do was construct a good synopsis (200 words or less) and make sure that your story was unique and interesting enough to carry the audience onwards. For me, I depended purely on the story and the writing itself — my own craft in the art of storytelling to rouse the interest in readers all over the world.
It is not so anymore.
Today, 6-7 years later, it’s not just about the written word anymore. Writers have to actively be involved in a writing or reading community, social media, and design to gather an audience. From my experience on Authonomy, (now demised) Inkpop, and several other online writing platforms, it’s hard to obtain readers when there are so many original fiction being highlighted on the main page, their hits being public, and reviews/comments being masked. (You know I’m being morbid when I start using serial commas.)
On many online writing platforms, they feature stories that have high hits or reviews/comments on their main page. The problem with this is that many of those hits and reviews/comments are “swaps,” where authors read and comment on each other’s writings as a transaction. I do not like to comment on material I dislike or where the author does not approach critique with an open mind (in that they have no wishes to improve their story, but rather they just want more reviews/comments). I understand that these writing platforms are a community for both writers and readers, but this encourages writers to read each other’s works for the pure exchange of assets (to get more hits and comments), rather than to enjoy the vast array of writing on the site. I feel that if you are genuinely looking for a critique, then there are plenty of skilled and great betas out there eager for a good read.
I also believe that hits are arbitrary. Hits do not constitute a stable audience, therefore I try not to pay attention to the number of hits my stories get on Wattpad. Moreover, the hit counters on Wattpad ascend even when I shuffle through my chapters, which skews the data. My entering my own story should not count as a reader when I’m not a reader, but the author. Otherwise, authors on Wattpad can build up their own hits, and hits on Wattpad actually counts as an achievement. This is one of the reasons why I prefer FictionPress. Not only are my stories’ hits not public, but when I’m signed in on FictionPress and start flipping through my chapters, it does not count me as a hit. I appreciate that.
Wattpad also counts my review responses as a review/comment. My own response on or about my own work should not be acknowledged on the review/comment counter. Again, this skews the stats, for if an author responds to every review/comment on their work, then their review/comment counter should be halved. It irritates me that Wattpad counts my own responses as a stat when my responses do not add value to my work or even entices potential readers from continuing because, obviously, my comments are biased.
These skewed stats take away from the writing, for readers are not just looking at the synopsis or genre to find a good story, but these arbitrary numbers distract readers. Readers, and even writers, value the quality of the story based on hits, reviews/comments and, lastly, the cover design. Nothing takes away from the writing more than a cover picture. It is true that people judge a book by its cover; it’s why publishers spend quite a bit of money and time on designing the perfect cover for shelves. For authors who cannot design (such as myself) or too possessive to allow another to design a cover for them (such as myself), a poor cover could destroy the story’s success on a site (Wattpad, Authonomy, etc.). Before FictionPress and Fanfiction’s updates to include cover images, I felt like FictionPress and FanFiction were the only places I can search for a story without being visually distracted. However, now that FictionPress and FanFiction have cover images by each synopsis, I find myself (unconsciously) looking at the cover and not at the synopsis. In one glance, I immediately make a snap judgement on the story and either read the synopsis, or bypass the story altogether. I do not believe that I am the only one who does this.
Back when I was 15-16 years old, it was all right to just upload your story on the internet and hope for the best. There didn’t seem like there was a lot more you should need to do. I survived FictionPress without commenting on forums or replying to reviews. I believed that my writing should speak for itself. There was no need to market myself rather that my story.
It is not so anymore.
It isn’t enough to just be a good author (or sometimes not even a good author). As an online author, you need to participate in the writing community. You need to spend a lot of time contributing to forums, exchanging reviews/comments, engaging with your audience (including on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, WordPress/Blogger/etc.). It is even better if you can get into a niche market. You have to understand the basics of design and know how a jpeg file works, or even what a jpeg file is. You have to live, breathe, be social media. You have to spend more time marketing yourself than writing your story.
And even then, you may not even get readers.
6-7 years later, and I find myself in a flummox. I’m excited when a good story is recognized, and upset when a poor story achieves top status. (Authonomy does not build good writing; it builds competition.) I’m happy that there are more online writing platforms, but saddened by their poor execution — the need to reap from writers and readers instead of encouraging the craft and art.
With the modern world becoming so intrinsically involved with the visual and aesthetic qualities — with the fast information of numbers and stats on the internet, I feel like good writing — good, solid, take-your-breath-away writing — no longer holds as much value as before. As my co-worker said today: “I can’t read long paragraphs. I like short sentences and fast information because I get distracted by pictures.” (It hurts even more when my friend, who just graduated from Teachers College, said that as an English teacher, she wouldn’t care much about grammar. Grammar: the foundation of our language, writing and understanding. I nearly screamed. I want to cry.)
Am I wrong in being cynical? Am I wrong to think that numbers and pictures are taking away from the writing itself? Am I being too traditionalist here? I still believe that the writing should speak for itself, but these online writing platforms are making it hard for the story to be highlighted.
What do you think?
Rosemary | Faithfulness, love and remembrance