Writing a Web Novel – Pros and Cons
Last year I decided as an experiment to write a web novel called Journal of the Living. That meant I had to publish the story in a series of blog posts as I was writing it. To make the challenge more interesting, I decided I would not plan ahead very far because I wanted the story to develop organically. Instead I would have polls at certain points so readers could vote on what happened next. I was hoping the outcome of the votes would send the story off in interesting directions like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book. I’ve just finished the novel, which took over a year to write. After completing it, I learnt a few valuable lessons about writing a web novel.
Writing a Web Novel is not the same as writing a normal novel. A normal novel is a complete entity before anyone reads it – neat and polished and as good as you can make it through editing – but a web novel is a work-in-progress, which means it will probably have flaws in it that you’ll want to fix later. Each blog post needs to be edited thoroughly before publishing – but there is less temptation to go back to the previous parts if they are already published. For an over-editor like me, that prevented me rewriting the whole story a hundred times, forcing me to get on with the next blog post.
A web novel requires a commitment to produce new material on a regular basis. This can be just a few paragraphs or an entire chapter or more. This makes it important to keep writing even when you feel tired or lose enthusiasm, which can happen in the middle of any long project.
Readers might not start your story at the beginning. This is a problem with the way blog posts are listed. I’d never start reading a book in the middle – but a web novel doesn’t appear in a chronological order unless the reader finds the start first. Make sure you redirect new readers to the start with a link at the top of each new post. (I didn’t do this with mine until I realised some readers were starting near the end.)
Don’t do a reader poll unless you have plenty of regular readers. I wanted the direction of my story to be decided by readers voting in regular polls. That meant I could not plan beyond the next poll. I hoped enough people would vote to make it worth doing. Unfortunately, the results of my early polls did not produce a good result. About three people voted in my first poll. For a vote to be a valuable tool, I needed at least a hundred voters. The second poll was even worse. Nobody voted. The one after that had a few voters – but the vote was split equally. I soon realised that writing a novel with polls was not working how I imagined. The deadlines for voting had to be short – a week or two – but new readers could not catch up on the story in time to vote if they started reading it near the deadline. There was also another unforeseen problem. After each poll, I had to wait at least a week for the result before continuing the story. That destroyed my momentum, making it hard to resume where I had left off. Eventually I scrapped the polls and just decided to finish the story without any more votes. I was disappointed the experiment had failed – but it was a valuable lesson.
Is it fun writing a web novel? Yes – but it is also challenging. I enjoyed writing my first web novel – but I would think again about doing it with polls. That was not a good idea for my story. It might have been better to ask readers to give me their opinions on what they would have wanted to happen next, instead of just providing a few options.
How much will I earn? In my case I’ve earned nothing. My website does not have a donation button and it does not receive money from advertising. The only way I will earn anything from my web novel is if readers buy my other books after visiting the website. Or if they buy the revised version I have now released as a trade paperback and ebook.
You can read my web novel if you visit my other website: http://www.journaloftheliving.wordpress.com