How should writers and other artists reach their audiences on the web? There are no written rules, but it’s clear that being a “content creator” (comic book writer, painter, illustrator or journalist), requires as much knowledge of marketing as it does of their own particular discipline.
Clearly the web is a great space to discover new talent. Our favorite singer Justing Bieber started his career on Youtube. Andy Weir, author of The Martian, first published his book in his blog for free (in serial format one chapter at a time). It seems like everyday new teenage idols are created right out of Instagram and Vine (Nash Grier, KingBach, Brittany Furlan, Cameron Dallas, etc). Comic book artists can thrive exclusively online (the Oatmeal, xkcd, etc.) The list goes on and on.
All of the examples above have a few things in common: their content is freely available online (where it’s easy to be copied and re-shared) and the outreach to their audiences was self-initiated and did not depend on a manger or publishing company.
As with anything new, I’m not saying sharing on social networks will be the end of traditional talent agents (although it might). What I’m saying is that online creation and self-promotion is a growing trend that’s extremely effective. And think about this: the web is the medium that is reaching the younger demographic. With 100% certainty, this is how young people discover content today and will discover content tomorrow.
“in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.”
— Show Your Work! By Austin Kleon
Testing the waters
Last year my partner in crime Ron published “Narrative Madness” on Gumroad and Amazon. This year he has published several short-stories on his blog ronosaurusrex.com. I’ve been writing short stories as well for a little while now, and so, in the back of my head, I keep thinking about the best way to share all this content.
I decided on starting small, so I though on the smallest possible story and came up with #10astronatus. I decided to publish it online, free, on a medium that I was already familiar with and that had no connection whatsoever to fiction writing and storytelling. #10astronauts is a short story broken in small chucks meant to be published and consumed in Instagram.
I chose Instagram because it’s a medium that can be shaped to be conductive to storytelling. The engagement is short but focused. It is also very distraction free. Somebody scrolling through their Instagram feed will always see your content (whether or not they decide to pause or engage is a different matter). Instagram is mostly visual, and so I decided to support the story visually somehow and I added illustrations.
I wrote the story in one afternoon (and edited it for the next 3 weeks), then I illustrated it with Charley over the next 3 weeks as the editing took place. The title of the story is a hashtag, so that it can serve as the means to find it online.
This landscape was created after a visit to the Botanical Garden in Tilden Regional Park.
I’ve been thinking lately more and more about what form should fiction writing take online, and—although I have no idea what the future holds—I can make some guesses.
Offline vs Online Reading
I love reading books. I just finished Van Vogt’s “The World of Null-A” and I’m looking forward to its sequels. I like both short and long books. I do prefer long books since they let me sink into the story and once inside it is effortless to stay submerged. A short story requires my full commitment and concentration from the get-go in order to squeeze all the juice out of it.
When reading on the web (laptop or phone), I find it really difficult to read long form or even mid-length texts. I am never in a relaxed predisposition when I’m on my laptop; I am either working, banking or answering emails.
Long articles require from me a level of attention that I can’t (or wont) give to them. (This is also why more and more, I like to handwrite on a notebook. I find a notebook and its lack of multitasking, notifications and cat videos, the perfect space for my creativity to spread.) Short form feels natural online. Status updates, tweets, messages, quotes, … All of them can be easily copied, sent, they fit “above the fold”, they are scannable and they can serve as an abstract as much as an introduction.
New trends online also seem to favor short form (and short attention span): twitter, snapchat, instagram… even facebook favors small post.
But, Where does fiction fit online?
Writers have developed best practices for many non-fiction genres of writing online: journaling/autobiographical (blogs), reference (wikis), reviews (curating sites), reporting (news sites), etc. This has happened organically on each on these niches.
Fiction, however, hasn’t found a format or space on the web. Whatever form(s) fiction takes online, it will likely be short and it will have to live in a space that’s naturally shareable and easily accessible.
Like the living thing it is, fiction writing on the web, today, will have to adapt to the environment to survive.
Everybody talks about all the changes the city of San Francisco is undergoing. All the good things that are disappearing and all the not so good things that are taking their place: Google busses, evictions, sky high housing market, neighborhood gentrification. The list goes on an on.
The surprising thing, though, is hearing people talk about San Francisco as this technology focused mecca. That’s not my city.
In a recent New York Time’s article two writers discuss why they are abandoning San Francisco (spoiler: it’s because of all the tech):
Living in San Francisco is a predictable affair. Each day you awake to layers of fog, the temperature is always the same, and as you travel the city, you bump into one tech-related thing after another. Twenty-somethings working on MacBook laptops jockeying for power outlets in a crowded cafe. Entrepreneurs on street corners pitching venture capitalists about their new photo-filter apps. And people talking about tech everywhere: at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and even in bathrooms.
[…] I always felt that San Francisco was a bit too techie, even for me.
There is so much more to this city than technology.
I just recently went to a night at the Academy of Sciences where I saw no one talking about apps or taking photos with their Google Glass. With Pride around the corner it’s hard to forget that this is a city that loves to celebrate in the streets (Bay to Breakers, How Weird, Fillmore Jazz Festival…). Golden Gate park is taken over almost every weekend with some party or another (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Outside Lands, …). We have open studios, a lively Castro theatre, many international and independent film festivals, theater and music performances plus a multitude of underground talent too long to list here.
San Francisco is changing and I would argue that’s a good thing. You’ll get out of this city what you look for in it, but don’t assume that’s all there is.