The Pros & Cons of Posting Work Online

It’s been 6 months since I posted about my bold marketing plan involving Wattpad & Authonomy. (Yikes! Where did the time go? Feels like I blinked and it was already March!) Those of you who follow me regularly will have noticed the distinct lack of announcements pertaining to said marketing plan. Why? Because I’m afraid. Afraid of making the wrong move; afraid of ruining my chances at becoming a successful author; afraid of facing down the ultimate demon of failure. I’ve second-guessed myself into a frozen stupor instead of trusting my instincts and jumping in head-first.

This isn’t the first time I’ve shot myself in the foot, letting fear keep me from pursuing my dreams. But it will hopefully be the last. In an effort to convince myself that the naysayer in my brain needs to be duct-taped to a chair in the corner and silenced, I spent the past week revisiting the reasons I created my crazy marketing scheme in the first place. And since my OCD side loves to make lists whenever I find myself spinning in circles like a confused dog, here are my top 3 pros and cons for posting work online.
 

PROS:

 
The internet is full of horror stories about how posting online can backfire like a pipe bomb, obliterating your chances at a successful writing career. And for someone like me, with a crippling fear of failure shackled to my every move, it can be incredibly hard to see past these anecdotes. But the truth of the matter is that posting your work online can also be the best move an indie author ever makes. In fact, there are even a few hope-inspiring articles popping up about the success you can find this way, such as this one by Lindsay Buroker on the merits of Wattpad. So before we wander down the more easily traveled road of negativity, let’s explore some of the good things about posting online.

  • Exposure:

The most obvious perk is the unlimited access to potential readers. The hardest job for any author is getting their book in front of people; something that’s becoming increasingly more difficult as the market gets flooded. So why wouldn’t you want to exploit every possible avenue of exposure? Manuscript Display Sites like Wattpad, Authonomy & Figment open windows into audiences you may not have found otherwise. Similar to the library, you offer your work for free (in serialized form) and gain instant access to thousands of readers. Some of whom are bound to become fans. Right?

  • Feedback:

The second big reason writers post their work online is for the feedback. Since you don’t need a completed manuscript to start generating interest, you can use the internet as a giant pool of beta readers. The critiques obviously range in value, but the chance to gauge reader response while your work’s still in process is pretty awesome. The trick is not to let the feedback you receive compromise your work. You can’t please everyone, after all.

  • Motivation:

Personally, I work best under a deadline. But it has to be imposed by someone else. I’m notoriously good at breaking deadlines I’ve set for myself, brushing them aside with flimsy excuses and promises to get them done later, because there are no repercussions. Aside from being a slacker and not getting my work done, that is. But as soon as you post something online, you answer to someone else. I don’t know about you, but the thought of disappointing my fans (all four of them) is a better source of motivation than caffeine. And Lord knows I could use some help in the motivational department these days.

 

CONS:

 
The world of online literature isn’t all rainbows and butterflies though. There are just as many reasons not to post your work as there are reasons to do it. In fact, I daresay there are more reasons why you shouldn’t. Here’s just a few of the major points:

  • Loss of First Publication Rights:

The biggest deterrent to posting online is the fact that you basically throw away your First Publication Rights. This doesn’t matter much to authors planning on self-publishing, but it’s death to any project trying to go the traditional route. Unfortunately, publishing online does count as being previously published. Which means that once you’ve posted online, you’ve basically committed to being an indie author. If you think your work has even a shred of marketability via traditional means, you’d be best to avoid this route like the plague.

  • Giving Work Away for Free:

It goes against most writer’s instincts to take a project they’ve invested in for so long and just give it away. It feels like you’re devaluing your time, declaring that your work isn’t good enough to deserve compensation. But is that really true?

In a market that sees thousands of books published every day, (with a majority of those being questionable in quality), it can be nearly impossible to get readers to take a chance on someone new. In this economy, consumers are appropriately stingy with their money, trusting in names and products they’ve been previously exposed to. By giving your work away for free, you offer them a chance to try something new without financial risk. If they like your work, you’re then on the list of trusted names and will likely see sales on your subsequent titles. But that still means sacrificing one of your projects to something intangible that may not ever turn into monetary reward. Like all gambles, it’s hard to tell if it’s worth it.

  • Plagiarism:

Any time you publish something online, it’s immediately exposed to the possibility of theft. That’s just the nature of the art world. Yes, there is recourse for artists/authors that have been wronged, falling victim to the pirates of plagiarism, but it doesn’t lessen the blow. Which is why you’ll see this fear thrown around in nearly every literary forum. The thing is, the likelihood of plagiarism is a lot slimmer than people think. Yes, it happens, and yes, it sucks. But the majority of people aren’t interested in stealing from you.

If you’re a creative person, then chances are good this isn’t your only project. And as much as it would suck to lose it to plagiarism, it really wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it? You could always go on to write more; create another masterpiece. The thief doesn’t have that luxury. So even though this is a definite negative to posting online, it’s also an inevitable risk that every writer will have to take if they want to become an author. Your book can’t become a bestseller if it never leaves your desk drawer.

As you can see, there are some pretty strong arguments on both sides. And, as with everything in publishing, there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut answer, no matter how much we might wish it to be black and white. The best I can tell is that you should assess each of these points on a project by project basis. In my particular circumstance, with this particular title, posting online makes sense. I was never intending to pursue traditional publishing with this series, so why not start gaining some momentum now by getting my name out there? I’m definitely still scared of taking the leap, but no one ever found success by playing it safe.

What do you think? Do the pros outweigh the cons? How many of you have posted your work online and to what result? I’d love to hear your experiences. 🙂

Marketing via Wattpad & Authonomy– Smart?

If you wander around the online literary community, chances are you’ve heard whispers buzzing about names like Wattpad, Authonomy, Fictionpress and the like. But what are they? If you’re curious, and bored on a regular basis like I am, then you’ve probably already meandered your way over to these sites to investigate. But in case you haven’t, here’s the rundown:

All of these are Manuscript Display Sites, or in less glamorous terms, online slush piles.

The idea is that authors post their work online for free, gaining exposure to droves of readers, as well as peer feedback and critique, and the elusive possibility of being scouted by editors/agents prowling for new talent. Think Facebook for writing. And while there are accounts of authors finding success this way, they’re maybe a handful compared to the thousands of writers flooding these channels. Making the statistics for success about the same as they are via traditional routes.

So why would you want to use these sites when a) you’d be giving away your work for free, and b) you waste your first digital publication rights in the process, making the chances of finding a traditional publisher even less likely? That’s a surprisingly difficult question to find answers to. I was amazed at the lack of search results that really shed any light on the subject. After weeks of wading through pages and pages, I could only find 6 articles that had any real substance. (Links are below, if you’re interested.) So what follows is mostly conjecture– my own impressions of the situation. Feel free to correct me if I’m way off in my interpretation.

Typically, these sites are not recommended if you plan to pursue traditional methods of publication for the exact reason I mentioned above. Posting your work online counts as publication. And it’s difficult enough for a debut author to beat the slush pile without the added pressure of convincing publishers to republish their work. So, despite the attractive tag lines touting the possibility of being randomly selected by agents of the traditional publishing world, it’s really not worth the risk. Besides, there’s not much evidence to support the claims that agents/editors actually do use sites like these to find talent. Most publishing professionals are so inundated with manuscripts coming through traditional veins that I find it highly unlikely they would need to go scouting online for potential clients.

Where these sites do have potential is with self-published authors. Retaining publication rights in pristine condition is less of a concern in the self-publishing world. And in that regard, sites like these offer a tantalizing prospect– instantaneous access to potential readers. Success in publishing relies heavily on exposure, regardless of your mode of publication. And for indie authors, it’s absolutely crucial. You don’t have anyone backing you, helping you with promotion tips and steering you in the right direction. So how do you go about finding readers?

Enter sites like Wattpad and Authonomy. (I wasn’t impressed with Fictionpress, finding it’s layout rather clunky and visually uninteresting, so I’m going to focus on these two instead.)


Things to Know About Wattpad:

  • Better known than Authonomy, claiming to be the largest online reading/writing community complete with mobile app
  • Attracts about 8 million viewers monthly (according to them)
  • Users seem to be primarily teenaged girls, but this is changing as the site’s popularity grows
  • Most popular genres are those targeted at younger audiences
  • No minimum word count to start posting

Things to Know About Authonomy:

  • Founded by HarperCollins Publishing with the supposed premise of finding new authors to publish
  • Has a built-in system for potentially gaining feedback from a HarperCollins editor
  • Generally higher quality work than Wattpad
  • Typically users are slightly older than Wattpad’s with a serious approach to writing as a career
  • Must post at least 10,000 words initially

Both of these sites offer writers that coveted opportunity to get their work before the public, with the best part being that it doesn’t even have to be finished yet. Both sites display work in a serialized fashion where novels are broken into bite-sized chunks, making them more appealing to digital/mobile readers. And because you can upload your work chapter by chapter, you have the unparalleled ability to generate a reader base before your novel is even published. How cool would it be to already have an established fan base by the time your book is finally available for purchase?

True, you are giving your work away for free, which does have potential to cut into your profits, but it’s not like this is a new concept. Offering books for free has been a long-standing tradition in literature, whether it be through libraries, or sharing circles where members pass titles back and forth, or even just within your family. How many times have you borrowed a book from someone? It’s the same idea. Just because you read a book for free doesn’t mean you won’t go on to purchase it if you really liked it, or that you won’t buy the author’s future titles now that you know you’re a fan. This core philosophy is what prompted me to consider the marketing strategy I’m about to explain, which inherently goes against every normal thought process about earning a profit.

Using Wattpad and Authonomy, I’m going to start posting my work-in-progress online in the hopes of generating some interest, getting my name out there and accumulating a fan base. Because Unmoving is the first in a series I have no intention of publishing traditionally, it’s likely I would offer it for free on Amazon anyway, for the same reasons– to generate a reader base and potential sales for the subsequent titles. By using these sites as well, I’ll hopefully be able to reach more readers; readers I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise.

Still need more convincing that I’m not completely insane?

Well, how about this: self-publishing is all about word-of-mouth. Without support from readers, your book will get lost in the digital ether that is Amazon. And indie authors, like indie musicians before them, are realizing that the best way to create this effect is through personal interaction with fans. Accessibility is one of the advantages of sites like Wattpad and Authonomy. They give fans the ability to communicate directly with their favorite authors, giving them a personal stake in the success of the book. Which translates into the exact type of grass-roots recommendations that spread like wildfire– networking at its finest.

Then there’s the potential feedback that could help me grow as a writer. I’ve been lucky to have an invaluable group of fellow writers for critique partners, (and I will continue to give them first run at chapters-in-progress), but that could be magnified tenfold by the sheer number of people that could now offer me their input and become part of my story’s journey. (Notice I’m optimistically ignoring the fact that the majority of feedback I’d receive, if any, would be entirely useless. I said I was crazy, not stupid. But it’s my fantasy. I can picture it however I want to.) It’s a pretty well-known fact that, despite all their claims otherwise, these sites are primarily filled with writers. But writers are also readers, are they not? With the added bonus of understanding the intricacies of writing.

So yes, you probably won’t get the casual readers, the people who only buy whatever’s hot on the shelves at the grocery store, or looking for something to bide their time with in the airport, but chances are good those people would never know about you anyway. And what’s wrong with targeting the hardcore readers? The ones who were labeled bookworms as children because they found reading a better pastime on a summer day than sports? The people who probably also have an inherent wealth of insight into the craft of writing because of that avid appetite for reading? The people who might one day become the very editors you’re looking for? Or at the very least, fellow writers? I don’t plan to discount them lightly. Those are the people who can catapult your success to the point you might actually register on a casual reader’s radar. A reader is a reader, right? Who cares how they found you?

Speaking of discounting, don’t discount the motivational potential that posting online can provide. One of the articles below talks specifically about the idea of “little wins.” And I wholeheartedly agree. Self-motivation is actually a weakness of mine, which is surprising given my background in home-schooling and martial arts. But the truth is, I need a deadline, a purpose, to keep my lazy side from winning over and plunking me squarely in front of the TV with promises that we’ll be productive later. Knowing that people are waiting on me is better than caffeine for my productivity. So the thought that I would have potential readers, even if it’s only my four friends and my mom, waiting for me to post the next bit would be a massive kick-in-the-pants for my inspiration. And is probably one of the main things I find attractive about my reckless experiment in marketing, if I’m being truly honest.

So there you have it, my maybe brilliant, maybe ridiculously stupid plan. Is it wrong to use a project I’ve spent two years of my life on as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of self-publishing? Maybe. Will it backfire? Probably. Am I gonna do it anyway? You bet! Just as soon as I get the cover art done. 😉

Writing itself is about experimentation, so why not take that philosophy to the publishing side as well? If I pick up even one more reader out of the process, it will have been worth it. And maybe, I’ll finally manage to finish my aptly titled novel that seems more than content to languish in its incomplete state. Heck, if that happens, it will definitely have been worth it!

What do you think? Is marketing through Wattpad and Authonomy smart or have I completely lost my marbles?

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