Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Is it a Good Idea to Post Chapters of Your Novel On-Line to Build Your Platform?

As many of you might already know, I teach Social Media for Writers and I am also finishing a book designed to teach writers how to use social media to market and build a platform. I am all about helping writers get content up on the web and teaching you how to use that content to gather a following of readers. The largest component to building a Web presence is that you must post regular content that is informative, entertaining, and ideally, engaging. At this past conference, the question I got more than almost any other was, “Is it a good idea to post my writing on-line?”

My answer was, “Depends on what you’re posting. Most everything yes, in limited quantity. Chapters of a novel? No. No. Definitely…um, no.”

Yesterday, I ran across a blog post from Jane Friedman, a prominent member of the publishing community. “Stop being afraid to post your work on-line!” she claims. Ms. Friedman’s blog was excellent and made some really informative points, but I think there were a number of caveats that should have been included, which we will discuss.

Ms. Freidman cited all kinds of successes, blog-to-book deals and self-published books that landed contracts and success, but not one of them was a novel. She also cited the popularity of cell phone novels in Japan, but here I feel we have three large problems 1) totally different medium (text messaging) 2) likely a different format than a traditional novel and 3) could possibly be a Japanese idiosyncrasy.

I agree with Ms. Friedman that posting your work on-line is helpful for certain kinds of writing and it certainly worked for “Stuff White People Like” and “Julia & Julia”, but what about novels?

Well, fiction does tend to always be the sticky wicket where the rules don’t apply the same way. Ms. Friedman kept using the generic terms work and manuscript, but the successes she cited were all non-fiction, How-To, observational humor, etc . . . but, again, no novels (Japanese text novels being the strange exception).

Ms. Friedman’s blog is fantastic, and has great advice for all kinds of writers. Non-fiction and humor lend themselves to making good blogs and building an Internet following. But, for novels, many of the benefits of posting pieces of your book break down, and I’ll explain why.

Test marketing. Ms. Friedman asserts that posting your work on-line is a great way to test market.

Fair enough. But before you get too excited, there are certain inherent problems with doing any kind of accurate test marketing for fiction.

First and foremost, are you certain that you are getting an accurate statistical sampling when you post chapters of your book on your blog? Most of us cannot accomplish this.

In my experience, the majority of new writers do not have a statistically large following on their blog or even on social media.

Because chapters of a novel are a piece of a larger whole, they are extremely difficult to gain the following and fan base like “Fail Nation—A Visual Romp Through the World of Epic Fails.” In fact, “Stuff White People Like” had a Facebook following in the tens of thousands so it was easy to glean that it was popular and well-received. But chapters from an unknown, unpublished author? Tougher to duplicate these kind of numbers. Way tougher.

Thus, any posted comments about your chapters are a hard way to gain any genuine insight because of this huge problem of numbers (or lack thereof). The smaller the group sampled, the less accurate the Bell Curve. Ten or even twenty people who take time to comment, positively or negatively is in no way an accurate litmus test as to how well your story is being received.

Additionally, the individuals who are most likely to follow or comment on the writer’s work are generally a member of that writer’s peer group—friends, family, fellow writers. Thus, it seems to me that this is the digital equivalent of telling an agent, “All my friends and family just love my book!”

Can you test market fiction by posting on-line? Sure. Anything is possible. But I think it is a lot tougher to do than it seems, and requires a very large and diverse following to get an accurate idea of how good your novel really is. Not to mention that a writer’s work could look perfect and lovely when viewed in small snippets, but the novel as a whole, could be a disaster. I think there are better uses of a new writer’s time and better content to use for platform-building than sections of a novel.

Getting feedback on your work. Ms. Freidman is definitely correct on this point. Feedback makes us better writers. But again, I think this is one of those ideas that are way better in theory than in practice.

Sort of like, in theory I want my husband to tell me if I am gaining weight, but in practice?

The plain truth is that we have feelings and we all care deeply about our writing.

My issue with posting on-line is that it is a tough way to get accurate feedback for a number of reasons. When you get critique in your writing group, you know whose opinion is valuable and whose isn’t. When an agent critiques your work, you know that is a valid critique whether you agree with it or not. But when you open yourself up to the worldwide web, who knows if that person commenting knows a protagonist from a potato?

Additionally (this ties in to my earlier point), if you have a network comprised of mainly friends, colleagues and family (which most people do), do you really believe they are going to be brutally honest and comment publicly that your writing was awful? They won’t, because they aren’t jerks. They are your friends and do not want to hurt your feelings.

It is one thing to ask for our brutal feedback in person, discussed over a table in a local library during critique group. It is a whole other ball of wax entirely when you want us to post that same feedback on the Internet publicly and in writing. Most of us just aren’t going to do that to another writer, even when it comes to mild critique. If the writing isn’t that great, most of us just won’t say anything. And is that helpful to the writer for the purposes of feedback? Probably not.

But what about those who don’t care about your feelings, who aren’t personally vested in you?

Before you post anything, ask yourself one important question. Can I take someone eviscerating my work in a very public forum? Anonymity does weird things to people. Most of the time readers will be nice and kind and helpful, but sometimes they can be just plain horrible. If they tear apart a blog, that is one thing. That’s 500-1000 words. But with your novel? All it takes are a couple of negative remarks to crater your self-confidence and send even the best of us scurrying back to our laptops to rewrite our entire plot (and there might not be anything wrong).

I remember a couple years ago I posted a humorous piece for public critique on my MySpace blog. I must have had 20 people who told me is was awesome and hysterical. But I had one huge jerk who posted a really hurtful mean comment, and I am still not over it to this day. I never felt the same joy about that article, and all it took was one person’s nastiness to crush it. Was my response logical? No. But it was common. Humans are emotional creatures, and when you look up “Emotional Creature” in the encyclopedia, I think it says, “See Writers.”

Even published authors have a tough time when someone posts a nasty comment about their work in a public forum. But there is a difference. They have a published book, professional validation, and sales figures to ease their pain. The rest of us can just end up feeling like we are trapped in Hell’s Dunking Booth.

My professional opinion is that for all other kinds of writing, go read Jane Friedman’s blog. The link is posted at the end. But for those who desire to be successful, published novelists, chapters of your novel are not the best choice for content on your blog or your web page. I recommend my blog from two weeks ago, “Where are All the Readers?—Social Media & the Writer’s Revolution” for some ideas of what makes good content (instead of chapters of your novel).

Happy writing! Until next time…

By the way! If you loved this blog and just want MORE? My book, “We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media” is now available. Buy one today and take charge of your writing career! My book is designed specifically for writers. I want to change your habits, not your personality. Harness that same creative energy used for writing and use it to build your platform.

Jane Friedman’s blog
http://writerunboxed.com/
(specifically) http://writerunboxed.com/2010/04/23/stop-being-afraid-of-posting-your-work-online/

To learn how more about the publishing business, I highly, highly recommend Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer book and workshops (now on-line, so no excuses). Sign up today at www.bobmayer.org.

33 thoughts on “Is it a Good Idea to Post Chapters of Your Novel On-Line to Build Your Platform?”

  1. ClaireClaire

    Fantastic post, Kristen! I have wondered about this issue myself. It blows my mind when people post samples of their novels online. It’s just never struck me as a particularly sound idea, but I can definitely see why people would do so.

    Also, I’m definitely going to check out that post you recommended from a couple of weeks ago. It looks very helpful! 🙂

  2. Bill WolfeBill Wolfe

    This was a really timely post, as I’ve been considering content on my blog, beyond book reviews and random writer-ly musings.

    I wonder if you might indulge a question I have, then.

    I have some (okay, a few, but a ton of them are in my head still) short stories / fables that are part of the fictional world I am building in my novel; however, I don’t think their entirety will actually make it into the novel(s) themselves – more like references by characters familiar with the story.

    Would it be okay, do you think, to post those sorts of things, as a sort of mild introduction to the fictional world and/or my writing style? Or do I set those things aside as a potential for a future publishing project once novel(s) are published and popular, etc.?

  3. janefriedmanjanefriedman

    All points well-taken. I should’ve taken some take to point out or investigate novelists who made the jump.

    There are plenty of self-published novelists who’ve been successful, both in the “old” world (e.g., ERAGON), as well as the “new” world, e.g., the author that JA Konrath recently mentioned, who has self-published her work on the Kindle:

    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/04/interview-with-karen-mcquestion.html

    Of course, this isn’t the same as just posting chapters online.

    Two examples of people who made their work available for free online — in serialized AUDIO form — are Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood. They found a medium that worked for them. Would they have experienced the same success if they’d distributed online in text form? Hard to say.

    Whatever a fiction writer does with their work (online or off), there needs to be a strategy behind the presentation/distribution, unless it’s strictly for critique/feedback purposes. Seth and Scott had a strategy, and it paid off (they were offered traditional publishing deals).

  4. Frances HunterFrances Hunter

    Great post! It is also worth noting that fiction does not rank very well in search engines, because it does not contain the kind of keywords that cause it to be picked up. In other words, people who might love your work cannot find it to comment, give you feedback, or become your audience. The posts we have done on our blog that are book excerpts are among the lowest ranked posts we have ever done, because no one can find them.

    Wish someone would come up with a Pandora-type tool to help connect readers with new fiction!

  5. BubbleCowBubbleCow

    I often wonder where writer stand on the issue of copyright. If you were to publish your whole novel does it not then become common property and have some impact on copyright ownership?

  6. Marisa BirnsMarisa Birns

    This was one of the best and user-friendly posts on the subject!

    I don’t have a blog with non-fiction content, just one where I post weekly short stories. One of the problems I’ve come across is that the few times I’ve tried to submit them somewhere, I was told they are considered “previously published.”

    Will go to check out post you recommended.

    Thank you for this enlightening one!

  7. sapphicscribesapphicscribe

    Once again, a great post with useful info! I am currently using a password protected site to have a few chapters of my work reviewed by other writers (http://www.youwriteon.com) and it has it’s advantages, but as you say, if I had taken any of what SOME people wrote personally, I would never type another sentence! Saffy. x

    Reply
    September 14, 2010
  8. selimaandthemerfolkselimaandthemerfolk

    I don’t usually read posts this long, all the way through, but I’ve been thinking about do that very same thing. Thanks for the advice. Great post.

  9. literarylovinglittleladyliterarylovinglittlelady

    I am working on a novel right now. Currently doing a complete overhaul because the first draft was not what I wanted. I am happy with the prologue, and had planned to post it on my new blog. However, i do plan to publish this book eventually… Would it be okay to just post the prologue? I don’t have many followers on my blog, it is new.

  10. Erica CookErica Cook

    I guess maybe I feel a bit different about negative criticism because I was told no one would ever want to read my work because I have a learning disability. I sent my book to a person for review and they said they wouldn’t because I wouldn’t like the review. I asked what was wrong with it so I could work on it and a lot of what she said was true. My mom and I basically did a line by line cleaning it up, but one point she made left me staring at her words in horror. A part of the premise of my book is that aliens, who have been experimenting on humans, need people to go with them to start a new society. She asked why they didn’t just kidnap 500 people and my thought was, “because they aren’t monsters.” Now yes, they were testing humans without consent, but it was out of desperation. My work wasn’t for her. So be it. Given I grew up being told no one would ever read the work of a retard, I can take a few people saying they don’t like my work.

  11. chrysalischrysalis

    I disagree. I’ve been a member of the Web fiction community on Webfictionguide since 2014 and have seen many, MANY of my fellow web fiction writers serialize successfully. Wildbow’s serialized novel, Worm, earns him a couple thousand a month from Patreon alone. https://www.patreon.com/Wildbow?ty=h

    Personally, I sold 500 books the first month after release thanks to my web fiction following.

    There are several others who make a few hundred a month, and again others who launched ebook versions of their serialized novels and earned more than most trad published debut novelists do. Some examples:

    https://www.amazon.com/Opening-Moves-Gam3-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01DFCNAPG (was originally posted on Royal Road Legends)

    https://www.amazon.com/MageLife-Tale-Punch-Clock-Magelife-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00SPA212W (was originally linked on Webfictionguide)

    https://www.amazon.com/End-Online-2nd-D-Wolfin-ebook/dp/B00RJHKH82 (again, Webfictionguide and other places)

    I could link many more.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      This is a very old post and reflective of a vastly different world. My professional option has evolved in almost seven years ?

      • chrysalischrysalis

        Oh, I didn’t see how old it was! Sorry about that. I saw it linked on Reddit as an assessment of today’s world, which is why I decided to comment. 🙂

        • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

          LOL. It’s fine. I love getting updated information and it is great to meet you!

  12. conewellsconewells

    Hi Kristen. Great article. A breeze to read through. I’ll just leave a page instead of a chapter. (I notice the dates are 2010)
    BTW: I LOVE your Valkerie hat.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Well, thanks for leaving a comment anyway. A lot of my opinions have evolved as the paradigm has altered. I hope you will check out the more current posts and fantastic to meet you! And thanks. Who knew an $8 Viking helmet could bring so much joy? LOL

  13. Britney HicksBritney Hicks

    Would it be a bad idea to put a chapter of a book you’re writing online if you don’t have a blog or any other kind of social media? I mean like an online writing community where no one actually knows you. I’m fairly new at this, and I’m curious to know if I’m any good. No one I talk with is interested in critiquing my work until I’m finished and I don’t want to waste time writing if I’m not any good at it.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      You could do that over at WANATribe. It’s all writers. But I have two recommendations. First if you are new you likely aren’t any good but that in no way means you don’t have what it takes to BE good. I wasn’t any good when I began either. It takes a lot of training, reading craft books, reading fiction, practice, failing and more practice to get good which is why most people who want to be writers never fully get there. This IS hard even if the world believes it is easy.

      The danger in posting on-line is that you take the risk on what feedback you are getting. There are a lot of folks just as new as you are and their feedback might be misleading. This is my vexation with writing critique groups. I have been at a table where eight other writers (unpublished) told the writer reading that their dream sequences and flashbacks were lovely and when I said, “Um, no you need to cut that stuff it’s weak writing” I was outvoted.

      Thus I would try to find a professional you respect to look at pages. Invest a little money in a professional critique. This way you are getting honest feedback and someone with a higher skill level then can guide you where you are weak and also point out where you are strong. This way you will improve far faster.

      The writer who gets their first novel perfect is a unicorn. Most of us are not unicorns and we need help.

      • Britney HicksBritney Hicks

        Thanks. I mean that I’m new at trying to go somewhere with a book. I’ve been writing since I was nine or ten and I just turned nineteen. I don’t think I’m terible, just not sure if I’m good enough for people to like my writing. The feedback is what I’m hoping for, good or bad. I’m sure someone will at least give me a bad review so I know what I need to fix. And the good ones, right or not, might make it easier to continue. I’ve started several different stories, but I haven’t finished any because I don’t have anyone to critique it. That’s the only reason I’m sure if I’m any good, and why I wanted to post it online somewhere. Again thanks for the recommendations, and taking time to reply to me. I really appreciate it.

  14. MichelleMichelle

    I was thinking about creating a blog specifically for writing short stories or a series. I would also be working on a novel on the side with intent of publishing later. What do you think about this?

  15. sarahcedgesarahcedge

    A simple truth has conveniently been excluded.

    “Do you care whether or not your work gets published? Because if you don’t, publish chapter by chapter away! Publish anything!”

    This blog posts fails to address the very slim chances (and they are slim) new authors have of getting published. The question was “is it a good idea to post chapters of your novel online to build a following?” That’s all. I don’t see how anyone would need to avoid doing this if they just want their work read and not necessarily published as the end goal.

    Some writers just want to put their work out there to be read because there isn’t much in a way of another medium to do so. And that’s the end goal. To have readers, whether that’s 10 readers of 10,000 readers.

    Publishing online is a great way to do that. I would strongly encourage writers who don’t mind if they are published or not to publish like crazy online. You don’t need to hide your work. You shouldn’t hide your work in hopes of gaining a publishing deal. That’s just silly.

    Your audience is already here and wants to see your work.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      In fairness, this post is quite old and reflects what was standard in that paradigm. The only reason I might caution writers publishing fiction on-line today is that 1. It will do TERRIBLE with search engines and 2. Trolls abound. If you are a new writer, bring the rhino skin.

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