Publishing fiction in the 21st century

The future’s online. The busi­ness of author­ship is cur­rent­ly in flux between the old and new mod­els. How can authors of fic­tion pub­lish their work and gain an audi­ence today, in the ear­ly 21st cen­tu­ry?

The gist of the mat­ter is described in “Online Pub­lish­ing and Elec­tron­ic Libraries” by Petri Wess­man. (Abstract: “The emer­gence of the Inter­net (and oth­er large-area net­works) as a new pub­lish­ing medi­um has opened up more than one can of worms with regards to tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing. Since any­one who has access to the net­work can “pub­lish” a doc­u­ment (which is not lim­it­ed to text) at vir­tu­al­ly no cost, the con­cept of “pub­lish­ing” must be exam­ined in a new light — as must the con­cepts “copy­right” and “library”, among many oth­ers. This doc­u­ment exam­ines the history of online and elec­tron­ic pub­lish­ing, some of the issues involved and pos­si­ble future trends.”)


Web publishing technology


Web sites are more impor­tant than [hard­copy] books. Web pub­lish­ing tech­nol­o­gy is con­stant­ly chang­ing but the essen­tials remain: how to build a read­able site, man­age con­tent, get read­ers, and make it prof­itable. Right now that last factor is usu­al­ly though ad rev­enue, but sales of phys­i­cal prod­uct (or mem­ber­ships) are oth­er options. The clas­sic, Web 1.0 tome of build­ing data­base-backed Web sites is by Philip Green­spun, who’d brought us”>, one of the first “com­mu­ni­ty” sites on the net, and one of the best of its time. As of Feb­ru­ary 2009, his book on Web pub­lish­ing, Philip and Alex’s Guide to Web Pub­lish­ing, can be bought [amazonify]1558605347::text::::for about 16 cents with a one-click purchase[/amazonify].

Kindle Editions


Ama­zon’s portable hand­held [amazonify]B00154JDAI::text::::Kindle[/amazonify] gives you free cel­lu­lar Inter­net access, no mat­ter where you go. For that alone, the new [amazonify]B00154JDAI::text::::Kindle 2[/amazonify] is a steal. Free Web brows­ing from any­where. It’s small. Plus you can read all man­ner of mag­a­zines and books on it, pub­lished in spe­cial, low­er-priced Kin­dle Edi­tions. Will that be a viable way for authors to have their short stories (and nov­els) pub­lished? Stephen King did well (five-fig­ure down­loads in three weeks). Are there pub­lish­ers doing this now?

Reader-supported online serialization

I’ve thought about this method for a long time. You post the begin­ning of a work and accept dona­tions from read­ers to con­tin­ue pub­lish­ing the work, por­tion by por­tion until done. If it’s a draft you can then get it edit­ed and print­ed some­how and send all donors a copy of the book.

Sci-fi author Watt Evans has been doing it with suc­cess: third effort, cir­ca Nov 2008.



Wil Wheaton tried both POD and a tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­er, and now in 2009 he’s ton/”>happily back with POD.


POD and epub­lish­ing (PDF files as “PDF books”) can be prof­itable. Inter­view with sci-fi author Rudy Ruck­er, dat­ed Feb 19th, 2009, on the top­ic of self-pub­lish­ing PDF and POD. While all POD out­fits use Light­ning Source (owned by the Ingram Book Group) for mak­ing hard­copy, there’s a big dif­fer­ence between Lulu, iUni­verse, and the oth­ers. Ruck­er’s impres­sions, cir­ca ear­ly 2008 (he prefers Lulu, but there are oth­er options).

POD has cer­tain­ly worked for non-fic­tion. 37signals have made hun­dreds of thou­sands at this.

(Repack­ag­ing plays a big part in the rev­enue for­mu­la, e.g. blogs with ads or con­fer­ences, as well as for reprints of old or clas­sic works)

Open source books

All Sys­tems Go: The New­ly Emerg­ing Infra­struc­ture to Sup­port Free Books” by Ben Crowe

Case for Free Books

Free is more com­pli­cat­ed than you think”: Tim O’Reil­ly on Scott Adams on mak­ing Dil­bert free

Online advertising

If you can get traf­fic to your online fic­tion, then online adver­tis­ing is a poten­tial mod­el. With a pop­u­lar site, an author can become part of a web-adver­tis­ing net­work such as Fed­er­at­ed Media. But you have to get traf­fic, and right now it only seems to be a proven method for writ­ers of non-fic­tion. (Is there any­one online, post­ing fic­tion and get­ting sig­nif­i­cant traf­fic?)

For further reading

[amazonify]0975509527[/amazonify] [amazonify]0978655109[/amazonify] [amazonify]1432701967[/amazonify] [amazonify]093849743X[/amazonify]
[amazonify]1570031444[/amazonify] [amazonify]1558605347[/amazonify] [amazonify]B00154JDAI[/amazonify]

First published on February 17th, 2009 at 4:04 pm (EST) and last modified on March 8th, 2009 at 6:19 pm (EST).

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