Welcome to The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Web Fiction, an extensive article on getting more readers and traffic to your web fiction story or web serial. Originally posted by myself and Unice5656 on the Web Fiction Guide Forum, this guide has since been broken up into four separate mini guides. They have once more been combined like some sort of Mega-Voltron for your convenience.
In this guide we will be going over:
Below is the total sum of my experiences promoting my serial (as well as ten years promoting other types of creative works on the internet). I want to make sure that the community has the best tools that it can get to better spread and build the web fiction reader base. This is my attempt to help equip the community with those tools.
This is no easy button. There will be no “one place to post once” that will magiacally make you famous. If you want results, you have to do the work, and be prepared to wait for the results. With that said, if you are tenacious, and work hard, this guide will be your friend.
Before I begin I just want to drive the point home that no amount of promotion will help a poor story. Before you employ any of this you should be posting consistently and often (preferably on a schedule). Further, it is important to have tools in place to capture your readers (like a mailing list) or the traffic that you worked so hard to generate won’t come back.
The best way to gain an audience is to go where they already gather. This will be a constant theme in this series. The main principle in outreach is this: you want to foster relationships with others in your niche (preferably those with a wider audience) and get your material on their platforms. This works best in the blogging community, but there are ways to do it effectively in web fiction.
Keep an eye out on other people’s sites for guest posting opportunities. Writing and updating consistently for a long time can be a strain, and every author could use a break from time to time. If no one is offering up a guest slot, approach them with an email and ask for one, but only do so after you have built some kind of rapport. I would not go to the heavy hitters right off the bat. If you just started posting yesterday it is very unlikely that say, Wildbow will take you seriously. Start with the smaller guys and work your way up.
It is also important that you keep niche and genre in mind when you guest post. Just because Wildbow gets a lot of hits does not mean that his audience is a good fit for you. If you write about sailors singing sea shanty rap battles, it is far better that you find someone with a tenth of Wildbow’s audience that writes the same thing as you. Those readers are far more likely to stay.
The best part of guest-posts is that it gives you credibility to readers on that site. Instead of shouting self-promotion into the void you are on a site that they already trust and are vouched for just by being allowed by their favorite author to post there.
A guest-post can take many forms. It can be a non-canonical chapter in another author’s story, it can be a short story in a common genre, or it can even be humorous and prank like. Once a year The Web Fiction Guide does an April Fool’s Serial swap where authors write an April Fool’s post for other author’s serials. This is not just a good way to bring in new readers, it is also an opportunity to meet and collaborate with writers. That rapport that you want to build that I was speaking of earlier? This is a good way to do that.
Make sure you put a short blurb about your own work and a link to your serial at the end of EVERY guest-post that you do, or else this will all be for naught.
Allowing guest posts on your site:
If you are feeling the stress or life gets in the way, reach out to your fellow serial writers and offer them to guest post on your own site. It is very likely that they are going to tell their own audience that they have posted on your site and it is a good way to keep material in front of your reader’s eyes when you do not have anything to post yourself (hence keeping your promise to your readers and keeping momentum).
Outreach does not have to be directly related to web fiction either. Your readers have more than one interest. I will occasionally write nonfiction blog posts for philosophy blogs (philosophy is a strong theme and interest in my serial) and this too has helped me bring in some readers. Further, places like Cracked.com are constantly looking for writers to create articles for them. Just make sure that you write something that your ideal audience will be interested in. If you write a fantasy, a list article on Cracked about the history of D&D is a good start. But if you write a sci-fi there may be little crossover in an article about the history of cheese (unless it’s a cheese-based sci-fi).
Outreach with forums is simple but time-consuming: find the forums that your audience gathers on and be a part of that community. That last part is as important as the first. The last thing you want to do on a forum is self-promote and expect results. You have to give more than you take. Answer people’s question, discuss your passions genuinely and be there for a while before you start dropping links. Most forums will allow you some sort of signature tag and you can put a link there to start.
No one likes the guy who steps into a forum, asks everyone to solve their problems, and then complains about something. HELP people, give them a reason to trust you and they will return the favor in kind.
If you are a lurker, and always have been, don’t feel like you HAVE to join the discussion just for outreach. Forum posting is something that you should do only if you like doing it.
The Bottom Line:
Outreach works because it is a form of promotion that is not gratuitous. Readers tend to perceive self-promotion as annoying, sometimes narcissistic, and vapid. By building relationships and putting your material on other people’s platforms, however, you can circumvent this very awkward form of marketing. This will be a long road, and you have to be tenacious in following it, but the results will stack.
Reddit is a great place to generate traffic to your site, however, Reddit abhors self-promotion. Thus, there are few places that you can actually post to that will be aligned with your serial that has any weight or worth. There are places like https://www.reddit.com/r/shamelessplug/ that you can post to without worrying about backlash, but it is unlikely to get you any kind of momentum. Below is a few subreddits that you can post to and a few thoughts about how to post there successfully.
r/writing is a community of writers who post about the craft in general. Self-promotion is only allowed on a specific forum thread (listed as “[Check In] Off-Topic Discussion and Self-Promotion”) and it is replaced and renewed once a week. This is a good place to post links to your serial, but don’t expect more than 6 or seven views from it per day, even if you are upvoted to the top. Instead, the best way to post on r/writing for promoting is by answering people’s questions on the main subreddit forum. Keep an eye out for topics that are about your genre, or specific tropes (or clichés) that you employ. Make sure that you add a link to your serial as an example to their questions, but only after you craft a thoughtful answer with value.
Keep in mind that though you can generate traffic from here that you will be doing so from other writers. Though writers are readers they may not be the best people for your audience as writers tend to care about things in the craft (tropes, story structure, prose) that readers don’t.
This is a horror story subreddit where “stories are true, even if they are not”. It is also one of the most trafficked and popular fiction subreddits on Reddit. Getting the number one spot in this forum can mean THOUSANDS of views on your page, but it is only worth posting there if you genuinely enjoy writing in the horror genre and if it is aligned to your story. So if you scare easily and your serial is a superhero story I would not post here, It is VERY unlikely that you will retain the people who come to your site from there, and it is more likely that you will see a spike in traffic only to see it fall back off to where it was the previous day. If, however, your serial is a horror story or very dark in nature THIS IS YOUR PLACE!
Before you write on /nosleep you should know its specific rules. All stories are supposed to be told in the first person and by someone experiencing something creepy. You must also never comment “out of character” in your post and the link to your serial must be discrete. Stories must be at least 500 words long and at least 1000 words long if you plan on doing multiple parts. Further, if someone can look out their window to disprove your story it will get deleted. /nosleep enforces their rules with an iron fist. I would read the most popular stories for a week or so to get an idea and feel for what the audiences like and do not like before posting.
I have also had some YouTube narrators approach me to narrate my stories that have done well on the subreddit (you can find some of those in the “fan stuff” section of my site). I did see an additional boost of traffic from one, but the conversion to reader was small. These narrations can be shared as promotional material on your social media profiles, however, as video tends to do better than text.
Like r/nosleep but for sci-fi, not as popular but FAR more aligned for sci-fi authors! The audience still assumes that all stories are “true”, but the restrictions are more flexible.
Stories must be science-fiction; this includes: hard SF, soft SF, 4-, cyberpunk, time travel, space opera, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, dystopian and others under the sci-fi umbrella. Stories must also be 1000 words or less. Links to your site must not be in the body of the post, however, but can be added as a comment.
This is most aligned for erotica, and possibly good for certain romance stories. The community does not seem to be thriving, however.
A good place to post and cross-post your stuff from the other subreddits. Stories must be at least 1000 words, a link to your site is allowed in the post, and any genre is allowed (except for erotica).
As of right now, the community here is not very large and most people posting are writers (and not readers). This might change in the future but I have not seen more than a couple views trickle in from here.
DeviantArt took a giant hit once Instagram became popular. This is not to say that the social media page is not still thriving, but as 90% of its users are all artists starving for attention, it was only natural that most of them left to where their audience was gathering. With that said, the writing community is even smaller and EVEN MORE STARVING. It is, however, an INCREDIBLY passionate community. This is where you will find most of the poets online and short story writers. Make sure that whatever you post has a link to your site, but do not expect great results. I have tried to post “previews” of my chapters here with a link to the full thing at the end, and though I have attracted a couple of very vocal and active readers to my site, it was not worth my time to put in the energy to really build an audience there. I would not suggest using DeviantArt if you do not already have an account there, and I would not expect those who follow you to go off-site. With that said, if you are going to try it aim for a “Daily Deviation”. This is a daily feature of artists that administrators hand pick and it is the most prized feature on the site. You can suggest your writing pieces to the following moderators:
Tumblr is generally not a good platform for your actual chapters but can be good for quotes, poetry, or memes related to your genre. I have not seen somebody use this space to effectively promote their writing pieces AS POSTS, but I have seen it used (and have used it) to generate traffic indirectly. If you are going to use Tumblr use it like Pinterest with blogger outreach in mind. Do not promote directly here, instead post memes, comics, and “shitposts” (I actively hate this term) that your audience would enjoy and then mix it in with a few pieces of your work. It is best if you can find an already popular group Tumblr to suggest your stuff to. As an example: I created samples of my “Nihilist’s Horoscope” (my reader magnet) in a graphic format and then joined a Tumblr blog that posts philosophy-based memes and shitposts as a contributor. I would post my graphics on my Tumblr first, then reblog them in the group Tumblr. This audience could not be more aligned with my work and I saw a sharp uptick in follows on my Tumblr and a sharp uptick in readers on my site. The best part was that because they were so aligned they were reading through my serial more than dropping off. (Note: these graphics linked DIRECTLY to my mailing list opt-in with an offer for my reader magnet, I do not think it would be half as effective if I did not have a way to capture them).
If you can’t find a group Tumblr that fits your needs, you can also “suggest” posts to more popular blogs. Don’t be afraid to do this but you might want to be a part of that blog’s audience for a time before doing so as it will be perceived as spam.
Facebook is “the must place” that most people advise that you go to if you want to be serious about promoting your work. The reality? Skip it if you hate it. Facebook is AWESOME if you can afford to advertise on it, but not so much for organic reach (more on advertising there in a later article). No one likes self-promotion, not even your friends, and if you post your stuff on your normal profile you are going to get a very apathetic return. Instead, you can create a page and gather followers, but Facebook will only put your posts in front of a very small percentage of your followers unless you pay them to “boost it”, which means that you have to have a ridiculously high number of followers to see any kind of organic return. Joining groups and trying outreach there might be your best bet, but the groups for serials are small. Only put the time and energy into Facebook if it is intuitive to you and if you LOVE it. Otherwise: pass.
This is the second “must have” that people insist you have. I have never used it, and I have only ever seen extroverts who genuinely love the platform use it effectively. Mathtans of Time and Tied had this to say about it:
The main thing with this aspect of social media is being SOCIAL. People won’t follow you for what you do, but rather who you are/why you do it. Don’t keep the default as your avatar (you’ll be considered a bot), don’t use auto responders (Direct Messaging people about checking out your stories when they follow is a sure way to be unfollowed), and don’t over-promote yourself. Stick to a 10:1 ratio at best, meaning for every 10 non-promotional tweets you send, allow yourself a promo. Related, don’t string all your promo tweets back to back. What are the other things you’re tweeting then? Simple, RT (ReTweets) of the work of others, responding to questions, or just humanizing yourself by talking about the chapter you’re working on or your writing struggles.
Pinterest is possibly the best place to post if you have an outreach strategy. The half-life of pins is much greater than that of anything else in social media, and it is one of the few places that doubles as a search engine. Pinterest, however, is a long game. If you are going to use it for your web fiction you have to be creating useful and beautiful pins that solve your audiences’ problems. A great and free resource on how to do exactly that can be found here.
Pinterest should be used side-by-side with a blogging strategy. Write articles with beautiful pins attached to them that solves your reader’s problems in a related niche to your story. The most obvious topic that a writer can blog about is writing, but this can differ by genre. As an example: a fantasy writer might find success in writing blog posts about D&D Campaigns. Ask yourself what problems your readers face and make sure that you are the go-to authority to solve those problems. This will take time. You can read more about this outreach strategy in a previous post.
The Bottom Line:
Social Media can be a powerful tool in your promotion arsenal. It is not the end all be all, however. Most promotional guides like to throw in advice like “make a viral video and post it on Facebook!” as if it was that easy. If you are going to spend time on a social media platform, spend time on the ones that you like, and remember that simply self-promoting will give you very little traction.
TV Tropes is an open wiki dedicated to listing every single trope in every instance of media ever. As such, it is a good place to have a page dedicated to your creative works. This you might want to have grow organically, but there is nothing wrong with dropping your serial in for an example of a trope. Make a list of the tropes that you employ (purposefully or accidentally) and then go to those trope’s pages. For example: if you have a damsel in distress (because you are presumably a time traveler from the nineteenth century) you can list an example of your character on this page and then leave a link to your site.
TV Tropes generates a constant trickle of traffic to my site, with twenty being the most I have seen in a single day. I have never created a page for my works, however, that came organically and was done by fans.
You can submit your serial’s page to https://www.getfreeebooks.com/submit-your-ebooks/ This has only given me a few views every once in a while.
Tuesday Serial is a site dedicated to growing visibility to online serial writers. It allows you to submit a link to a chapter once a week and can be a decent resource in your arsenal. This site is designed to work best with twitter (of which I do not use) but it can be good exposure for new serials as they do take the time to highlight newcomers. The site opens their submissions for links to chapters every Tuesday, which can be found here: http://tuesdayserial.com/collector/ They also accept guest posts!
The Top Web Fiction is a sister site to The Web Fiction Guide and lists serials by popularity according to reader votes. You can join the list by submitting your web fiction to the Web Fiction Guide. Adding a voting link with a “Call to Action” at the end of each of your chapters can help you climb the list, however, I have had more consistent success by asking my mailing list subscribers to vote in my newsletters. Once a week (when I update) I add a CTA (Call to Action) for a vote at the end of my newsletter. Those that do not vote in the newsletter already have it in mind when they go to read my new chapter and are way more likely to vote with the chapter’s CTA having seen it once already. This kept me on the list for almost a year, landing between #45 and #20 easily. Just being on the list brings in people daily for me.
Web Fiction Guide Reviews:
Being on the front page of The Web Fiction Guide is good, and you can achieve that by either having your serial reviewed or by reviewing others. Keep in mind though: reviews are for the readers. Though a review swap can be a good promotional tactic, it does the reader a disservice if you are only doing it for the sake of promotion. Write compelling and thorough reviews that are fair and have something to say. Keep the readers in mind and write it for the sake of reviewing something first. The exposure it brings is just an added benefit. (Also: I have never seen a giant flux of traffic, just a trickle, so don’t think that the exposure is worth doing it just for promotional reasons). There is a whole discussion of reviews here.
By far my most prized and useful tool in promotion has been the audience that I have already captured and turned into fans. Energizing and fostering my fans is by far the most effective thing I have found to do. All of the traffic generating would also be for naught if I did not have a way to keep them coming back. What use is a 10,000-view spike in a day if it bottoms back out to just ten the next? Get your reader’s email addresses, it is a direct line of communication to them that you cannot get on any social media.
Building a mailing list is simpler than you think, and it is something that the self-publishing community has been doing and championing for years. Set up an account with a service like MailChimp (the first 1000 subscribers or so is free) or Converter Kit (a service created by and for authors) and create an opt-in form for your readers to join your mailing list (there is a link to a tutorial on that at the bottom). Then, and this is important, offer and deliver something of high value upon sign up (your reader magnet). This can be a short story, a book you wrote, or even a highly detailed world map of your setting. The better and the more tempting the offer the more likely your readers are to sign up.
I did not have anything off of the bat when I started my serial to offer. So, I offered a weekly “Nihilist’s Horoscope” that only subscribers could see. Once some time had passed I was able to offer ALL of the horoscopes compiled into a book. Sign-ups nearly tripled with the better offer.
Now, each time you update have a link in your newsletter to your chapter, which ensures that it will be read by your audience. Further, you can then leave a link to your Facebook page, guest-post, or voting page on The Top Web Fiction. It also allows you to build a rapport and relationship with your audience that is incredibly valuable. You can turn a reader into a FAN, and a fan will proselytize their friends for you. Learn how to build one here.
However you generate traffic to your story, be it through outreach, social media, or the methods outlined above, it is important that you keep it, and the best way I have found to do that is through a mailing list.
Royal Road Legends:
This section of the guide (literally half of this article) was guest written by Unice5656, author of Fantasia.
Why I’m somewhat qualified to write this
I write Fantasia, an ongoing webserial that has managed to more or less stay in the top 10 Best Rated for almost five years (sometimes it sinks to #11 or 12 but it usually goes back up). In this time period, it has amassed approximately 3500 registered followers and 904 ratings. I also have a completed novella hanging around #35 on the Best Rated list and a secondary project that hasn’t been updated in months hanging around #50 (it was around 35 back when it was actively updating). I was also a moderator on the site for two years and in that time read a lot of the submissions as well as all the forum chatter posted during my tenure.
So you’ve started writing and think your story is as cool as an Emperor penguin in Antarctica. Now what?
Basically, there are two steps to this. One is attracting readers to find your story, the second is getting them to read it and click Follow. This guide will mostly focus on step one, with a few tips for step two.
How readers find new stories on RRL
There are two main ways people look for new stories on RRL
- Browsing the lists generated by the site (By far the most popular)
- Best Rated: This list uses a fancy algorithm to determine the highest rated stories on the site. More high ratings gets you higher on the list.
- Active-only ranking: This is the same algorithm as the best rated list but only includes stories updated in the last 30 days. To stay on it, update at least once every 30 days.
- Complete: This is the same algorithm as the best rated list but only includes stories that are marked complete. At this point in time, you have to submit a support ticket to get someone to manually change a story’s status to complete, and it’s worth doing so if your story is done. However, this list tends to be pretty stagnant and gets browsed less often than the Active-only ranking, so there’s no hurry to upload your entire novel if you happen to have it completed.
- Popular this week: This list features fictions that have had a lot of high ratings in the past 7 days. In order to be ranked high on this list, you pretty much have to update every day, maybe twice a day, and your story has to fit into the typical wheelhouse of the typical RRL reader. I’ve never been high on this list and it only gets you transient visibility compared to the more permanent ranking gains of the lists above, but it’s popularly browsed by people looking for new stuff, so worth getting onto when first starting out.
- Latest Updates: This list adds stories with newly-added chapters to the top of the list and pushes older updates downwards. It takes anywhere from an hour to several hours for a story to get pushed out of visibility on the list, depending on the time of day (the site is weighted towards North American users). There’s no point in timing your updates to high-traffic times on the site, as this is also when most people update chapters, so your story will get proportionately less time and the list and it works out to around the same amount of visibility.
- Newest stories: This list works the same way as Latest Updates except it only includes newly approved fictions. I’m not sure how many people actually browse this list, as the stories only have one chapter up. You have no control over when your story will show up on the list, as it depends on when it’s approved and not when you submit it.
- The Search function: This is probably less known and less popular than browsing the lists, but I have had several readers tell me they found my story by looking up specific tags. If you go to the Search page and click Advanced Search, you can see how it works. People can choose to look for certain tags, look for stories without certain tags (click twice on any of the tags and it will go to a red minus sign), look for stories with a minimum length (1 page is approximately 275 words), look for a minimum average rating, sort by completed/active/hiatus, and order their search results by different measures. The bottom line is to properly tag your story with all the tags that apply. Do not apply tags that aren’t really in your story; for instance, don’t go ‘oh, well my MC isn’t female but I have a strong female character in the cast’ and tag it ‘Female Lead’. This will only annoy readers who find your story through the search function and don’t get what they’re expecting.
People additionally get stories by recommendation/word of mouth. Not a lot you can do about that except to encourage your readers to do so. People also find RRL stories from offsite (such as NovelUpdates and Top Web Fiction) but I have no idea how much traffic comes from different places and no expertise on other sites.
(As far as I can tell, most of the “Other” chosen is the Advanced Search function)
As you can see, the best way to get readers is to be high on the Best Rated list. I haven’t done anything magical to maintain my ranking except to continue to write the same story for all this time while other projects have been completed or dropped. The second most popular method is being found on the Latest Updates list, so as a newbie, updates are king.
Ways people do not find stories on RRL
- Browsing the forums. 99% of the readers on RRL don’t go on the forums. On them, you with find the same 6 people discussing repetitive subjects with people who post newbie questions. There is a Promote Your Webnovel subforum that you can post on that nobody looks at. Of slightly more use is the Recommendations subforum, where people ask for recommendations for specific kinds of stories, so if you’re willing to creep that forum and get one reader at a time, go for it. Keep in mind that people tend to be leery of people recommending their own writing. Conventional advice also states that you should put a link to your fictions in your forum signature and then participate in conversations there; if you do this, you will at most gain the 6 users who actually use the forums.
- Getting featured on Facebook. What? RRL has a Facebook page? Exactly. 99% of the readers on RRL don’t follow its Facebook or Twitter. A while back, while I was a moderator, I attempted to feature stories with some objective measure of writing quality, but at this point it appears they are randomly pasting story synopses onto the page with no application process to get featured, so even if you wanted to be featured, there’s nothing you can do to increase your chances.
- Promoting yourself on the Discord chat. I believe this is actually explicitly against the rules of the chat and you will get in trouble for spamming.
- Joining a group on the RRL forums. The main thing goes back to the fact that 99% of readers don’t use the forums. As well, if you belong to a group of writers, the group’s reputation is only as good as its worst writer. Don’t bother and it will save you a lot of time and melodrama.
- Paying RRL to feature your fiction. Seriously, save your money, especially if your story doesn’t fall into the typical wheelhouse of popular stories on RRL (see below)
What readers like on RRL
In order to understand what becomes popular on RRL, you have to understand the origin of the site and the typical reader demographics. RRL started out as a website posting translations of the Korean light novel Legendary Moonlight Sculptor, a story involving a guy who finds a secret class in a virtual reality video game and becomes super powerful while becoming rich and famous in real life and getting the most beautiful girl in the world (literally #1 as appraised by the supercomputer AI in the story) as his girlfriend. (This may sound disparaging, but I was actually one of the original users at this point in time and find the story hilarious.)
Perhaps not surprisingly, the main demographic on the site is teenage boys. A lot of the guys on the site are actually over the age of 20 but continue to act like teenage boys, so I just lump them all together as teenage boys. The last time I had access to demographics, male users outnumbered female users of the site 9:1.
The largest group there is actually in their mid twenties, but this may be just a reflection of my own age and the number of “clearly born in the 1990s” references I have in my story. Again, just imagine them as still teenagers.
Keep in mind that as a female writer with a female MC, I likely have a higher proportion of female readers than most stories do.
As you can see, people are from places that would enjoy reading stories written in English, a lot from North America but a significant amount from Europe as well. I’m not sure how this would affect your writing strategy unless you were planning on posting stories in another language on RRL. RRL currently doesn’t have much of a reader base to support other language stories.
The long and the short of it is, the typical reader on the site is a teenage boy who enjoys Asian story elements. Tropes that are common in manga, anime, and light novels abound on the site. Stories set in games, harems, wuxia/xianxia cultivation stories, stories randomly set in Japan for no reason, reincarnation stories, all super common and super popular.
That being said, by no means should you compromise your writing by going for what’s popular if you weren’t intending on writing something of that nature in the first place. Additionally, many readers complain of being tired of the generic plots so common on the site and are actively looking for more unique stories, which gives you an opportunity.
Some elements that you should go for, regardless of kind of story:
- A strong main character. Teenage boys don’t like it when their MC gets beaten up or constantly loses. Your MC doesn’t have to be overpowered and float through life like a blessed butterfly, but if they’re constantly being bullied and/or ruminating about their insecurities, it’s not going to go over well. Give your MC a little badass confidence.
- Humour. Even if your story touches on darker subjects, have moments of lightness. People go on RRL to relax and escape the drudgery of real life.
- Action. Fight scenes, danger, excitement, levelling up, these things are what teenage boys enjoy. If your story has 10 chapters of build-up before anything happens, it’s going to flop. Restructure your story to flash forward to something happening or get rid of the build-up or something.
- Romance. Not the super sappy romance-novel type of romance. Teenage boys don’t like that. They do enjoy when the guy gets the girl in the end (or the beginning, and then starts collecting more girls but that’s another discussion).
TLDR; just tell me what to do to get readers already!
- Write a good story that will appeal to teenage boys. Give them a mix of the stuff they’re used to and a unique element that will make them click on your story rather than the ten thousand other ones they have to choose from. Give your story an interesting title. Make sure you have at least 7-10 chapters of content ready, enough to get into the action and have readers invested in the story.
- Submit the story with an attractive cover (keep in mind that the image size is pretty small, so complex images will not work too well), a good blurb (no more than two short paragraphs, describe your premise without being vague, introduce your MC in an appealing way), and the correct tags. Your title, cover, and blurb are of the utmost importance to attract browsing readers.
- Once your story is approved, update, update, update. There is no better way to gain visibility as a complete newcomer to the site. I recommend daily updates as a good way to launch a new story, even if you’re sure you won’t be able to keep it up (which is why you should have 7-10 chapters ready from step 1). Rather than trying to update during the highest traffic times of the site, I recommend updating at random times throughout the day to capture audience from different time zones. Don’t update again until your fiction has been pushed off the first page of the Latest Updates list. If your story is from your own website and you have a lot of content, I wouldn’t go faster than updating twice a day. If you have long chapters, consider splitting them into smaller chunks to increase the number of updates (only if it works for the story).
- Interact with your readers. Teenage boys (and also other people) enjoy feeling important, so take the time to reply to comments and PMs from your readers. Thank them for taking the time to comment and answer their questions to the best of your ability. Check the site on a daily basis or get it to email you when you get a PM or story comment. In my experience, people also enjoy voting on polls, so you can ask a poll question with each chapter (I wouldn’t recommend doing this on the first chapter, but more at the point where uninterested people have already left and you only have the dedicated readers left. Also wait until you have a decent number of followers, as in my experience, less than half of them actually vote). Polls can give you valuable information about your readers and what they want, or they can be completely random, fun questions. Encouraging comment activity also has the benefit if reassuring you that someone is indeed reading the story. Tell the readers what’s been going on with the story writing, let them get to know you a little bit in your author’s notes. Be silly. Use exclamation marks! Post pictures of cute animals (okay, that last one may be specific to my own fiction).
- Get people to rate or review your story. Brace yourself. It’s time to be obnoxious. But charmingly obnoxious. You are going to ask people to review your story if they liked it. If you’re feeling really bold, ask them to rate it 5 stars. Let them know that their rating is weighted more if they leave a review and even higher if they leave an advanced review. Thank them and give them a virtual cookie. Promise that you’ll update if they leave reviews. Use the boxes available for author’s notes every chapter, and ask every chapter. Turn it into an ongoing joke. Make a poll asking people if they’ve left a review (I did this in chapter 46 and got an extra 10 ratings that update). You NEED those reviews to make lasting gains on the Best Rated list. There will be people who are annoyed by your constant badgering for reviews, but most people will just humour you or learn to ignore it. Remember, the tone you’re going for is “cheerfully obnoxious”. Don’t go into “desperate” territory. The same rules that apply to your MC apply to your persona as an author on RRL. Give yourself a little badass confidence. Teenage boys don’t like desperate authors.
- Keep on grinding. Update regularly. At the bare minimum, update every 30 days so that your story’s status isn’t moved into “hiatus” from “ongoing”. People are very afraid of dropped stories on RRL as they are so common and will not try a story with a hiatus status. Most people find weekly updates manageable. Contrary to updating on your own website, updating at the exact same time/day each week might not be the best strategy to capture an international audience.
- Remember that all of this will only work if people are interested in continuing to read your story. My first chapter has 80,000 views, which drops to 50,000 views for Chapter 2 and 35,000 views for Chapter 3 and around 3,000 views for the latest chapter. That’s a pretty decent retention rate (keeping in mind that 1 view is not 1 reader and if they visit multiple times, like to answer comments, the view count will go up). If you find that your view count (Under the Chapters tab of your story dashboard) from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2 goes down more than 90%, it’s a sign that people are clicking on the story but not interested in continuing to read and you may need to do something to fix that rather than continuing to try to gain visibility.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have a meteoric rise to fame. There’s a huge element of luck to all of this. There are stories on the Best Rated list that don’t have all the tropes I mentioned, but they are definitely outnumbered, so if your story doesn’t fall into the typical popular categories, don’t expect a huge number of followers. That being said, you can still have a high ranking on the Best Rated list with a relatively small number of followers and ratings as long as you’re consistently rated 5-stars, so focus on the quality of your writing.
- Recommend your other works to your readers. There’s already a link to your other works in the About the Author section under each chapter, but it doesn’t hurt to occasionally mention the existence if your other stories in your author’s notes or recommend them in replies to comments if the reader mentions some aspect of your writing they enjoyed that is also present in the other story. Building your first large audience is the hardest; after that, subsequent stories can bask in the reflected glory.
- Report inappropriate reviews. These are usually accompanied by low ratings, so getting them deleted can significantly improve your average rating. Things that are against the reviewing rules include threats, personal attacks on the author, hate speech, discrimination, spam, recommendations to read a different fiction without mention of the actual fiction being reviewed, and basically anything that’s not a review of the story. Things that are not against the rules include low ratings where people write “I didn’t like it because it was boring”. There is no rule that states that criticism has to be constructive.
Things you should not do
- Try to attract everyone. RRL is not a game of more views = better. Remember your ultimate goal is to climb the Best Rated list. Having your first review be a low score can be a devastating blow to your audience building. As the number of ratings increase, the algorithm takes into account that you’ll get random hate low ratings, but you need your early ratings to be all 4 and 5 stars. Tag your story and write your blurb to attract your specific audience and nobody else.
- Go for quantity over quality. You can flood the Latest Updates list with your new chapters all day long, maybe even get on the Popular this week list, but it’s a lot of effort for transient visibility and will hurt your long-term growth if you start getting low ratings.
- Redirect everyone immediately to your independent website. Like I said multiple times, your long-term visibility and regular gain of new readers from RRL is excruciatingly dependent on getting high numbers of high ratings. If you write in your story blurb “This fiction will have the latest chapter post on [link] and updates will be delayed for one week on RRL”, interested readers might click away to your site (or not; there is definitely a segment of readers who aren’t interested in reading off of other sites). Then they read the story on your site and yay you’ve gained a reader. The problem is, they’re no longer on RRL and will never leave you a review. I recommend not linking to your independent website anywhere in the blurb or your author bio. Wait until you’ve caught up your updates to what’s posted on your website and then include the link to your website in the author’s note at the end of that chapter. It is also a good idea to have a link on your website back to RRL and encourage the readers from your website to leave a review on RRL.
- Delete chapters that have comments on them. Really, since you can edit chapters, there’s no real reason to delete them. Remember that comments spawn other comments. People are herd animals.
- Give other fictions low ratings in order to raise your rank. Mainly because this makes you an asshole but also because it’s not very effective. The site also periodically deletes spam ratings and bans people who make multiple accounts for this purpose.
- Make multiple accounts to give yourself high ratings. This will get you banned.
- Obsessively check your view count and statistics page. This is not good for your mental health and will not help you grow faster.
- Be rude to anyone. Remember, even if someone leaves a comment that is completely rude, you in your author persona must be pleasant and polite (but also not a wimpy pushover because teenage boys don’t like that). Alternatively, you have the power to delete all comments that annoy you in your fictions and you can take full advantage of this.
Other things people have done
- Review swaps. Trading 5/5 ratings with other users is explicitly against the rules but it is allowed to trade reviews if you don’t guarantee rating the other person 5/5 and write explicitly in the review that it’s part of a swap. This may help get you the initial ratings that you need but keep in mind that people do browse the reviews when deciding on whether or not to read your fiction and nobody takes review swap opinions seriously. It also takes quite a bit of time to read someone’s fiction and write a decent review, so you’re probably better off just writing more of your own fiction in order to have more updates. There’s a section in the forums with people looking to do review swaps if you really think it’s a good idea.
- Guest chapters. This is traditionally done on Web Fiction Guide as part of the April Fool’s swap but can really be at any time in the year and doesn’t necessarily have to be reciprocal. It’s a lot of work because you have to read the other person’s fiction and then write a chapter for it. It may be worth it if the story is something you would have read anyways for enjoyment, the other author has a large following, and the other story’s audience is exactly the one you want for your fiction. For instance, even if the other author has 10,000 followers, if they write hard-core sci-fi and you’re writing historical murder mystery, you probably won’t get a lot of readers out of it. I have personally featured two talented guest writers on my own fiction but you would have to ask them if they thought it was worth it.
Unice5656 writes Fantasia, one of the largest and most popular serials on Royal Road Legends. She likes pictures of baby ducks.
A list of our resources mentioned throughout the guide:
- My guide to building mailing lists:
- What constitutes a good review:
- Advertising for authors:
- Pinterest for authors:
- Unice5656’s various poll results (found at the beginning of her chapters):
Web fiction is still in its infancy. Today we have the opportunity to own our own platforms and have an infinite canvas to write on. We are no longer bound by the simple and rudimentary restrictions of paper. Web fiction will evolve, make sure that you have the tools you need to evolve with it!