The old adage goes that “you should not judge a book by its cover” and though it is a virtuous sentiment it is not one that is typically followed. Every day, for 31 days, I read the first entry or chapter of a different web serial (or web fiction) and then gave my first impressions on them be they good or bad. In short: I judged a LOT of books by their covers, and I did so with a reason.
The internet is a double-edged sword for many writers. Though it makes reaching an audience for your art easy by eliminating many of the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, the internet itself has EVERY DISTRACTION KNOWN TO HUMANKIND and thus makes it hard to compete with all of the noise. If you want to contend with all of the shiny things the internet offers your site design has to be on point, your hook interesting and urgent, and your writing has to be clean and engaging. If it isn’t, your reader will not be forgiving, and your hard work will be forgotten. The last thing an author wants is for a potential fan of their work to leave and never come back because they did not make a fantastic impression.
Of the 31 serials I read, these seven are the ones that impressed me the most and had me coming back for more.
The Web Serials:
#7: Death’s Door.
Safra’s website for Death’s Door was one of my favorites. I found myself falling in love with the characters in the header image before I even had a chance to read about them and the lavender color that the site is framed in went well with the header image’s color palette.
The hook and the chapter were mired in long sentences though, which at times made it hard to read. This, combined with a splash page that had very redundant descriptors, meant that this web serial scores lower on this list than I would have liked. I really enjoyed the chapter that I read, and I plan on reading more, so the place on this list is actually very frustrating. I want this web serial to be higher, but because it suffered from mistakes on its splash page (arguably the most important part of a first impression) it is number seven.
#6: The Strange.
Screaming Candle (Patrick Lewis’ website) is not the flashiest website on this list, but it is a good one. Though it is minimalist there is a lot of charm and character. Patrick Lewis has done a lot with very little and the site’s navigation was intuitive and simple, if not a little old-fashioned.
The hook was not the best in this challenge but it has both history and a little urgency, and the chapter that it leads into was one of the better ones that I read. The Strange did well to immerse me in its setting and the town that the story takes place in felt like it was a character in itself.
The Strange was one of the first web serials that I read in my 31 Day Challenge, and as such there was a high probability of it getting lost among the sea of other web serials that I read. This was not the case, however, as it was one of the first to come to mind when making this list and its good impression was still fresh in my mind.
#5: Don’t Feed The Dark.
Scott Scherr’s website is filled to the brim, a little claustrophobic, and beautifully done. The graphics employed scream horror (save for the kitty) and they do very well to set the mood. This mood setting actually enhanced my reading of the chapter, and though the writing needed no help in setting that mood on its own, my overall experience on the site was for the better because of it. The only criticism I have (save for maybe the cluttered feeling) is that upon reading the first chapter I was met with a wall of SEO tags that took me out of the moment that the rest of the site worked so hard in crafting.
Scott’s hook was both poetic and creepy and it did well in that it immediately grabbed my attention. His prose is incredibly well suited for horror and at no point in reading the chapter did I find myself thinking of anything else. This web serial also had one of the best cliffhangers at the end of its chapter which had a great effect of taunting me to read more. In this regard, Scott not only employed a very good first impression on me, he also set up his work to keep me there to read more.
#4: The Other Kind of Roommate.
I absolutely love Tartra’s website. A lot of the elements on it flows so well that it looks like it was done with ease. The header image was singular in its character and style. The sense that there is a broken mind behind the scene that it creates is only enhanced by the web serial’s title.
The hook in this serial had a sense of urgency and momentum that many other web serials lacked. The style of writing, and its frenetic pace made it a little difficult to find a proper flow while reading, but the story it tells is incredibly interesting. The Other Kind of Roommate is X-Men meets Fight Club with maybe a dash of Gonzo.
I really enjoyed reading this web serial, and everything in it felt fresh. The author does a very good job of leading the reader forward by teasing and revealing just enough information to satisfy but still leave the reader curious. Everything on this site worked hand in hand to create a reading experience and every engine on it ran well. Two weeks after having read it and its impression still sits very well in my mind.
#3: Chosen Shackles.
The very large header of this site, plus the constant and consistent cyber punk tropes littered throughout made immersion into its story and setting complete. I should note that this web serial was the only one in this challenge that I signed up to be added to the author’s mailing list. By extending the cyber punk tropes to the sign up button (activate contract) I found myself almost giddy to sign up. At no point did I find myself wanting to leave this site for something greener as it is a very interesting site to be on and did very well to feel like it was an experience.
This web serial is unabashedly steeped in the genre tropes that it employs. Its hook was not only effective, it was also one of the most true to genre sentences I have ever read. If the genre is one that does not interest you, turn away. If however, you, like me, live for them, this may very well be your next home. The prose was quick and kept a pace with a very urgent momentum.
Where all of the engines were running well on The Other Roommate’s site, Chosen Shackles fuels its with NOS. I cannot overly state just how immersed I felt while on this site. Unlike the other serials on this list, however, there is only one chapter to be read as it is in its very early stages. I eagerly wait to be notified of a new chapter.
Billy Higgins Peery’s site, Megapulp, is by far the least interesting on this list, but it functions well and is very well designed. At no point did I find trouble finding where I needed to go.
Godpunk’s hook was by far the best one on this list. “She bled stars” (Godpunk 1.1) is only three words long and did more for me than a paragraph worth of descriptors. The hook in this web serial’s chapter, as well as the chapter itself, more than made up for the boring blog like feel of the site. “She bled stars” has a sense of urgency, and is an incredibly captivating visual that demanded me to read more.
The rest of the writing in this web serial was clean, tight, and carried me along with a good amount of momentum. My flow in reading Mr. Peery’s writing was never broken and had I not had a post to write-up about it, I would have gone on to read more right then. Godpunk was one of the most entertaining web serials I read in my challenge and I am incredibly excited to read more.
#1: Orphic Phantasia.
I felt an equal amount of submersion here as I did with Chosen Shackles, but with Orphic Phantasia I also felt magic. That may sound cheesy, or even hyperbolic, but it is true. I felt magic.
The site’s header image was immediately seducing, and the site’s layout had a few clever tricks to make sure that I went right to where I needed to go. The hook in the prologue kept a sense of wonder in me and the contents of the chapter kept just enough hidden to keep that sense of wonder fueled and enhanced by curiosity. I was very impressed.
And then it did more.
Before the first chapter proper, I was guided back to the seducing moon and was met with slowly fading lines of poetry appearing over it. This extra step, this extra mile, made this site stand out far above the rest. Some of you reading this might think that this trick is gimmicky, and if I am to be honest it was not perfect. I found that the lines of poetry were maybe five lines longer than I would have liked, and I did feel a little impatient. That sense of magic that was building before this moment was heavily and clearly cemented after this scene though, and the fact that it was not the very first thing that I saw speaks to a well thought out strategy by Dary Meredith (the author) to make the site feel like an experience. I felt magic.
I would suggest this site to people who may not be into web serials just to show it to them.
There were a lot of web serials in this challenge that definitely deserve a read and a mention that did not make it onto this list. This challenge was exhausting, it was incredibly long, there were moments that I felt that weeping openly and crawling into a sad fetal position were the only things I was left capable of doing, and it was worth it. The awesome authors I have interacted with and their equally awesome art changed my perception on what is possible with online writing. The lessons learned here is something I would never trade for.
Thank you to every author that volunteered their work to be disassembled in the most superficial way possible, and thank you for reading about it. I cannot overstate just how grateful I am to everyone who has been apart of this.
If the above serials were not enough to sate your voracious reading check out my own serial:
and check out the bottom of the page for updates and a free copy of my black comedy comic, “Kick The Football, Chuck” (you can learn about it first at TV Tropes here). Charlie Brown has cancer, its “funny”.