If you’ve been following my writing diary for long, or if you’ve been with the Writing Updates for a while, you know about the fact that I’ve wanted to do an online fiction e-zine that would break out new writers, offer published writers a new venue, that would print absolutely kick-ass short, medium, and long fiction,
…and run at a profit, paying writers, editors, and me enough to make it worth all our whiles…and doing so on a monthly basis.
Take your time and read these, because I’m going to save myself a BUNCH of writing time by referring to them instead of rewriting everydamnthing over. I’ll wait. 😀
Good. The problem with both of those models is that fiction doesn’t sell very well at ALL on the internet. But fiction is what fiction writers want to write, and what a lot of readers want to read, if the price is right.
At 1:10 this morning, I woke up knowing how to do it. I haven’t been to sleep since, so pleaseplease forgive typos and any slight incoherencies. I’m fried.
First thing I did this morning was buy the domain. It’s RebelTales.com
Next, here’s how it works.
Seasons, as per Idea Number Two. Number of stories in each season:
- 1 60,000-word story
- 2 30,000-word stories
- 3 20,000-word stories
- 6 10,000-word stories
That’s 12 complete stories, 160,000 words of cliff-hanging, nail-biting fiction, special ezine features like surveys, letters to the editor, and six months of fun.
The Basic Readers Level
At the Basic Readers Readers, readers will pay 7.99 per season. For that, they’ll get the ezine, plus they’ll be able to bribe their favorite authors with a direct $2/min PayPal bribe to write more, as well. Authors can decide whether they want to be bribed or not. If you want to be bribed, you can set the amount of the bribe that will convince you to work on the next story—and readers will be able to track how close you are to being successfully bribed.
The Per-Issue Back-Stage Pass
At any time, a reader who gets curious about all the special features (which will of course be advertised in the e-zine) will be able to pick up the Back-Stage Pass for that issue. The Back-Stage Pass will include:
- MP3 interviews with episode authors,
- MP3 Q&As with the Season editor,
- my own detailed writing commentary on the Feature Story and why it worked from query letter through story end (maybe with video—I’m discovering that I like video),
- author working notes and drafts for included stories or segments,
- maybe editor commentary on how other accepted stories were chosen,
- and more cool stuff as we think of it. Price for a single episode Back-Stage Pass? 19.95— BUT…
The Per-Season Back-Stage Pass
The prospective single-pass buyer will have the option to upgrade to a full Season Back-Stage Pass. The full season will offer all the stuff above for the entire season, at discount… a $97 one-time payment, or monthly payments equaling the same amount for the season, instead of $119.70.
But the Season Back-Stage Pass will also offer:
- The Writers & Editors Green Room, a private, restricted bulletin board where writers and editors can discuss the art and science of writing fiction,
The Slush Reader Training Program—a free video training course by me on how to read slush (and not incidentally, how to discover some seriously crappy writing you’ve committed in your own work, and access to the private First Call board, where all position openings will be posted before going public, where special Theme Seasons will be announced first, and where folks can get try-outs as slush readers—the slush readers who get the most stories accepted by percent recommended at Rebel Tales will get the chance to pitch their own Theme Seasons, and if I accept their Theme, they’ll act as editor on their season.
My first Rebel Tales project will be Holly Lisle’s Rebel Fantasy and SF.
I am, however, considering Holly Lisle’s Rebel Suspense, and possibly Holly Lisle’s Rebel Romance.
I will offer subject-related in-zine and on-page advertising. I’ll have to figure out how still, and in what formats.
And there may be some sort of affiliate program… but I’m still thinking very hard about that, because I want the writers and editors to be well-paid for their work.
Margaret is working on the software part of this now. This is going to happen. Soon.
What do you think?
If you want to get in on this, sign up on the mailing list at RebelTales.com. And PLEASE read the part about me not accepting applications yet. I’m not. At all. I have to write all the guidelines, get the contract stuff worked out, and everything else. Right now, I just need to know that you’re interested, and have a way to contact you when I start getting things finished.
OK if you’re committed to doing this then the magazines should be available in multiple formats. At a minimum: .mobi for the Kindle, epub, for iphone and ipad, HTML for online reading, and naturally PDF, for printing.
Also you should arrange for distribution through Amazon and some of the other for-sale sites like Smashwords, etc. (assuming that’s possible) because you’ll reach a wider audience.
Also, I take issue with your assertion that free literature is bad literature. I have read some excellent works on the free sites – excellent writing, complex characters, and wonderful prose. I have also read some total crap, that cost me big bucks, from well established writers. (I can provide a list with titles if you wish.) (I read a lot.)
also I have an idea for a sci-fi theme. Picture a future society in which the only people who know how to read, are the Pod Cast announcers. ‘Nuf said.
I’ve enjoyed your advice, and even applied it a few times. My stories (all two of them) are probably on the longish side for Rebel Tales, but this has already inspired me to maybe try my hand at brevity. I say go for it, throw it in the air and see if it can fly. Best of luck, love the lack of crap. Sign me up.
The problem with any online business is getting traffic and turning traffic into customers. Hire a well known writer to headline this idea.
As a writer I would like to be to able to post from Celtx directly to your site without reformatting!
I’m interested. It would be really cool if Rebel Tales works out. I would definitely subscribe to it!
I love this idea and hope it works, because I’d love to subscribe. 🙂
I’m mostly chiming in to say an e-Reader option would be a MUST for me. I LOVE ebooks and any other form of ereading material — but only if I can put them on my smart phone to read them. I have both eReader and Mobipocket (both readers are free downloads) and both seem to work fine on my Palm OS phone. PDF files are an OK option, but they’re kind of a pain in the butt to read on my phone (I have to use Docs to Go and it’s reeeeeally S-L-O-W every time I “turn” a page). Just my 2 cents…
I agree that it would be nice to see advertisers carry a share of the price, but I have yet to see any publication with enough advertising to do that, on or offline.
I also like the idea of serial stories. Cliffhangers R Us!
I like the way Baen does their ‘webscriptions’ in that they have them available in multiple formats, a point that hasn’t been covered yet. Unless I’ve missed it. I do a lot of my electronic reading on my Palm instead of my computer, so I’m interested from that point. I’m also a Mac User, which can complicate things sometimes.
As to price, I know that Kindle ‘books’ are $9.99, so pricing at $10/issue would probably not strain things. I’ve personally been crazy enough to spend hardcover prices to get electronic editions of a series I’m following. You could offer a full year subscription (4 issue) at $35 if they pay in advance, with a $10/issue cost for any they have downloaded if they cancel before it expires. Could also offer a $2 sample on a 1-time-per-email-address basis for part of one issue (the first 1k or so of each of the longer stories and maybe 1 or 2 of the shorties full-text?) which they could then convert into the full issue or full year as they wished.
This is your vision, Holly, and so far as I’ve heard, it sounds like a good one. (Even if it turns out you don’t like my work!)
Very glad to hear about all of this!
I think the $8 price point for that many stories is perfect. $8 is an amount I’m willing to drop as an experiment on this kind of thing, and it seems like a reasonable amount of bang for the buck.
The only thing I’d say is that I’d love to see some more shorter fiction included in the mix, because I have been in love with short sci-fi for just about forever and there’s some very good stuff out there and a shortage of places to publish it.
And thank you, thank you, thank you for insuring that the ads are relevant. I’d love to see the price go down later on if there are a bunch of good advertisers interested once you can prove that it’s going to get interest, but I’d far rather pay more personally and not have to wonder if I’m safe giving my credit card number to your advertisers.
I don’t mind the idea of affiliate marketing, but make sure that the primary thing is quality fiction! Free stuff… well, if I wanted free, I could hang out on Fanfiction.net for the rest of my life and probably never pay for another book, magazine, etc, but strangely enough, I’m still buying books. The gatekeeper is a big deal. If the gatekeeper can be someone who really cares about the genre and the well-being of the writers, too, that’s a whole pile of awesome.
Your last entry was healpful. And, I liked a lot of what Shawn had to say. I am one of those writers that write short items, at this time. And, clift hanger serials are not one of my genres. I would like to know, what types of stories do you want in this e-zine, other than the above?
Also, I have a portfolio at writing.com. Items there can be restricted. Would you have an issue publishing something in the e-zine that is in such a portfolio?
I think this is a fabulous idea, and I have no doubt youâ€™ll work out the few kinks that currently exist.
I love the idea of serialized fictionâ€”there simply isnâ€™t enough of it around anymore! Do you intend for episodes two through six of each of the serialized stories to begin with a brief overview of where the story stands? Itâ€™s a simple thing, I know, but as a huge fan of serialized podcast fiction, I find it much more rewarding to get a short reminder of the previous chapter/episode provided for me at the beginning of the new installment.
Opening the door to readers via the free season-opener issue strikes me as a great way to prove the value of the e-zine while gaining a readership. I think limiting the PDF availability to that first issue might need further consideration. The content you are proposing is lengthy, and the thought of reading 60,000+ words per month online scares me. Itâ€™s not the number of words Iâ€™m concerned withâ€”itâ€™s being forced to read them online versus on my e-Reader thatâ€™s prohibitive. When I consider the market that will be attracted to this e-zine, I donâ€™t anticipate casual readers participating. The casual reader looks for that free Internet content of which you speak, and she certainly isnâ€™t interested in serialized fiction. The market for this e-zine is the serious reader. We devour books and magazines in all of their permutations. Itâ€™s how we spend our money and our time. Many of us swear by our e-Readers, and few of us â€œstealâ€ fiction. Most of us are aware that writers need to be paid for their work to keep writing.
Iâ€™ll go a step farther: letâ€™s say you and the editing crew accept one of my storiesâ€”Iâ€™ll be compensated for that, and Iâ€™ll gain exposure. If one subscriber â€œgivesâ€ Rebel Tales to 10 other peopleâ€”none of whom paidâ€”all, some, or none will then become subscribers. If that one subscriber gives no one a copy of Rebel Tales, thereâ€™s no chance of gaining any new subscribers. Writers need exposure to gain readers who will buy their work. Again, serious readers spend money on good quality reading material. I would guess many of the writers who will appear on the pages of Rebel Tales have written or will want to write books, and Iâ€™m relatively certain shoplifting books doesnâ€™t pay well. So weâ€™re back to needing to depend on people who already spend money on reading materials to make this work.
Itâ€™s obvious youâ€™re doing something unique with this e-zine, but I still fear failing to include a few complete short stories (1 or 2 pieces of 2,500 words or fewer) and works of flash fiction (3-5 pieces of 1,000 words or fewer) in each episode might be a mistake. (Consider the days of old, when serialized stories were a regular part of many print publications: while my knowledge isnâ€™t vast, it seems to me most of these publications contained completed works augmented by serialized pieces.) As a reader, Iâ€™ll look forward to the serialized stories and the complete 10,000 word stories, but Iâ€™m going to want some shorter stuff for instant gratification.
The basic level price seems very reasonable; in fact, Iâ€™d be willing to go as high as $12.00 without blinking an eye. (Thatâ€™s two bucks a month for six months, and even I wouldnâ€™t miss that.) However, even though all of my mad money goes for reading/writing stuff, the backstage pass option seems a bit pricey even given the content.
Short of you reworking this idea into a cookbook written in Latin and filled with recipes calling for aged mutton, I am on board as a subscriber!
Okay, first, I thought that I mentioned that the first issue of every season would be free, and THOUGHT I’d mentioned that anyone can create a free membership and read all the free season openers for every season. There is no price for entry.
Things I forgot to mention: Every season opener will distributable in pdf format. You want to give it to a friend, go to it. You’ll have an affiliate link. I’m not sure what the affiliate percentage on this is going to be, but the link will be there, and you’ll get either payment or credit of some sort every time someone signs up through your link.
Yes, there will be advertising. It will not be “open” advertising. If you want to advertise, I have to see both your ad and your product and approve it as A) of interest to my readers and B) not a scam.
I’m not interested in lots of advertising. I’m interesting in LEGIT advertising.
On to free fiction, or the inevitable complaint of “Why would anyone pay for this when they can get it for free?”
Free fiction available on the internet is, by and large, worth considerably less than what you pay for it. That might sound mean. It is, however, true.
Paying for fiction buys you the following—someone who has read and discarded the indescribable amount of garbage, of boring rambling, of incoherent mess, and of not-bad-but-not-great work that is out there, who has dug out the true gems and the near-gems from the mix, and who helped the writers of the near-gems sharpen them and improve them until they’re strong and wonderful. Paying for fiction guarantees you that several readers, an editor, and I, have all decided the story would not be a waste of most readers’ time, that the writers have followed the guidelines and that the stories in the ezine you’re about to read will fit the mold of that magazine and the slant of that publisher. If you like the free edition, you’ll like the paid editions to follow. If you don’t, it didn’t cost you anything to find out that you didn’t.
“Everything-for-free” is also for the most part “everything-with-no-standards” or without anyone with my qualifications running things.
So let’s talk about editor bias—I will be PAYING my editors to be biased. They will be biased toward a certain type of good stories, and biased against everything else. They will be given a season to fill based on their demonstrated judgment, their ability to tell good stories from bad, and their ability to select for me the kinds of stories I want to put in the e-zines. Not by author name, but by story content.
When I get the guidelines up, I’ll do a brief test run with submissions accepted through the system. I’ll personally read them, and mark them as either keepers or not, and note reasons why I made the choice I did for each story. I’ll then hold editor try-outs. Prospective editors will go through the same stories I have already read. They will have to read and understand my guidelines, and follow them in picking out stories with an eye toward what I want to publish. The editors whose picks match mine—and who can explain WHY they made those picks—will get seasons.
Don’t listen to the nay-sayers! Everyone always says the New Big Thing can’t work, but this is what the industry needs– and this is the equivalent of a whole anthology, not some skinny little 25 page thing photocopied at home (which is great in it’s own way, but it’s not a publishing house). You call it an ezine, but these are books– 60K is a whole novel, longer than what’s required for NaNoWriMo or most MFA programs.
If it really becomes a concern that it’s all digital, you can look into distribution through iTunes and iBooks, maybe through the magazine apps on the iPad like Zinio (or making your own app! Nat Geo, various big newspapers, Time and People all have them). You could sell through Amazon for the Kindle, B&N for the Nook… there’s any number of ways to get it into actual physical hands and get that tactile feeling.
Go for it! I’ll he hoping and helping where I can!
With the Basic Reader per season price point being so reasonable (about the same as a paperback), even I would sign up… and I’m about as low-income as it’s possible to get. The Back-Stage pass stuff… well, that’s seriously out of my price range, enough so that it wouldn’t even get a second look. The most appealing parts of it, to me, are the “extras” for the Season backstage pass… the Green Room and the Slush Reader training… it’d be nice if those were available separately.
As for “proven”… well, people buy lots of $8-$10 paperbacks without it being proven that what is between the covers is worth reading… I buy almost no new books these days due to my finances, but even I’d take a chance on this.
And also, last I noticed
60,000 x 1 = 60,000
30,000 x 2 = 60,000
20,000 x 3 = 60,000
10,000 x 6 = 60,000
so the total words would be more like 240,000, right?
Quite a bit more right there, then the average paperback.
Playing devil’s advocate again, the more I think about this, the more I think that having the readers vote on which stories are selected is fraught with issues. For example if the story I like doesn’t get picked up I may well stop subscribing and getting me back will be (statistically) 6 times harder than getting me the first time around. If the story that gets picked up fades or lags in the middle then, once again, I may well unsubscribe as that speaks to the overall quality of the magazine. I’ll stop there ‘cos I don’t want to put a downer on the whole thing but, once again, it’s food for thought.
At least if it’s free/advertising-driven (and you can choose who your advertisers are so that they are relevant and unobtrusive) folks may not read everything but they’re unlikely to stop the subscription altogether.
Incidentally I subscribe to both Interzone & Blackstatic so I will pay for short stories and serials but the quality is proven.
I feel limited free issues would be a good idea. (Maybe one issue per year) However, I feel readers should make some investment in a subscription. This would result in a more desirable readership base.
I also like the idea of readers having input about the content in the upcoming issue. This would remove any possible personal bias of an editor, and deliver more of what the readers want to read.
I am hoping there will be a varied mix of genres in this e-zine, and how about short items. Not all upcoming writers are prolific, or have very much time to write.
The free issue idea has merit. Also, perhaps a page of single paragraphs of new stories from unpublished authors. Readers vote and the most votes gets published in an upcoming issue.
I like the idea of the site. I will subscribe and push those around me to as well.
So, if I understand it correctly, Murrquan proposes a kind of facebook/youtube for fiction. People could upload their stories and the community would rate them and thus the editorial process would be replaced by the natural selection of reader feedback. The whole thing would be carried by advertising and if it survives, then eventually google might buy it for a ridiculous amount of money.
The main problems with that approach is that authors wouldn’t get paid and you’d end up with a lot of crap and possibly a couple of cases of blatant plagiarism. Besides, Holly’s proposed bribe scheme is in a way the reader rating and feeback that you wanted. I wouldn’t necessarily name it “bribe” though, as that is a negative term describing a positive act (don’t have a better suggestion right now, though).
But I agree that Holly’s concept certainly can be fine tuned. However, for an initial approach it looks good to me.
Will it still have external advertising as in your second iteration? I know how some people get angry when they are subjected to ads, but I personally think that they are bearable and for a good cause (if there is some quality control to it. I absolutely hate the “please visit my latest scam website!” kind of advertising on a popular social network).
Good luck with this Holly! It’s sure to be a winner. Need help, please feel free to ask, in venue you need it, editing, writing, and yes did read your comments and ideas above. Mae
I was just reading a few posts and noticed the mention of free ezines. This could work but you could offer a non-advertised paid subscription. I would also offer a free podcast/paid audiobook in tandem using the same model.
I have no doubt that there will be peeps slapping their resumes upon your desk within the next week. This is huge news.
Go for it! This is awesome, and want to help any way I can, even if it’s just buying!
I love your idea. I am definitely in. I would be willing to post a portion of anything I wrote, in advance, for people who wanted to see what the story was about. That would be one way to provide a preview of the contents of each issue. Something like the 30 seconds iTunes offers of each track.
I’m one of your newest fans, and I want, want, want to love your idea. It just might work. I sincerely hope it does. I have to agree with Rob, however, that readers are well aware that they can get new fiction for free on the web. There is, however, a serious problem with quality. It takes a huge investment of time to slog through what’s available to find the little that’s worth reading. Editors get paid to wade through slush. Readers don’t.
Honestly, the only reason I would pay for a sci-fi/fantasy or any other kind of fiction e-zine is because I’d want to be published in it myself. Fiction publishing will always be a little bit incestuous in that way.
So I agree that the zine itself has to be free. Advertising might help. A different model might be to give the zine away, ads or no ads, with only cliffhangers. Subscribers stay on indefinitely. The only obligation is to set up a Paypal account. You get no completed stories for free. As a reader, I could then browse a few stories that have already been selected for quality by a (however poorly) paid editor. And if I really have to know what happens next, I click on a button at the end of that teaser to get the rest–and to reserve something really cool like, say, a discounted, signed copy if the novel ever goes to print. Or a signed print of the artwork. Something that I perceive to be worth more than I’m paying. Because I’m used to that on the internet.
I would not share my download with my friends, I promise, because I want them to vote for it, too, with their cash, so its chances of getting picked up by a traditional publisher improve.
I, the Reader, then not only get to read what I want to read without paying for stuff I know I’ll never get around to, I also get to reward the writer whose story really grabs me, and I might even influence her or his career, since a traditional publisher will know that there is a reasonable promise of readership.
Readers, not writers, have to be convinced that this is a good idea. I can tell you that there is next to nobody out there Googling “fantasy” —unless you mean football.
I love what you do. I love what you want to do with this idea. I want you to do it profitably so you can continue to do it.
In spite of my naysaying, if you go forward with the model you’ve described, I will very probably subscribe. So what does that tell you?
I wish you the very best!
I think this is great! Having a “free trial period” might work for some people (maybe an issue) and then they’d have to subscribe or not.
For those of us writing in different genres, I hope you will open it up for that, too. I like the Rebel Romance idea.
Are you going to give any breaks for people taking your HTTS course? And will your writers also have to be subscribers or do they get something along the line of a free season subscription?
You’ve got a great idea going and I really hope it works. I’ve got a story in mind to throw in your slush pile. And yes, I did read you aren’t taking anything yet, which is good because it isn’t ready!
Thanks for all your hard work and hope this doesn’t take too much away from your own writing.
I love the idea of a new fiction market opening up! I think Murrquan (#3, above) has some valid points, though. Maybe work in a free option somehow? Something new readers (potential subscribers) could access and share without having to pay anything? Just a thought.
Good luck with this. It’s awesome!
I’m interested in this from a reader/writer perspective, but with my cold commercial hat on I have to say that, to a certain extent, I can see where Murrquan is coming from.
Having said that, it’s all in the execution and distribution. If you look at an online magazine like iGizmo (http://issue.igizmo.co.uk/1Y4989c4b17c444012.cde) it’s given away for free, it’s interactive, shareable and even looks/feels like a magazine. The revenue is obviously derived from advertising, like almost everything else on the web and if can get enough subscribers (much easier when free) then you can ask a premium for the space. This is the revenue you share with your writers.
If you want a push, SCI-FI-LONDON for which I am the literary editor, has an opted-in, confirmed mailing list of 15,000 subscribers who we absolutely know read sci-fi and fantasy fiction. No guarantees, but I’m pretty sure you could get at least 10% of that readership to subscribe to a free fiction e-zine and then you start making the viral/social/internet/mobile marketing work for you to expand.
I hope it pans out, you have my support in whatever way I can help, but I just thought I’d throw some food for thought your way.
Go for it!
I’d certainly be interested in subscribing.
The Wannabe Scribe
I’ve spent a long time thinking about how to sell fiction on the Internet, myself … and I guess I’m approaching it from a very different perspective, but I don’t think this is going to work! All it is, is taking a conventional publishing model (the fiction magazine) and porting it online and hoping it works.
It has none of a magazine’s advantages: No tactile feel, no glossy covers, no reading it at the breakfast table without extra to-do involved.
And it plays to none of the Internet’s strengths: It has no sharing, no remixing, no real user participation. And it has a single human editor, instead of reader moderation and flagging, so it’s not scalable without bringing more people on board.
On top of that, it does nothing about the hurdles that stop people from actually reading fiction online. It doesn’t remove the time investment that it takes to find out if a story is any good, or what it’s even about beyond its prosy title. It doesn’t tag, or categorize, or let you search reader reviews, in order to find just the right story; in fact, it crams other stories in each installment, shotgunning for readers and hoping they’ll think at least one series is worth the purchase price — again, like a traditional magazine, or like having to buy CD albums instead of single tracks off of iTunes. The only thing it adds is cover art, and since that’s spread out over multiple stories it doesn’t do much good.
Finally, it’s not discoverable if you can’t link to the stories. Even if you post excerpts for people, how can they share with their friends? Are they even allowed to do so? How long is a gated community going to take in money? How many gated fiction communities are still making money today, and did they start out only letting certain people in? What’s the closest thing to what you’re trying to do, what strengths does it have that this doesn’t, and how much is it making?
I really respect your advice. Your website and mailing list are the perfect hybrid of tell-it-like-it-is realism and unshakeable idealism. I still link people to your writing! But I’m not sure that your experience with traditional publishing is going to help much online. You’re thinking like these are actual paper magazines that you’re selling, and just trying to ignore the things that make it hard to do so online. And at the same time, you’re taking advantage of none of the new opportunities that publishing online presents.
This article may have some ideas about what can be done. Either way, I hope things go well for you and the people you sign up, and I thank you for your advice. *bow*
It sounds very exciting. Is there a min. words length for stories? Do they need to be nail-biting clift hangers to fit into this format?
Woohoo! I am excited about this!