Bringing Digital Fiction Mainstream

Bringing Digital Fiction Mainstream

Presentation image.
My very first conference presentation.

I’ve come to publishing through my two-pronged careers as a writer and a researcher in creative writing (I’m still both, so I suppose I now have a three-pronged career?). As a writer and publisher, I get some data on my work here and there: some reviews and ratings on GoodReads, some purchase histories, click-throughs and reads on my sites and blogs, and that’s about it.

As a researcher, though, I sometimes get overwhelmed with data. How many people have cited my work, how many people have googled me, how many people have downloaded my papers. Academia.edu, in their push to become more of a commercial entity, has been urging me to purchase premium options for a while, and their marketing techniques include frequent emails with promises of statistics if I’ll just sign my bank account away.

What’s most interesting about the numbers coming from sites like Academia.edu is what it seems the average googler wants to see. And most often, people seem to land on this conference presentation (for which there is no paper, sorry): “Beyond the Novelty: Creating Digital Fiction for Mainstream Audiences.”

It’s the oldest of my “published”/searchable academic works, and even though it has no citations and no accompanying paper, it remains one of the most popular click-throughs. The title must draw people in. I often wonder what they were searching for. “What is digital fiction”? “Mainstream fiction”? “Creating digital fiction”?

It was my very first conference presentation as an academic, and it was mostly me talking about writing digital fiction, with an excerpt from my then-current project. It was very basic, and very much reflective of my attitude about the digital fiction I’d read at that point: that as a writer I was utterly hooked, but as a reader, I felt pretty meh about what was out there.

Of course, I’ve since come to appreciate the “classic” works of digital fiction, and found a few that I come back to over and over again. But as someone relatively new to DF, my attitude toward it reflected a lot of what I see in students and new readers of DF: that it was experimental, avant garde, and more art than story. That it was created for the writer, not the reader. That it wasn’t written for me to enjoy so much as to admire the genius of its creators.

So when I started my research, I had the same goal as any other writer: to write stories I would want to read. And like a lot of authors, I wanted as many people to read my work as possible. I wanted people to enjoy it. So my goal was to dig into writing DF for mainstream audiences.

A lot of digital writers have told me they don’t care about mainstream reach or commercial success. Awesome. I don’t begrudge them that. But I’m an academic in a time when the higher education system is crumbling; it’s not the safety net it used to be for writers to putter around in their own heads. I’m also a writer in an extremely exciting time for writing and publishing, when the big boys are getting knocked down and making room for the rest of us, for niche writers and more experimental platforms like Twine and Hyperbooks. So it makes a lot of sense to me to pull all these things together (and get more established on the “writer” and “publisher” prongs of my career in case the “academic” prong fongs off).

The best way to make a success of writing and publishing is to reach as wide an audience as possible; that means mainstream appeal. So that’s my aim with Wonderbox Publishing. To nurture digital fiction and help it find its feet in the commercial realm. To help digital writers become a part of that small percentage of fiction writers who make a living with their work. To expand the possibilities of technology and narrative.

The reviews we’re publishing focus on works that appeal to us as readers, for whatever reason. Works we love. Works we think have mainstream appeal. Works we want to see more of. We want to share these with you, and build a resource for readers and writers.

My eventual goal is for Wonderbox to serve as a publisher and distributor of quality, mainstream-appeal, commercial digital fiction. I’m starting with the reviews and the Hyperbooks Project (stay tuned for more on this) as ways to expand people’s awareness of good, enjoyable digital fiction, and ways to make it commercially viable. Bit by bit I’ll ramp it up until Wonderbox is the Amazon of digital fiction.

(Yep, it’s a cheeky ambition. Go big or go home!)

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