Chris Poirier is the man behind Web Fiction Guide (WFG) and Top Web Fiction guide (TWF.) Like most web serial authors, I owe him a huge debt. Of the sites that refer people to my serial, WFG, TWF and the WFG forums have been the sites that have come in first, second, and fifth. That translates into something along the lines of seven hundred and thirty seven people referred by sites he maintains. By the time you read this, that number will have increased.
t4nky: In your own words, why should a person thinking of writing a web serial writing a web serial get involved in Web Fiction Guide.
Chris Poirier: The best reason is the self-serving one: we offer free publicity. That is hard to come by–particularly if you don’t have an existing fan base to spread the word. That’s the reason to list, and why we have a steady queue of new submissions waiting.
t4nky: When did you first become involved in the world of web serials? Did you decide to write your own and discover other writers or did you find several web serials that got you hooked?
CP: I started writing my serial, _Winter Rain_, back in 2008, on the encouragement of Sarah Suleski (author of Alisiyad, Dreamers, and Queen of Seven). We knew each other from an online writers’ group, and she thought it would help me get over my long-standing writer’s block. When I started, I didn’t even have a story idea. I think maybe I was going to do a collection of flash fiction. I just wanted to write something tense, as I’d had a lot of trouble with that in the past. Well, the first post went up, Sarah liked it and so did I, and over the next 24 hours, with the help of an old Irish faerie tale I liked, I came up with a story and ran with it.
t4nky: What are some of your favorite web serials? What is your all-time favorite? What are a few you are currently reading?
CP: I’m actually not reading a lot, right now. I’ve been very busy with work and personal projects, so pretty much all of my online reading time now goes to processing the WFG submission queue. I get to see everything we list, but don’t get to spend a lot of time with any given story.
t4nky: How often do you look over Top Web Fiction or recent submissions to find new things to read?
CP: I process stories from the submission queue as often as I have time, but that often ends up being only once or twice a week. I usually try to approve at most three new stories a day, in order to give them some time on the home page, but if the backlog is particularly long, I sometimes have to go as high as six in one session.
t4nky: So how long have you been managing Web Fiction Guide? I assume it was some time after you became involved in the community. What made you believe it was needed?
CP: As I mentioned earlier, I was friends with Sarah Suleski, back when she was working on Alisiyad. I had set up her site for Alisiyad in late 2007, so I had some basic understanding of the ecosystem from her. I started writing Winter Rain in early June of 2008, and I think WFG went live the first week of July, 2008. It was pretty quick, once we decided to do it. I built the necessary WordPress plugins and theme over the course of a week, while Sarah put together the original editorial team, picked from authors and reviewers she knew from her time on Pages Unbound, a listing site Alexandra Erin used to run.
t4nky: How hard was Top Web Fiction to design and implement? Is it hard to maintain?
CP: I think I put TWF together in a couple of hours one afternoon. It draws from the same tables and uses the same infrastructure as WFG, so there is very little to it.
t4nky: On a similar note, do you have to add in every entry yourself? If so, how much work is it?
CP: TWF and WFG draw from the same database, so there is only one submission queue for both.
t4nky: If you could add one new feature to TWF and WFG, what would it be?
CP: WFG’s software is six years old. It needs a complete rewrite. The ranking algorithm needs adjusting, and the user experience is too static and text-heavy. Also, a large part of the design was built on a social contract that did not survive reality (ie. an active editorial presence).
t4nky: The first time I went on the Web Fiction Guide Patreon page, there were several more goals, reaching all the way up to $75. Now, you only have a $10 goal. What were the missing goals and why did you decide to get rid of them?
CP: At the time, the RSS feed situation was becoming a bone of contention in the community. Every listing can include an RSS feed, which the site software uses to provide a summary of recent updates on the listing page. It also provides the data for the home page “Featured Updates” section.
t4nky: How many people on average visit WFG and Top Web Fiction every day? How many are then referred to a web serial?
CP: Stats–particularly web stats–are usually over-inflated. There’s a lot of bots on the web, IP addresses of mobile devices change constantly… even with sophisticated measures, it’s really hard to get legitimate stats. WFG’s tracking software thinks it sees somewhere between 400 and 600 unique visitors a day. I haven’t checked TWF’s stats in a while (and I’d have to do some work to do it now, so I’m not going to), but we get a couple of thousand *votes* a week, so presumably the number of actual visitors is somewhat higher than that.
t4nky: Earlier on, I mentioned how many people are referred to my serial by your sites. What sites refer the most people to you?
CP: I haven’t looked at a breakdown in years. Last time I did, well more than half our traffic to WFG was direct (ie. people using a bookmark). Nearly all of TWF’s traffic was via a vote link from a listed site.
t4nky: How many serials are listed on WFG? How many would you say are still active?
CP: A quick look in the database says we have just over 1000 listings. I’d say maybe 400 of them are still online. Actively updating is a subset of that.
t4nky: You’ve been around the scene for a while and have seen some stuff. What are some important events in web serial history?
CP: To be honest, I have a memory like a sieve, and history has never been my strong subject. You’d best ask this question of someone else. 🙂
t4nky: Certain authors like Wildbow (Worm, Pact, Twig,) Drew Hayes (Super Powereds,) Maddie Rose (Twisted Cogs,) and Jim Zoetewey (Legion of Nothing) have managed to attract quite the audience. How do you think have they been able to do it?
CP: I don’t think there are any tricks. They are all good writers who produce consistently, and who engage with their readership. It may well be that simple.
t4nky: Some genres (cough, superheros, cough) seem over-represented, while some like realistic fiction are barely represented at all. Do you think there’s a reason for this?
CP: It’s not really a new phenomenon. When we started, every other story had a vampire or a magic school. Next it was zombies. Now it’s superheroes. Next year, who knows?
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