Re: Checklist for New Stories

#1
Are you writing a new story on Royal Road, and want to make sure you're doing everything right? This is understandable, and you only get one chance to make a first impression. 

Here's a list of ten things I wish I knew when I first started out. I've seen new writers ask questions like this before, so I'm hoping it helps someone.


1. Read the rules

This way, you'll know you're doing everything right, and you won't risk any surprises later on. Also, if another user is harassing you via comments or reviews, you'll know that person doesn't represent the community. You'll also know when you're within your rights to report that person and have the negative review removed.

2. Write an Attention-Grabbing Synopsis

A synopsis is something your prospective readers are going to scan rather than read. They want to get a quick sense of whether or not this story is for them. This means shorter is usually better. Try to pack as much emotional punch as you can with just a few hundred words, giving readers a quick sense of the protagonist, his/her goal, the stakes, genre, and setting.

If you need inspiration, I recommend looking through Amazon for the bestsellers in your chosen genre. Amazon is an even more competitive market than RR, and the top authors understand that.

Blurbs and summaries aren't fun to write. As authors, we know how much depth our stories have, and it can seem impossible to compress that into only a few hundred words. but I'd argue that they deserve as much attention as a full chapter. I'd recommend brainstorming a few ultra-rough drafts, then refining the one that works best.

3. Select your Genres and Tags

This is a simple step that's often overlooked. Aside from the homepage and "top lists", the search feature is one of the best ways for connecting you with potential readers. Selecting the right genre and tags can help you do that. This can also help keep away the readers you don't want which can save you from negative reviews.

4. Have an Eye-Catching Cover.

Internet users are drawn to pictures, so this matters. If you’re just starting out, there’s no need to commission artwork or hire a designer. Just do the best you can. There are plenty of stock images out there available for commercial use, and sites like Artbreeder allow you to generate original-looking artwork for free. There are also plenty of free tools online that will help you add typography to your chosen artwork/photographs.

For more on covers, artsymarsy posted a comprehensive list of resources here!

5. Have a Strong Opening

Your opening scene (and even your opening sentence) are some of the most important words in your story. Statistically, these words will be seen by more people than any other words you write, so you want to make them count. Fortunately, I wrote a whole post on how to open a web novel.

6. End Chapter One on a High-Tension Note

This advice also applies to later chapters, but it's even more important in the beginning. Sometimes, a high-tension note can be a full cliffhanger, but that's optional. At the very least, you want to give your readers a reason to keep reading. Make them curious to find out what happens next.

7. Watch Your Chapter Lengths

You're probably wondering what "the right length" is. To be honest, that number will depend on you, and the content of your chapters. Most people I've talked to agree that a web novel chapter should fall within 2000-3000 words (a 10-15 minute read. However, I've also had chapters as low as 1000 words, and as long as 5000 words. It all depends on where the high-tension notes are, and how you've broken up your content. It would be silly to add or remove content just to fit an arbitrary number.

With that in mind, there are more benefits to posting shorter chapters on RR aside from reader preferences. More chapters mean more time on the "Latest Updates" section of the home page. it also results in more page views overall, which increases your rank on the "Popular This Week" section.

So, does this mean shorter is always better? If that's the case, why not post chapters with only 1000 words, or even 500? For this question, refer back to item number six on this list. Too many high-tension notes will make the story monotonous and tiring. Sometimes, the characters need to stop and reflect, and that can only happen in a longer chapter. You also want readers to leave each chapter feeling satisfied, otherwise, they'll have no reason to come back.

8. Give Your Chapters Titles

Whenever you update your story, the chapter title appears on the homepage under the "Latest Updates" section. That means your chapter titles are another chance to bring in more readers.

Some writers miss this opportunity and only put the chapter number there. But consider this, which of these options is the most attention-grabbing?

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9. Don't Post Too Frequently, or Too Sporadically

Some new writers will drop all of their chapters at once, leaving them with only one day of homepage time. After that, no one will ever hear from their story again. Other writers will only post once per month, and this will cause their readers to lose interest in favor of more active stories.

I'd recommend finding a sweet spot somewhere in the middle. Personally, I post once per week, but I'm on the slower side. More successful writers will post 2-3 times per week, and that seems to work well for them. If you write faster than this, that's okay. You can still hold onto your chapters. In fact, there are benefits to having a backlog. For one thing, it lets you keep updating even if an emergency comes up. This also gives you more time to proof-read if you need it. Personally, I catch way more errors if I come back after a few days.

10. Don’t Stress About Anything on This List.

This might be surprising, considering I just gave you a long list of things to stress about. But the fact is, you can do most of these things after you release your first chapter. Blurbs and covers can be changed, and chapters can be re-written. This list is meant to help you consolidate everything in a single place so you can stress less. However, if you find yourself procrastinating on your writing because you can't perfect your blurb, cover, or opening line, I'd recommend shooting for "good enough."

When it comes to posting fiction online, the first step is often the hardest. Once you have your foot in the door, you can always tweak things as needed. Personally, I've re-done my cover four times after posting, re-written my opening chapter five times, and re-written my blurb six or seven times. As you improve as a writer, your standards will increase as well. This is why I've found it better to keep moving forward rather than striving for perfection at any step.

Hope this helps, and let me know if I missed anything!

Re: Checklist for New Stories

#3
I'd add spellcheck and critique your work.  A spellcheck is obvious, and most word processors have an automated one you can turn on.

Critique aids with a lot of things a spellchecker won't do: such as pick up wrong words the spelling check won't catch. Such as find misuses and fat finger errors like:

meet, mete, meat
there, their, they're
past, passed
to, too, two

All of which (witch) words are spelled correctly, are pronounced the same, but have way different meanings and uses. These might show up in the text from over-tired typing, being rushed, chance or fat fingering. A word processor whizzes right over them.

Picking out other conventions that sometimes get ignored, like inserting commas correctly when naming people "I'm not sure, John."

Starting new Paragraphs when changing between dialoging characters. (Each speaker gets his/her own.)

General prose flow, over concatenation of sentences, other grammar corrections that might or might not be identified by a grammar checker. Grammar checkers are fine, but need to be used tongue in cheek. They often fail to know the differences between formal grammar and casual dialog, thought structures. I've read sentences massaged by them that are completely unintelligible from time to time.

Use the thesaurus attached to the word processor to help keep prose fresh.
Read stories out loud to sense their cadence and pace, smooth logical cohesion and flow problems.

The old "Yeah, but I'm an Idea man" argument. First, Ideas are a dime a dozen. Good for you, but a novel wants to be a pleasant reading experience, Prose writing is an art, like poesy. Passages that need rereading to understand, defy convention, or at least change convention raggedly, are misspelled, use indecipherable grammar, will make readers frown, slow comprehension, break the reading trance and destroy the fun of the experience. It's important such underlying errors not be there to interfere with the ideas. Novel readers are not taking notes, preparing for exams or looking up engineering information. As no one catches all of them, its imperative to sift out as many as you can.


Re: Checklist for New Stories

#5
A quick note about English. All that boring stuff you couldn't wait to get away from in school about grammar, composition, so on, is now important, sought out secret sauce that gives you the edge you need to empower your ideas and writing, and pull ahead of the crowd. That's okay.  No one gives a rats ass about tying a bowline knot until they own a sailboat or own a ranch. A good reference, like Jack Lynch's Guide to Grammar and Style  http://www.jacklynch.net/Writing/contents.html   Is your treasure map to all that stuff get one, or keep the reference provided handy to look stuff up.

Re: Checklist for New Stories

#6

Ankur_93 Wrote: Adding to the above, if possible, get your friends or family to beta read your chapters. You don't need them to fix your grammar; just a different perspective is needed.

I don't know how good this approach is. My family, for example, can't read that well in English, so they don't enjoy it and it turns into a double task since they don't like fantasy. On the other hand, depending on the emotional strength of the author, such action a) carries a chance to ruin friendships if the people critiquing are honest and the author can't stand the thought of their 'baby' being imperfect, or b) leads to an inflated ego since everyone is praising the work (possibly to escape the outcome of a)). As painful as it might be, I find posting your story and doing a beta-read swap or an honest review-swap the better option.

Re: Checklist for New Stories

#7

Ariana Wrote: I don't know how good this approach is. My family, for example, can't read that well in English, so they don't enjoy it and it turns into a double task since they don't like fantasy.



I thought it was implicit that the family or friends would be fluent in English and interested in the story. I suppose that wouldn't always be the case. In this case, I would agree that this would be quite counterproductive.

Ariana Wrote: a) carries a chance to ruin friendships if the people critiquing are honest and the author can't stand the thought of their 'baby' being imperfect, or b) leads to an inflated ego since everyone is praising the work (possibly to escape the outcome of a)).

Having a thick skin regarding one's work and ability to accept faults are must-have skills for an author. At least that's what I think. If one can't even take well-meaning critique from one's loved ones, how will one face the brutal honesty of readers?

Re: Checklist for New Stories

#8
I think I agree with Ariana Vivoni in regards to using family and friends as beta readers. It can put people in an awkward spot if you ask them. 

Of course, it depends on the family and friends and how willing they are. I've let my mother, my wife, and four of my siblings read my writing, but they all asked to read it—I didn't ask them. They also don't give me that much feedback compared to my actual beta readers.

It's true that a writer needs a thick skin, but this is also something that develops over time. I would call it the hallmark of a professional writer rather than a prerequisite.  When I first started out, I didn't have a thick skin at all. I also wouldn't attach my real name to my writing until I reached a certain level of confidence (basically, after I finished my first book.)

Similarly, having a good team of beta readers can make a world of difference, but this is a luxury that not everyone will have.

And yeah, I thought about including proof-reading / grammar in here, but it seemed like such a broad category—almost like saying, "be a good writer." Even after graduating from college and writing fiction for five years, I'm still learning new grammar rules all the time. :P

Re: Checklist for New Stories

#10
I'm going to be as forthcoming as I can be without becoming ill mannered.  It is quite possible the average reader that seeks original free online fare either cannot afford to consume paperbacks, has less access to book vendors or a kindle account than normal, is involved primarily because he/she is an amateur writer, a specific hobbyist, or has no direct library access, or is not a native speaker of English. None of these are bad things.

However, the content providers (writers) have an obligation to present their best efforts to these people for consumption. As close to or even better than, what they might find from commercial sources. Well spelled, well thought out, with basic grammar in place, and worth reading. Some errata is always present, but a valid and ongoing effort to put forward ones best work is part of the writer's journey.   The very best advertisement is to write a compelling story.  Throwing money at a canvas does not create good art. It comes from within, and with practice.

I remain uncertain that practicing all that is required to become a successful advertising executive makes one a better author.  Something comes first, and places like Royal Road offer an opportunity to achieve that, while serving a community need.

Re: Checklist for New Stories

#11
Very very nice. Personally I feel that the last rule is one of the most important ones. It’s too easy to not do something because of having spent too much time only thinking about it or always thinking of reasons not to do it. It’s best to know that you can be better than good by just being good enough. Moving forward and learning is what’s important in many cases even more so than doing a good job or avoiding mistakes so you’ll always need to know how to move on. This is a skill that you can never stop learning because you’ll always find things harder to move on from than you’ve done before, and even if it isn’t harder just having to do it again takes effort.

A phrase I’ve made for myself is that Failure Is An Option because it’s too easy to forget that I do things for myself, and not because they would necessarily lead to some external rewards or success. Doing badly isn’t an excuse for doing nothing, and even if I don’t do well at all getting myself to at least try is just as much of a success for how much I can learn from it. There is nothing so small or so simple that something cannot be learned from it.

Re: Checklist for New Stories

#13
This is a great guide. I tend to disagree with such short chapter lengths (2-3k), but I like reading longer chunks at a time (7.5 - 10k). (Writing is obviously a lot harder, lol.) I'm so glad for that last point--what a terrible thing it would be if we could never edit our work. Truly atrocious grammar will turn me off from a work, but I can slog through most anything as long as there are paragraph breaks. (Especially proper dialogue breaks, so I know who's talking!) I don't know if it's my adhd or what, but I can't read large chunks of text. My eyes start floating off and I lose my place.

FAHyatt Wrote: However, the content providers (writers) have an obligation to present their best efforts to these people for consumption. As close to or even better than, what they might find from commercial sources. Well spelled, well thought out, with basic grammar in place, and worth reading. Some errata is always present, but a valid and ongoing effort to put forward ones best work is part of the writer's journey.


If I was new to writing, this would be very discouraging. It is not the obligation of a writer providing free stories to put out polished content like you might buy off the store shelf, which theoretically were reviewed edited by professional content editors, copywriters, and proofreaders before publication. It's not even the obligation of a writer to provide any particular crowd content for consumption.

I have little doubt that many authors chose the online publishing for the same reasons many readers frequent web novel sites like Royal Road. Traditional publishers have a narrow definition of acceptable authors and low-risk stories. Online, you can try out ideas that are less than mainstream, receive feedback, and build a following before ever trying to sell your book. (Not to mention, get external motivation for writing.) And people picking up storytelling for the first time, even those well-educated, have a hard time organizing their thoughts on paper and writing proficiently. These are perfect testing grounds.

Re: Checklist for New Stories

#14
Can I ask about tags

My post apocalypse sf story has a lead who can override machines, see through their eyes, as well as a heads up display inside his eyes, I would say that's fairly cyberpunk-ish, but the world is not like that. There's also elements of (body) horror and 'zombies' but again it's not the main theme, so is it better to cast a wide net, or keep it more focused?

Thanks

Re: Checklist for New Stories

#15

FourPin Wrote: Can I ask about tags

My post apocalypse sf story has a lead who can override machines, see through their eyes, as well as a heads up display inside his eyes, I would say that's fairly cyberpunk-ish, but the world is not like that. There's also elements of (body) horror and 'zombies' but again it's not the main theme, so is it better to cast a wide net, or keep it more focused?

Thanks



When it comes to tags, I personally lean toward casting a larger net, especially for subgenres with lots of overlap. As long as you're not deliberately misleading anyone with something irrelevant, it's probably fine. Each tag is another chance for someone to find you!

Re: Checklist for New Stories

#17

meili Wrote: Is it true that new novels should turn off ratings for a month because people troll them with low ratings?

Ratings can't be turned off. The "turn off ratings" option is only going to hide them from yourself, the author, so it doesn't distract you or discourage you. 


Also note that not all low ratings are troll. And they have nothing to do with a fiction being new or not: usually more popular fictions also have more haters. (but more fans as well!)

Re: Checklist for New Stories

#18
Ararara Wrote:
meili Wrote: Is it true that new novels should turn off ratings for a month because people troll them with low ratings?

Ratings can't be turned off. The "turn off ratings" option is only going to hide them from yourself, the author, so it doesn't distract you or discourage you. 


Also note that not all low ratings are troll. And they have nothing to do with a fiction being new or not: usually more popular fictions also have more haters. (but more fans as well!)


Indeed. The announcement of the ability to hide (not disable) rating explicitly used various emphasis and capitalization in anticipation that the people wanting to actually disable rating would get too excited. Additionally I would note that new and lesser know fictions have significantly more trouble with having no rating than having low ratings. The “trolls” as some authors complain incessantly about tend to target fiction that gain more attention rather than go looking for obscure new books (which would take effort) and the people who do tend to go looking through new releases tend to care more about what they are trying to find.

Re: Checklist for New Stories

#19

meili Wrote: Is it true that new novels should turn off ratings for a month because people troll them with low ratings?



Yep, Ararara is right that ratings can’t be turned off. Whether or not you want to display them on your dashboard is a personal decision since you’ll be the only one who’s affected.

But I’d say trolls target popular novels more than new novels. Honestly, new novels don’t get that much exposure, so a half-star rating in your first month is just bad luck. (e.g: maybe someone didn’t like your cover, or you wrote in a controversial genre, etc.)

But trolls definitely target novels that get a sudden burst of popularity. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised if Beware of Chicken has received more half-star ratings than all of this month’s new stories combined. The negative ratings just do more damage to new writers since they don’t have thousands of 5-star ratings to balance it out.

In the case of Web of Secrets, I got a bunch of daily half-star ratings while I was in the top 3 on Trending. Once I dropped back down to 4th or 5th place, those ratings went away and the lowest I got were 3s.