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There are sites where an author can self-publish free-to-access web novels, one short chapter at a time (500 to 1.5k words recommended per chapter). Many of the popular novels are published weekly and have 100+ chapters.

I see authors making money in several ways on these sites:

  • Ad revenue
  • Tips through the site (readers can watch extra ads to do this if they don't pay)
  • Patreon or another external site

(This is quite different from "traditional" self-publishing. It shares some similarities with web comic publishing, though that offers more options for promotion.)

The first two options require your series reach a certain level of popularity (100-250 subscribers) on the site, otherwise you can't earn any money. And the last one is also linked quite a bit to how many people are reading your content.

I already know plenty of strategies I can use within the site (book cover, content length, content quality, engagement with readers, etc) and on Patreon (early access, bonus content). I suspect these alone won't be enough to reach that threshold of readership though. I want information beyond that on how to get more people reading.

How can an author promote and market their web novel?

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  • What is your genre and target market? Are you serializing a finished, edited and beta-read work, or putting out raw product?
    – DWKraus
    Nov 3 '21 at 2:01
  • @DWKraus It's a WIP fantasy story. SFW, but I don't know the target audience otherwise. I hope to publish it chapter by chapter when I have it finished or nearly finished (after review from some informal beta readers).
    – Laurel
    Nov 3 '21 at 2:22
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Writer's Paradox: You Need to be Strong Before you Publish (usually).

That's going to be tough. Establish published works (like short stories) in small things so people believe you're worth reading, or build a social media presence blogging about something or the like first, so you have a body of established readers (or just people interested in what you have to say). People will only read your works if they have some way to already know who you are. I'll admit, occasionally people have great luck, but it's mostly having SOME kind of "in" that gets you started. Figure out what your hook is to draw folks in. Internet fame is fleeting.

If your area of moderate fame is outside of your target market, figure out how you can get your group to read what you are publishing. Can you communicate to people on an English language SE that you are publishing and they should come check you out? If not, how do they know to look for you? To start, you may want to find a niche market and tailor your works to them specifically. So if you blog about bass fishing, a story about bass fishing will interest your readership.

Write another novel and work out the bugs of the process before writing your dream story. Constant re-editing is how you make the story better, so you'll need to be pretty good before you can give people WIP and have them like it. Once readers have read your work, it's canon. It will be really hard to go back and fix things in the story once you've published it (as a document OR on-line.) The beta readers are an excellent way to get started on this.

Try to get your work published in a traditional way. Even if you can't, or decide not to ACTUALLY publish that way, the rigor of trying to traditionally publish is a great way to get your work polished up and ready to present to your readers.

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  • What do you mean by "the rigor of trying to traditionally publish"? The format that I'm writing for currently is different from your average novel. For example, the chapters are very short and I don't think my final product will be the length of a traditional novel overall. (Seems unlikely for an unknown author to get their web novel "traditionally published" on the site I'm familiar with either; they ask for your previous works.)
    – Laurel
    Nov 3 '21 at 17:27
  • If your format is very different, then that may not work. What I mean is there is a lot of working and reworking material to get it ready for publishing, resulting in a stronger work. I've had to reconsider all sorts of things that I didn't consider while "just" writing that ended up making my work better. I do have to say fantasy is a wide-open field for length, and books are often broken up into odd ways as part of a series. It's also a really hard field to break into, so maybe your serialized novel idea has some merit as a breakthrough story. Good luck.
    – DWKraus
    Nov 3 '21 at 23:28
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Make connections with those close to your audience

That is, other writers of serialized web novels.

In traditional publishing, having a connection to a publisher is a great way to get your foot in the door. In online publishing, the same is true, but the "publishers" you want to get close to are writers just like you.

Start by looking at profiles of authors on the site. What are successful authors doing right with their profiles? What do their social medias look like? Preferably, look at authors who write in similar genres. Doing this allowed me to come up with more ideas, and next steps.

Next is to find people to build a network. Search the internet for the name of your platform and words like "authors", "forum", "discord", and so on.

Quid pro quo, you can ask your network to promote your work and in exchange promote theirs. This could be on social media, or even closer to your work — many platforms offer an "author's note", which is where I often see authors promoting other works.

Building a network also means a new avenue to get feedback on your work and ask any questions you might have on anything, all from people who've been there and are likely avid readers on the platform themselves.

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