The rise of the Internet has resulted in the rise of self-publishing. We frequently discuss this phenomenon on She Writes, covering everything from the navigation of its pitfalls to the diminishing lists of the big publishing houses. What we forget, however, is that there are levels of self-publishing. There are platforms like iUniverse and Lulu, which give you a finished hard copy for thousands of dollars, and there are platforms like Pubit! and Kindle Direct which put your book for sale online as an ebook. Most of you know these methods and have at least considered employing them, but I didn’t know about any of these platforms when I started writing. I began on a much less official platform: fictionpress.com
I “self-published” my novel, The Matchmaker, when I was fifteen. I put the term in quotes because I never thought of it that way. Until recently, I didn’t consider The Matchmaker published at all. Sure, it was online, but that didn’t mean anything, not until it was on paper and making someone (hopefully me) money. It was just—online. Readable. I didn’t even think out my reasons for choosing fictionpress. I had already posted some stories on its sister site, fanfiction.net, and so when I decided to tackle original fiction I simply stepped one site over. All I needed was a place where people could read my stories and hopefully give me feedback.
Fictionpress is very easy to use. Once you sign up (the only requirement is a valid email address) and decide on a screen name, you can post stories chapter by chapter on your profile page. You write a summary for each story, and classify it by genre, which helps readers find their preferred type of stories. Readers can leave reviews, which are emailed to you and posted on the site with your story. That’s all there is to it: basically foolproof.
By the time I posted the first chapter (actually a prologue) of The Matchmaker, I had already put up half a dozen short stories, called “oneshots,” and the beginnings of two novels. None of them had acquired many reviews or many hits, and so, discouraged by the lack of enthusiasm, I did not continued the stories for very long. When I posted the first chapter of The Matchmaker, I included a note that said I would only continue it if I got an acceptable number of reviews (more than ten). Otherwise, I would let the story die. Much to my surprise, I got those ten reviews. So I wrote the second chapter, and posted it. I continued to get hits and reviews, and so I kept writing.
I don’t know why The Matchmaker gained so much popularity. I’d like to say it’s because of the quality of the writing, but after editing those first few chapters five years later, I can’t believe that. Maybe it was the plot, or the characters. Or maybe I got lucky. Readers mainly find stories in some combination of four ways. They can look on the “Just In” page for the most recent chapters posted in any genre, or browse the pages of content on each genre page. They also look through communities, which are groups of stories created by users, generally classed together because of quality, similar premises, or genre. The most reliable way of finding good stories, though, is to take recommendations. Each user can select favorite authors and stories, which are noted on that user’s profile page. If you like an author, you’ll probably like their favorites. While any of these methods can result in finding some well-written stories, it’s difficult. Anyone can post, and there’s no quality control, so you have to go through a lot of angst-ridden teenaged girls (which, admittedly, I was) before finding the good stuff.
I don’t know how my readers found The Matchmaker, but find it they did. By chapter thirteen I was getting over fifty reviews per chapter. By chapter thirty-three, I was getting over a hundred. People were requesting that I read their stories and give them feedback, as if I had some authority. Enough people commented on the typos and grammatical errors—and yet kept reading—that I was compelled to find a beta reader (an editor). I won awards on the Some Kind of Wonderful site, which is a site run by fictionpress authors who have other users vote on nominated stories in categories such as Best Kiss, Best Supporting Character, and Best Original Character. The Matchmaker won Best Lover’s Spat, Best MC (main character) Portrayal and Most Memorable. I was nominated for Amazing Wordsmith. All this, of course, also helped my popularity, as some users went to SKOW to find good stories.
The popularity wasn’t necessarily a good thing, however. The problem with a site like fictionpress is that your work isn’t officially copyrighted, and it’s a lot easier to copy and paste a story online than to do so with a hard copy. The Matchmaker has been plagiarized at least four times that I know. Twice the ‘new’ story was on fictionpress; twice on other sites. My readers alerted me to these copies in reviews, at which point I could email the site and the user and force them to take it down. Although all the plagiarizers backed off as soon as I emailed them, it’s still an unpleasant, scary experience. And I’m not the only writer who has had this problem. Many of the quality writers on fictionpress are taking down their stories due to plagiarism. While I refuse to be scared away, I can’t blame those who are. Even if fictionpress isn’t ‘real’ publishing, it’s still our work. Some sites similar to fictionpress, like Authonomy and Worthy of Publishing, have disabled right-clicking, but fictionpress has yet to do so, and it’s hurting the site.
There are other sites that do what fictionpress does. Authonomy and Worthy of Publishing, as noted above; also mibba, wattpad, and scribd. But I believe fictionpress serves a different purpose than the others. To upload to Authonomy and Worthy of Publishing, not only must you be over eighteen, you also need a full manuscript. Authors post on them in the hope that a publisher will find them. I can’t say how well that works, and it’s certainly a good idea for both publishers and authors, but I would never have posted The Matchmaker on that site. I barely had the confidence to write the first chapter, let alone finish a manuscript and expect it to be good enough to publish. Similarly, Scribd has the option of selling your document. That makes it terrifyingly official to a fifteen year-old. It also looks colder—more professional, yes, but less inviting. It’s obviously a site for adults who are bold enough to put themselves out into the world. It’s not just fiction, either; there are how-tos and even pamphlets. It’s a wonderful tool, but it wasn’t made with scribbling teenagers in mind. Wattpad seems to be the happy medium—the copy-paste feature is disabled, but you can serialize your novel on it and the people who use it are less obviously looking to be published. Fictionpress’s advantage over Wattpad lies in its size—more people who know about the site means more potential readers. Mibba is to fictionpress as Myspace is to Facebook, as in it allows copying (it’s one of the sites to which The Matchmaker was plagiarized), and has customizable backgrounds. You can friend other users, add photos, and keep a journal, all of which makes it rather hectic. Like fictionpress, it appears difficult to find the diamond among all the coals. All of these sites, and many more, have their uses, but fictionpress was the optimal tool for me at that point in my life.
When I finished The Matchmaker almost two years after I began, I had a full-length novel. I hadn’t realized it would be so long when I started, hadn’t known that it would be popular. My writing had improved by leaps and bounds from the last chapter to the first, both technically and in terms of narrative. Best of all, by the time it was finished, I identified as a writer. I couldn’t have had that learning experience with another site, or with the more official self-publishers. Fictionpress has plenty of faults, but it encouraged me without any pressure and allowed me to grow. If you’re looking to be discovered, don’t use fictionpress. That’s not what it’s for and so it utterly fails in that department. It’s for people who want their work to be read, who want to write for the sheer pleasure of writing without their writing necessarily going anywhere else.
I’ve edited the story three times in the three years since I finished writing The Matchmaker, and am finally considering if I should ‘really’ publish it. I’ve had enough reviews on fictionpress telling me that it is good enough, and while I don’t particularly trust their opinion, I do respect the fact that I have readers who would buy the book. Maybe I’ll go the self-publishing route; maybe I’ll try for the traditional houses. Whichever I decide, if I decide on either, I don’t feel any of the urgency, the need to be read, that some first-time authors have. I’ve already been read. I’ve already been loved. And really, isn’t that enough?
If you'd like to read the version of The Matchmaker that I wrote at fifteen, or to learn more about fictionpress, click here!