It is sometimes said that every person has at least one book in them. Luckily, some people know enough code to be able to organize all those books into a neat directory.
Last week, I interviewed webfiction reader and diehard promoter Jan Oda.
In keeping with the reader-focused theme, this week’s guests are Chris and Rose, co-founders of the webfiction directory Muse’s Success. If you’re a webfiction author or reader, and you haven’t heard about them yet, then there’s something seriously wrong with you.
Teasing aside, let’s settle down with some tea and chocolate digestives and have a little chat with them!
AMH: Let’s start with some history. When and why did you set up Muse’s Success?
Chris: Rose approached me with the news that Pages Unbound (which to my knowledge was really the only web fiction listing site at the time) was closing in early August of 2008, and not long after, I asked her if she would willing to work on such a site if I were to code it. One thing lead to another and later in August we launched using WordPress. Rose handled most of the initial population of web fiction listings, while almost everything added since then has been submissions from the community.
Our site traffic and user submissions didn’t really begin to pick up until we relaunched on the custom code base in late October 2008. This included the addition of proper submission tools for listings and reviews. The way these work was based on GameFAQs. GameFAQs was a huge inspiration to me as I had previously been involved in the spin off community (now mostly non-existent).
AMH: And why that name in particular? Who was responsible for coming up with it?
Chris: Rose thought of the name. I think it’s a reference to Greek myth?
Rose: Yes, that’s right. The Muses were goddesses in charge of inspiring the creation of the arts. I always thought of a Muse as someone who whispered story ideas into your head. So, when the muse succeeds and gives you a good story, obviously: ‘Muse’s Success’. I wanted something that would be unique, and perhaps if people were searching for the term ‘Muse’ on Google (for inspiration and the like), they would be more likely to find our site.
Chris: Charmed supports that. :)
AMH: Now for a tricky question: what’s your unique selling point? What sets you apart from other web fiction directories?
Chris: I would like to think Muse’s Success is more open than competing
directories or is moving in that direction. The listings and reviews are all maintained by the community. The sites code base makes no distinction between staff members and participants in the site when it comes to this and the site treats them the same right down to the submission process (with the restriction that we can’t approve our own submissions). We have a submission queue but the purpose of this to prevent spam (and stories that are not quite web fiction) rather than editorial control over content.
Future changes will only open Muse’s Success up more to community participation and increase transparency, although I don’t want to reveal anything or give an ETA as I still have previously announced things to finish up.
Rose: Yes, exactly. I think it is our job to reflect the needs of the people, because editors tend to be more rigid in the stories that they like. I think it is important to note that different people like different things, and I feel that editors in general do not do this adequately.
Being an author myself, I can understand how specialist fiction is often rejected by traditional publishing methods (my own novels tend to be a little bit out there). Our goal at Muse’s Success is to give everything a fair chance at being shown. To reflect this all stories are given a base rating of five, until reviewed or rated. You can also browse randomly, which draws from the entire pool of submitted novels.
AMH: You say there is no distinction between staff and users, but there are contribution points. Can you tell us what they’re for?
Chris: Initially, they were going to be used to award users with additional privileges based on the points they gained through contributing. But it has been difficult to come up with abilities that are not more of a gimmick or unnecessarily restricting for people without enough points. So currently, they are used for gaining levels and these in turn, slightly increase your influence in the rankings – although this may be removed when the algorithm is updated. Can I get feedback about this?
AMH: You also described your directory as “more open”. Why then have manual approval of reviews? Don’t you think you’re discouraging reviewers?
Chris: Originally, the purpose of the reviews being sent through a contribution queue was to prevent spam submissions. But to date, I don’t think a spam review has been submitted. It’s been similar for listings – I’ve only had to reject one based on not being web fiction. (I think) I’m going to go ahead and remove the approval process for reviews. For now though, the tweets on the Twitter account will remain manual.
AMH: Lastly, how do you envision the future of webfiction? And what will your role be in it?
Chris: I can see web fiction slowly gaining acceptance. Much like general blogs and web comics though, I think it will be relatively few that actually make a living from publishing online fiction. That’s probably not that far from regular fiction now that I think about it. I would like to see the distinction between web fiction and physical fiction disappear.
The most successful will likely be those who are apart of a network of unrelated (well, perhaps similar genre) works. Like Weblogs Inc. or Gawker Media are to blogging, but certainly not how FictionPress is to online fiction – you simply get lost in the crowd.
The role of Muse’s Success will remain as stated in on the about page. Gradually, more and more information will be able to be submitted like information on characters and such. Although, I’m not sure the community is big enough to be able to maintain something like just yet which is why I haven’t rushed to implement it.
Now personally, my role, will probably see the development of more WordPress plug-ins to assist authors, and of course, continued development of Muse’s source code.
AMH: Is there anything I should have asked, that I didn’t?
Chris: I don’t think so. I would be happy to answer questions anyone may have.
You heard him. Chris wants feedback. Aren’t you going to give it to him?
Catch you all next week!