Episode 173 – China Literature, Facebook Groups, and International Wattpad

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Question of the Week: How long will it take for mobile reading to take over as the primary form of online reading in the U.S. and why?

Is China’s online reading marketplace significantly larger than the U.S. and U.K.? Find out in our latest scorching episode! After thanking their patrons A Finger in Every Pie, Awakened, and The Prosperous Writer’s Guide to Finding Readers, Jim and Bryan tackled tips on starting from scratch, grading your own writing, and targeting the right readers. News stories included gender fluid pen names, potential changes in Facebook Groups, Instafreebie’s app-based attempt to solve side-loading, France adopting online reading, and China’s massive growth in e-reading. This week’s Question of the Week: How long will it take for mobile reading to take over as the primary form of online reading in the U.S. and why?
What You’ll Learn:
  • Why one author wiped the slate clean to publish under a new pen name
  • What one trait successful creatives have in common
  • Why authors should care about Also Boughts and how to better target readers
  • Why more male authors are disguising their gender with pen names
  • What new features readers can expect from Instafreebie’s app
  • How Facebook Groups are changing and how it affects authors
  • What new marketplace is now open for Wattpad authors
  • How a Chinese publishing platform is challenging Kindle

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  • Kirsten Oliphant

    I think mobile reading will take over SOON. My research on this is extensive, based comprehensively on ME. I have a Kindle…but more often am reading on my phone with the Kindle app! It’s just easier and always with me. So there you go!

    Also, per Jim’s comments and the discussion about FB groups, the reach seems to drop insanely if you are posting in your group from your linked Facebook PAGE. That’s one of the new features (linking your page to your group) and I have seen that if I post from my personal profile vs my Facebook PAGE in the group, the reach doesn’t even compare. So maybe FB is destroying groups as Jim said. Except…even after pages became obsolete, people still have them. And there are a number of paid courses about growing your page. People still care, even though FB killed them. Same is true for groups, I think.

    We are all slaves to Facebook right now and I think they can do whatever they want on their playground. So…enjoy for now, but build your list. 😉

    • Kirsten Oliphant

      also, achievement unlocked: FIRST COMMENT AWARD.

      • What is this 2007?

        • Kirsten Oliphant

          I had to think about that. Because WHAT YEAR EVEN IS IT.

          • Spider McGee

            “Last week, last decade — what’s the difference, Nicky? Time is but the
            chronological assessment of my haunted brain cells, and I’m working
            to kill more and more of them off every day. The inner war continues,
            and the struggle is real.”

            That’s from the latest work by my favorite author.

    • Bryan

      Ooh, time to start some obsolete courses!

      • Kirsten Oliphant

        YES! With no lifetime updates, just a FB groups in the first half of 2017. 😉

  • I would have liked to hear what you guys thought about the 3rd tip – specifically on the idea that best practices in marketing are shifting away from book funnels. It seemed like a big point that was kind of glossed over. Thoughts?

    • Bryan

      I think it’s still about funnels to a certain extent, but we can’t treat readers like cogs. We need to connect. We need to be real. That’s what many authors are missing.

    • I think I missed that aspect. Is the funnels part in the article?

  • And on a separate note: I don’t know why Jim thinks downloading an app is so hard that it becomes an obstacle. If I’m on my phone, and I see a link to Google Play for an app I want, I tap the link, the app opens in Google Play and I hit install. Two taps. I can choose to register (create username/password) then or not, but it’s on my phone now, for when I decide to use it. The creator of the app does not control whether I use it or not, though, so that might end up being meaningless.

    • Bryan

      It’s really about percentages. Do 90% of people feel the same way about apps that you do… or is it more like 30%. And if it’s 30%, and only 30% of your readers are willing to join something, then is it worth it? That’s really the question here.

  • Spider McGee

    It seems like the right author name can help readers know what kind of writer you are. My early stories were published in various configurations under two different pseudonyms, and also under my legal name. Believe it or not, Spider McGee isn’t my real name, and I don’t believe I could ever write serious fiction with it. I do have two other pseudonyms that I haven’t published anything under yet, but they are meant to serve different purposes. One is a masculine, tough-guy name, for men’s adventure fiction (westerns and hard-boiled private eyes), and the other has initials as the first name, because I may or may not allegedly be developing a filthy series of “active romance” novellas. I’m fairly sure that my writing style will not fool female readers for long, but maybe truck drivers will enjoy them.

    • Bryan

      I’ve always thought you were a tough guy.

      • Spider McGee

        Not tough enough to put a name known to my family on some sleazy trucker porn. That takes guts.

  • Spider McGee

    Mobile reading will become dominant, but as long as there are people like me, who have an abundance of manual typewriters, vinyl records, and rotary telephones, there will still be a market for print books. The reason for this is obvious: everything will never be available in ebook form. Another one of my weird obsessions is sleazy 1960s spy novels. I spent years tracking down the (34) works of Ted Mark, who wrote the Man From O.R.G.Y. series. These sold millions of copies in the 1960s, but how many are available as ebooks? None of them. Rights issues will keep many now-obscure titles from ever appearing on a Kindle, so if you want to read them, you have to track the physical books down. Print books will never go away.

    Also, to actually answer the question, it’s just easier to read on a phone than on a Kindle. I think physical e-readers will either go away, become smaller, or become more fully integrated into smartphones.

    • Paper books will eventually dissolve.

      The Spider McGee of 2517 will read the most obscure books on old mobi files because the people with those rights failed to have them converted to pure energy thought books.

      • Spider McGee

        Don’t you see? I *am* the Spider McGee of 2517 — man of the future, far beyond the understanding of this century, etc, etc.

    • I find my phone easier, too. I hope that better daylight screens and increased battery life will help down the road, but people will still whine about loving the smell of paperwhite.

    • Bryan

      And now with all the airport screenings, folks will probably just want to avoid the hassle.

  • Reading on phones will become dominant in 2018, if not before. Why buy a device that only does one thing when my phone already does that, and everything else?

    • Bryan

      I want my phone to cook breakfast!

      • So, so want that! I often say, my phone will do everything for me but cook dinner. When we get that, nirvana will have been achieved!

    • Maybe eventually. I think my generation gets that to a degree.

      My 21 year old daughter and 19 year old son do not. They say their phones are for communicating (they use dumber words though) only, and they don’t want to read on something distracted by the thought there may be an important (LOL) notification behind the book.

      I think it will take introducing kids to books on phones and tablets for it to take off. My kids may still get there, but it could take years of reading articles and news on phones, first.

  • Bookfunnel uses an app anyway, so Instafreebie will be on a level playing field in that regard.

    Currently, Instafreebie users tend to send the reader to Bookfunnel to get the book, so now that aspect is going to be more streamlined I think.

    Both tools use an app to get the book into your reader. It’s more like a stub app that does very little but go grab the book and stick it in the right folder on your device. Bookfunnel is technically easy, but you have to type numbers or a funny short url to get to the book. That’s only worth if for a GOOD book, so this will give poor writers a fighting chance.

    • Bryan

      The short URL thing can definitely be a pain in the butt.

  • Jason Riou

    I think the change will be slow or non-existent, it’s got to be saturated by now. But I’m an old fart (Jim’s age). Seriously, the phones around now are something in transition, they’ll likely shrink down to watches or disappear into implants, and good luck eyeballing words then. My money’s on the person that develops the app that robotically reads to you in whatever voice you prefer and you can’t tell it from a decent voice actor.

    Sorry I’ve been silent for a couple months. I fell off a mountain & had to take some time off. Finally caught up again. Always great to binge on SMBS.

  • Honoree Corder

    I think every day reading on phones is getting more dominant–as schools give kids apps with access to textbooks, and older folks realize they can greatly enlarge the text, more and more people will read on their phones. I read on my phone as a default whenever I have to cool my heels somewhere. There are still “paper holdouts” but it’s a smaller percentage of folks all the time.

    • Honoree Corder

      Thanks for the shout-out, Bryan & Jim!

      • Bryan

        You’re welcome, and thanks for your patronage and forever-support :).

  • Ethan Jones

    A quick thought about China Literature. Considering this is a very centralized, Communist country, things can move very fast and in any kind of direction. Not sure how much censorship or self-censorship is taking place on this portal, but some books that do not portray China and the Chinese government in a good light, my be banned. Or the Chinese government may decide to stop royalty payments or nationalize your work or any other absurdities the Communist system offers.
    Thanks for the great show.

    • Bryan

      I guess I should shelve my anti-Chinese government romance :).

  • I know personally I like using my phone as a reading device because I have all the big apps on it: Kobo, Nook, Kindle, BookFunnel, and the internet. Most tablets that are proprietary limit which platform you can read from, whereas my phone can access them all and is with me 24/7. (Unfortunately!!)

    But fortunately, if I’m somewhere waiting, say the doctors office, oil changers, etc. I use my phone to read. Most people read small snippets while they are out and about. Which is why I think Jim is so smitten with shorter stories and their futures. =)

    • Bryan

      I’m the same way. Doctor’s office reading for the win!

  • It will grow and grow. If my website, ads, cover, etc. should be mobile-friendly, my book better be.

    • Bryan

      Darn tootin’.

  • Robert Scanlon

    Seems like a lot of people here love reading on their phones. I hate it – too small for a fast reader with poor eyesight. I love reading on the iPad and don’t use the kindle much anymore (except long trips when battery life and device weight come into play), so I can see that devices will eventually make the book-specific reader redundant. Being platform agnostic I think drives this, too.

    But as Roland said, kids/young adults don’t read on their phones, so some cultural change in the West would be needed. My daughter is 14 and she reads voraciously on her computer and iPad, but never on her phone(s). Perhaps the change here would be tech-driven by the wave of Chinese and Asian-continent users who bypassed laptops and tablets completely and went to smartphones.

    As others have said, we need:

    – Lightweight devices
    – Screens that can be read in daylight
    – Battery life in days not hours

    And then for me, because I hate giant phones, I’d need an extendable, roll/fold out reading screen so I can have a decent page size.

    Apart from the cultural shift western world, I’d say all of the above is purely tech-driven, and could easily happen within the next 5 years.

    And maybe some new super-cool reading thingy will bring the kids in, in the way that the iPod brought portable music to a cool generation?

    Though for the last point above, I still think reading and listening to music or watching a video is still a “harder” and less passive activity – you can’t read a book while running/doing chores/driving etc – which is why audiobooks have such power, and why an “all you can eat” subscription program such as KU will only ever capture the keenest readers. Many more people will listen to hours of music; watch hours and hours of Netflix series’ than read even a single book for entertainment.

    Perhaps a hologram projection of the book with simultaneous AI readback and auto-dimming of the holo when we refocus on something else will be a game changer? (And all done from my tiny phone stored in my pocket!)

    • Bryan


  • I’m wondering if books on the China Literature system have to be in Chinese. Like India, China has a large and growing English speaking population. Even if that represents only a small subset of the CL reader base it could still be huge for us.

    As for the QOTW, I think a certain degree of device inertia will hold back the use of phones as our primary reading platform by at least a decade. This from a person who jumped straight to reading ebooks on his phone.

    • It might also be a particular style. There are literature styles in Japan and China that are VERY foreign to the ones typically read, much less write. There is a style, for instance, that has no conflict as we think of it. Very popular in manga and serial writing.

      • It’s something to watch for but I can’t see a market that big being limited to one or even just a handful of styles.

        • I’m sure they read western books, too, of course.

          There was a very well written response posted on this thread earlier, but it’s deleted now. It covered many of the pitfalls of publishing in china, like censorship, nationalization of works, and platforms used to discuss the literature, all of which which are further challenged by not being in English.

          • Bryan

            I’ll go find the thread. Sometimes our commenting system random deletes comments. Censorship!

  • Alexa

    Hey guys. I’ve heard you all talk about the China ebook market on several episodes now. Western businesses salivating over the China market on all types of products is nothing new, and it seems like now it’s the self-pub authors/publishers’ turn. I think the optimistic numbers are very misleading as the obstacles and challenges are enormous. To begin, the concept of censorship is entirely foreign to westerners. They go into the China market thinking they can do things the way they do back home, and are shocked to find out the PRC media/communications business is like a Kafka’s labyrinth. When you mentioned that there are fewer authors in China, I doubt it’s because fewer Chinese people write. More likely, fewer Chinese writers can get past the Chinese censors. Chinese media bans pornography, horror, and anything that might hint at political dissent. That means any writers in the erotica/steamy romances, horror, and dystopia genres can forget about it. Even other genres like thrillers, UF might be barred if they censors think there are vague or perceived hints of criticisms against behaviors of the Chinese government. PN stories walk a fine line and may ultimately be treated the same way as horror and supernatural. And that’s just your first obstacle.

    Assuming you get past the censors and miraculously get your self a translator (and how would you find a good one if you can’t even read the language? I’ve seen Chinese reviewers criticize badly translated books by Fiberread and you the foreign author can’t even read the bad reviews to know it), a typical western self-pub author doesn’t know the first thing about book cover trends (and they are very different from western tastes and preferences), story tropes, or the Chinese social media to build an audience. The language barrier is a huge problem and you can’t read the forum comments to know what you’re doing right or wrong, or how to improve. If you’re a self-pub author who finds your home (English) market to be a challenge, why do you think you can just step into the Chinese market and crush it? You can’t even start a email subscription list because Chinese people don’t really use emails. You can’t compete with authors who build a platform on WeChat. Many multinational corporations have gone in with the China dream, only to end up with their own dreams crushed.

    Lastly, government has a tight hand in controlling anything media. They shut down Facebook, Google, and every other foreign social media platform overnight. Just last week, if was reported that they will shut down VPNs altogether by 2018. They had turned a blind eye to the ebook market for a long time now and mainly held their grips on print books. But I’ll be watching how they handle this as the ebook market grows. The PRC government never likes it when there’s any form of media that enables too much freedom of speech or expression. People complain about Amazon shutting things down with a hammer. Comparing to the Chinese government they ain’t seen nothing yet.

    • Bryan

      Good points to consider, Alexa. Thanks :).

  • Crissy Moss

    China has a billion people, so it isn’t surprising that they have that many people in their market place. Also because of censorship in China breaking into that market might be difficult. Plus the language barrier.

    For transition to mobile reading in USA, I think we are already at the tipping point, but the bigger difference is that in the USA owning ten devices thay do the same thing isn’t unheard of. I read/listen to books on my phone, then switch to my paperwhite kindle when I get home. I also have my kindle on my pc, a tablet, and my boyfriends phone. And I’m getting rid of most of my paper books.

    I think over the next five years more people will switch to digital format for the majority of their reading. But it won’t just be on phone because we all have more than one device.

    • Bryan

      Good point. We do have a lot of devices.

  • Laura Martone

    Although Dan and I listen to the show every week, we’ve been bad little commenters lately. So, I just wanted to say, “Howdy!” – “Love you guys!” – and all that good stuff. Wish I could answer this week’s question with grace and smarts, but others have done much better than I could. I will say that I already do read a lot of books on my cellphone, but I have yet to give up my Kindle. Sometimes, I just crave a bigger screen, you know?

    • Bryan

      Howdy! Yup, sometimes you just need the 25″ iMac to read books :).

  • Benjamin Douglas

    I dunno… I want to say that larger screens will win out and ereaders will stick around (and I’m biased bc I love my kindle fire–I read, watch Netflix and Hulu, use Facebook, browse the net, shop, etc. on it)… but the trend in audio has been away from quality and toward ease. An MP3 doesn’t sound as good as a CD. It’s more compressed, losing a lot of headroom. And there are still audiophiles out there who will tell you that nothing digital sounds as hi-fi as the best quality analog. This is not an argument of taste, but one of objective audio quality. Nevertheless streaming MP3 has far and away overtaken everything else. So if that portends the ereading market at all, then phones will eventually win out.

    • Bryan

      Streaming audio seems better than MP3s though. No ideas if it’s better than MP3s :).

  • Marion Hermannsen

    Re Chinese reading platforms–I would LOVE to get my books translated and into China double-quick. However, isn’t the whole point of indie publishing the fact that we, the writers, control the marketing and contact to our readers? Hence the importance of mailing lists. How do we do that if we don’t speak the language, nor fully understand the culture? Without that knowledge, wouldn’t we just be one tiny author among millions of authors with no hope of our books ever getting discovered? Makes publishing in China kinda worthless…

    • Bryan

      That’s one of the issues I believe Joanna Penn has had too. She got her books published in other languages, but then who was around to market them?

  • Marion Hermannsen

    Re gender-neutral names–I tend to avoid male writers of romance and / or erotica, unless I’ve read them before or had them recommended. This is purely complete prejudice on my part because of some uninspiring / bland / 2-dimensional writing by male authors I’ve read in the past. Because of the sheer volume of romance writers out there, I have the luxury of filtering by author name. It happens subconsciously, and I wasn’t even aware I was doing it until you raised the point in the podcast. I’m sure other readers do the same…

    • Bryan

      Oh, I’m sure many readers do the same.

  • Marion Hermannsen

    Re mobile reading–I’ve just come back from vacation to Sicily and Amsterdam (I live in Germany). My phone is great, but for traveling, I take my ancient Kindle. Battery still lasts for 10 days between charges, and I don’t have to worry about blue-light before bedtime. Having said that, for the rest of the year, I read on my mobile phone (which they call “handy” in Germany). I go through a book a day because I read in micro-bursts while brushing teeth, cooking, switching between book and audio with whisper-sync, while going for walks, waiting at bus stops etc etc. So I concur with others in the comments: 2018 might well be the year when the balance tips towards reading on mobile phones.

    • Bryan

      “Micro-bursts.” That’s the future for sure. Thanks, Marion.

  • Daniel Martone

    It’s almost there. At least half of the people I know read exclusively on their phones… and a good portion of the rest, read at least sometimes on the phones. This is why I believe (like Jim) that shorter works will be more popular. We’ve even started to shorten our chapters to accommodate the shorter reading span.

    • Bryan

      Nice. I love short chapters.

  • Great show. I have three things I’d like to comment on: Mobile phone adoption, China and gender neutral names.

    MOBILE PHONE ADOPTION – Engrained legacy is hard to eject. People have been reading books on paper for a long time. I don’t think it will ever go away. True avid readers will always prefer books. It is a distraction-proof reading experience. Mobile phones will grow, but never kill off paper no more than DVDs and home theaters killed of movie theaters.

    GENDER NEUTRAL NAMES – Political correctness has no place in art. It is the killer of innovation and imagination. Use whatever name you want. The whole point is minimize friction between the customer and the sale. Just as editing and book covers are done to make sales, so are pen names. It’s the business side of the art.

    CHINA – I work as a communications manager at a major global manufacturer with a lot of plants in China. First, they, as a whole, are not technologically savvy. Manufacturing plants in China will ramp up and scale back, hiring and firing 100,000s of employees between peak and slow periods. Many come from rural locations, work, get paid, get fired, go back to rural locations. Second, mobile should be huge because most of China, like in Africa and India, will skip the desktop/laptop step in technology. Third, there are a number of flavors of the Chinese language. At the company I work for, the default language is English, so all managers and higher all over the world have to speak English. In order to reach those who speak Mandarin, we have tried a number of times to have simple power points or phone calls translated and they’ve nearly all failed, because of the variations in the language based on where the people grew up make the message unclear or unintelligible. As a matter of fact, most manager prefer English, as it avoids confusion over the the subtle differences in word meaning depending on the version of Chinese.

    • Here’s a video explaining a bit about manufacturing in China from a cellphone perspective. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEmu3Dz–bM

    • Bryan

      Thanks for the great comments, Pete. Interesting to see some insight into the Chinese mobile marketplace. Really appreciate it!