Black Gate has announced that it will now be publishing fiction online. Which is exciting, especially since one of the first stories they'll be publishing is mine. The very first story, Jason Thummel's "The Duelist," appears here. It's a novelette length story, which generally means between 7,500 and 17,500 words, which is where the novella category starts. A quick word count tells me it's about 9,500 words long.
Rather than review the story itself, at the moment I'm interested in the format. How well does Black Gate's new format work for reading stories? Are they comfortable to read? Is it easy to keep track of your place? I find these questions particularly interesting, since I have an upcoming story.
The stories are posted not as blog posts, but as separate web pages, each announced by a blog post, such this one. However, for the most part, the formatting is the same as for blog posts.
For example, the story uses the same unusual color-scheme, light blue letters on a black background, as for Black Gate's blog. Now, I usually read the blog's RSS feed, which reformats the blog to standard black-on-white, so I was a bit wary of reading such a long story in that format. Surprisingly--or perhaps not so surprisingly, assuming that their web designer knows what he's doing--I found the blue-on-black color scheme to be comfortable to read, and had no trouble with eye strain.
Another thing that surprised me was that the lettering was large enough to read clearly on a mobile device. Unlike my own blog, that has a separate formatting for mobile devices, Black Gate looks mostly the same whether you're reading it on a desktop or an iPhone. But the letters don't shrink down to illegibility, like they do on some sites. It's still more comfortable to read when holding the phone sideways rather than vertically, but either way is readable.
Black Gate's blog posts have in-line commenting on the article page. This is how I prefer to see comments on blogs, but it can work to the detriment of long stories, partly by making a long page even longer, and partly because spamming and trolling can distract from the story. The solution Black Gate came up with works well. The story does not contain in-line comments, but a link to the blog post announcing the story, allowing readers to comment there. It also keeps all the comments in one place, to prevent a proliferation of pages.
I was curious about how well a long story would work on a single webpage (I had some thoughts on this issue, inspired by my insider knowledge of the upcoming online-fiction on Black Gate, a couple of weeks ago). If you navigate away from a long webpage, it's hard to find your place again. The same applies if you're reading it on two computers, such as a laptop and an iPhone, as I was. The iPhone also has the feature that you can tap at the top bar of the browser and it will automatically scroll to the top of the page. I can count on doing that by accident at least once while reading a story of "The Duelist's" length. Fortunately, "The Duelist" wasn't too long to find my place again quickly, but I do wonder whether it would be possible with anything longer, such as my story, which is much longer.
If you'll permit me to talk a little bit about my upcoming story, my understanding is that it will be broken into three parts and posted on consecutive weeks. Even so, each part will be much longer than Thummel's story, which has me wondering if it is broken up enough. One option might be to further split it, so that each part is on two webpages, without affecting the publishing schedule. Barring that, in-page navigation would be helpful. But these are thoughts I should take up with the editor.
Overall, I think the formatting that Black Gate used worked well. My only real concern is how well it will handle even longer stories, and I suppose we'll see that when it happens.