Web writers taste fame and fortune, spinning off films and TV series
Tang Xintian packed in her job as a financial analyst in Shanghai eight years ago to pursue freelance writing – strictly online. By 2009 she’d become an Internet sensation.
Tang initially posted her stories on the website Hongxiu Tianxiang, China’s largest online community of fiction lovers. Her first novel ranked among the three most popular on the site and ended up in a print version.
Then, in 2011, her fame ballooned across the country when another of her novels, “Naked Wedding”, served as the basis for a hit TV series.
Tang’s success might have made her a darling of the bookstores, but she still prefers to post her work online. The Internet, she says, is “a very good place to let people know your work, especially publishers and readers”.
You Ting, vice-president of iReader, China’s leading brand for digital reading, says there’s good reason for the appeal of online fiction.
“Not many people who are fond of writing actually end up getting their work published, whether as books or in magazines or newspapers. But the digital platform offers a way for writing enthusiasts to share their work,” he says.
“To share their writing with online |readers on iReader, would-be authors just need to register with one of the literature websites.”
The iReader has 600 million users – 20 million of them using it every day, according to the brand’s founder, Zhang Lingyun.
New technology has accelerated books’ migration to digital arena. In 2015 about 64 per cent of adults read digitally, up nearly 6 per cent from the year previous, according to the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication. Meanwhile the 58.4 per cent of the population reading books in print represented only a 0.4-per-cent increase.
“The Internet has changed the way we read, write and sell books in profound ways,” You says. “It makes it easier for us to buy books, but at the same time it makes it easier to stop reading them. It’s brought the universe of books to our fingertips and transformed the solitary act of reading into something far more social.”
Online literature has spawned movies, TV shows and games. Last year’s hit television series “Medical Examiner Dr Qin” was adapted from doctor-turned-writer Qin Ming’s online detective tale “The 11th Finger”.
Mao Minfeng, deputy editor-in-chief of CS-Booky, which co-produced the TV drama, points out that the source novel was “a mature and complete story” that immediately fit the needs of an industry short on good scripts. Online novels offer TV producers a good source of script material, he says.
Tang Xintian says there’s been a “sea change” among online writers.
“The digital-reading era has changed my writer-friends’ minds. Whereas they used to struggle to make a decent living writing online, they now see it as a lifetime career. They think more about how their writing will influence readers.”
“A growing trend in the publishing business is for online novels to be used as the basis for printed books, movies and even computer games,” You adds. “Popular online novels that have large audiences and broad recognition are seen as a guarantee of market success.”