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INSIGHTS / BRIGHT IDEAS

Storial: Budding writers test their talent and turn a profit

Indonesia · Aug 11, 2019· By Putu Agung Wija Putera

Storial's CEO and co-founder, Steve Wirawan ©CompassList

By helping new authors monetize their work, Storial gives budding literary talent a launching pad

From short blog posts to lengthy fan-fiction works, the Internet has long been a place for writers to share their work, get recognized, and – if they’re lucky – get published. Platforms like Wattpad have allowed writers of all skill levels to find readers and get immediate feedback on their work, largely bypassing the printing process. Authors using the platforms don't even need to complete a book – publishing one chapter at a time and getting readers hooked along the way is the better gambit.

Storial has brought the same concept to Indonesia. The company was founded in 2015 by Aulia “LLIA” Halimatussaidah and Brilliant Yotenega, two writers who some years before had started a different self-publishing platform. Realizing that online publishing has much more potential for user and content growth, they brought in Steve Wirawan and Sofia Lu as co-founders for their new venture to help manage the direction of the company.

After almost four years later, Storial boasts more than 100,000 users – both readers and writers. Some of the most popular stories on Storial have received book publishing deals, and the company’s own print publishing arm, Storial Publishing, is readying more books for the hardcover market. What’s more, Steve, who is now CEO, said Storial is in talks to create web-series adaptations of their most popular stories.

The concept

On Storial, all users can sign up for free, and anyone can read or write stories. Writers start out by offering their stories for free, publishing them on the website chapter by chapter. Storial users can then rate the stories, leave comments or subscribe, receiving "pings" every time the story is updated or new chapter uploaded. The writers can also collaborate to co-author books and enter themed or branded writing competitions on the website. 

Writers who are confident and skilled enough can take it to the next level, potentially earning some cash. After making significant progress on their books, writers can request their stories be offered as "premium" content. If the curation team agrees a particular book is worthy of such status, the first five chapters, at a minimum, are then made available for free on the site while readers must pay Storial Coins to read subsequent chapters. The coins are purchased in batches of 100, costing IDR20,000, with discounts for larger buys. 

Writers can earn 50% of the token price used to access the chapters – for example, receiving five tokens if the readers pays 10 coins – while Storial gets another 35%; the rest goes toward payment gateway fees.

Easing the writer's path 

Steve said Storial set its writer royalty ratio higher than what published writers normally get – 10% of a book's retail price – because it wants to encourage writers to pursue their dreams. "Many people are dissuaded from becoming writers because it's hard to earn a living wage from writing," he said. "By giving writers a bigger share of the earnings, Storial hopes to help establish writing as a viable career for more people."

He also said Storial offers much easier entry for writers on the professional path compared with the regular publishing industry, where writers "have to go through a long process of submitting the manuscript, going through edits, etc." and where "it can take months or even more than a year to get published."

Most publishers, he said, only earn 10–20% of a book's sale price, and most of the rest of the money goes to distributors and bookstores. Faced with such risks, they can only put out books they believe will sell enough to earn a profit, leaving little room for editors to put faith in newcomers.

By allowing anyone to publish their work online, Storial provides a platform to "validate" story ideas in the market without the risks of printing completed books, Steve said. As readers naturally select their favorite stories on the platform, Storial gets the data it needs to choose which books are worthy of publishing.

Of course, the readers have preferences too. Steve said the most popular stories on the website are romance and “metro-pop” stories – the latter set in major cities or office environments, and often a reflection of the everyday urban working milieu in Indonesia. One such story, set to be published in print version this year, is Espresso, featuring as the main character a woman who can’t stand coffee but ends up having to work as a barista in a Yogyakarta cafe. Steve was willing to give CompassList a bit of a spoiler: “Eventually she comes to love coffee ... and the son of the cafe owner.”

A new chapter

Storial Publishing issued its first hardcover book, Rahasia Salinem ("Salinem’s Secret"), after it became one of the most read on the website. It tells the story of a servant with a royal royal family who has tended to the palace for nearly 90 years; as she lies on her deathbed, she reveals secrets that threaten the palace's illusion of harmony.

Other writers who have posted work on Storial have also received book deals from outside publishers, and Storial Publishing is gearing up to offer even more titles. Storial is also preparing to issue audiobook versions of its most popular stories by the end of the year. "We want to make audio versions of our favorite stories that readers can enjoy while commuting or working," Steve said, adding that he could not share details of the company's plan for web-series adaptations.

Steve said Storial’s goal will remain the same despite its expansion plans: "to improve the welfare of writers, so they can thrive and write better content." But Storial is not just a stepping stone for online authors to get published – it also wants to create a new, fairer ecosystem for writers, and boost the wider publishing industry along the way. 

For this to happen, though, potential authors must be willing to take a risk. "Many writers want other people to read their work, but they're also a bit shy when it comes to self-promotion," Steve said.

By taking the leap and publishing their first chapters on Storial, budding authors do have to face public judgment, but they also take their first steps on the path toward critical acclaim and, ultimately, professional success.

Edited by Vincent J Morkri