The Trouble with HubPages
I started writing on HubPages on the 27th of May 2008.
My first story was called The Bard of Ely’s Nature Conservation Site. I’d just got back from Tenerife, where I’d met my old friend Steve, the Bard of Ely, who regular readers at HubPages will know very well. Steve was very enthusiastic about the site as he was hoping to make a little money to supplement his meagre income as an on-line writer. The thing is, he didn’t really like what he was being asked to write about in his other work. Writing on HubPages meant he could write about things he liked instead, and maybe make a little money while he was at it. He encouraged me to look into it and to have a go.
Naturally enough, my first story had to be about Steve. Steve has always been an inspiration to me. Many of the things I’ve written in the past, including one of my books, have been based upon conversations I’ve had with Steve. He’s such an entertaining character. I soon found myself embroiled in a very long-winded story about some of the conversations we’d had while I’d been out on the Island. The first, second and fourth of my stories were all based on this. You’ll see that the fourth story is unfinished. I was working up to the finale, but bottled out. I might have gone on, except I began to think I might be embarrassing my old friend with all of this undue attention, and so the series remains unfinished.
Meanwhile I guess I got the bug.
My third story, How To Be Invisible, is my most successful on-line story ever. It was based upon a column I wrote for Prediction magazine, which, for some reason, the editorial staff didn’t like. They thought it was too negative. I’ll leave you to decide whether it is negative or not. It was originally published on my blog, Ten Thousand Days, but moved over here once I’d seen the potential.
The point about HubPages, which I like, is that every page has a unique address: unlike a blog, which is more like an on-line diary in which the top page always obscures the preceding pages. That was the first thing I was drawn to. And then, once I’d got the hang of it, I liked the look of the page too. It’s a very attractive page, clean and lively looking, with enough going on to make the site look interesting, but not enough to make it look crowded.
I began moving quite a few of my stories over here.
Another thing I liked was the ability to add a sound track to your words by using YouTube.
This really came to life for me with the sixth story I published, called Riding With Lady Luck. There are a number of songs mentioned in the story and it seemed like a good idea to actually play the songs. This was a revelation. All of a sudden the idea of an on-line magazine with accompanying soundtrack seemed like a really exciting prospect. Not only could you add pictures to your words, you could add music too. That page really came alive and I think this was the point at which I began to see the potential of on-line publishing.
I won’t start listing every story I’ve ever published on HubPages as that would be boring.
I’ll just mention two more for the time being, before I get on with what I really want to say in this essay.
The first was called We’re Here Because We’re Here. Many people will remember it as it made my name on HubPages, becoming an instant hit. A lot of people listed amongst my fans became so on the back of that story.
It was actually written as a magazine article, but I couldn’t find a buyer. I think if you look at it you will agree it certainly deserves a wider audience. It is one of my favourite stories, very poignant and full of deep emotional power.
The second was called Beyond the Forest: Journeys to the Heart of Transylvania, and this too was a great hit with the HubPages community.
This one was based upon the first chapter of a book I’d started but never finished, again because I couldn’t find a buyer. However, it definitely works as a story in its own right.
If you hit the “explore” button under the HubPages masthead you get a chart of whatever are the most popular stories that day.
Beyond the Forest was number one in that chart for about a week. This is the point at which I became seriously addicted to HubPages.
The Last of the Hippies by CJ Stone
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People familiar with HubPages will know that it is essentially a social networking site for writers. Very soon you find yourself interacting with the other writers on the site, reading their hubs and leaving messages, joining their fan clubs and generally participating in the HubPages community.
I made a number of friends. I began spending more and more time on HubPages, writing stories, publishing stories, commenting on other people’s stories, promoting my own stories, participating in the forums, and engaging in debate.
This is a positive thing as it encourages you to write. It encourages you to put words on screen. And the result is very interesting. You have a page which not only looks good, but it can be used as promotion too. You can send your links off to potential clients, to show them how you write. It is an attractive package since, to all intents and purposes, it looks like a page from an on-line magazine. It’s a great way to sell your writing.
Unfortunately, as I began to learn, there are drawbacks too.
The first is that good writing does not always go down all that well on HubPages.
How To Be Invisible – my most successful story - has had 4670 hits at the time of writing. We’re Here Because We’re Here has had 4318, while Beyond The Forest has had a mere 902 hits. It hasn’t even hit a thousand yet, despite the fact it was number one on HubPages for over a week, and was one of my most popular stories.
There’s no way you can earn money on HubPages with the sort of stuff that I write.
I know that some people do make money on HubPages, but I’ve never made a single penny.
Whatever the qualities are that sell stories to newspapers are not the same ones that sell stories on-line. It’s hard to say why this might be. I think people’s attention span is less on-line. I know myself that I can’t read more than about 2,000 words before I’m beginning to flag. That Beyond the Forest story is about 17,000 words long. It’s no wonder that very few people have the stamina to keep reading.
The second problem is that HubPages’ basic purposes are in contradiction with each other. It’s partly a social networking site, partly a tool for self-promotion, partly a blog, and partly a showcase for your on-line writing.
Social networking means making friends, but you soon learn that many of your on-line “friends” are only after promoting themselves. This is natural enough, of course. That’s what we’re all up to on here. But the game begins to wear a little thin when you realise that a large percentage of the comments and fan mail are only there as a form of self promotion. We all know them, the “nice hub” sort of comment, non-committal and vague. Sometimes you wonder if some of the people who leave comments have even bothered to read your hubs at all.
The pressure is on for self-promotion. I’m sure you get people sitting up all night writing some generic comments on as many hubs as they can find in order to promote their own hubs. This must make for some very awkward relationships as on-line self-promoters promote themselves on other on-line self-promoters self-promoting hubs. Who’s promoting who here?
The third problem is that the act of publishing yourself on HubPages can become a substitute for real publication. It's a form of vanity publishing. The thrill of seeing your stories up here, and of getting feedback from within the HubPages community, begins to seem like the real thing. It has all the hallmarks of a magazine article. It looks like a magazine article. It has adverts and links like a good on-line article. You are getting a response to your stories. People leave comments. This is much more immediate than a magazine article, which might take several months from submission to publication, and then even more time for feedback. A HubPages story can be written one day and up on-line later that same day, with comments coming in within minutes.
When I first put that We’re Here Because We’re Here story on HubPages, it had been sitting round in my bottom drawer for six months at least. I’d sent details of it to every magazine editor I could find, but none of them would bite. And now, here it was, up on-line, there for everyone to see.
And the response was fantastic. People were raving about it. It was all very intoxicating. And at first, while you still think you have the prospect of earning money from the story, this is payment enough. One day, you feel sure, that story of yours will pay off. People will start to read it. They will click on the Google links, and the money will start rolling in.
Only it never did for me.
Very soon you realise that the majority of hits are coming from within the HubPages community itself and that there is a fairly limited audience out there. HubPages readers are unlikely to hit any of the links as their main purpose is to sell their own stories. It’s a crowded market. Everyone is trying to sell something to everyone else.
Later I discovered that several of my rivals were earning substantial amounts of money. I found this very difficult as I pride myself on my writing. The idea that my writing was being valued less than other people’s was very difficult for me.
You imagine you are talking to the whole world and that it will only be a matter of time before your work is internationally recognised. There are blogs that are that successful, why not yours?
This is another area where HubPages falls between two worlds, of course. The thing that most attracted me to HubPages – the fact that every article has a unique address – is a disadvantage for a blog, which only needs one address. In order to follow someone on HubPages you would have to make the effort of pressing the “follow” button on HubPages itself. If you save to Bookmarks in the usual way, all you are saving is that one particular article.
The net effect of all of this for a working writer like me
is that you begin to neglect your actual writing career in favour of a virtual
one. It’s virtual publication in a virtual world, with a virtual audience and
virtual payment too. After a while you begin to realise that you are putting
huge amounts of effort in for little or no return. The only people making money out of HubPages are the HubPages team who are getting quality content for free.
I stopped writing for HubPages sometime in early 2009. After
that all of the stories that I’ve put up here have been magazine articles which
I’ve previously sold to a terrestrial publisher. HubPages has become my
archive, as it were: a way of preserving my writing on-line. I no longer
participate in the HubPages community. This is no reflection on the many
friends I have made on this site: it’s just that I’ve decided that it is a
distraction from my real work, which is to write and to be published. I no longer write articles for HubPages.
You could call this is the exception that proves the rule.
Read more by CJ Stone
"Stone writes with intelligence, wit and sensitivity." Times Literary Supplement
"Wry, acute, and sometimes hellishly entertaining essays in squalor and rebellion." Herald
"The best guide to the Underground since Charon ferried dead souls across the Styx." Independent on Sunday
"Passionately serious, irresistibly compelling, and hilariously good-humoured." Professor Ronald Hutton, Bristol University
"Searching, funny, intelligent and illuminating." Deborah Orr, The Independent.