Q&A with Diane Lynne
Diane is super observant. She's impressed a lot of us at Ning with her ability to find and highlight bugs or little inconsistencies. Patrick, our VP of Engineering, always asks us to see what Diane thinks of new releases. We know that if it meets with her approval, we've probably gotten it right. As our newest Ning Superstar, we asked her about the Ning Network she created and runs, FreeWriters and Readers, which is all about giving new writers of fiction a place to read and be read.
What made you start your network?
I was a member of a very large and active fan fiction network on Ning back in 2008. Unfortunately, the creator of the network deserted the site and left no one in charge. I tried to contact her to take over management of the site, but I never could get a response. When Ning announced they were eliminating the free option for networks, many of my friends went into a panic because they felt they’d have nowhere to go once the site closed (many fan fiction sites don’t allow teenagers to join). I tried Spruz first but came back to Ning and made my own network, where I’ve been since May 2010.
How fast did it grow? How did it evolve?
I made a comment to one of my original members that if I managed to get 300 members I’d be happy. I said that to protect myself from failure, of course, because I really wasn’t sure anyone would follow me to a new network. Well, a year later I have nearly 1,500 members, and I’m very satisfied. This has turned out to be the only party I’ve ever thrown where people actually came!
We started out as a very small, close-knit group of strictly Twilight fan fiction writers and readers, but we’ve broadened out since then. A major fan fiction site completely changed their mission statement and deleted all works of original fiction from their network — and anything else unrelated to Twilight fandom. We had a flood of new members as a result of that change. Because of the influx of these lively new members, we’ve evolved from a site that’s focused solely on Twilight fan fiction to one that includes original stories and stories from other fandoms — from Harry Potter to practically anything else you can think of.
Your site is a fan fiction site. What makes it different than others?
The name of my network says it all: FreeWriters and Readers. I abhor censorship and strongly defend the principles of intellectual freedom. I set out to specifically build a writing and reading community that would provide my authors with a safe environment in which to write and post their fiction. There are no story deletions on my site (as long as they meet the guidelines), nor do I restrict membership. Anyone can join and read whatever they wish. This level of freedom is very unique in the small world of fan fiction.
How do you encourage writers to get creative?
We run themed “one-shot” contests fairly regularly, which helps keep the creative juices flowing. We also have regular writing challenges that help authors improve their skills. We also have a myriad of groups which support our writers in various ways, but I would say that the most important thing I do that encourages creativity is to give my writers a “safe haven” in which to express themselves. Writing is a very personal endeavor to begin with, and then you share that very personal part of yourself with strangers by posting your story publicly. It can be a very scary process, especially for new or young authors. Critics can be harsh, but my authors know that I will protect them from flaming (extremely spiteful reviewing). Also, since I do not censor content of stories, that one factor alone inevitably leads to more creativity in the writing process.
We’re impressed with your ability to spot details. What makes you so detail-oriented?
Simple answer: I’m a librarian. Think of all of the librarians you have encountered throughout your life, and you’ll understand why I focus on details. We’re very meticulous people by nature, and because of that I know my network like the back of my hand. One member stated that my eyes are everywhere, and they are. I know everything that is going on on my network, both with my members and with the technology. I find the technological aspect of running a network to be fascinating, and it has become another obsession of mine (which is why I haunt the Creators Forum looking for that next bit of amazing code!). I don’t know why I notice everything. I just do. That’s one of my character traits, and it can either be awesome or annoying, depending on whether you live with me or not!
What’s on your wish list for Ning to make next? What would help you out the most?
For our network, it’s hands-down chat. Our chat room is heavily used, so I’m looking forward to seeing the new version. (I’ll volunteer to beta it if you need people!) I would also love the ability to customize the appearance of Groups, plus add a photo module, video module, events, etc. I know that group customization is on the radar somewhere, but I would ask that you not leave out those of us who are using the old appearance editor. Group customization would be a major feature overhaul, and it should include all of your customers. I would also like to see some existing features given a much-needed facelift. The in-box messaging system needs to be more efficiently organized, and it needs its own dedicated search function. Also, we need more flexibility in our video and photo modules (moving things around more easily, bulk delete/feature, categories).
What’s the most rewarding thing about running a fan fiction site?
The most rewarding thing is knowing that my members are enjoying themselves. It's knowing that I've provided people from all over the world a safe place to escape from the reality of their daily lives; a place where they can write fiction with complete freedom, read good stories, and just have fun mingling with other members. I'd been a member of several other fan fiction sites before opening my own, and I'd seen first-hand the mistakes that other sites had made in terms of management and engagement of members. Being able to open my own site (because it's affordable!) and run it the way it should be run — plus having the support of my members while doing so — has made all the hassle worthwhile. It’s challenging to keep 1,500 people happy, but I've managed to do it successfully. I'm quite proud of that.