A survey of furry story sites
Way back in May 2006, I wrote a little piece called “The State of the Furry Zine.” This is a somewhat informal update to that survey.
No matter what kind of work you create, thought needs to go into where you’ll publish it. Writers have more to consider; each site handles text differently. Print publications still carry a different weight for writing, as do e-books; there’s a quantifiable difference between having your story read as a Fur Affinity post versus on a Kindle. But has the web won?
Has the web won?
This was something I mused on back then, writing:
Whether we like it or not, print periodicals are in decline, and this trend isn’t likely to reverse. This is true for even professional magazines. Fan and “semi-pro” publications have even more motivation to move online: production cost. A 48-page photocopied fanzine with tape or comb binding will run close to $1.50 a copy just for toner and paper alone. A typical fan-level print run of 100 copies would cost more than a year’s worth of web hosting.
For small presses this is still basically true, though it’s an ongoing debate in commercial print media, where the revenue stream tends to be heavily skewed toward advertiser support rather than subscribers. Still, it turns out the print world isn’t dead quite yet, even in furry fandom. Not only is Sofawolf still around, we’ve seen FurPlanet become a little publishing empire, Will Sanborn has published short story anthologies of his own, Bad Dog Books is still producing their Fang and Roar titles, and there are even the occasional new entrants, like Pink Fox.
Pink Fox’s Allasso is worth noting not just for being new but for being something of a hybrid: its content is available online for free, but you can support the endeavor by buying the printed version. If I’m reading their guidelines correctly, they’re not a paying market, but award prizes every issue, “one work per category for a $50 cash prize” between poetry, fiction, essay, art, and “experimental/other.” Personally I’d rather they pay everyone a small amount, but that can end up getting very expensive quickly.
But really, I’m thinking about the all-important question,
Where should I get my stuff published?
First and foremost: don’t expect to make a lot of money, but you can potentially make some money. In fact, I think the market is closer now to being an actual market, tiny though it may be, than it has at any point in the fandom’s history.
If you’ve written a novel-length piece of work (or even novella-length), getting it out through FurPlanet is viable, and Sofawolf and Bad Dog are worth considering. Sofawolf has the highest quality standards of the three, and also the highest production values. FurPlanet may be the lowest of the three in that regard; the quality of the printing itself is on par with the others, but from all appearances they do very little editing and layout design work. I think of FurPlanet as a hybrid of self-publishing and a normal press. They are selective about what they put out and, all-importantly, they’re not charging authors for the privilege of publishing with them—but you may end up doing a lot of the production/design work yourself. Bad Dog likewise has good print quality and very nice art direction, but their proofing and copy-editing seems to be sub-par.
Speaking of self-publishing, the options are better now than they ever have been; thanks to companies like Smashwords you don’t need much more than a word processor to make e-books, albeit often ugly ones. I’ve had a few friends and acquaintances who’ve had great success with this route—and a few who’ve had virtually no success at all. Authors who’ve built up an audience first seem to be most successful with them, whether or not it’s through traditional publishing means. The big problem right now with e-books, particularly in “niche” markets like furrydom, tends to be one of discoverability. I didn’t find out that Will Sanborn had any e-books out there until starting this article, for instance!
One other e-caveat: conventional wisdom holds that the traditional agent-editor-publisher system, for all its faults, tends to keep the truly unpublishable crap from hitting bookstore shelves, and that one bypasses the gatekeeper at one’s peril. While it’s easy to dismiss this based on the crap that does make it to the shelves, anyone who has read even a small press publisher’s “slush pile” of unsolicited manuscripts will back me up when I say that we’re talking about suck at a different order of magnitude.
Really, if you want to make even a modest amount of money you must either choose one of the print publishers or take your chances with e-books, and your chances with the latter will be improved if you’ve gotten some name recognition beforehand.
If you don’t really care about making money—if you’d just like to get your stuff out there, that brings us to:
The archive sites
Here's the obvious mea culpa: I’ve been noodling around with my own attempt at an archive site, Claw & Quill, for years. The inestimable Balinares provided some actual coding help, and a few others expressed active interest, but my own enthusiasm has flagged considerably. While I haven’t given up, I suspect it’s going to have to be different from what I was originally proposing for it to move forward.1
I knew in my heart that I was trying to create a story-focused version of ArtSpots, a terrific art archive site which has very few of the issues that people complain about all the time with FA and a lot of spiffy new features—but which doesn’t accept writing. We need something like that for writing, right? Right! But frankly, the art-focused version of ArtSpots—i.e., ArtSpots—is a site that you are not regularly using. I don’t need to know who you are to say that with statistical certainty.
The problem here is the network effect, something that Fur Affinity has done a great job building and maintaining. For a while I was of the opinion that FA was simply in the right place at the right time, but the site arguably makes it easier than other sites to use the people on your watchlist as recommendation engines. That’s by far the best way to find new art/writing that you’re going to be interested in: go to somebody’s user page and you can see the last few things they’ve favorited without another click. For all that’s worth bitching about on FA, its design—even if it may be entirely accidental—has affordances for serendipitous discovery that its competitors are missing.
So. Without further ado, an overview of archive sites for writers:
FA is often thought of as a slow hunk of crap we all keep using only because everybody else is. This is partially true, although it’s not nearly as slow in reality as we imagine–on average, it was the second fastest of the four sites I’m reviewing (behind FurRag, which is almost entirely text-only). Beyond that, FA’s biggest issue is the perception that its administrative staff is so dysfunctional they make the Kardashians look like the Brady Bunch.
Let’s be frank: for writers, FA is abysmal. Browsers only see thumbnail images, so you must make such an image if you don’t want a generic icon. To add insult to injury, while FA displays the thumbnails at up to 300×300px size if it’s your most recent submission, it will resize your upload to 75×75px and then upscale that to 4× size. Thanks for making me provide cover art and then butchering it for me, Fender!
You can’t edit a story on the site, you can only upload it directly, yet it can only display an uploaded story if it’s in plain text (.txt) format. As it turns out, FA will interpret BBCode blocks in such a story, so you can still mark passages as [I]italic[/I] and [B]bold[/B] as long as you know that. Which you probably didn’t: it’s not documented. If you upload a story in any other format, then readers get the option to download it. That’s it.
Beyond that, your control over formatting either as a reader or an author is pretty much bupkis. Readers can switch between dark grey text on a pale blue background or pale grey text on a dark blue background, but in both cases you’re stuck with 10px (about 8 point) Verdana text with borders, borders everywhere. FA’s designer never met a white space he didn’t want to trap. 10px is irrationally small for large blocks of text—viewers can always bump up the browser magnification, but they should have chosen a sane default.
Having said that: we all keep using Fur Affinity because everybody else is using it. If you want your stories to have a chance of being found by the great horde of unshampooed furries, you want them here. There’s no way around it.
During my 2006 survey SoFurry was called Yiffstar, and I snarkily wrote:
It’s about porn. In your face, unabashed porn. Stories are categorized by the genders of the leads and tagged with keywords for fetishes for easy searching. At risk of standing on a soapbox momentarily: Yiffstar is the #1 hit on Google for “furry stories.” Don’t blame the mainstream media for the “furry = fetish” image; they’re getting it from us.
At the time I wasn’t sure who ran Yiffstar, either. Now I know it was Toumal. While we don’t really know one another, I like him, and the ambition that I see in SoFurry. While I found the original SoFurry to have a confused user experience, the 2.0 version—still in beta—fixes most of that. (Most of this survey is based on the 2.0 beta, so keep in mind that some quirks may be gone in the final version.) The site can be weirdly slow; I’ve seen pages that don’t look any “heavier” than their FA counterparts take 15+ seconds of loading time. One topped out at over two minutes.
Unlike FA, the new SoFurry has no way to upload stories, but instead has a rich text editor you can cut and paste into. This is both good and bad. It’s good because if you type directly into that editor you can do anything you want; I can convert my beloved nerdy Markdown to HTML and paste it directly into the “raw HTML” window of that editor. You can see the results with “The Narrow Road in Morning Light”; it comes out quite well—although it looks like re-opening the file in the WYSIWYG editor after saving it once turned all my em dashes into hyphens. (Yay.)
The bad is that, well, you can do anything you want. I’ve seen stories that wreak havoc with the site’s standard style sheets by overriding them with their own hard-coded CSS styles, are full of strange Unicode errors, and frequently have random amounts of spacing between paragraphs; sometimes even words. While I think “Narrow Road” looks pretty good—or will once I go back and fix the damn dashes—I’m a web developer. Typical authors may find it difficult to preserve important formatting in their story without screwing up the site styles.
The beta site uses a sensible 15px font size. While I’m not sure I’d have chosen Trebuchet as a body typeface, for screen reading it’s effective.
You can only browse stories by keywords, not descriptions. If you search for “samurai” you’ll find “Narrow Road,” but not if you search for “hisae” (the main character’s name). That search for “samurai” will inform you that my story is “Wolf, No- Yiff, Plot Development, Fantasy, Fighting, Character Development, Medieval, , …” (exactly like that, with the comma space comma space ellipsis at the end); all true as far as it goes, but it isn’t exactly enticing marketing copy. So far as I can tell, you can’t see the description I wrote without actually opening the story.
Intentionally or not, the emphasis on keywords sends a message: just like its predecessor, SoFurry assumes your primary interest in stories is, ah… keyword matching. Yes. Good euphemism. You can filter new submissions on your watchlist by adult/clean rating, sexual orientation, and gender; creator profiles include sexual preference and relationship status, and you can elect to turn on the hardly euphemistic “CumCounter” to “let viewers tell you if they’ve been naughty.” Although the Yiffstar-to-SoFurry name change was made explicitly (ha!) to reduce the adults-only air, the assumption that you’re there to be titillated is woven deeply into the site’s design, even with the new 2.0 release.
Bottom line: SoFurry has definite strengths compared to the competition, but be aware of its quirks. More of your potential furry readers are still on FA whether you like it or not, and without user experience changes, SoFurry is likely to keep its “go-to place to get off” reputation.
Also, the name gives me hives. Sorry.
(Incidentally, SoFurry is the #1 hit on Google for “furry stories.”)
Opening in 2010, Inkbunny was born surrounded by controversy, as its owner ran a now-defunct “cub porn” fanzine. Combined with FA’s crackdown on that particular fetish, Inkbunny has quickly become the archive to go to if you want to draw or view underage furries in ways that would likely be illegal were they humans.
Inkbunny is accepting of all furries with different interests, fetishes, and philias and it does not allow discrimination against others for those interests. The site has a built in keyword blocker that allows filtering of specific types of art, in order to suit each user’s tastes.
This is part of “The Inkbunny Philosophy,” which takes the tone of a revolutionary manifesto. “People want to buy your work even if they can get it free elsewhere, and that you should not worry too much about piracy of your work,” they proclaim, with the admonition that “making a spectacle out of legal action relating to piracy is not welcome here.”
Everything is welcome except for value judgements—and humans having sex with non-humans. “Human characters are permitted in stories,” their Acceptable Content Policy reads, “only so long as they are not involved in sexual situations of any kind.” 2
Inkbunny requires you to opt-in to “adult” content viewing, and you can block certain keywords from showing up in your results. While it has a concept of assigning content star ratings, they’re on a per-user, per-favorite basis: when you favorite something you can assign it one to three stars. But one star is still a favorite, and stars don’t affect how popular an image is. You can fairly easily find a user’s favorites, though, which gives it some of Fur Affinity’s “old-school” advantage.
On a technical level, Inkbunny has the most unusual presentation for stories that I’ve seen. It uses a fixed-width display, and stories are displayed in a 640×640px box with page-like margins, making them look a lot like e-books, complete with next/previous page buttons—although the story is loaded completely, so the buttons respond instantly for paging, and you can also scroll if you prefer. The formatting of the story is entirely under your control, as far as I can tell, but its default typeface seems to be the stalwart Times New Roman at a readable size.
You can upload a Word or RTF file from your desktop and it will let users download that, but you have to create a separate BBCode version of the story in IB’s editor for the paging display—however, if you upload a Word version of the story, it will create the BBCode version initially from that. (Peculiarly, it won’t do that for an RTF version of the story.)
Browsing stories on Inkbunny, though, is poor: you get the thumbnail image, story title and author, and a few icons indicating rating (general/mature/adult), type (always “Writing - Document”) and whether a digital version is available—I presume for sale as an e-book, although I’m not sure. And that’s it. Again, we don’t seem to be able to see story descriptions until we actually click on the story.
Beyond that, Inkbunny’s interface is probably the best of the sites I’ve seen; it’s pretty easy to figure out how to do what you want to do and it can actually (gasp) search story text, not just keywords and titles. It’s very fast. The site defaults to having background art behind its main content area, which strikes me as absolutely bonkers on a site whose main content is going to be other art, but you can turn that off.
The downsides to Inkbunny are the smaller audience and, of course, the politics of porn. There will always be drama associated with this site as long as there’s a substantial perception of it as The One Stop Shop For Cub Sex.
FurRag is much the same site as it was in 2006 on the technical side. Like SoFurry 2, it uses Trebuchet as its body type, although on FurRag it’s a little smaller and has leading a little too tight for my tastes.
Unlike any of the other sites, FurRag understands that blurbs (story descriptions) are important as well as the concepts of chapters and “collections," which can link books or stories into series. FurRag also displays aggregate star ratings for stories. They use TinyMCE now for editing (I don’t think they did back then). Their story entry form is ugly—I do not understand the site’s obsession with centering everything in a sea of white space—but serviceable.
Since my initial review, they’ve changed the ratings to “PG–13”, “Mature,” “Erotica” and “Private,” so I no longer have to carp about them having “X”, “XXX” and “NC–17” like they used to—just that there’s no “General.”
While FurRag comes in behind Inkbunny and SoFurry (but well ahead of Fur Affinity) in presentation aesthetics, in many ways it’s the best site in the list for authors. Writing is their primary focus, not an afterthought, and while you can list a story with multiple genres, they don’t have the obsessiveness over categories that the other sites do. Bluntly, FurRag doesn’t make you feel like non-fetish stories are kind of out of place.
FurRag’s big knock is that it’s like ArtSpots: it’s a really good archive site that you still aren’t using, are you? Right. Having said that, it’s not uncommon for stories there to get several hundred views, which is frankly nothing to sneeze at. Its big advantage over the other sites is that because it is focused on writing, the community that’s developed—while small—is willing to read.
Along with Pink Fox’s Allasso, this is the only magazine-style web site that I know of doing specifically furry things. Basically, re-read my original piece; it still applies. Anthro is still interesting in many respects—Fred Patten’s reviews and Phil Geusz’s column are nearly always favorites, and they’re currently serializing Michael Bergey’s New Coyote.
Sadly, Anthro still looks like a web site from 1995. (Fun for web nerds: run this site through the W3C validator and watch it break down sobbing.) I’ve also never been able to shake the sense that Anthro has a fairly static set of contributors and readers; while it isn’t formally a continuation of the Transformation Story Archive’s e-zine, TSAT, in practice it’s pretty similar.
The Pink Fox publication mentioned way back at the start. I want to acknowledge it here, but I haven’t read much of it yet. Like Anthro, it’s an edited magazine, not an archive. From what little I’ve seen the quality is terrific, and it takes a slightly more literary take on anthropomorphics than a lot of furry fandom does. I consider that a fantastic thing, but if you’re looking for (ahem) keyword matching, it is not your kind of place.
Regardless of what site or sites you use, take a few minutes to learn how to do the best formatting you can without overriding the native styles. My suggestion? Upload plain text with BBCode on Fur Affinity and Inkbunny, and clean, unstyled HTML on FurRag and SoFurry.3
Presentation matters. None of these sites are great at it, but most are serviceable. My ranking from best to worst:
- Inkbunny (albeit with quirks)
- SoFurry 2.0
- SoFurry 1.0
- Magenta crayon on toilet paper
- Fur Affinity
Presentation isn’t all that matters. For all of the mostly-deserved guff Fur Affinity gets, it’s got an awful lot of users, and if you’re trying to build a furry audience that’s important.
On all of these sites, your visibility—and the discoverability of your content—is directly tied to your participation.4 If you want more page views, there’s a straightforward formula:
- regularly add new people to your watchlist
- regularly add things to your favorites
- regularly leave comments
- regularly add things to your gallery
While all of these sites accommodate erotic material, there’s a noticeable division between FurRag on one side and SoFurry and Inkbunny on the other. FurRag treats erotica as both a rating category and a genre, but there’s no implicit suggestion that erotica is the norm. The entire user experience on SoFurry and Inkbunny, from setting the metadata of uploaded material through browsing and searching, implicitly sends the message that if you’re not there looking for (or creating) fetish material, you’re kind of a weirdo.
If you’re a site designer, a bit of purely technical advice. Story descriptions—“Blurbs”—are to stories what thumbnails are to images: they’re what makes you want to see the whole thing. A thumbnail of an image is the image, scaled down. That’s all you need to know whether you want to click on the image to see the full version, right? But a “thumbnail” image isn’t a thumbnail. It’s a cover image. On a paperback (remember those?), you turn it over to read the back cover blurb to see if it sounds interesting, right? So give us the goddamn blurbs, site designers.
Also: dating site or archive? Just pick one, guys.
What’s my final recommendation? I think having a presence on Fur Affinity is important, whether you like the site or not. Beyond that, it’s murkier. My favorite of the other three—despite the fact that I have no presence at all there (yet)—is FurRag. It’s the smallest, but it’s the most dedicated to writing, which means that everyone using the site is potentially in your audience: nobody is there just to look at the pretty pictures.
While SoFurry and Inkbunny are both pretty good at displaying text stories, they’re not so good for browsing. They both come across as more canted toward erotica than either of the other two. Inkbunny in particular comes across as more art-focused, despite having the best text upload conversion. (SoFurry is experimenting with automatic ePub creation and Readability integration, a clear sign that they are taking writing seriously, for which you can probably credit Alex Vance.)
An earlier version of this piece was published on the author’s LiveJournal; you can read more comments there.
- Explaining how a new conception for Claw & Quill will be different is, as Alton Brown would say, another show—in part because I’m still working it out myself. ↩
- Inkbunny is taking the position that if everyone is a furry, that’s safe harbor against even the strictest anti-pornography statutes, but if you throw in a human you’re suddenly in bestiality territory. I’m told this is based on their own legal research, but I can’t help be bemused at how my story “Travelling Music,” which caused no stir twenty years ago and is less explicit than some YA stories are these days, is too hot for Inkbunny to handle. ↩
- If you’re pasting in HTML generated by Microsoft Word, use the special “paste from Word” button on SoFurry’s editor toolbar. ↩
- I do not practice what I preach, which is why my “chipotle” FA account is essentially invisible. ↩