Christine Druga knows horror. It’s part of her job as the top moderator of No Sleep, a subreddit dedicated to realistic horror shorts. It is a place for anyone to read or write horror stories for free.
And with nearly 11.7 million subscribers, it’s also a place for writers to get noticed.
“You can go from a nobody to a somebody in the writing world pretty quickly on No Sleep,” says Druga.
The readers, writers, and moderators of No Sleep see the subreddit as a great place to hone the craft of horror writing and build an audience online.
“We have a lot of people who started out, they’d never written a word,” Druga explains. “They start out writing for No Sleep and build a name for themselves. We actually have a few that went from no creative writing experience to being published authors.”
More and more frequently, having a pre-established fan base is turning into a prerequisite for publication at major publishing houses.
That means writers need to cut their teeth and get exposure before they stand a real chance at finding a traditional publishing contract.
Contributor-turned-moderator Marni Robbins agrees. “The publishing game is really changing. And I think a lot of people are finding that developing an audience on a platform like No Sleep is a really great way to transition to self-publishing.”
“We offer exposure to thousands upon thousands of readers who become really loyal fans as the author moves to other platforms,” she adds.
Writers who frequent No Sleep often compete with their peers to achieve a coveted slot on the “Top” page, where the posts that boast the most thumbs up from readers live.
The successful writers who regularly appear on that top page begin to develop large audiences of followers. This translates to a large potential audience for short stories or e-books sold on Amazon or other digital marketplaces.
That proven success has brought on many opportunities for the writers in the No Sleep community. One of these amazing opportunities is the chance to be featured in the No Sleep Podcast, an award-winning podcast that features some of the most talented voice actors in the world.
“People are starting to realize that there’s a real power in hearing stories, especially horror stories,” says David Cummings, No Sleep Podcast showrunner.
And he’s right. The horror genre is starting to move away from the print novel and towards alternative modes of storytelling, especially the audio format. It isn’t the death of the novel that we’re proclaiming here. Rather, it’s the rebirth of horror storytelling in many other forms.
Authors all over the world have utilized graphic novels, podcasts, audiobooks, interactive websites, and many other storytelling techniques to truly engage their readers with stories that force the reader to interact and become involved with the story in a much more personal manner.
“If you compare it to a horror movie, let’s say a horror movie that is taking place in a creepy basement, you are seeing the director’s version of a scary basement. But with audio, we just tell you that we’re down in a creepy basement, and then the listener has to think of the scariest basement they’ve ever been in or can conjure in their mind,” explains Cummings.
"With the audience participating and using their imagination to paint that scene in their own mind, they’re drawing on their own deepest fears. And I think people are understanding the impact of that.”
Cummings’ podcast has taken the success of No Sleep to a whole new level, with a vast audience, multiple awards, and regular tours to watch live recordings.
The most recent tour hit 16 cities across America and brought thousands of fans together to create memorable, interactive events.
And all of that came from Internet posts that tell spooky stories.
That success, according to Cummings, can be attributed to the power of auditory storytelling and a community of writers online that aren’t afraid to take chances to capture the attention of the audience.
Horror is so well-suited to this sort of experimental, experiential content. It is a genre that is at its best when a reader is forced to transition from comfortable reading to being unable to look away as shocking events unfold around them.
This blurring of lines between traditional novel and full, interactive experience is one of the key aspects of the No Sleep subreddit, where all stories are told from a first person perspective, as if the story had actually happened to the writer of the post.
And as the traditional publishers are trying to catch up to the major changes going on in the genre, where are they looking? No Sleep.
“You’re starting to see major companies drawing on the online writing community for ideas. There are television shows based off of stories that people posted on No Sleep for free. So people are starting to take notice of this incredible wealth of talent,” says Cummings.
Christine Druga, our No Sleep Moderator, echoed this sentiment. “It is definitely being noticed by people outside of our community,” she says. “We have writers who are consistently approached by producers who want to make movies or TV shows or short films.”
This seemingly strange success of an Internet page that doesn’t filter content for quality is no fluke. It stems from the massive disconnect between independent creators who are experimenting with new ways of telling scary stories and the major companies that publish works of horror.
This success comes at a time when the horror industry is struggling to keep up with the horror genre.
And frankly that’s not entirely on the major publishers. The industry itself is not set up to take major risks. Indie authors, on the other hand, often feel like they have to take a risk in order to stand out.
For years, this dichotomy frequently left both authors and readers caught in the middle. But now, with the vast increases in technology that have given independent creators unprecedented access to millions of readers, the big publishing companies are having to play catch up.
Nowhere is this clearer than the Amazon Kindle Bestsellers list, which includes more independently published authors than authors from Big 5 publishers. It is this flipping of tables that is finally pushing the horror industry into the 21st Century.
And Reddit’s No Sleep is ready to continue setting the bar for internet horror.