Thursday, June 25, 2015

Real Writing in Virtual Worlds

By Dario Ciriello

Part of the Indie Authors Series 

Second Life as a support system, social venue and marketing tool for indie authors

Back in the mid-oughts, before Facebook and Twitter became synonymous with the term, “Social Media”, Second Life was the happening thing. A 3D virtual world comprising some 25,000 regions or sims, Second Life, or SL, is like an active massively multiplayer online roleplaying game without the game element—there’s no goal. Hence the “life” bit.

Before the millennium, when the web was still young and hadn’t yet turned into something horribly like TV on steroids, the words “Virtual Reality” (VR) were big and our collective vision for the online future was quite different. From the 2003 founding of Second Life to its peak around 2008-2009, individuals, corporations, and institutions were scrambling to stake out virtual territory. Companies held virtual conferences in SL, and the military used sims to train personnel in bomb disposal techniques.

But what does SL offer the indie author?

Outdoor meeting area on Book Island

I’d been aware of SL since it began. I’ve tried a few online roleplaying (RP) games, but I usually find them too combat-oriented for my taste (with all the conflict we have in the real world, or RL, the last thing I need is to escape to more of it). So when, back in March, I saw an article suggesting SL was poised for a renaissance in the light of the upcoming and long-awaited release of the new Oculus Rift VR gear, I decided to have a look. What I had expected was fun. What I hadn’t expected were the opportunities that SL offers the indie author*.

Indie author shopfronts on Book Island

Second Life’s sprawling otherworldly geography is home to thousands of user groups, among which are at least several dozen centered around writing, books, and publishing. Most of these hold regular events, from live in-world meetings and readings to poetry slams and discussion groups. There are contests and cash prizes. Some sims, like Book Island, even offer storefronts and display spaces where authors and publishers can list, show, and link to their work. You can podcast in-world.

Some very notable writers have appeared live in SL, among them Kurt Vonnegut and, quite recently, Joe Haldeman. The question of course is, is there an audience? Don’t be fooled by my empty screenshots here, taken at a random time for this post: although SL has declined a little in the past few years, accounts still number around a million, with some 600k regularly active users and anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 online at any given time. A basic account is free, and although there’s a learning curve if you want a good-looking, well-dressed avatar, there’s nothing to stop one joining and attending just for a launch party. One friend and fellow author tells me she sold over fifty ebooks in one night after promoting and linking her work in SL.

Diverse as the SL ecosystem is, with people roleplaying everything from Ancient Egypt to Vampires to BDSM--and perhaps all three at the same time!—genre authors will find a ready audience. Many librarians are active in Second Life and participate in groups. And since SL supports voice, readings are a slam-dunk.

Cozy meeting and discussion spaces at Bookstacks

Beyond self-promotion, writers in SL will find there’s a terrific support system in-world. A lot of writers meet there during NaNoWriMo. And there are writers’ groups for every genre imaginable, from Fantasy to Furry, SF to Suspense, Kinky to Christian, and the lush landscapes of Second Life can provide a wonderfully stimulating environment in which to meet. What could be better than a writers’ group that meets around a campfire on a beach at sunset, with chat going on into the night under a giant full moon that shimmers on the gently lapping waves? You could rent one of the Celtic Writer’s Cottages at Milk Wood. Or consider sharing a beach house or mountaintop retreat with a writing buddy halfway across the world, coming together for daily writing sessions in this seductive virtual world to work on your WiP, perhaps hanging out for a while after to chat, or going to one of the many popular dance spots to let off steam.

Performance stage by the water on Muse Island

Finally, there are libraries. Lots of libraries. Perhaps the most impressive of all, the Illumination Library at Luminaux, comprises a sumptuous, beautifully detailed series of buildings set in lush grounds. The IL holds regular exhibitions—the current one features William Blake—in which one can interact with the exhibits, a tremendous source of joy and education for any booklover.

The Illumination Library building in its grounds

Blake exhibition at the Illumination Library

If you’re looking for somewhere to hang out with friends, meet other writers, buddy up for writing sessions, connect with new readers, or simply have fun after a tough day of work, you might want to give Second Life a look. As for myself, I’ve taken up sailing, which I find immensely relaxing. With a new sailboat that can fit up to thirty passengers, I know where I’m holding my next online book launch party!

Do you have experience in Second Life? Have you ever considered networking and promoting your work there? Do you know authors who do?

* In fact, I hadn’t even thought to look for them until my friend Emerian Rich (, author of the vampire series, Night’s Knights and hostess for the internationally-acclaimed podcast told me about it. Thanks, Emz!

Dario Ciriello is a professional author and freelance editor, and the founder of Panverse Publishing. His nonfiction book, Aegean Dream, the bittersweet memoir of a year spent on the small Greek island of Skópelos (the real "Mamma Mia!" island), was a UK travel bestseller in 2012 and has recently been published in Poland. His first novel, Sutherland's Rules, a crime caper/thriller, was published in 2013. Free Verse and Other Stories, a collection of Dario's short Science Fiction work, was released in June 2014. He is currently working on his second novel, another thriller. Dario has also edited and copyedited over a dozen novels, as well as three critically-acclaimed novella anthologies. He lives with his wife in the Los Angeles Area.

How to Use Second Life to Support Your Writing Schedule
Virtual Writers' World
Second Life Libraries: Space and the Illumination Library at Luminaux
Arts and Culture in Second Life


  1. SL is a great place for author's. In fact, I am a frequent visitor of Book Island and Book Stacks. And since I can always use a friend in world my name is BrookelynnRose Kozlowski. Brooke is my display name. All I ask is that you mention this blog when adding me please.

    1. Hi Crystal ~ and thanks for pitching in. I'm glad to hear that you find SL a good place for authors too. I'll definitely ping you in SL...I need friends to hang with, and I'll be happy for any more tips and guidance around that amazing world.


  2. Very interested that SL has such amazing opportunities for writers. As a gamer I was in SL for a short change of scenery and as like creating a virtual space. Sounds like it's time to re-explore. Thanks Dario.

    1. Argh, missed the reply button! See comment below :)

  3. Cool article. I've heard of SL but never tried it. As a gamer and writer I will definitely be checking it out. It looks really interesting.

    1. Thank you, Diane. As a gamer I think you'll find it quite accessible, and not a little wondrous. I strongly recommend downloading the free Firestorm viewer from The Phoenix Project, as it's far better than the Second Life viewer.Some people find the UI rather daunting, but I found my away around it pretty fast. At first the world can look largely empty even with 50k people in there, but that's simply because there are so very many sims. Also, some--like Book Island--only tend to come really alive around events. But there's really a huge amount to explore, and in the last few days I've been finding there are more and more writers there. Since it's not a game, you make your own way in there, following your own interests. There are also though some in-world gaming areas. Have fun, and do ping me if you end up liking it