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A double-edged sword
The sub’s competitive nature isn’t the only barrier, either. Even for NoSleep’s top writers — people who have already built a large following in the community — a writing career is still a tricky thing to attain.
Rachele Bean () is no stranger to NoSleep fame. A huge number of her stories have passed the 1,000 upvote mark, and she’s even had some standalones — for instance her best-performing story, They told me I was nothing but a dog — which have cruised past the 10,000 upvote mark.
“To date, I have six stories in the all-time top 100,” she told Mashable. “The last time I was able to check [before Reddit disabled view counts on posts], I’d accumulated over three million views across all my stories.”
“Plagiarism is an enormous problem”
Although Bean isn’t making a living from writing yet, she told me she’s hoping to change that.
“I recently signed with a manager who has a great track record in my genre, so I’m hoping that goes well, both for my sake and for his,” she said. “Back in November, I published an anthology that’s doing much better than I ever expected. I’m working on a few novels right now. Through it all, I’m maintaining my presence on NoSleep. Really, at this point, I’m just working hard and waiting for something to stick.”
Despite the level of exposure and the representation she’s achieved, Bean acknowledged that NoSleep is a double-edged sword.
“Plagiarism is an enormous problem,” she said. “My stories are reposted all over the internet, both with and without proper attribution.”
Bean cited one of her top-performing series — I Found My Old Copy of My Favorite Childhood Movie. Something’s Seriously Wrong With It — as an example of this.
“A little while ago, I submitted an edited version of the Childhood Movie story for consideration,” she explained. “A few days later, I received a curt response accusing me of plagiarism. It took several days to sort out, but it turned out that someone had already submitted my story to that same firm — and was apparently in negotiations. I was eventually able to prove ownership of the story, but the whole thing was such a nightmare that the company elected to drop the project entirely.
“That brings up the second problem: a lot of publishers don’t want to take a chance on a story that’s already available, especially if it is (or was) available for free.”
Bean has published a collection (left) and written some of the top-performing stories on NoSleep. Credit: amazon/reddit
There Was A Series Of Unexplained Deaths In My Town In 1988
In the winter of 1988, bodies began appearing on the border between my town and the surrounding woods. A group of campers had stumbled upon a man in his early thirties, completely nude and almost perfectly preserved by the cold weather. By the end of the day, two more had been found within a quarter-mile radius. All three were naked, found lying on open ground as if there’d been no attempt to hide them. One woman and two men. None bore any visible wounds.
The news exploded. It was a little backwoods town where not much happened, so when three strangers turned up dead hardly a mile off of Revell Street, it became all anyone could talk about. I was just a kid then, a few months into sixth grade, and the rumors that spread around school were ridiculous.
Family breakfast that morning was quieter than usual. Mom was horrified, poring over the newspaper as she wondered aloud if it was safe to send my eight-year-old sister and me to school by ourselves.
“Jesus,” she said, gesturing at the paper. “Look at this, Michael. They put their photos in. That’s just not decent.”
Dad glanced over. “I’ll bet you it’s drugs, and this whole fuss is for nothing.”
“Can I see?” I asked, reaching out to take the paper from mom.
She pursed her lips. “Fine, but don’t show Mandy.” I grabbed it and looked it over: three grainy pictures of nondescript faces. It was kind of disappointing, though I didn’t dare say that out loud. While mom was washing the dishes, I let my sister have a peek.
Everyone has to play along in the comments
There are over 14 million Reddit users signed up to r/NoSleep. The sub began back in March 2010, and the distinct brand of horror has become its own culture in the decade since — dubbed “creepypasta.”
A group of moderators, led by Christine (cmd102), ensures every post is approved and follows the strict set of rules before it is posted. A story has to be believably within reason, be a first-person narrative, and the writer cannot die before the end.
Mods also read every comment made on the stories, making sure they are respectful and contribute to the discussion by playing along.
Rog doesn’t remember when he first came across r/NoSleep, but he was sucked in and has been a long-time fan for seven or eight years. He’s been a mod for about a year now, helping out with reading the stories and contacting writers if they need to make changes before being published or if they haven’t made the cut.
He dedicates 10-20 hours a week of his spare time to the sub, yet still finds himself losing hours by falling down “the NoSleep rabbit hole,” especially when it’s a series with multiple parts that provides a slow burn with plenty of character development.
“It’s not something I like to read at 3 a.m. because I will never sleep,” he said, fittingly.
What Rog loves about the sub is the “creep factor” that really makes you feel terror for the person who is writing the story. It’s a very specific brand of horror where the community gets involved and interacts with the writer, so they become part of the story.
“The whole goal of the story is to inspire fear in others,” Rog said. “In some of my favorites, you can feel it. I don’t know if they’ve actually experienced this in their lives, but they’re either exceptional writers or they’re just putting out what they feel.”
For a week I kept waking up at 4:27 A.M. I couldn’t explain it and I never tried to. I had thought to myself that it was because my internal alarm clock, that my body was waking itself up at that same exact time every night. Again, I couldn’t explain it.
I talked to my mom about it and she didn’t seem worried. I tried talking to my friends about it and they hadn’t had a similar experience. I accepted that it would always happen until something would break the cycle. Well, last week, I woke up at that same time, and everything changed.
I didn’t want to post this considering that I knew nobody would think it was for real, that I was making it up, but I believe that when I woke up at 4:27 last week, I awakened in a different, darker place.
I went to bed at my usual time at roughly 10:30. It wasn’t awfully late, and it gave me time to procrastinate throughout the night. I thought it suited me well and I never had a problem with it. So I went to bed expecting to be awakened at that same exact time. My eyes drifted off to sleep.
Sometime later, after a dream I don’t even remember, I awoke, looked at the clock, and there it was: my iHome read 4:27. I sighed and put my head back down and drifted off to sleep once more. But then I heard something. It was a small noise, not really noticeable, but it sounded like a whisper. It was quiet, and it was definitely coming from one single voice in the direction of my closet. I shooed away my increasing heartbeat and closed my eyes again.
The Penpal legacy
That’s the thing: DeWitt isn’t the only one. A number of writers in the NoSleep community have gone on to find representation, publish collections, or have their work narrated on podcasts.
Some have even signed with major publishers.
Perhaps the most famous example of this is Dathan Auerbach, whose second novel Bad Man was published by Doubleday last year. Auerbach’s first novel, Penpal, began as a series of posts on NoSleep which he eventually turned into a full-length book — a book he self-published after running a crowdfunding campaign that raised almost $16,000.
After Penpal was published, Auerbach returned to NoSleep to thank the community.
“Thanks so much for everything,” he wrote. “I quite literally could not have done this without you.”
Where you should start
Rog thinks the sub isn’t just a great place for entertainment, but also for writers to hone their craft and really experiment with their voice.
“The guidelines of posting forces you to be a better writer, honestly, because you’ve got to stick to within this certain parameters and then still craft something that’s interesting and engaging,” he said, “and I think that helps writers a lot.”
Rebecca loves how much variation there is on r/NoSleep, which makes sense given hundreds of stories are submitted every day.
“I think the ones that make the most impact are the ones where there’s more of a beautiful aspect to them as well, or something really grim,” she said.
Some of her highlights include “Free Coffee with Order of Pie by /u/Deadnspread, the 8-year long “Correspondence” series by /u/bloodstains, and “The New Fish” by /u/Theworldisgrim. She said her favorite is probably “Let Me Introduce the Demon Inside of You” by u/ByfelsDisciple.
“It’s really haunting because it’s about the concentration camps, which is a really difficult thing to write about,” she said. “But I think that’s emblematic of what’s so cool about r/NoSleep — it’s not just ghost stories or someone being chased by a killer, you can write something really deep like that and still have it meet all of the rules.”