Our disappointing experience using mirror.xyz – the lights are on but no one’s home

a woman in a red shirt sitting at her laptop with her head in her hands in frustration

3 min, 26 sec reading time

What is mirror.xyz?

Mirror could be a potential onramp for Web2 writers to enter the Web3Lit space. However, at the moment, some of the bugs and issues with Mirror can complicate, frustrate, and discourage new users from using the tool.

If you follow the crypto space at all, you know that mirror.xyz is THE publishing platform for Web3 creators. 

Billing itself as the “essential Web3 toolkit for sharing and funding anything,” it’s been valued at over $100m USD. 

It became extremely popular in 2021 because of the success of its “$Write Race” competition that had authors competing for “articles of the week.”

Since then, the reason it is viewed as the best publishing platform for Web3 is because it allows authors to easily generate value for their work. 

How does Mirror Differ from Medium?

Compared to most publishing platforms (i.e. Medium, etc.), Mirror allows creators to monetize their content with Web3 plugins for crowdfunding, minting their articles as NFTs, and even setting up a crypto-based “tip jar”. 

It also promises easy “splitting” of any funds across multiple authors, so if for instance, you were part of an amazingly-attractive-and-intelligent-husband-and-wife-team writing together, you could easily split any funds received from your work.

Because of this monetization strategy (and cache among the Web3 community), Mirror has become the site where authors publish technical documentation, deep dives on topics that they care about (like Meagan Lloysts “Metaverse 101”), and even crowdfund their novels (like Emily Segal in April 2021). 

Testing Out Mirror Ourselves

So, before we can help more authors figure out how mirror.xyz works in Web3, we had to try it out ourselves and report back. 

In our case, Lisa is an expert in Web2 publishing tools and has extensive experience collaborating using cloud-based platforms with authors worldwide. 

Jonny is not an expert by any means, but has played around with a number of Web3 platforms and has minted a few NFTs in the past.

Together, we make the perfect semi-experienced novices who would seek out publishing on Mirror as the first step into Web3Lit.

With all that said, we have been really disappointed in our Mirror experience and won’t be recommending it to others until some things are fixed.  

Our Experience Publishing on mirror.xyz

Initial Setup

When first going to Mirror, you find a polished background about the site and some promoted articles/projects. Only once you connect your Metamask/crypto wallet do you get to a completely different toolbox site that allows you to start creating.  

screen shot of mirror.xyzs homepage says create and connect your world on web3
jonny stockholm's mirror dashboard with two articles

Off the bat, things were easy. 

We were able to quickly create an entry and the content blocks to embed images, tweets, and URLs were all simple and easy to use. 

So far so good.  

But then we started running into three major issues:

1. Outdated/Confusing Guides

Again, we are not experts in the Web3 space, but we also aren’t brand new.  And we really struggled to get our first publication posted correctly.  

While they have a guide available, a lot of the directions are incorrect.  

For example, the $writerace that mirror.xyz became famous for was discontinued months ago, but that first day we were trying to figure things out and found a page saying that we “need $WRITE tokens in your wallet to compose, publish, or create an account on Mirror.”

This is simply untrue – and we know this because we follow the space closely – but a new entrant in the Web3 space would be really confused. 

The Editor Guide’s instructions were not the most helpful either. 

Definitions and terminology in the Editor guide differed to what was on the site, and so without a helpful Editor Guide to assist us, we headed to Mirror’s Discord server for more help. 

However, once there, we could not view any previously asked questions or get an answer to any question we posted. 

The Discord server sat empty and erased our posted question clean after a few minutes like we were never there. It was an experience that was not only unhelpful but also quite frustrating.

2. Inability to Collaborate

This was a huge disappointment – mirror.xyz does not enable authors to co-create on the platform itself. We had to draft our article in Google Docs, edit using Grammarly, and copy/paste the final version into Mirror. 

To co-create our initial draft, we needed multiple tools in Web2 before dropping in the final version into mirror.xyz that needed to be reformatted.

We wish mirror.xyz enabled authors to share the same drafts and co-write articles prior to publication.

3. Features Not Working Properly

Embeds not working

We used the URL feature to visualize people’s Tweets in our main article. While that feature worked during drafting and preview, they reverted to ugly links upon publication. 

The same happened with the image link display on social media. 

When we shared the published article on Facebook, the assigned main image displayed properly, but it showed up as a blank square on Twitter.

How are Twitter folks going to recognize our genius with a blank square next to our headline?

It looked unprofessional and incomplete. 

Issues Splitting Royalties

One of the huge benefits of publishing in Web3 is the promise of easier royalty management among co-authors.

Despite two wonderful people minting our article, neither of us has any ETH in our wallets from the SPLIT. We’ve tried to “claim” the split, and spent ~$10 worth of ETH in transaction fees, but didn’t actually get any of the value. 

Will we ever be able to access it? We don’t know!

split screen image of a man smiling saying

Actual Site not Loading

After we published our second article, we received a comment from a reader who had tried to access the article using multiple browsers and devices and could never get it to load.

If people can’t even read our content, then Mirror is not doing its most basic job. 

Lisa attempted to create a new entry in Mirror and was met with text that simply said, “Patience” in the center of a blank screen. 

What is going on? Is the site down? Should we come back later? Never?

Patience
Unfortunately, not a joke, this is what Lisa’s screen looked like when she tried to create a new entry in mirror.xyz

Suggestions for Mirror

At the moment, if you decide to publish on Mirror, know that you’re going to experience some challenges. 

Even though Lisa has coded in SAS, R, and designed WordPress websites for years, we were left scratching our heads numerous times during this process. 

We suggest the following:

  • Update the directions on the site and have them user-tested.
  • Conduct a user-experience test with non-Web3 people to find holes in directions.
  • Allow for all articles to appear in all Dashboards that have linked wallets. 
  • Update the Editor Guide
  • Update the website to remove aspects that are no longer relevant ($WRITE token)
  • Explain to users why there is a super ugly URL slug to those who are used to customizing Web2 slugs. I learned recently that the URL is linked to the location in the blockchain, but I had no idea that was what was happening and the URL is usually optimized for SEO.
  • Link to your Mirror blog that explains helpful tips rather than direct people to a vacant Discord server. I found some articles here helpful but again, I had to search for them: https://dev.mirror.xyz/
  • More user support is needed, even if it’s from the community. Mirror could provide Frequently Asked Questions or allow fellow users to help one another on the Discord server. No community Discord server should be radio silent.

When all of these issues are fixed, I think mirror.xyz will be great, but until then, proceed with caution…and patience.

We do not recommend using Mirror for crowdfunding until you are experienced in extracting funds from your crypto wallet.

From now on, we will not be publishing our articles on mirror.xyz, but instead, will house them here and incorporate Web3 tool plugins to our WordPress backend.

What about you? 

Have you published on mirror.xyz?

How was your experience? 

Let’s chat in the comments below.

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Review of Unbound Publishing

I’ve received a number of queries about Unbound as a potential solution for indie authors and started conducting my own research on the platform and talking with Unbound authors about their experiences. The following is my review of their platform, business model, and services.

Unbound is a UK-based publisher that uses crowdfunding to determine which books are sent to print.

Great, we’ve seen lots of small presses use Kickstarter in this way but Unbound doesn’t use Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. They created their own crowdfunding platform and integrated it into their site rather than pay Kickstarter a platform fee on every one of their projects.

Smart.

Unbound is a bit Unclear

However, unlike Kickstarter and IndieGoGo that display the funding goal, include the date of project creation and deadline, Unbound projects lack that level of detail.

I could only find the funding status, the percentage funded and the total number of backers for current and old Unbound books.

Their most successful book that I could find (it’s somewhat difficult to sort and organize projects) is a humorous biography/memoir about video games with nearly 9,000 backers and 1830% funded. You can check it out here if you’re interested. So it looks like Unbound has some popular books in their catalog.

It is tough to judge which books are popular and which ones aren’t because I have no way of knowing when the project was created.

If a project is 27% funded but it’s only Day 1, that’s not as bad as being 27% funded on day 37, you know?

Unfortunately, due to their platform, I cannot make an accurate assessment of the popularity of any of their books. (Except for the book with 9k backers. That would be a slam dunk on any platform.)

Without transparency, there’s no trust and without trust, people won’t pull out their credit cards and buy our books.

Lacking transparency

When a campaign is over, parts of the campaign are no longer available as a public record (something both KS and IGG provide) and I couldn’t reverse engineer the total crowdfunding amount (total # of backers at each reward level to calculate the campaign goal).

So, Unbound’s platform is intentionally opaque.

Whenever you are raising funds (frankly, whenever you are selling anything), transparency is vital.

As a potential investor (even if it’s just a small amount), I want to know how much money you’re requesting and how you plan to spend the funds.

Knowing these details are absolutely crucial to building trust between creators and backers.

Without transparency, there’s no trust and without trust, people won’t pull out their credit cards to buy our books.

Unbound themselves say that transparency is vital so, why don’t they make their funding goals public knowledge like other crowdfunding publishers?

I advise all of my crowdfunding clients to make their campaign pages as transparent as possible including a visual diagram showing how the funds will be spent.

If Unbound were my client, I’d be saying the same thing to them.

Making it Difficult 

In creating the platform themselves and hiding certain elements that convey transparency, Unbound is doing a disservice to their authors who are trying to build trust with their readers and convert them into backers.

They are actually making the crowdfunding process harder for their authors when it’s already quite difficult because readers are still relatively new to the crowdfunding process.

Potential Backers are Left With a Lot of Unanswered Questions

After reviewing their FAQs, I had even more questions.

If you look at Kickstarter or IndieGoGo’s FAQ pages, they go on and on to help their creators understand the process. Kickstarter has a community of fellow creators to help troubleshoot and problem solve before launch. IndieGoGo is extremely responsive to emails and willing to work with their creators.

I sent off an email to Unbound with some questions for clarification related to their process so I could understand more before writing this review on September 28.

Within minutes, I received an autoresponder from Unbound informing me that they’d get back to me as soon as possible (which was usually within three business days).

But they never responded.

I fired off a reminder email on October 16 and received the same auto response.

It’s now October 24, and I’ve still not heard from them.

I mentioned this to an Unbound author, and his response was, “Yeah, that’s not surprising. They can be slow.”

From the author’s perspective, it would cause me concern if I need to follow up numerous times with my publisher to have my simple questions addressed.

Long Project Timelines

Crowdfunding is all about limited TIME. The main reason why rewards-based crowdfunding is so different from traditional marketing is that there is an intense period of marketing activities within a very short amount of time.

Kickstarter recommends campaigns end within 30 days and IndieGoGo does not allow projects to extend their timelines past 60 days after their launch dates.

Why?

Limiting time forces action

Time-limited campaigns are successful because it is difficult to sustain a level of intense marketing for very long.

Creators burn out, and audiences become fatigued with hearing the same messages over and over again. It leads to burnout.

On their website, Unbound tells prospective authors that their books’ campaigns often last between 3-6 months (!!!) Which is 3x-6x longer than the crowdfunding experts recommend.

If this was equity crowdfunding, which is known to have a longer timeline, then that would be a different story. But this is rewards-based crowdfunding.

Sean Leahy’s campaign lasted from March-December 2016 (10 months)  and is scheduled for publication February 2019. His campaign was 10x longer than his peers on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are crowdfunding.

He endured way more stress and marketing fatigue than his crowdfunding counterparts.

In our interview (available here), he mentions numerous times how it felt like a slog and no, he wouldn’t want to do it again or recommend that process to other authors.

Are the deadlines flexible? 

My guess, I don’t know for sure because Unbound never got back to me, is that their campaigns have a flexible deadline until it looks like it will be funded. Perhaps they have a deadline that only the authors know about but in reality, it’s much more important for the readers to know about the deadline.

Having no deadline means that you lack the very thing that makes readers get off their butts and back your campaign.

One has to take something away to make it exclusive.

That’s why every marketer will tell you that you have to “close the cart” if you want to see sales.

“You won’t be able to get this book after today!” really forces people to act, not, “Oh, don’t worry. You can back this campaign today or tomorrow or in six months from now. It’s fiiine.”

From the creator’s perspective, having no end in sight is a nightmare. Crowdfunding is a humbling experience. It’s stressful and nobody can sustain a 24/7 marketing strategy for 10 months.

From the backer’s perspective, no deadline means I’m not motivated to back the project. Why should I do it now instead of tomorrow?

Dodgy Refund Policy

Also part of the trust factor is a clear and user-friendly refund policy. 

As a backer, if this project doesn’t succeed, will I get my money back?

With Unbound, no, you won’t. Not without a lot of hassle, anyway.

Look at the text of their refund policy 

With Kickstarter, your credit card isn’t charged unless the campaign is successful when it closes.

With IndieGoGo, your credit card is charged when you pledge but is fully refunded if the campaign is not successful (for their fixed funding projects only).

With Unbound, a backer is refunded in Unbound credits that they can use to back another book on the platform.

If a backer wants their actual money back, they must contact Unbound directly.

Provided that many books are backed by authors’ close network of friends and family, I highly doubt that many backers would want to use their funds to support another book on the platform.

Again, given their radio silence via email, I would imagine that getting your money back would be difficult and annoying.

Verdict: Unbound’s refund policy isn’t backer friendly and wouldn’t give me the confidence that I’m looking for when backing a book on the platform.

Crowdfunding Publishers

My mission is to support authors crowdfund their books. There are many publishers using the crowdfunding model to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for their books on Kickstarter.

Microcosm Publishing—19 projects on Kickstarter raising a total of $100k.

Flesk Publications—5 projects on Kickstarter raising a total of $500k.

Beehive Books—10 projects on Kickstarter raising over $500k.

I think it’s great that Unbound has close to 300 books in their catalog and when done correctly, I believe that crowdfunding can be a sustainable marketing approach for all authors.

Room for improvement

The issue with Unbound is that they lack the very elements that make crowdfunding successful—time, transparency, and responsiveness.

Can I recommend Unbound as a publisher for authors who are open to crowdfunding? In its current state, sadly, no.

My Recommendations

If Unbound addresses the factors that I mention and publishes each campaign’s goal amount, provides the project’s open and close dates, and changes their refund policy, then I might consider changing my recommendation.

Also, replying to emails from potential clients never hurts.

In my opinion, Unbound’s platform and approach is neither creator nor backer-friendly compared to Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.

The long timelines cause undue stress and marketing fatigue on its authors and their refund policy isn’t great customer service.

The radio silence via direct email and confirmation from Unbound authors that they are slow to respond has me thinking that they are overstretched.

At this point, I would not recommend publishing with Unbound.

Instead, go the indie route or find a publisher who is open to you crowdfunding your book’s costs as Elisavet Arkolaki did with her publisher.

As always, I encourage authors to take control of their publishing and marketing timelines and create a strategy that promotes engagement with their audiences and furthers their brand as authors.

If you are open to crowdfunding your book but don’t know where to start, I recommend signing up for my free mini course.

What you’ll learn in the free mini course

  • The different types of crowdfunding
  • Why authors keep choosing Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to fund their books
  • What every book’s crowdfunding campaign needs to be successful
  • Big mistakes to avoid during your campaign
  • Access to my monthly newsletter tips on how to best use crowdfunding to market your book

Click here to sign up.