Curveball musings... ("this is the end" "SHUT UP MORRISON NOBODY ASKED YOU")

10 months ago | ubersoft (Member)

In six more issues the story arc I started with Curveball Issue 1 will be complete. I'm almost finished with Issue 31, so it's really "five and a quarter more issues," so... yikes.

Usually I wait until each year's run is finished before I post some kind of self-indulgent musing here. (sorry, but you're all writers too so I feel I can be self-indulgent here and engage in a little writerly navel-gazing. So... yep. Here it is.) But Issue 36 won't just be the end of the Project Recall story arc, it'll be the point when I decide whether or not to keep going. And I need to start thinking about that NOW, because if I decide to keep going then #36 will just be "hey, it's the end of another year's run, hurrah" and then I'll need to start on #37. And if I decide to stop, I need to figure out what to do instead.

Well, that's not true. I have plenty of other things to do. That's kind of the problem I'm facing though: should I be devoting more time to those instead of this?

I'm very proud of the work I've done on Curveball. On a purely technical, abstract, workflow-based level, the way I set it up to be both a web serial and an ebook serial relatively simultaneously is pretty unique and has worked OK. On a purely writing level, I'm damned proud of the story I've built and the characters I've created. The choices I've made writing the story have made me a stronger writer overall. Writing in present tense has been a surprisingly enjoyable challenge, and that has also opened up new possibilities in story narration that I had never considered before.

But overall, if I look at the last four years, I'm forced to admit that the experiment has been a failure. It's disappointing (and depressing) to admit, but more often than not I find myself wondering if I've been wasting my time.

At the best of times, when you're writing in obscurity it's analogous to pouring all your time and energy into an anti-perpetual motion machine--there's so much entropy to overcome that you're lucky if you can get it to move even an inch from where it started. For the last four years I've been pouring a lot into this thing, and while it has actually moved forward it hasn't moved a lot. I have readers, even some who are enthusiastic about the story, but it hasn't been catching on the way a story needs to in order to grow properly. Four years, 31 (almost) issues, and it's not moving forward.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Some of them are simply that it's always a crapshoot -- sometimes things just don't catch on. A lot of them rest squarely on my shoulders: I'm a terrible marketer, I'm very easily distracted by unexpected crises in the "real world" (and I tend to obsess over potential crises even when they don't actually turn into a crisis) and there are any other number of reasons I could point to why I'm my own worst enemy when I do these things.

But also I think it's fair to say that my specific choices for production enhance any of those issues. I'm essentially publishing three times (Patreon, web, storefronts) and there are lots of fiddly bits in the process. Once an issue is written, it takes about a week to do the whole thing if everything goes well. If I'm dealing with other things at the same time, it takes a little longer -- for example, Issue 30 went up on my site on October 31, but didn't hit the e-stores until the week of Thanksgiving. November was a hell of a month. And that pushed my work on Issue 31 to the right, because what work I managed to do was being diluted by all my frustrations trying to get 30 out and done with.

It's a shame, because I think this idea -- to write a web serial with an eye for publishing each update -- has genuine potential for authors. I think, however, that Curveball will not the proof of concept I was hoping it would be. Someone else will have to give it a spin and claim victory if they manage to get it to work for them.

So I'm trying to figure out what to do after Issue 36. The story arc will be resolved, so I could say "that's all, folks!" publish the Year Three omnibus and move on to the next project. There are plenty of other stories I also want to tell, and my process for Curveball makes it challenging to carve out time for them as well (it's possible, but it requires a certain level of energy and enthusiasm I lack at the moment). I like writing Curveball but it isn't "catching on." Should I spend my time chasing something else that will? Should I double down and go another round? My default setting is "fuck you, windmill" but at the same time I'd like to actually, you know, knock the damn windmill down occasionally.

Well, OK, if I'm being honest I want to knock it down all the time but that could be the concussions talking.

I have other projects I can start (or resume!) that I might be able to make more progress on if I didn't have this Rube Goldberg publishing process to deal with every month (it's actually much less Rube Goldbergian than it used to be, but as I said there are still fiddly bits). I might find more success pursuing a different genre.

On the other hand, I'd really miss writing those stories. There's nothing that says I couldn't pick it back up again, of course, but the conceit was "Curveball is a comic book without pictures" and comic books start new arcs after the old ones finish. So calling it a day at Issue 36 would be giving up on the conceit, and I really hate that. It's a fun conceit.

And at the end of the day, I'm not interested in telling stories just to succeed. I have to want to tell them. I've wanted to tell this story thirty-going-on-thirty-one times now. Internet being what it is, a spark could happen at any time. Curveball could start moving forward.

But if I'm being coldly analytical, I have to acknowledge that when you set emotion aside it looks like I'm putting far more time and energy into this than I'm getting out of it. It might be time to say "yes, this was a fascinating experiment," pat myself on the head for being willing to take a few risks, and move on to something else.

Maybe pick a genre Wildbow isn't writing in, but I think I'm running out of those. :-)

(j/k, Wildbow, you and Drew are my faux nemeses)

I still have another five and a quarter issues to write, and hey, that could take another year depending on how things go. So I have time to figure it out. But you know... it's the end of the year. Time for navel-gazing. That's what I'm doing here.

Curveball (Updating)
A Rake by Starlight (Updating)

Read responses...

Responses

  1. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    How much difference in income are you seeing from the different platforms? Have you done any advertising? have you considered messing with timing in order to customize platforms to different audiences? put up the paid full issue first, with first chapter to patreons, and part of the first chapter on web. give patreons the chapters once a day. give web partials so it takes a month to read it all free. Would be more fiddly bits, probably, figuring out where to chop and such, but just a thought to try and boost income.

  2. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    My income is almost exclusively through my Patreon subscribers. Patreon subscribers get access to the drafts before they go up ("Rough Cuts") and then after it sits on the website for a week (usually) they get Patreon Editions in PDF, ebook, and mobi format (depending on the subscription level). I'm working to expand that to other works, so eventually they'll get the same for A Rake by Starlight, for example.

    As far as ebook sales are concerned... well, Pay Me Bug sells better.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  3. Team Contract (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    From what you've described, it definitely sounds like it's time to move on. One thing that might be hurting you is having a free book and also trying to sell it. At some point its probably best to stick to one or the other. i.e. keep it free but have patreons, or take down the free stuff and sell as ebooks.

    I'm planning for the latter with my stuff. I might not have success, but I've been diving into the marketing and if the project doesn't work, I have a cut off point set where I'm ready to let it go and shift to something else .

    At then end of the day only you can decide if its a success or failure. If you're using financial return as a measure then push the ebook marketing. But recognize you're probably in a small market to begin with. The beauty though, is that ebooks never go away. Bundle them, drop the first on to 0.99 and throw them all in KU. Then run free promotions on the first omnibus. You can kind of set it and forget it after that and move on to something new without the feeling that it just died a death.

    Just my $0.02!

  4. Chrysalis (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    I don't think free web serials hurt ebook sales at all. Web serial readers know ebooks exist, but 99.9% of ebook readers (rough guesstimate) have never heard of web fiction, and they're not going to google the web serial version of something they're interested in buying. I believe my web serial actually provided a nice boost to my ebook launch.

    That said, unless your name is Wildbow the chances of making any substantial (say, 500$ a month or more) amount of money from Patreon / donations are slim to zero. This is true even for popular serials who've experienced the huge growth you describe. I think even Drew makes waaaaay more from his ebooks than his Patreon.

    You should definitely look into how to market. If you're an unknown author with a small following, your book is going to drown beneath millions of other self-published titles and no one will know it exists - unless you have a solid marketing plan. Amazon doesn't show your book to anyone unless it sells a decent amount of copies to begin with. I made a thread about this here: http://forums.webfictionguide.com/topic/web-serial-to-ebook-mistakes-i-made-so-you-dont-have-to

    Note that one or two promotion services most likely aren't going to be enough, especially not if you don't take advantage of that critical first month after publication. You need a solid long-term plan. Covers that convey the genre at thumbnail size and ideally, a title that conveys the genre as well. 'Curveball' doesn't tell a reader at a glance that this is a superhero story. 'Super Powereds' does. Your cover art is awesome but it gives a 'detective story' kind of vibe, which probably isn't what you want. Most readers who browse the store for their next read have an attention span of maybe 2 seconds and won't ever read the blurb or the look inside unless they know at a glance it's a genre they enjoy.

    Anathema, a web serial about the effect superpowers would have on our world. http://anathemaserial.wordpress.com/
  5. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    I'm not changing my covers. This is non negotiable.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  6. Chrysalis (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    I'm not negotiating with you, I'm trying to help. If you don't want help, that's fine. I'll personally applaud you if you find success without my advice. But you've made more of these kinds of posts in these past, and so far it doesn't seem like you've found the success you were hoping for. Maybe it's time to try something new?

    Anathema, a web serial about the effect superpowers would have on our world. http://anathemaserial.wordpress.com/
  7. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    Sorry Chrysalis, that came out more strident that I wanted. Keep in mind that since I have epub, mobi, PDF, and web versions, I will essentially be updating those damn covers 120 freaking times. I went through this when I did the major copyedit and when I started going by C B Wright, and that was only for 24 issues. It was pure agony, and I'm just not willing to do that for a cover change. Just thinking about me makes me want to punch something, and I took it out on you. You didn't deserve it, I apologize.

    Anyway, the covers reflect the content of the story far better than if I put CB in spandex and had him battling a villain, and the style of the cover is obviously "look, a comic book" -- if that can't convey the message and if the cover is the reason people aren't buying, then yeah, I guess I'm going to have to take the failure and move on.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  8. Chrysalis (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    Like I said, it's a great cover. But it makes the book (the first issue, I haven't checked out all of them) look like a detective story with a cool comic detective. You'll get clicks from readers who like detective stories, and if they don't also happen to love superhero stories, they'll move on after reading the blurb / look inside. It's also possible that you get clicks from comic book lovers who move on because they expected an actual comic. But that's just a guess.

    It doesn't take much to add a superhero touch. Many authors do this with a glow type effect around the protagonist (visible at thumbnail size) and / or a superhero-esque book or series title.

    Examples for the glowy effect: https://www.amazon.com/Meta-Superhero-Novel-Book-ebook/dp/B00GCICW6O
    https://www.amazon.com/ULTRA-Last-Hero-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01EVGNHOO/
    https://www.amazon.com/Superheros-Test-Son-Book-ebook/dp/B01GBYTJWS/

    I mean, look at the last one - the top review is a 1 star review, reviews are pretty bad overall and the book is still in the top 20K paid. I'm 90% sure the cover / title are the reason. There are voracious readers who will buy anything with superheroes, you only have to become visible for them.

    In your case, it might be enough to change the title to something that screams 'superhero' and make it more prominent on the cover... 'death of a hero' is too small to stand out at thumbnail size. And then change the title on the first in series cover but not the image. Since the first in your series is the only book you can really market and sells the books that come after it, you don't necessarily need to change the other covers.

    As an experiment, you could change only the cover and title of your omnibus and do a big marketing campaign for it. Like, a week of nonstop marketing with promoters that accept urban fantasy. (Superhero isn't a category for many of them, but UF is). Maybe a cross-promo with UF authors... I got a Facebook group for those.

    Last I knew, omnibus editions and boxed sets were doing really well in terms of marketing - readers love them. Some UF authors create multi-author boxed sets for extra marketing oomph.

    Anathema, a web serial about the effect superpowers would have on our world. http://anathemaserial.wordpress.com/
  9. leoduhvinci (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    Not to butt in here, but comparing the cover that I took advice from Chrys on to the one that I did not, I have 300% more sales per advertising click.

    And that's with me only implementing half of what I know I should do for the cover.

    It works.

  10. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    In as much as anyone can "get it" when they're not you personally, I feel like I get it. Your observation "For the last four years I've been pouring a lot into this thing, and while it has actually moved forward it hasn't moved a lot." ... that effectively describes my efforts with personified math back in 2014, except replace "four years" with "three years" meaning you have more tenacity than I did. Also, you even have a Patreon and an income, so that's a thing some people never even get around to.

    Maybe you do need a break? To clear your head? They seem to help me. My personified math actually came back some 15 months later, as a webcomic in mid-2015... it ran for over a year, was trickling down to no views, was shelved for 3 months and now it's back again. Serial-wise, "Time & Tied" was doing terrible through Book 2, so I shelved it for a while, ran an Epsilon story instead, and came back to it later. (It's now doing abysmal again. November was my second worst month for views, only behind January. I think that's partly why I resumed the math comic.) You can always fix yourself a time frame (don't necessarily tell anyone else) and if, when the time comes, you're feeling the desire to tell more of the story, pick it back up. If not, you don't.

    As far as "comic books start new arcs after the old ones finish", you're doing a new style thing, nothing says you have to follow that tradition. Also, it's possible to "wrap things up" in a way that leaves doors open. When "Time & Tied" Book 2 ended, someone tweeted at me saying it seemed like a good conclusion, despite ME knowing there were a number of threads that would be pulled. Heck "Stargate SG-1" wrote conclusions for their shows at the end of 3 consecutive seasons, and they kept getting renewed, so they kept teasing things back out. Seems like you're still writing and might still have the opportunity to do something like this?

    As far as marketing, I got nothing. At least you're writing in a popular genre. And this "cover" stuff in the comments makes me think of people wanting me to change my Episode One, which I'd already rewritten a few times... I don't think that necessarily solves the motivation issue (unless it somehow leads to the increases you want, I suppose?). I suppose decide what you'd miss more, the writing of the stories, or the thought that you could have tried out something else. Best with it!

    Writing a Time Travel serial: http://mathtans.wordpress.com
    Writer of the personification of math serial: http://www.mathtans.ca
  11. Chrysalis (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    @mathtans Maybe I missed something, but how does the cover discussion relate to the writing of your first episode? Does it have a built-in cover image?

    Anathema, a web serial about the effect superpowers would have on our world. http://anathemaserial.wordpress.com/
  12. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    Well, I have drawn covers for my index pages (in fact I used to illustrate each entry, until I was advised that was a bad idea) but that's not what I meant. I was thinking more that the idea of cover revisions felt tangential to the main point of motivation and should one keep going or not... but upon rereading, I see that what I might have picked out as a main point did have other aspects to it. I may have started projecting.

    Writing a Time Travel serial: http://mathtans.wordpress.com
    Writer of the personification of math serial: http://www.mathtans.ca
  13. Chrysalis (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    Yeah, all my suggestions were intended to help 'find motivation through increased success / sales' since I understood this as a main point of the OP.

    Anathema, a web serial about the effect superpowers would have on our world. http://anathemaserial.wordpress.com/
  14. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 10 months ago

    Hey Chris,

    Speaking selfishly as someone who would like to see you continue writing Curveball forever, here's a suggestion:

    You might consider changing the publishing model, but continuing the serial. Publishing each issue into the various formats is a lot of time and effort. Limiting each issue to HTML and publishing each year as a novel might be the better way to go. It would give more time. It might also improve sales.

    I say this because the model where you publish it like a comic might be confusing to those who buy it as an ebook. In one sense it's not hard to understand because it's the model as a comic, but people searching for ebooks will be expecting to see the model for novels--which means they'll have to think before they buy. They'll have to figure out why there are so many and which ones are the compilations.

    And that's a barrier to buying.

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