Curveball Year Two: Analysis and Retrospective

2 years ago | ubersoft (Member)

I just finished writing Issue 24. I'm going to give it a few days before I push it out to my Patreon subscribers, and a few days after that before it goes out as an eBook, but as far as the serial is concerned, Year Two is finished. It feels good (though I have to point out that Curveball has been around for three years, and I'm only just finishing Year Two now—more on that later). Issue 24 was real beast to write—it got completely out of hand, for a number of reasons, most significantly being a “last mile problem” in terms of plot-wrangling—but it's behind me now, and more than feeling good about that, I feel relieved.

So now I want to analyze everything I've done so far and try to figure out what works, what doesn't work, and what is still awaiting verdict. And I want to post it here because while I'm not sure if it will actually be useful to anyone else doing a web serial, I'm also not sure it will be… er… not-useful. Or… something. At the very least it might be useful in the context of a bunch of people saying “nope nope nope nope nope nope NOPE nope nope nope nope nope nope” so there's that.

So here it is then.

GENESIS

There are essentially two stories of the Curveball serial: how the idea for the story came about, and how the idea for how the serial would be managed came about. The idea for the structure came second, but in terms of how I create it it's actually the more important story, so I'm going to focus on that one.

So to start out: I'd already decided I was going to take some stuff I'd written about a punk rock superhero named Curveball and turn it into a web serial. The next step was to figure out how to do it, and I was already wrestling with a few difficult and thorny issues as far as webserials were involved.

Pay Me, Bug! was (and is) my most popular web serial. The Points Between was (and is) a far more difficult serial to get through. In fact on WFG it's currently listed as “this is an abandoned novel, unlikely to be finished” which isn't true, but as far as WFG criteria go it's true enough. PMB! was a finished novel that I serialized. TPB started out as the fragment of a novel, one that I intend to finish. The problem I was facing—apparently a problem other web serial authors are facing as well—is that I wasn't sure how to manage web fiction and self-publishing fiction at the same time.

The main trick to self-publishing is that you need to build a backlist. People buy one book, and if they like it, they look for more things you've written. If you have more things for them to buy, you make sales—if you don't, they enjoy the one thing they read and move on. Generally speaking, the people who are successful in self publishing have a solid backlist of Other Stuff for People to Buy. Waiting until a webserial is complete before bringing the stories to market was drastically slowing down the development of the backlist.

But I didn't want to stop post fiction online.

So how, I wondered, could I solve that problem? The trick would be if I could get people to buy in to a serial on Amazon or B&N while it was ongoing, but I wasn't sure people were willing to look at web serials that way. Why would they? It's not the kind of behavior that's common these days—most people want to be assured of some kind of return on their investment, right? Nobody wants to sink money into a story that isn't finished.

That said… there are types of entertainment where people will. Comic books are the perfect example of this. Comics are serials, you pay for them monthly. If you start hating the story, you might stop buying, an bitch about it for a while, but the inherent risk is accepted by the buyer. And since I was going to start a superhero serial, I already had a lot in common, thematically, with comic books.

So what if that was my conceit? What if I published Curveball like a comic book? Publish it for free on my site, because it is web fiction after all, and then sell each installment (issue) as mini-ebooks for 99 cents? It would allow me to bridge the gap between web fiction and self publishing pretty handily, as long as I could figure out how to make it work.

So I set about trying to figure out how to make it work.

STRUCTURE

The basic idea behind Curveball was that it was going to be a hybrid of web fiction and self-published fiction. I wanted to find a way to do a web serial that lent itself to fitting in the ebook world. Pay Me, Bug! worked because it was already a novel, but I know Jim has run into issues with getting Legion of Nothing into ebook form because when he was writing as serial he wasn't necessarily thinking of length and structure of story arcs, so getting everything to fit into book forms was a challenge. Wildbow has an even crazier situation on his hands with Worm because it is so, so, so very freaking long. He easily has a 15-20 book series there, if he wants to distribute it in the traditional 85-115K book length for each volume.

I wanted to come up with something that worked as web fiction AND as an ebook, right from the start. The conceit of a comic book was the obvious starting point—it was the perfect representation of the kind of serial I wanted it to be. It would start with a large story arc, because I had a large story arc to start with, but the story wouldn't have to end when that arc did, because that's not how comic books do things—they just jump on to the next story, or they throw in a few filler issues, then go on to the next big arc, or they follow up on an arc that started as a minor storyline during the last big arc, or… you get the idea. I figured if people could think of it as “like a comic book, only all words, and no pictures” then they'd have the right perspective when approaching it.

So first thing: presenting it as “like a comic book” meant, to me, that I need to create a comic cover for every issue. So I needed an artist, and I needed to pay the artist actual money in order to get it done. Fortunately, I've been in webcomics since 1996. I know a few good artists.

My first thought was “I'll have a unique cover for each issue.” My second thought was “I don't have enough money for that.” My third thought was “I'll buy a few covers for each year, and alternate them between issues to make sure there's some variety between covers.” This idea ultimately fell apart for logistical reasons, so while Year One did have a second cover I only used it for one issue and ultimately decided the best thing was to have a single cover for a full year's run, and getting a new cover for the next year. That would create some kind of, I don't know what the term is. Brand persistence and recognition? I guess.

The covers, in my opinion, have worked out extremely well. I'm happy with all of them. The cover for Year Three makes me positively giddy.

It took me a few months after launch to finally settle on my cover policy, but it worked out in the end. The next thing I had to figure out was “how often will I publish” and “how much content will I provide?” At this point I was going through my comic book collection and trying to determine how much story was told in each one, and comparing it with the text I already had for Curveball and trying to figure out what that translated to. What I discovered was that I was going to need to advance the plot along a lot farther in each issue than I'd be able to get away with if it were a traditional comic book. Example: one Green Lantern comic takes place entirely at a football game. I could have told most of that story in about 2-3,000 words, but I didn't think for a second I could get away with selling 2-3,000 words at 99 cents. Not over any length of time.

In the end I decide on roughly four chapters per issue, at about 2,000 words per chapter, as a minimum length. Chapters turned into “parts” because chapter didn't make any sense with the format, and the length of each issue settled into about 8-10k words. Which, oddly enough, is about how long each update would be if I were updating weekly instead of monthly, so it was basically the same amount of writing, just all put out in a monthly format.

I figured I had to publish monthly, because if I was going to get people to adopt the idea “yeah, it's like a comic book” I needed to do it like a comic book (unfortunately Curveball Year Two bears a number of scheduling issues very similar to the Matt Fraction run of Hawkeye, which incidentally started publishing at ALMOST EXACTLY THE SAME TIME which is kind of awesome). I was worried that the webfiction crowd wouldn't take to a monthly release cycle. I still worry about that, though I worry more that I've had so much difficulty actually meeting a monthly release cycle.

Beyond the cover and size, I wanted to re-enforce the comic bookish feel by trying to adopt some stylistic choices that would make it feel like you were reading a comic book. The main thing I did for that was to decide to write in third person, present tense, because comic book narration is almost always presented in present tense, so I thought that would be neat. As it turns out, I have no idea if this makes it more comic bookish or not, but this has been one of the most valuable risks I've taken, because writing in present tense has been immensely freeing—I'm willing to take risks and make choices in present tense I wouldn't normally be willing to try out in past tense, and overall I think my writing (both in past and present tense) has improved immensely as a result. Though my main problem these days is sticking to one or the other. Whichever tense I'm writing in I find myself slipping into the other one and not even noticing it.

The final choice I made going into it was one of plot, and I call it “Avoid Lost Syndrome.” Lost did this thing where the writers would just throw mysteries into the story and not explain them, deciding “oh I'll figure this out later” and by the time the show concluded, they did a poor job of wrapping everything up. My rule of thumb is that if I introduce a mystery into the story, I have to already know what the answer to the mystery is—and it's OK if I change my mind later, as long as how I change my mind still fits, but the point is it has to fit. Each issue had to either move the plot forward in some way, or provide significant context to a character's motivation—preferably both, and there had to be a clear majority of issues moving the plot forward over issues providing character context. I made this decision so that if a reader decided to buy an issue on amazon or B&N or etc they wouldn't feel they'd been given a lot of filler. Something needed to happen that moved the story forward in some way.

DESIGN ISSUES, OR THE LAST MILE PROBLEM

By "design issues" I don't mean the physical design of the cover, or the layout of the site, or anything like that. THose are important and they may actually negatively impact the user experience, I'm talking about how I actually set up, structure, and write each issue. Because of the rules I have for each issue (8-10k words, each issue must move the plot forward) I find do a lot more planning for each issue than I ever have with anything else I write.

On top of that, I also plan the plot arcs for each year: Year One was introduce the main players, AND do the big magic reveal at the end. Year Two was show how magic fits into the world, AND give the reader a good idea on what Project Recall actually is at the end. Because of that, I usually have a rough idea of what I need to have happen come the last issue of the year relatively early in the story arc, so halfway through the year, I find myself trying to figure out how to position all the pieces on the board so that when the last issue rolls around, addressing the points is a simple matter.

Unfortunately, I've discovered both years that by the time I reach the penultimate issue I have a "last mile problem." (The "last mile problem," for those of you who don't catch the reference, was a phrase used by telecommunications companies to describe how difficult it is to connect a customer to an internet infrastructure on a wide basis. Apparently it's easy to set up 99% of the infrastructure, but when you get to the last piece--the point where the customer finally gets hooked in--it becomes exponentially more difficult).

So the specific issue I had was that even when all the characters are in roughly the right position, there's a lot of ground to cover to get to where I want the reader to be. Some of this is pacing: it's not enough to just drop everything in the reader's lap at the end, you want them to travel through it, enjoy discovering it, and be excited by the revelations. And in order to do that you have to do more than have the characters be in the right place at the right time, firing all the checkov's guns--you have to do it at a speed that makes sense.

For Year One it was clear I needed extra setup between Issue 11 and Issue 12, and so I thought "hey, comic books do extra-long issues all the time, I can just call Issue 12 a double-sized issue and then I'll have the room I need to get everything done. Plus it'll be an extra treat for the reader, and because it's the 12th issue, which is a big deal because One Year, it fits really well.

Of course the flip side was that I actually had to write a double-sized issue, and this proved to be very difficult, especially with all the moving and sudden emergency job loss issues that occurred at the time. And at the end of it, I thought "Nope, not going to do this again."

Fast forward to Issue 23. Issue 23 was supposed to be a little different than it turned out, but because it was April and I re-introduced a very silly character, I decided to go with that because it felt right (see, I'm still a pantser at heart). But that meant I didn't do nearly the amount of setup I needed for Issue 24, so I thought "fine, I'll do another double-sized issue, even though I swore I'd never do it again."

And even then I completely misjudged the amount of room I needed.

The problem is that I was trying to take a number of different divergent plot points -- at least five or six -- and "re-verge" them again. So when I hit Part Six I realized there was no way I could end the issue in two parts AND hit all the plot points I'd planned for Year Two, and I really needed to hit those plot points. So kept writing. And writing. And writing. And writing. And the problem is that with each new update I24 I would in fact be closer to the end, but I wouldn't be at the end.

I24 is finished. It consists of fifteen parts and is almost 28,000 words long. That's not a double-sized issue, it's a triple-sized issue, and while that's not a lot of writing for everyone, it's a hell of a lot of writing for me. Even after all that writing, I still didn't explicitly tell the reader what Project Recall is, which is what I wanted to do. It's in there, and I think it's reasonably obvious based on the information I provide, but it's not stated, for the record, with no possibility of misunderstanding. But I'd also reached a point where I simply couldn't add any more to the issue. It was done.

That last mile problem is a real pain in the ass. And I need to fix it for Year Three, because I can't have a repeat of this.

IMPLEMENTATION: POSITIVES

Overall I'm happy with Curveball as a final product. I think the story is solid, I like writing the characters, and as a “prose comic,” stylistically, it does everything I want it to do. It also translate remarkably well into ebook format. Each issue seems to be just the right size for a 99 cent serialized thing, and what's better is that at the end of the year, I can compile 12 issues into a single volume, sell it as a compilation (er, whatever the comic book equivalent is) and it comes out to around 100,000 words, which is a respectable novel length. From a purely practical self-publishing perspective, this opens the story up to audiences who aren't willing to consider investing in a monthly serial.

As I've mentioned before, choosing to write in the present tense has been immensely satisfying for me as a writer because it's caused me to grow and consider a lot of choices I wouldn't have otherwise.

One of the biggest advantages I've run across is that my readers are willing to edit my work. This has proved a huge boon for me, because that means that my original manuscript (the web serial) improves in quality over time, and the other formats benefit from this. I'd still probably be better off if I could afford an editor, but I can't, so them's the breaks so far.

IMPLEMENTATION: NEGATIVES

All is not a bed of roses in Curveball-land, however. I've had a number of challenges and setbacks, partially due to external forces, partially due to the nature of what I've set up, partially due to reader tastes, partially due to weaknesses I need to improve on.

First: writing in present tense is divisive. Some people hate, hate, hate, hate, hate it and will not read it no matter what. I was one of those people before I started doing it, so I can't really blame other people for being the same way, and it's probably alienated some potential readers.

Second, and more important: Scheduling and publication issues. Year One was mostly on time, and I'm very happy about that. The problem occurred just before Issue Twelve, when I got a new job and we wound up moving from West Virginia to Alabama so my wife could live closer to her family. The problem is that moving, packing, etc. is VERY DISRUPTIVE and that initially caused my schedule to be pushed back. Then, after I moved to Alabama, my contract was unexpectedly terminated (a victim of the congressional cuts—all subcontractors were let go so the prime contractor could take their employees off the bench. Such is life). This really screwed me up because I was panicking about supporting my wife and child, and panicking is a not a good place to be in when you're trying to write.

All of these external factors are very reasonable explanations for why my schedule INITIALLY started to slip. They don't explain why as time went on, it CONTINUED to slip. The only explanation I have at the moment is a vague “I just couldn't seem to get my act together” and I wound up fighting myself every month as I tried to get an issue out. Over time I've managed to partially, but not fully, recover from this. At this point I have only myself to blame for it—I'm my own worst enemy, and it's something I'm conquering over time, but I need to be conquering it faster than I am right now.

GROWTH AND MARKETING

Curveball has not grown quickly as far as readership goes. There are a number of factors that might play into this, but I think the primary reason has to do with the scheduling irregularities. Getting regular readers on board with monthly updates is a big problem to begin with, because it's a pretty dramatic break from the normal, expected publication schedule for web serials. The issues, both external and internal, that cause publication dates to slide to the right, to the extent that Year Two had an effective publication schedule of every other month, really doesn't help this.

That said, in the last few months I've noticed a definite increase in activity for reader comments, and I do consider reader engagement a sign of positive growth. But I don't have any way of determining how much growth that represents. It still feels slow.

There are other factors that could play into its slow growth:

1. Present Tense Narrative

Mentioned above, but some people can find reading present tense narratives artificial and alienating. Choices like that automatically cut you out of a certain number of readers.

2. Poor Product Placement

By this I mean that I'm not sure Curveball effectively defines its niche. In terms of how I publish it and the steps I go through to present it, it seems to be rather unique, and I'm more than happy to talk about about those structural decisions a lot, a lot, a lot (probably more than people want). But in terms of effectively communicating what kind of story it is, I don't think that's done well. Curveball is superhero fiction—so is Legion of Nothing, Super Powereds, Super, World Domination in Retrospect, Worm, and Kinda Super Gay, just to name a few. So how do I place Curveball in a context that makes people interested in superhero fiction give it a go? That's the question I can't answer. “Someone murders Captain America, and his sidekick tries to find out why” is an OK elevator pitch but it doesn't sell a series well. “Darker than Legion of Nothing, but not nearly as a dark as Worm” just means that people who aren't looking for dark will check out LoN, and people who are will check out Worm. :-) “All my characters are much older than pretty much every other protagonist in every other serial” is probably technically accurate but not, I think, a selling point.

Basically: I'm terrible at this.

3. Ineffective Outreach

Going hand in hand with poor product placement is the whole “getting the word out, letting people know it exists” thing. Everybody needs to flack their work to some degree, and it's like walking a tightrope because if you go to far, you're not someone effectively reaching out to potential readers, you're somebody who gets blocked on social media in all its forms because you're an annoying spammer who will never, ever, ever, ever, ever shut up.

I have a tendency to go too far, so I sort of force myself to triple-think as much as I can. Consequently, I do very little “marketing.” I think that's a preferable alternative to being That Guy, but there are consequences.

4. Hybrid status

Finally, I wonder if the attempt to bridge the gap between web fiction and self-published fiction is, at least for the moment, working against me on both fronts. I don't have any hard data on this, but I also don't have much hard data on whether it's working.

FINAL ANALYSIS

It's annoying to admit three years into a project, but I don't have enough data to determine if this model is viable. I know that I really enjoy it--on top of enjoying writing the story (which is really the important part) I really enjoy the process by which I publish it. That's not nothing. But I don't have enough information to know if the model can successfully work both as webfiction and as a self-published serial, because there are too many things I can't account for. Is the slow growth because the model doesn't work, or because people just don't like the story, or is it because I'm having problems publishing on time? Obviously I need to be able to publish on time in order figure out what other factors are in play.

I still think the hypothesis is sound, and I think it's testable, but I don't have a full suite of tools to test it yet. This year, if I can regain control of my schedule, I may be able to squelch enough variables to collect more useful data.

Curveball (Updating)
A Rake by Starlight (Updating)

Read responses...

Page: 123

Responses

  1. Tempest (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I have the same experience as you with Pay Me Bug. Magelife was a novel that I released chapter by chapter. It doesn't have the same rise and fall as a serial, the cliffs. So I can't offer much there.

    Web Fiction model and Self published Model, should not be in competition. It caters to different readers. That may be part of the problem you are seeing, the lack of cross ever. Many serial readers will grab an ebook, but less ebook readers will bother with a serial. I don't know why. Drew may be able to shed some light on that.

    Yes, the updating is going to affect readership. Monthly is a hard sell. But with the sheer amount of issues you have it shouldn't affect sales on that end.

    I hate present tense. Bugs me. Not sure why.

    Product placement. Might look into some advertising. No idea. But felt it worth a mention, it is probably an issue. Same with the getting the word out.

  2. Patrick Rochefort (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I'm about to be experimenting with Reddit advertising on /r/Fantasy in the next few weeks; I'll let you know how it goes.

    I think that, regarding advertising-vs-spamming; as much as people might hate the "spamming" side of it, the reality is that it really never matters how many people are saying "No", it's only the people saying "Yes" that count for your business interests. Up to the point that it's actually converting "Yes" folks to "No", I say, keep your taps flowing strong. (But make sure your investment in time/money for self-promotion is actually paying off. Otherwise you're just pissing your money away WHILE pissing people off!)

    From Winter's Ashes: A Detective with nothing left to lose, against a Necromancer with a world to gain.
  3. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Tempest, it's not that web fiction and self-published fiction are in competition with each other, but they are at odds when it comes to what competes with your time. The secret to self publishing (or one of the "secrets" that actually seems to be true, at least for the moment) is to have large backlist. If someone reads your book and likes it, they look for other books you've written, and if they find them, they buy them. if they don't they forget about you after a while.

    So there's a lot of pressure on a writer to accumulate that backlist as quickly as possible... but if you're turning web fiction into novels, you can't accumulate a backlist quickly because you're updating bits over time. So what do you spend your time on: releasing the full novels quickly in order to accumulate that backlist, or release it regularly as a web serial, at the expense of building your backlist more quickly?

    Then there's also the issue of pacing. When you're doing a webserial, the story takes as long as it takes, and that's OK. The standard novel (these days) is 85K words. For huge, sprawling, high-magic fantasy novels it can go as high as 250K. There are web serial story arcs that will not fit in 85-100K words, and some would be hard pressed to fit in 250K. And then of course there's Worm.

    You're right that it mostly caters to different readers, but they also require you spend your resources differently. That's why on a structural/organizational level I thought Curveball's model might make a good hybrid.

    Patrick, I'd be interested to hear how the Reddit adverts go.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  4. Tempest (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Yet you mentioned your own difficulties with meeting your updates for the serial. Which kinda makes the point moot. Hence my confusion. Spending your time on your serial does not need to take away from building a backlist, if you work on multiple project at at time. You could even do the ebook side first, which then makes separation and tweaking easier for serial releases.
    Yeah, Worm is a different beastie.

  5. Fiona Gregory (Moderator)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Frankly, big monthly updates doesn't work very well for web serial reading. It's too much to read at once, and too long between updates to remember what happened in the last one. If you could have released each of the four chapters/parts of an Issue weekly, even if you had written them all in one chunk the month before, I think you would have been giving the web serial part of your model a better chance.

  6. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I've considered it. I could finish up the issue and then release it on the web, section by section, over the next month, one update a week--unless there were more than four parts to the issue, and I'm not sure what I'd do then. One week with two updates? Stagger them evenly over four weeks, so if there were five parts to the issue there'd be an update every five days? Obviously I'd have to fix my "meet the damn schedule" problem first.

    That might screw up my Patreon campaign, though.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  7. Chris Poirier (Moderator)

    Posted 2 years ago

    As an aside, I don't think anybody hates present tense. I think everybody hates present tense that isn't done properly. Most of the present tense fiction I've read slips into past tense habits—reflection, exposition, etc. They use present tense words, but past tense forms. It doesn't work.

    Present tense is immediate. It's good at action, it's good at creating a sense of urgency, it's good at creating a sense of danger—because it does not contain the implicit promise that the narrator survives the story (ie. to tell it). But you can't just change the conjugations, the narrator actually has to live in the moment. Written well—and it's bloody hard work, most of the time—present tense can be a beautiful thing—that no one will complain about.

  8. Chris Poirier (Moderator)

    Posted 2 years ago

    To be clear, I should mention that I haven't read Curveball, so I'm talking about present tense fiction in general. :)

  9. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I think there are specific genres where present tense is a lot more accepted. YA fiction has a lot of present tense stories, and that's a huge genre at the moment, so it may be demographics are changing, but I know people who refuse to read present tense just as a matter of principle. I figured I was giving up some audience just for adopting it, and potentially giving up more if I managed to screw it up by doing it badly. :D

    But that slipping into past tense thing! yeah, it's really hard not to do that. Even after three years I find myself doing it (fortunately not often, and I have readers who catch it so I can fix it).

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  10. Billy Higgins Peery (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I once critiqued for a lady who'd written a historical novel in the present tense. The idea of writing historical fiction in the present tense was so cuckoo bananapants that I almost liked it, even tho it was giving the story a bad, strange vibe (the story had no action; it was almost entirely about the psychology of a couple of Freudian characters). Then I asked her why she did it that way, and she was like, "Oh, I didn't even notice." She fixed it, and the whole thing became so much better (still terrible, but hey progress is progress).

    So yeah, a lot of present tense is done poorly. That said, from what I've read of Curveball, I think it's done well. In large part this is because of the focus on action, which present tense can be so good for.

    Actually, Curveball's action feels like it would be a big selling point. It's very much pure superhero stuff, as opposed to most of the other serials you list. I'd probably put you and Stone Burners in the action-y category, World Domination and Kinda Super Gay in the comedy category. Legion of Nothing seems like YA, tho I could be off since I only read the first book, a long time ago. Super and Super Powered I haven't read, so idk. And Worm is a really different thing: a deconstruction, so much so that I don't know how to define it. The superhero genre does have a lot of diversity, so I totally understand where your difficulties could come from.

    (I actually thought a lot about that for KSG. If you'll forgive a self-indulgent explanation, each of the three words in the title was supposed to explain a part of the genre. "Kinda" indicates that it's comedy, because no self-respecting drama has "Kinda" in the title. Kinda Hamlet? Crime and Kinda Punishment? Just doesn't work. "Super" puts it in the superhero genre. And then "Gay" makes it... gay.)

    Actually really glad you started this thread, because I've been wondering how the small, 99c stuff compares to the omnibuses. I saw that both you and AE used that model. Do you mind if I ask how it's worked out thus far? I'm not even looking for specific numbers but just like a "it's definitely worth it sales-wise," or a "one gets more attention than the other," or "ohgod Amazon is so scary hide your children I'm blinded by Amazon's unholy rays," or whatever you feel comfortable with. I know you said your readership wasn't where you wanted it to be, so the pool might not be big enough to say. But I think I've been wondering about that release style for like a year now.

    I've actually been thinking a lot about the relationship between self pub and web serials, lately (in no small part thanks to Temp). So this was a good read.

    Web Traffic Expert, my SEO business
    "Any number of hitlers, are still not my problem." -Tempest
  11. Chrysalis (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Ubersoft, you have wonderful ebook covers, and I'm sure you could sell way more if you were into marketing at all. I don't know about serial growth, unfortunately. But I've spent months researching ebook marketing, and there's one simple truth to it: If you sell, Amazon will help you sell more. If you don't sell (or not enough), Amazon will push down into oblivion.

    Ebook visibility (and thus the chance of being discovered by readers) is entirely dependent on sales. There's two effective forms of promotion:

    1) Buy a promotion slot in as many book promotion services (Ereader News Today, Books Butterfly etc) and stack them - as in, have 5 or more of those services per day send your book to their mailing list subscribers. Do this for a week, if you can, getting 50-100 sales a day. Before you know it, you'll appear in 'also bought' links and in Amazon's automated mails that they send out to customers.

    You'll also become much more visible in genre lists. The market is starved for superhero fiction, and there's plenty of readers who devour any superhero story they can get their hands on. Past or present tense, illustrated or pure prose... it doesn't matter. They want it, and there's not enough of it.

    2) Build your own mailing list that you can send up to anyone who signed up for it whenever you release a new issue. This is more efficient with more subscribers, of course, and takes time to build. But once you have some numbers, you can push your book up the ranks right as you publish it.

    That's all there is to ebook marketing!

    Web serial promotion is much more tricky, because you almost can't do it without being considered a spammer. I've found listings on any site other than WFG / TWF extremely ineffective. Only TVtropes has some impact, and only because readers linked some of my tropes. The most efficient promotion is the kind you can't influence at all: word of mouth, and readers linking to your story from places that don't allow self promotion.

    I don't agree with the sentiment that it doesn't matter if you spam self promotion. People get annoyed, and an author's image suffers. They get perceived as desperate. Whether or not a reader 'likes' an author matters A LOT, in my opinion. A lot of people really like Wildbow because of his comments and interactions with the community, and I dare say it's one of the factors that played into his success. Fans who really like the author (rather than just a story) will be more likely to invest time in cross promoting, in writing fanfic, in starting online discussions and last but not least donating. I've only ever seen Wildbow ask for donations ONCE, and that was after a million or so words.

    On the other hand, an author who immediately expresses an interest in earning money might rub some people the wrong way (sorry if I'm being blunt there). This is a community of (largely) first time authors who enjoy sharing their stories for the heck of it. People who write because they enjoy writing and sharing their work, without financial success in mind. Unless your name is Wildbow, it's the wrong place for earning any significant amount. Patrick, I looked at your Patreon page, and it seems VERY optimistic. One of your incentives is to let a reader help you design a major character for 1000$(!!!) per update - which, at your current rate of publication, is four large per month? Holy cow. That kind of ambition could drive potential sponsors away. I don't think even Wildbow earns four large a month, and certainly not from a single sponsor. Many web fiction readers are authors as well, and... well, it comes across as if you think you can earn more than anyone else. Which could be interpreted as 'my writing is worth more than anyone else's writing'. Wildbow won fan hearts with his modesty, diligence and kindness, not asking for anything... just saying.

    What I'm trying to say is - ebooks are a much better way of earning money (if you do the marketing), with a more guaranteed income and a much higher tolerance for promotion.

    P.S. I still totally want to read Curveball. I'll feed my Kindle with it when my schedule frees up a bit.

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

    Posted 2 years ago

    Excited to see a familiar name as the artist for your Year 3 cover. Jamie was the author and artist of a web comic I followed for years, Clan of the Cats, which I mentioned on a previous thread as where I first found serial web fiction through a Tales of MU ad. Glad to see he's still kicking and making art.

  13. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Hah! Chrysalis, for second I thought you were talking about my Patreon page, and I was very confused, because it didn't take long for me to decide the goals thing wasn't worth taking seriously. The first two are semi-serious, in that if I were making that much money each month they would be true, but they're not even close to attainable (not through Patreon alone, anyway).

    So after that I just started creating categories by doubling the money and making stuff up. They get progressively more ridiculous: one of my goals is "Consider moving into a hollowed-out volcano" and my top goal is "Desperately forage for necessities in a post-apocalyptic urban wasteland" (working on the assumption that if I'm getting $16,000 a month in donations it's only because the world economy has collapsed, inflation is through the roof, and we're all wearing leather bondage gear as we fight each other in the streets for fuel reserves).

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  14. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Regarding the present tense thing, you give up some audience with every decision. Not everyone's into superheroes. And while you might be worried about shrinking the bubble even further, there's probably people out there in the superhero genre who enjoy present tense over something more traditional (even if they're not as vocal? one tends to speak more to what one doesn't like). Or there's people whose preferences change, as yours did. In my opinion, it's real hard to pin that sort of thing down. If you're enjoying it, run with it, that's what helps to make the story yours.

    In terms of communication and outreach, the only things I've found annoying is either getting a number of different plugs all at once, or if there's no variation, I only see plugs. As long as there's other social media content, I don't have a problem with it. (In fact I should likely tweet out updates more than twice. I lean far the other way, to too little.) For what it's worth, the concept of a sidekick having to step up and solve the murder of the hero does sound interesting to me.

    To close off here, regarding the hybrid thing, holy cats, give yourself a pat on the back for trying something different and interesting like this. I wonder, if you aimed for 10 issues, would that help with the "last mile" issue? In that you'd actually have two issues? Or can you not fool yourself that way? Congrats on I24 either way -- it seems to have been a bit of a struggle.

    Writing a Time Travel serial: http://mathtans.wordpress.com
    Writer of the personification of math serial: http://www.mathtans.ca

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