Question for web serial writers - frequency, multiple stories at once

7 years ago | DaringNovelist (Member)

I started a web serial as an experiment this summer. It's already clear that this is something I want to devote myself to seriously. (At the expense of other writing, even.)

I figure it's going to take a lot of work to see what works best for me, but I have some decisions to make before I decide what direction I'm taking in the fall, so I thought I'd ask around to find out the kind of experiences others have had.

The serial I'm doing right now is short episodes, posted twice a week on my regular blog. The idea is that it's kind of like a comic strip -- quick to read, and posted often, so that people can stumble across it. Someday it may be an attraction of its own, but for now, I don't want to put it on it's own site and then have to build an audience for it.

I'm going to continue to run this one the way I'm doing it now to test out how well it works in the long term.

However....

I have this other book I wrote about ten years ago, which defied me to come up with a way to sell it or even turn it into a coherent traditional book. The problem -- it's episodic. It's also long and would take a couple of years to get through the whole story (though it does break up nicely into smaller stories too).

And it's done, which means I could actually run this story concurrently with my first one -- and experiment with a different approach. Longer episodes, different posting frequency, ahving it's own site or sharing the blog with another ongoing serial.

My question to folks out there is:

1.) Have any of you run more than one serial at once? Have you ever run two on the same blog at once?

2.) It looks like most people post work once a week, but have any of you played with more frequent posting -- three times a week? More?

3.) What kind of episode lengths work for you? I'm doing 600-700 words on my other serial, and that would be too short for this one, even if it were posted every day. The scene arcs are too long. I think the longer scenes would break into 1200 word parts well, or could be kept at 2000-2500 if the posting frequency were less often.

Camille

Read responses...

Page: 123

Responses

  1. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I post twice a week - roughly 5k words on Tuesdays and Saturdays. I wrote less in the fall, but I was busier then. It's my only web serial, so I can't offer an answer to #1.

    In reference to posting your book as a web serial - keep in mind that web serials have conventions and formats that may not directly translate from a novel. For one thing, a web serial is a medium with a lot of competition - there's tons of stuff on the web that may be more exciting than your book. So you really have to grip readers and keep them invested. Many web serials feature lots of cliffhangers and intensity that you might not see with a book that can afford to have a slower opening.

    I might advise not overwhelming yourself. That said 700 words isn't very overwhelming, and you've got the other thing pre-written. Still, depending on how full your schedule is, you might want to give yourself a month or two to see how it goes.

    As an aside - my original plan for Worm was to have several superhero stories in the same setting run in parallel (which is why the site url is http://www.parahumans.wordpress.com and not worm.wordpress.com or anything similar). I started with Worm as a test drive and found that twice a week was a good fit for me, and decided to not push it further & have the other stories just occurring in the background.

  2. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I posted No Man An Island almost daily in 2007 but it was a finished novel before I started. As Wildbow notes, novels have different structures than serials. People who follow seials sometimes complain about the somewhat slow (character heavy) start. I learned to incorporate cliffhanger chapter endings as I went and it gained momentum.

    After that came The Surprising Life and Death of Diggory Franklin in 2008 and it was 3 times a week, increasing to almost daily updates when I was in a groove. I didn't do word counts, I tended to do two double spaced pages in Word.

    Because I was writing frequently I started The Samaritan Project too once a week but it would ebb and flow. And I screwed up my whole update schedule this year when my wife gave birth to twins.

    Having one finished story alongside a new one works. Too many new ones is risky unless you have a significant backlog. Messing up your update schedule messes up your audience.

  3. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Well, I'm about to.

    When I started unexploredhorizons.net, my original intent was to design it so it could juggle multiple ongoing, updating stories. Now that everything is combined into eviscerati.org, that basic design is still there. So at the moment, over in the fiction area, The Points Between is still in process and Curveball is going to officially launch in about a week.

    The difference is updating schedules. The Points Between updates weekly (um... in theory) while Curveball will only update once a month, in 8-10K chunks. I'll be interested to see if this breaks me.

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

    Posted 7 years ago

    I should mention that I've been writing for over 30 years, and I know my limits. Also, as I said above, the reason I want to do the already written book is because it is structured like a serial. It doesn't work as a novel.

    The reason I was asking about length of episode and pacing wasn't because I wanted to know about how it was for the writer. I know what I can do. I wanted to know how well these different options work for the readers.

    If you've done different lengths, different speeds, how do the READERS react. What happens to your traffic? Your RSS feeds? Do readers seem to like it or hate it? Do you have a feel for the kind of readers who might be attracted to short episodes vs. long ones, or to quickly updated stories vs. slower ones?

    ubersoft: I'll be looking forward to hear how it goes for you. I don't know when I'll start that second series, or if I'll do it concurrently or not, but all the info I can glean will be helpful.

    Camille

  5. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    It's a bit long and rambly, but take note of my thread titled 'Worm's Anniversary Experiment/Event' further down. There, I talk about how my readership shifted when I went from my usual 2 updates a week to 8 updates in 8 days for a special feature.

    Frequency plays a big part, but I think consistency does too. I personally feel that it's better to update twice a week & not miss an update than it is to update 3 times a week and miss one update every two months.

  6. Senna Black (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Hey!

    Re: a) no, I only do one serial at a time and I'm usually flat-out just making sure I manage that. But since your other option is already written, the only issue I can see is with having time to promote both. But then, you'd get a lot of cross-promo and it might actually work better in that sense.

    I would definitely set up two different websites for the two serials, though. Cross-linked up the wazoo, of course, but one thing I've observed is that people like a blog/rss/social media feed on one topic - if they want to read both serials, they can add both RSS feeds or click from one to the other easily enough. That's my view, anyway! :)

    b) I've posted weekly up until now (~18 months), but as of 2 weeks ago I'm testing posting twice weekly, slightly shorter instalments. Can't comment on the success or failure of the experiment yet, though.

    c) Common wisdom is that about 1,000 is a good length for a post. I personally marginally prefer a bit more than that (or certainly not less) because I think the carrot has to be sufficient to the effort of loading up the website, and with serials at the 600 word mark I usually try not to click for every update (because so little happens in 600 words...), and then I end up getting behind and not catching up. So for me as a reader, 1000 to 1300 is a good length, especially with an update frequency of 1-2 times a week.

    And I agree with Wildbow about predictability being more important than frequency, but both is best. :)

  7. M.C.A. Hogarth (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I've done two serials at once. I thought it was an interesting experiment, but it cut into my income a little too much so I don't think I'll do it again.

  8. SgL (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Since I like somewhat out of the box thinking...

    Why run two serials? Why not run one serial and use that to promote the "completed work" in ebook format? (Refresh the content somehow in that ebook. Add some notes or something to make it "new".)

    Serials have different audiences than completed works published through ebook distribution channels. By turning both pieces into serials, you are limiting yourself to just one audience which honestly is a smaller one than the one playing in the Nook/Kindle world.

    Your completed work published in ebook format with a link back to your running serial allows you to cross delivery platforms. Your serial could promote your "completed work."

  9. DaringNovelist (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Great notes here!

    Consistency -- absolutely! I'm coming at this from the blogging standpoint (that and magazines). Consistency and reliability are the most important things.

    I should step out of the shadows a little further and tell you my agenda: This is an experiment. My interest is in attracting non-serials readers. (Not all non-serials readers -- my stuff is too niche for that -- but seeing what this does within the limited scope of what I already do.) There is one form of serial that nearly every American is familiar with: comic strips and panel cartoons. People read comic strips in a way very similar to how they read blogs. They like to browse it like a newspaper. Dip in an out, not "commit" until they're hooked. This is why the ideal blog post length is supposedly 400-600 words. People will read that much without making the conscious decision to commit to the reading.

    So in some sense, I'm not trying to succeed at being a serials publisher (yet), I'm poking around to find a place to swim against the tide, and hoping to maybe expand the audience a bit (and add to our knowledge - but you can't expand knowledge until you know what the existing knowledge is).

    I was just going to run that experiment this summer -- just do the first story in this series (which is based on the sensibility of silent movie serials -- I call it "Flickerpunk") over summer. See how the whole blog/comic strip concept floats.

    Well, over summer I usually lose a third of my web traffic, and this summer I'm getting record traffic. But it's too early to see whether that's just one of those internet anomalies. It hasn't done anything for book sales, but I don't have a good tie-in for that series. So I was going to bring this to a close at the end of summer, and start up on the other book while I write my regular stuff. That other book has a tie-in -- it's a sequel to a book I already published. (A book which is really hard to promote, so doing a serial out of the next one could be the best thing for both books.)

    But this story has momentum and I'll only know if that's real momentum if I keep going. In the fall, I'll at least have this summer's story to sell as an ebook. (So SgL has hit a part of my strategy -- I'm looking to play with a wider audience. It's all about promoting the completed work.)

    But it's also all about the fact that this is really working for me. I love doing it. It brings together all my passions -- writing, illustration, publishing, blogging, web marketing. It's like magazine/newspaper publishing, I'm putting an issue to bed twice a week, complete with illustrations and links and all that.

    I suppose that's what is in the back of my mind when I think about doing two serials at once on the same blog: it would be like a pulp magazine. I don't think I can handle enough material to do that right, though. And this other book is different enough that it may work better on it's own blog. The story I'm doing now, though, I think will remain a feature of my larger blog.

    Camille

  10. Kess (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Sounds like an interesting experiment!

    Here's my experience in web serialising:
    1. Nope, haven't done more than one web serial at a time. This is largely because of the way I write, and my head would explode if I had two sets of deadlines to work to. However, I currently try to have more than one project on the go at a time - a web serial plus a novel, or short story, or whatever is crawling around in my head at the time. But only ever one serial at a time.

    2 & 3. I'll answer these together, because they cross over a little.
    My first web serial (the Apocalypse Blog) posted every day. For most of the year it ran, I was writing and posting in the same day - crazy, but awesome fun. The post length varied a lot, anything between 600 and 2,000 words, depending on what worked for the story at the time. (And for some reason, I have a habit of creeping up the post lengths as I go through a story.) I had a pretty regular readership, but their attendance varied: some would come every day, others catch up once a week, and the vast majority sit on the RSS feed.

    My current web serial (Starwalker) started off posting 3 times a week, but I had to pull it back to once a week because I couldn't reliably meet the higher schedule. I'm still writing and posting on the fly, but with a bit more breathing space this time! The post length is higher for this one - my average for the whole serial is about 1,900 words, and I have a rule of thumb to try not to go over 2,000. I usually fail (last week's post was over 3,000 words, but it was a particularly complex scene!). I've never had a complaint about the posts being too long! Again, I get a pretty steady readership coming back when the posts are due, and the vast majority of readers are on the RSS feed.

    So, when setting up your stories, I'd advise separate sites (as Suz mentioned above), or at the very least, separate RSS feeds so people can follow what they want. Both of my web serials have their own sites and URLs, and it hasn't damaged the readership at all (they cross-link, obviously).

    For post length, I think readability is the thing to keep in mind, both for website and RSS readers. Short paragraphs are better to read on-screen than long ones, for example. Beware of exhausting your readers!

    If you've got one already written and ready to go, it's pretty easy to schedule the posts way in advance and just forget about it (apart from marketing, etc). So I'd say go for it!

    Hope that helps. Good luck!

  11. DaringNovelist (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Your first serial sounds like a great model for my already written one -- especially in the varying episode lengths. As I read through it, I notice that the episodes would be best if they were longer toward the climax. Although I will probably do that one once a week, if I decide to run it at the same time as the first. (Otherwise I'll stick to the same schedule.)

    And if I were to run it concurrently, I think I would do a separate blog.

    I resist the idea of multiple blogs only because my experiment is about treating the serial as like web candy -- that is, not something separate which I have to go out and promote, but something that people discover when they hit the site for other reasons. They follow a link to read a post about Buster Keaton, and scroll down past a cartoon, and see the illo for an episode, which has a title that sounds kind of fun....

    I am VERY far from having that set up. (For instance, I haven't been using the titles in my episode headers yet. I'm still working on my post layout and illustration style. Etc.)

    Which means I have options yet. But it also leaves me in a little bit of a quandry.

    My main blog has always been my "personal" blog -- a journal of my writing adventures. It has been around a long time and since I used to post every single solitary day, it has a LOT of "Google juice," or power/status in the search rankings. Not to mention an established audience. But that also means it has baggage -- even the name is a pun/reference to my daily writing goals, a personal "Novel Dare." (The "Daring Novelist", get it?)

    I'm dithering over whether I want to keep using that blog as the center of everything, and make use of the power and following it already has, (use it as a hub if I create several blogs) -- or if I should build something more suited from scratch.

    At the moment I'm thinking I just want to write and draw, and to keep the rest simple. Right now, I'm just pimping my blog with cool stuff. But I also am trying to think well ahead, so that when the tipping point comes, I have an idea of how I want to handle it, and maybe have a 'transition' plan in place.

    Camille

  12. Senna Black (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Sounds like having a hub blog with cross-posted links to the serial sites could work? That way you still get the "candy" effect, but readers who want consistency can skip straight to the serial site? This has its drawbacks, of course, but my experience has been that people will follow sites with consistent theme more readily. By way of example, I have 2 Tumblrs: one where I reblog whatever has taken my fancy - politics, costume dramas, writing, etc; and one exclusively dedicated to WWI. The former has a post to follower ratio of ~10:1, and the latter 2:1. Also, look at all those wildly popular themed Twitter accounts.

    However, that's just my feeling, and I'd be interested to see how your experiment pans out. Ultimately, quality writing shines through and readers will seek it out.

  13. SgL (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    DaringNovelist: Have you asked your current readers what they prefer?
    I'm a little skeptical of the hub approach and pushing things together because I'm not really into authors as brands (as a reader). (The only authors whose "brand" I would follow and read in spite of subject matter would have been someone like Ray Bradbury or Kurt Vonnegut. Stephen King, GRRM, Margaret Atwood - nah. I want specific things from them and will ignore most things they blather about on blogs that are not related to what I want from them.)

    As a reader, it's the "series" I follow, not the author. So one caution is that unless your serials are linked or your combined site is highly organized and not full of other random things (i.e., the noise outside of what interests me), I will likely not be a regular subscriber or viewer.

    In that sense, I agree with Kess and Suz in advocating separate blogs (or rather separate URLs with separate RSS streams) even if they're all hosted/designed/and linked to one another.

  14. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I disagree with SgL here. Not because he's wrong, because I suspect a lot of readers are more into stories than authors, but because maintaining all those separate sites IS A PAIN IN THE ASS. I speak from experience.

    At one point in time I had three websites (eviscerati.net, ubersoft.net, unexploredhorizons.net) -- one for commentary, one for webcomics, one for fiction. I did that for about a year and decided it wasn't worth it from an administrative perspective, I merged all three into one site (eviscerati.org, with the other domains rerouting to eviscerati.org subdomains) and it's been a hell of a lot easier to keep everything up to date.

    I'm not the world's greatest web designer but one thing I have managed to do is separate the content into "areas" so that if someone wants to read a specific piece of fiction, or just view comics, etc. they can go straight there. Ubersoft.net takes you to the comics page. Unexploredhorizons.net takes you to the fiction page. Thepointsbetween.com takes you directly to the splash page for The Points Between, paymebug.com takes you directly to the splash page for Pay Me, Bug!, and curveballchronicles.com will take you directly to the splash page for Curveball.

    I've found this to be a decent compromise, with some fringe benefits. Because it's not "everything in a jumble" people who are only interested in one thing can go there. But I put other content in the peripheries, and I've found readers of one area (mostly my webcomic) are, slowly, starting to read the other areas. Which is great. But mostly, having a unified site means I only have to maintain and update one site, which is something I can't recommend enough. Having to update multiple sites will eventually either drive you crazy or convince you to abandon one.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)

Reply »

You must log in to post.