The T&T Autopsy

2 years ago | mathtans (Member)

They can’t all be success stories. That’s basic statistics. So, with the last “Time & Tied” part put up a week ago, and the final Commentary posted today, here’s some outgoing perspective. Make of it what you will.

T&T was originally written from 2000-2009. It was dusted off in 2014 after three years of “personified math” was deemed a failure. Book 1, 80.5K words, Book 2, 78.2K words, Book 3, 74.1K words, Book 4, 76.8K words. It’s longer now, having been edited as I went, but whatever, all 96 parts are in separate files. 310,000 words is a good enough estimate, I likely cut words along with adding entire parts.

T&T launched April 3, 2015, after over 6 months of “Epsilon”, right after doing my first “April Fool” over at Jim Z’s site. It went live in the WFG system in mid-May, and got a 3.5 star review from Billy Higgins on May 20th. That was it. Otherwise, four months of total silence. My friend Scott did speak up on some of my Commentary posts (and has shared religiously), and I let a spam comment through once, when I was lonely. In November 2015 (at Part 33), I had a week with 8 page views across the whole site. In 2016, after 11 months and 3 total comments (same person) across 47 posts, I just couldn’t for a bit.

T&T relaunched June 24, 2016 (Book 3), after taking three months off, the site having fallen back on “Epsilon” to keep the posting streak going. During that lapse, shoutout to Maddirose for a review, and J.A. Waters for RTs to this day after I wrote his “April Fool” post. And again a shoutout to Jim; in some fun parallelism, I wrote a guest post on his site not long after the relaunch. This time, a couple of his readers spoke up on my site (the backlogs probably helped keep them).

Shoutout to ChrysKelly, who became a commenting machine that August, going through the old Book 1 and writing another WFG review. Shoutout to LE Erickson for linking her site to mine (Jim did too), and to k-fish for a link and mentioning me in the RRL forums (and in fact in their latest update). Alas, November 2016 (at Part 70) was the site’s worst ever month for views that year, even lower than the initial T&T launch 20 months earlier. Despite a shift to twice weekly posts. Feedback from Tartra prompted making the menu page into the landing page and I guest posted at Stable’s site, but T&T was a hemorrhaging patient.

At least she didn’t die quietly. In February, T&T launched daily on RRL and picked up a random review. Comments by Mez in 2017 were in time to cause changes in later parts (which frankly had been the point all along). Tartra posted a review May 6th, Rev Fitz did a site analysis May 21st (and the earlier “April Fool”), and I guest posted at Drew’s site May 23rd. That last influx finally shattered the 150 page view ceiling on a single day. Over the last seven days, 14 people have read the final posts. One could say the funeral was well attended.

The only real sad part is that I’ve been on sabbatical from teaching for the last year. Writing has effectively been my full time job for the last 11 months. Guest posts, tweets, twitter chats, talking to another time travel serial writer, Facebook updates, Tuesday serial, forum short posts here, commissioned art, NaNoWriMo forum, re-edits for RRL, new stab at Wattpad, business cards for coworkers and friends, time travel forum... well, there was a point I got 6 votes on Top Web Fiction. Hope may have died an early death with T&T (personified math came back), but I wrote 28 Commentary Asides over these two years which went into the posting and history of the story, if you want specifics.

What would have made T&T a win for me? That’s the key question. It wasn’t all silence, and there are the reviews, and improving my writing does count for something (more than the drawing, apparently)... but such learning also happens in failure. I still can’t market for beans. I finally arbitrarily decided that, if I could maintain 10 plot votes on my latest “Epsilon” entry? That would mean people might stick with me for future writing. The elusive double digits, after 32 months, to signify progress, a tiny sign that a niche audience is finding me. I even posted the update to Discord along with everywhere else. So far? 5 people. No change from 2014.

T&T, requiescat in pace.

I hope this doesn’t come across as whining, it’s meant to be a clinical analysis, a shot of realism, possibly a way to benchmark your own stories. (But I am a cis white male, so I wonder about privilege.) Also, don’t get me wrong, my WP site will continue, because much like breathing, I update on a schedule. Have since 2011. It’s worth noting, reviews helped in the short term, and I do appreciate everyone who pitched in along the way (hope I didn’t forget anyone). Maybe some day the T&T sequel will even be written? Maybe not. A couple people liked the premise, still, I need to start thinking about resuming full time work. I may be around here less often.

T&T can be marked “complete”. They can’t all be success stories. Make of that what you will.

Writing a Time Travel serial:
Writer of the personification of math serial:

Read responses...


  1. Shaeor (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I've appreciated your presence. I know you as one of the people who've always been around. In the years now that I've been here you've been 'the persevering one'. My own serial, ending in the next week, has been on a low trend of readers. Three, for the last chapter, not counting ephemeral email subscribers. And I could see me doing this, being you, and enjoying it for years. But not easily.

    So, thanks, on my own behalf, for setting that example. Doing something hard.

    Congratulations for your writing and personal achievement.

    Why are so many serials seemingly ending recently?

    CHOSEN SHACKLES The screen is running static. Face your shadow.
    DIRGE The light is dying. Hold your breath and go gently.
  2. unice5656 (Moderator)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Not to be self-centred about this, but I hope your guest chapter for this year's April Fool's swap did something for your fiction! You did an amazing job and my readers got a lot of enjoyment out of it!

    As a lazy, undisciplined writer myself, I think it's really amazing that you've been posting weekly or twice-weekly updates for this many years. I hope that even if you didn't get a lot of feedback, you enjoyed the company of your characters and the adventure of exploring your story world.

    Also, I hope you have enough spare time to hang out in these forums once you go back to work!

  3. revfitz (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Greg, you really are an unsung hero. That is an incredible word count, and my feelings about your illustrations aside, I do think you are a great story teller.

    I know that the old saying goes "if you build it they will come", but that is total bullshit. Generating readership for a website is an INCREDIBLY hard and frustrating thing to do and it often has nothing to do with your output. A muted response on your art when posted online is the norm, and it should not be a bar for "failure". Too often I have seen absolutely stunning pieces of artwork, music, and writing posted that DESERVES to be seen by all that may get only a couple of hits in a life time. Generating web traffic is a separate skill set than being a good author. Yes, they can cross, and being good at generating traffic means nothing if you cannot create something worthwhile to look at, but getting people to see your stuff is an understated mountain to climb.

    I know that you are likely going to be very busy, but I hope that you have another project in mind. I would happily read it!

    Existential Terror and Breakfast--A serial with cereal.
    Updates Wednesdays at:
  4. Dary (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    What did you do to attract readers outside of the webserial world? To me, it very much feels like an echo chamber, with specific tastes, interests and expectations, and I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to reach out to alternative audiences, especially when you're producing something outside of those established niches.

    I mean, if I only count webfiction sources, I've had all of about ten visitors and thirty page views in the past month, most of those thanks to Revfitz's rather positive write-ups. That's a fraction of what I usually get from other sources.

    As Revfitz himself said, it's a challenge just getting people to see your stuff. But what's an even bigger challenge is getting the right people to see it.

  5. Walter (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I'm not sure that you were doing any worse than the rest of us. It's tough to get readers, tough to keep em. People have a lot of demands on their time. etc.

    You gonna write something else?

  6. Tartra (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    The autopsy's turning into a eulogy. :P

    Mathtans, the biggest and best and most distinctive thing I loved - actually, capital L: Loved - about T&T was the links jumping around. The voting idea isn't bad either, but I personally never got into vote stories because (to be frank) I've always felt they were like a view grab. That's my opinion for radio contests, for NewGrounds shorts (remember those?), for vote-for-plot fics on FanFiction... just everywhere. I either have no real control over the next part because the writer's gonna write or it's a very token and shallow change.

    I'm saying that because as you get into your next serial (which I don't know if you've started yet or not), I don't want you to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There were some writing weaknesses in T&T that you quite graciously took feedback on, and even though I thought the art was cute, it did seem to be polarizing. I can't really help you in terms of marketing unless you want to go the Wildbow approach and join conversations where you can link to immediately relevant parts of your story. But in terms of the format, please, please keep T&T's spirit chuggin' along, because reading up to those links and seeing where they reconnected to the current plot was a blast. I can't compliment you enough on that; you were so organized about it, and I thought it upgraded the reading experience.

    Maybe - maybe, maybe, maybe - you should write a choose-your-own-adventure. Short, snappy parts that give people actual control over the story that more or less can lead to a personalized twist on the eventual ending you would've given them. How freaking fun would it have been to BE Carrie in T&T? If you can take a more gameified approach to serial writing, not only would you have a whole and mostly empty niche to stake a claim on, and not only would you have an immediate point of separation from everyone else's serials to market, and as for the serial elements, you could do a standard "The next available choice will launch next week" or have a whole month to prep a subplot that people mhave to reread to sniff out and wind through.

    I wouldn't be suggesting it if you didn't have two things on your hands: one, a completed novel that's already got a plot you can break into new formats (should you so choose) and two, a serious dedication to putting out consistent work. Because I agree with Dary a bit: it's important to reach new audiences, but it's also hard to know what to tell them when they show up. Having two options: (It's a story! It's a game!) gives you two real shots at converting new readers who can pass your story on just for the sheer novelty.

    The Other Kind of Roommate — Like Fight Club meets X-Men meets The Matrix meets Superbad.
  7. Fiona Gregory (Moderator)

    Posted 2 years ago

    @mathtans Time and Tied has been marked complete. Congratulations on finishing a huge project.

  8. nippoten (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Congratulations on making it through, and completing a web serial. That's a rare minority to be in. Wish you luck in the future with your next serial!

    The only piece of advice I could possible give is maybe consider putting your next serial onto its own site? Something to think about, maybe.

  9. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Yerg, I've been in this weird headspace for the last while (not depressed, more emotional void), but now that I've checked this thread, I feel the need to respond. At least no one's calling me a pretentious git yet, so that's good. A few things in general, then specifics:

    -I won't lie, the congratulations feels weird. (Like, thank you for it, but I don't feel it's deserved.) From the moment I started, there was really no question in my mind that we'd get here. Once, during "personified math", my buffer ran out as my wife ended up in hospital, prompting a 3 month hiatus. That's the only time in six years that I've stopped posting unexpectedly. (Well, okay, the comic for a few months last year too, but I kind of telegraphed that.) Sure, once or twice the length has suffered (hopefully not the quality), but for me, doing something on a regular schedule is simply a thing I DO. I even did AMV Friday on Twitter for 52 weeks one year. I just start something and DO it. *shrugs* I guess I'm not normal? Though I suppose the other reason it's weird is that the story may technically continue, just under a new name.
    -Yeah, the next project already started last Sunday. Lesbian teenager trapped on a crashing space station. No clue where that's going, it's based on reader votes. (Hence the "5 people" remark, corresponding to 5 votes, same number I got in 2014 too. To be fair, voting dropped off back then, maybe now it won't.) "Epsilon" stories like that tend to run for about 3 months, after that the plan is to rerun another of my previously unpublished works, either the University Witch saga or University Math/Music Girl saga. (Will likely put that to a vote too.) Those'll run maybe 8 months, meaning about 4 years of continuous output, at that point I'll reassess where I am.

    @Shaeor: Oh, thanks. I wouldn't say it's always been enjoyment for me, but there are flashes. (I have this weird detachment thing going.) Curious that I guess I have been posting here for almost 3 years. All the best on your serial, love your attitude there on your site about writing to completion.

    @Unice: Shoot, I should have given you a kudos. (Actually, I've been debating a separate RRL thread deconstructing 3 continuous months of daily posts there, would anyone care?) I currently have 3 active (read: poll voting) readers over on the site, and one of them definitively has told me s/he came via Fantasia. (One I already had when the guest post went up, and the 3rd person seemed to come later.) I do like when there's enjoyment from my writing. I'm sure I'll keep poking my head in here, because today seems to be showing me it's an excellent distraction. ^_^

    @RevFitz: First, want to make sure you don't think your remarks on my illustrating is in any way unique. When I posted here after the terrible Nov 2015, one of the first things I heard was 'that art is terrible, why is it so prominent' (not in those exact words). I cut back to a single illustration at that point, and stopped altogether at the relaunch. (I resumed late in Book 4, because hell with it.) Second, thanks for the reminder about traffic, it is something I have to remind myself about. Frequently. Sometimes I like to think I'm the "anti-Wildbow", not because my writing is anywhere near the same calibre as his (it's not) but because we live in the same part of the country and publish like clockwork with very different results as far as awareness towards us.

    @Dary: It's a good point, and I'm gonna put my response to that in a separate posting or this one will get too long.

    @Walter: I wondered if I'd get some responses like that, so thank you... it's a human thing, the tendency to look up, not down or sideways, so in some sense, my "benchmark" remark was meant to be a "you can post here even if only your bff is reading your serial" sort of deal. (See above for next project.)

    @Tartra: The funniest thing about the story cross-linking is that, in the writing, it was simply a way of making exposition interesting, and being a source of entertainment before the real plot (suicide, temporal powers, Future Jedi People) kickstarted in Book 2. I just happened to know enough about anchor HTML tags to take advantage of the web-based medium. That said, I'm glad you got into it. As for the voting, I've written entire aside posts deconstructing the ways my previous "Epsilon" stories could have gone, so it depends on your definition of "token" (I don't know "NewGrounds", no). What I find on the writing side that's great is (1) you get a better sense of the readers, in particular if they all pick a similar option versus spread out over all three choices, and (2) it flexes your creativity, particularly in my case when votes TIE (it's real hard to have a clear majority with only 5 people). One time it was decided that a person had to both slap and hug someone as a response, so I created a whole backstory where that would (ideally) make sense without the person being bipolar (she was already depressive). Though even when there's more voters, as in k-fish's serial, I was amused when an option admitted to have been more of a "joke" got chosen (and was cleverly dealt with).

    @Tartra-2: That's a fascinating little idea, the choose-your-own thing. The danger I see with it is how events likely WOULD need to loop back to similar endings or key midpoints to keep it manageable (ie- a single story), which was your down side of the voting. Honestly, "Epsilon" feels more versatile. If people vote to see the resistance movement under the castle, that's what I write, if not, the narrative veers somewhere else. (I've sometimes wondered about the castle servants that I offered up twice, and were never chosen. Maybe they never truly existed!) It's possible I'm misunderstanding. Either way, I'll let the idea percolate, I know there was a guy on Twitter who was a bit of a sensation for doing something like what you describe (most paths there led to death).

    @Fiona: Thank you!

    @nippoten: Weirdly doesn't feel like a minority thing, maybe I'm in too deep to see. About sites, I've wondered about that. Honestly, I suspect I'll simply keep rebranding under the 'mathtans' domain. I'm already jugging three blogs, I'm not sure about doing more, and if even my sequels are going to have new names, it could get out of hand. Appreciate the thought and wishes either way, someone else feel free to correct my thinking.

    Writing a Time Travel serial:
    Writer of the personification of math serial:
  10. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Okay, Dary's question about attracting readers outside of the web serial world. First, I recognize that pretty much everything I do is passive, meaning an opportunity comes up and I jump on it, as opposed to actively hunting out new opportunities. I simply can NOT get past the feeling that me talking about my writing is bothersome to other people, plus I feel I need to take extra care online because of being a teacher offline ("my teacher writes about lesbians, yo!" not great press), and I'm introverted to the point where even spending more than an hour with my family (who I get along with) is enough for me to need to slip away and be alone for a while. Also, rule one is know your audience, and I'm damned if I have a clue of any common element with readers who enjoy my work. Your Mileage May Vary.

    -I did NaNoWriMo for the first time this year (November is a VERY BAD MONTH for teaching), so my web serial was in my .sig, the same way it is on these forums. Granted, I didn't post in a lot of forums, but there was a thread in a local forum about writing accomplishments. Book 3 happened to end during November, so I posted specifically about that, with some info. I don't think that got me anything.
    -I'm not sure exactly how (likely through Twitter) but a guy who runs a Time Travel blog asked if I'd be interested in a guest post. So I wrote one about the various models of time travel, and how they're affected by free will. That got me to delve a bit into my story mythos and the post was well received but again no serial readers came from that.
    -I'm not sure if this counts. I came across another guy writing a serial about time travel, though he runs more in book circles (isn't listed here to my knowledge). I commented on his stuff, he checked out one or two of my posts (one thing about having barren stats, it's dead easy to see if anyone you recommend to is actually reading), and at one point he mentioned my story in his Newsletter. Didn't link though. Never saw any of the people on his story over on my site, eventually I got busy and migrated away.
    -I joined a time travel group on Facebook ages ago, and once posted a link there. Nope, nothing.

    -Time & Tied has it's own Facebook page. I mostly only post updates, though a couple times have included articles. It's only got 15 follows and given the FB algorithm, most probably don't see the posts. I sometimes cross post to my own Facebook page... and my friend Scott (also my beta reader) ALWAYS cross posts to his Facebook page. It's consistently in my Top 5 of Referrers (meaning over 100 views on the year) but I'm pretty sure that's just how regular readers get in, not new ones.
    -I Tweet every update, and of late have been including @SerFicDigest (which again may count as "inside the web serial world", along with Tuesday Serial). Though I have over 1,000 followers, and many of them aren't serial readers/writers. (Many of them are teachers who don't read fiction...) At any rate, it's also in the Top 5, but again I don't think anything's stuck.
    -Related, I've been in some twitter chats, from the serial specific one ChrysKelly did last year to the occasional K8Chat and StorySocial. Nice communities. I've had some RTs. I don't think it's gotten me any readers.
    -Wattpad probably also counts as "inside the world" but I did get an author who was seeing success there to give T&T a star or something last year, which led to nothing. (Book 1 was actually online there before it was on my blog; I never continued past book 1.)

    Then there's the little business cards which I made from a template and printed at home. I've handed those out at work and to friends and coworkers on occasion (one side is the math comic, the other is the T&T serial). Except friends, relatives and coworkers are rarely interested in my writing. (They support me in that they're polite if it comes up, never disparaging. And "rare" IS a necessary quantifier, I've had a couple casual inquiries in the last 6 months.) Related, I also post in comic communities, and so they could theoretically find their way back to my serial, but I doubt that's a priority.

    I guess that's it? So yeah, not as much as maybe I thought. I have tried to make an effort to give as good as I get within the serial community itself though.

    Writing a Time Travel serial:
    Writer of the personification of math serial:
  11. ScreamingCandle (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    @mathtans This post has been with me all day and I’ve considered how or whether to respond.

    I had some BS in here that I cut out. Something about the glory of writing short to refine your chops, etc. But that distracts from what I really think about this whole thing.

    You are now done and get to start over.

    Basically, you did your thing, lived your life, learned some stuff and no harm no foul, you get to start again.

    It sounds like you’ve been unhappily married to this project but hey! DONE! You don’t even have to pay child support. Maybe you liked the story but it’s reception was bumming you out. But now that’s over. You’ve got a BLANK PAGE. Personally, I’m happy for you to have that book in the books.

    Now, if you are inclined, you may go forth, be awesome and write something else that may find a wider audience now that you know that is at least a bit of an issue.

    "It is not important what you do, but it is critically important that you do it." - Terrence McKenna
    The Strange Updating Wednesdays
  12. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I can't seem to stay awaaaay...

    @ScreamingCandle: Didn't mean to cause a day-long musing. I'm glad you decided to speak up though, because your remark about refining makes me think I should clarify something. I consider T&T as a fail, less because of a low view count, more because of how it failed my expectations. I don't want anyone out there who might have lower numbers thinking "Well, damn it, I guess I fail too then." You define your own wins and losses. And I see now how there's a reason why I "arbitrarily" defined mine based on the startup for my next serial.

    Again, *the majority of T&T was finished by 2009*. The point in the publishing now was to test the waters for a sequel, and improve what had already been put together. Which failed. No one said anything about Parts 1-25 (with two exceptions) until I was past Part 50. I spent a good deal of October 2016 hammering out revisions for Book 4, but that could easily have been done a year earlier and it would have looked the SAME. Which is EXACTLY what happened with personified math, I didn't have to write that thing week-to-week either, I could have slapped it all together and auto-queued it a year in advance and it would have been the same. (Well, maybe not the occasional meme.) That's not why I put stuff online.

    If we're likening this to relationships, it's a bit more like I was thrilled to be married and shouted to the world 'Where should we go on our honeymoon??' ... and on the second anniversary someone suddenly said 'Did you go to France? That's a thing you could have done' and suddenly everyone's looking at the wedding pictures and remarking on them while I'm over here saying 'We've bought a house, once you're done there did you want to see the--' 'Oh, a honeymoon in Hawaii would be great!' '--'k. I'll be over here. In this house. Let me know when you might be able to suggest renovations. I'll do 'em myself for now.'

    *thinks* It occurs to me that maybe this is what I'm struggling with the most, the fact that I already started over in 2014 with the WP site, and for a second time it feels like I'm back where I was in 2011. Granted, "better late than never" definitely applies, in that personified math never even really had the "late" part, and I cherish the feedback this time around, but it's never been clearer to me that the supposed T&T sequel desperately needed a new, separate identity.

    As far as something new finding a wider audience, I think I need to accept that it's not going to happen. I can't let go of the ideas that I'm married to. Which may be for the best, the characters in particular may be too weird for most other writers. I just have to somehow make them appealing to others at the same time as they're appealing to me. I guess I'm a performance artist. I'm probably not making any sense here, but thanks for reading. ^_^

    Writing a Time Travel serial:
    Writer of the personification of math serial:
  13. unice5656 (Moderator)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Ehe the extent of my outreach involves occasionally creeping sites where readers of genres I belong to congregate and obnoxiously recommending myself when someone asks for recommendations.

    Anyways, if you ever want to throw anything out for idea hashing or character wrangling, I'd be happy to help. I love that sort of thing.


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