Finding the Right Audience

I'm having trouble finding that perfect "niche" for my web serial novel. My co-writer and I have been running the serial on our site for about 2 years now. We have about a hundred fans on Facebook (mostly friends/family who don't actually read it), and maybe a core consistent readership of 5 people. We update fairly consistently, give out cards at conventions, and will be having our first con table at MoCCA Festival in 2013. My question is, with all this effort, why isn't our readership growing? And if it's because we're terrible, why has no one turned us on to that fact?


As a side note, I have a lot of the same issues with gaining followers on my art sites as well (7+ years online, very few followers). What exactly am I doing wrong? This is the web serial: http://threeofswords.melzayasart.com


Don't bother going easy with critique...I was an art student, I can take it :) Thanks in advance!


It's late so I don't have time for a thoughtful answer yet. (And I won't be able to get back to this until tomorrow evening.)


However, here's a question


You've been at this for 2 years. Have you packaged any of it as an ebook to have for sale on Amazon, Smashwords and other?


I ask because I think that cross promotion is one of the biggest tools you can have. Both web serials and self-publishing can have a very slow build, but they can help one another. Different readers like to read in different ways. Some people only like to browse things on line, but like to read long, immersive things in book form.


Which brings me to my second thought, that I don't have time to go into now: that it's easier to build a blog audience with short and punchy work -- that doesn't mean your serial has to be short and punchy. It's also possible that you could build an audience in ways outside the story itself. More tomorrow....


Camille


I disagree with Camille that short + punchy work is the only/best way to build an audience. My work certainly isn't short, and I'm not sure about punchy, either. I think that may be her bias speaking.


Making this fast, so forgive the lack of research/investigation:


Melissa: I'm wondering, has your audience simply grown to its limit? If you're very niche, then it may well be that you'll expand, hit a certain number of readers and then be unable to find more. Or more likely, you'd be able to find only 90%, with severely diminishing returns as you go the extra mile to turn over rocks and find that last 10%. For example, if you were writing throb bubblegumpunk hyperfeminist space romance where all the characters spoke klingon and there were twilight vampires, I can guarantee there'd be an audience out there (just by virtue of the fact that you, as a writer, were interested enough to write it, and you're never alone). That audience may be only 10-20 people, but it's out there.


More likely you're having trouble reaching the audience that is interested in your niche. This is harder.


Some of that's luck - getting reviews when you're relatively new, sparking interest at that key juncture. It's easier to build an audience when you have an audience. I was lucky in that respect.


Being fairly blunt (because I'm in a rush) I find your site design throws me somewhat. Not to say it's not attractive, but it's also fairly opaque - it takes me a fairly long time to grasp the site's intent. The fonts are nice, but there's so many different ones that I can't get a grip on it, and I feel like I'd have to study the page for a minute or two to figure out where I'd want to go. Topping it off, the key detail, the one thing I really want to know, it sort of blends into the page. 'An online serial of victorian magic', pale brown against a brown background, almost the last thing I'd look at as I peruse the page.


So there may be a barrier to entry there - I've suffered from such, myself (my opening chapters are weak-ish) that's scaring off people who do find your site and keeping them from sticking around & continuing to read.


Beyond that? I'd suggest getting involved with the community. Social media is one way, but it's not a route I've personally delved into. What I do do is browse Reddit's /r/writing page, offer advice to new writers where I can and chime in on discussions about writing, writing habits and serial writing. I don't plug my story directly, but I do link people to it when they ask (and they do ask). See here for one example: http://www.reddit.com/r/writing/comments/zll3q/serial_fiction_just_might_have_legs_afterall/ and here for another: http://www.reddit.com/r/writing/comments/11b86g/writing_what_do_you_feel_about_serialized_novels/


I find the best inroads to building up an audience involve letting people stumble onto the page. Do you have a TV tropes page? Tending to such can help. Cross-linking with other web serials and even victorian/steampunk webcomics could be advantageous as well.


I have to agree with Wildbow that the front page is puzzling. It's beautifully done, but by now webfiction has a "look" that cues browsers that this is a site with frequently updated fictional content. The front page is usually the latest episode; there's a big link somewhere that says "NEW READERS START HERE." And there's an easy to find "about" page. If I don't find any of those things, I assume I'm looking at a standalone site for... well, something else!


Having said that though... finding an audience, unless you hit a lotto jackpot, is a time-consuming thing. I'm into Year 18? And still working on it. I agree with Daring up there that spreading your work into multiple venues is important; I don't read serials online, for instance, I wait until they hit e-book format. I know a lot of people like me.


The important thing is to have enough out there for people to jump on when your ship comes in. :)


Hey Mel! Glad to see you jump in here.


Deviantart is not a very good place to find new readers. DA was a great place for gaining visibility years ago, but these days most people are only looking for fan pieces. If you participate in DA groups you can push your discoverability across the site up a bit, but there's a lot of luck involved too there. However, I have noticed that after joining 3-5 very active ones and posting regularly that my exposure/fave quotient has gone up.


Books at conventions -- are you currently doing any? I've talked to a few folks who are indie guys in similar genres at places like Dragoncon and small cons - and people are more likely to pick up a book (within a price range and decent sales pitch) and do something with it than take a card. My business card/bookmark conversion to readers is low. So I started just giving bookmarks away because they're just part of luring a person to the table to talk.


Advertising to the webcomic audience - could work, but it has to be done carefully. I would emphasize art more heavily in your layout and use them often when you can.


But if you try to capture some part of that audience, there is a certain look/standard that has become quite popular (maybe due to the templates all running similar in style/layout to maximize ads). This tends to mean a certain type of navigation that folks are accustomed to.


If you do decide to attempt to capture the webcomics route, try to find some advertising partners with a decent amount of volume in your genre (e.g., via low-cost ad sites like PRoject Wonderful).


In terms of finding readership within the serial community, make sure you also listed at Muses Success. (I think EpiGuide is more for of a different style, but you'll have to ask the maintainer.) Also for your serial in particular, look at Comic-Rocket.com since you consistently use illustrations with your serial. They've allowed me to list on the basis of my early chapters.


Participate in social media more like Tumblr and Twitter. The art folks have long left DA and seem to be doing a lot more networking and curating via Tumblr. Twitter is useful for me to chat with other artists and the occasional author :).


Lastly look to other means for distributing your work, whether it be e-book, sites like Wattpad, and any methods that are not reliant on the traffic going to your website.


Regarding the many volumes you have. I was surprised when I picked up your current updating one that I didn't really need to have finished everything prior. There could be a misconception with series that you HAVE to start with the first and tbh, that one is harder to get into than your current one. The narration in your latest volume sticks more with one character (and one who I honestly relate to better). I'm all caught up with that one, while I lag on the others. I can't really explain fully what's happening but I think the first person narrative is at times a double-edged sword. Your Anabelle is more like the reader whereas Tom, Lucien, and others are not. If I were you, I might build a small campaign in the 'Romance'/'paranormal' category around Volume 4. Volume 1... not sure yet. That feels a little bit more like straight out 'magic' and intended less so for a female reader. It probably markets differently...


That's a lot of stuff . Sorry for the text-vomit (as I'm trying to work and write this post at the same time). Since I frequent most of the same venues you do, happy to commiserate if you ever want offline. But yeah - deviantart is dead. I encourage you to go Tumblr and stick with it. Twitter is good for networking too as well as keeping track of things going on the web.


Also, for you, would suggest you look at Tokyo Demons by Lianne Sentar to see how she's combining illustrations with text and also how she's targeting advertising. Her niche is not the same as yours, but what she has done is pretty interesting.


Life got a little crazier than usual today, so I still can't pitch in with thoughtful comments ---


I just wanted to say that I wasn't saying that short and punchy is the only way to attract an audience. I was just pointing out that it's a powerful tool to attract audiences.


I was making NO recommendation as to how to use that information. As I said explicitly, I wasn't recommending "short and punchy" for your serial -- or any other style of serial. I was just talking about tools which bring in a wider audience.


Camille


I was going to say that the front page has a very "Lord Likely" feel to it. I wonder if your audiences might intercept? LL is a probably a bit more on the bawdy side of things, but if there's stylistic overlap there might also be audience overlap.