General Publicity Thread

Browsing through the forum I'm not finding any recent threads on this topic, so I thought I'd put up one to help along newbies (which includes me!) who are having trouble with this. Personally, I'm finding the hardest part of this webserial deal is growing a readership.


So, other than joining WFG and getting reviews, what options are there for us? A few things in particular I'm curious about:


1. Advertising! Is it useful and/or cost effective to buy adspace? Also, given that I've not seen such advertising on any of the serials I follow, is this something the web fiction community doesn't embrace and which might annoy readers?


2. Other communities! Not that I don't enjoy WFG, but are there other places like this where people congregate to read about web fiction? This is the one featured in the Wikipedia article on the subject, but who knows.


3. Link trading! Do authors do this? I've seen some serials that had links to other works. I'm a little less comfortable with this idea as it seems forced and insincere, but it's a method used for online promotion in other venues so I figured I'd bring it up.


4. Social media! I'll be honest: I dislike social media. From what I've read it's a good way to keep in touch with your community but not so good for building one in the first place. Anybody have tips on this?


5. TVTropes! I actually have a number of questions about this one that I'm hoping someone can answer. I love browsing TVTropes, though I've never been an active contributor, and I know firsthand it's a way people find new things they like. I sure have; in fact that's where I discovered web fiction. Do the tropers mind if you go there and make a page for your work, then make links to it from applicable tropes? It seems self-serving...I can imagine how that might antagonize that community, which I don't want to do. Who has tropey knowledge?


6. Anything else! My list is a jumping-off point, in no way meant to be comprehensive. If anybody has ideas I've not thought of, or questions I haven't asked, I'd love to add them to the discussion.


I have links to two serials that I'm actually reading in some capacity (and I added a webcomic that I'm also reading) on my page. I put them there because I'd like other people to see them, but it's not really a link trade, I just did it on my own initiative.


1. I don't like ads because I don't tend to view them - I adblock all but a handful of sites (some webcomics and serials I support)- I felt it would be hypocritical to use them. No ad experience here.


2. Haven't seen much, but you can go on /r/writing or /r/books and get some attention there. Promotion alone is bad, but I contribute where I can and post if people express interest in my writing.


3. I did some link trading. You have to link to someone with a high volume of readers to see anything appreciable. I didn't see a huge boost in readership.


4. Don't like social media. Mentions on reddit is about it. I know Diary of a Runner did ok in drawing in traffic, but the author of Diary of a Runner was also pretty scummy in how he handled other stuff (borderline inciting his readers to attack writers of bad reviews of his serial, doing nothing but laugh when said readers talked about hacking said reviewers' sites or DDoSing/spamming them - saying it was how he got his publicity), and I can't help but feel that social-media influenced traffic or votes don't hold much weight - when you stop pushing and clamoring for attention, it's very easy to see all the gains simply disappear. For more permanent reviews (such as reviews on Amazon), this might be more worthwhile, but that's not a thing you want to focus on at an early stage.


5. TV tropes is fantastic if you're writing a troperiffic series. TV tropes was in my top 3 sources of new readers (after a fanfiction site with a crapton of discussion and a recommendation from Elizer Yudkowsky - a celebrity in fanfiction circles). TV tropes brought in 15-200 readers a ~day~ to me for a long while. Not all stayed, and some were just peeking in, but it was a thing. I started my own page (which is allowed) and got it off the ground with 10 or so basic entries and then left it alone. My readers expanded it to the near-1000 links I have now. If you want to put a few hours of effort into something, TV tropes is a great place to start.


Don't forget that your focus isn't just on bringing new people in, but keeping the loyalty of the ones you have. Speak to the readers you do find, and build a rapport. Show as well as tell your readers that you want to be big, by putting in the time and the effort, and if they express a desire to pay you back, see if you can't get them to spread the word or link a few subject-tropes to your tv trope's story page.


"Don't forget that your focus isn't just on bringing new people in, but keeping the loyalty of the ones you have. Speak to the readers you do find, and build a rapport. Show as well as tell your readers that you want to be big, by putting in the time and the effort, and if they express a desire to pay you back, see if you can't get them to spread the word or link a few subject-tropes to your tv trope's story page."


This is a big reason I'm not about to head out and do the TVTropes thing even if it's permissible (which is good to know, thank you!). I'm a longtime reader of the site, and an even longer-time student of fiction with a fascination for the craft of storytelling. I think my work will be VERY troperiffic...eventually. Right not it's about 120,000 words, so I think a Tropes entry might be jumping the gun. I have that tentatively planned for the conclusion of my first volume, which is tentatively planned to cover four main story arcs. Maybe 400K words, ish. Something beefy enough that people who follow a link and stay to read it will be able to immerse themselves in the world.


I would love nothing more than to engage with my readers in the comments sections as I see the successful authors commonly do. Anybody have advice on, uh...getting them to talk?


It came up earlier in another thread, but being the first to comment on your own chapter and let your readers know where things are at can be a good way to provoke discussion. Respond when they do comment, and try to respond in such a way that you leave the door open for more responses and conversation.


I've actually started doing that the last few chapters. I don't have a lot to say at this point...I'm working at the keys a lot, tickety clickety...but I've tried to interject a little humor and suggested voting on Topwebfiction.


Hm, I guess actual commentary on the chapter is a possibility... I do like engagement, as I said, but at the same time I don't want to be TOO eager to rip back the veil. Can you be too eager to? Is there a point where knowing more about your thought process and the background of the world is harmful to immersion?


1. Ads. For a while I experimented with ads for Curveball on Project Wonderful. It brought in visitors, but it didn't keep them. That said, I was limited by budget and the sites I thought where I might get the best targeting were a bit out of my pricing range.


2. Other communities... I think the trick to communities is to hook not into other web fiction communities, but into communities that have to do with your genre. Curveball is starting to get more traffic after I joined the Pen & Cape Society because there are people who go to the P&C site, see that Curveball is also superhero fiction, and wander by to check it out. I don't get a huge bump in traffic, but then I'm not really active over there either -- you have to invest time in those communities or you're just going to look like an interloper.


3. As a general rule I try to avoid link trading. I link to sites like this one and other serials that I like because I like them, and I don't worry about whether or not anyone links back. Quid pro quo is dicey.


4. I know some authors who are amazing at social media. I'm not. There's is a definite knack to being able to promote yourself without looking like you're hammering people over the head with it, and I don't have that knack. So I use social media pretty much just for fun, and the people who follow me know that I'll talk about what I'm working on but that's as far as it goes most of the time. I get some response from it, but not a lot. Unless you really know how to make it work I don't suggest pushing social media any harder than that.


5. Man, I love TV Tropes. I get traffic for Curveball and (still) for Pay Me, Bug! because of the pages they have over there... and they're not even terribly extensive pages. One of the great things about TV Tropes is you can tell how invested people are in something by how much there is over there. Look at the TV Tropes page for Worm, where there are so many entries they have them alphebetized and the categories collapsed by default -- immediately you think "wow, the people who contributed to this page really love this story." That in itself works as a recommendation. I think TV Tropes is a great form low-key marketing, to be honest.


6: This one is a bit rambly, and may be slightly off the point, but I think the most important thing you need to be able to do when trying to grow your audience is be prepared to keep going when you have absolutely no proof that anything is growing at all. My most successful serial so far has been Pay Me, Bug! -- The Points Between is kind of, um, sleepy, and Curveball has I guess decidedly average growth. But there were times when it felt like all I was doing was posting in a vacuum. Not everyone encounters that, but some of us will, and it's probably the hardest thing in the world to deal with... but man, that's the time when you absolutely have to keep doing it. That's the time you'll hate doing it, and the time when it's the most important you keep on. Because there are peaks and valleys in readership and when you're just gaining audience, those valleys will feel like "this is it, I've lost" and they can be valleys for a long time (at least they can *feel* that way) but the peaks will come around.


Ubersoft said it well.


Best thing you can do for your story and your audience is to keep going. Believe it or not, there was a long stretch where I was discouraged with Worm, but I had other reasons for writing that weren't getting an audience. I was trying to fix my writing, and I approached it all as an experiment. I kept on, and I was religious about updating.


Pact, too, I had issues. Going from nearly 20k consistent readers to 2k was a killer to my morale. I've since built up, but knowing that I once had 61,000 views/15,000 readers in one day and now have a fifth of that is a bummer. I went from months where I made 5 or 8k in donations to, again, a fifth of that.


While I'm certainly better off than some, it was hard to keep going when I didn't feel I was making the same forward progress I had. I was also doing my accounting wrong, and thought I was making much less than I was, like an idiot, so I spent a few months thinking I was sloping gently toward ruin, when I'm actually doing better than last year, on average.


I kept going all the same, even through the low points and myriad distractions. Forge onward. Accept that writing is a kind of work, and put in that work.


I haven't tried to actively advertise yet, so I can't offer advice in that regard. But what worked well for me (sort of) was to post about my story in two online roleplaying communities that I'm active in. Definitely gained a bunch of steady readers who come back for more every week that way.


As for keeping going... I had the most new readers / views just after Anathema got listed on WFG, and now I'm slogging along with barely over 100 views a day, and those are mostly from the 120 or so readers who catch up every week. 95% of site visitors never catch up to the latest chapter. Some days I get 20+ prologue views with only 1-2 views of the first chapter, and even those 1-2 people often drop out in the second or third arc. When you invest 20-30 a hours a week, that's disheartening. Sometimes I don't know why I keep going.


@Ubersoft & Wildbow - Thank you for that, it's exactly what I needed a reminder of. I'm in exactly the same place as Chrysalis at the moment: coming down off the nice spike of views that occurred when TGaB got listed here on Webfiction Guide, and the disheartening slump that follows. That's pretty much what set me to thinking about how to gather readers and connect more with my existing community.


I realize that a big part of it is just time and investment. I think Wildbow has said that Worm didn't get big for months at least, and look how that turned out. Yes, Worm is an outlier in a lot of ways, but it's probably too early for me to panic, three months in.


Still, I appreciate the advice in this thread; I've already gained a few ideas that I think will help me out going forward. Thanks, all!


1. I wish more serials employ the use of ads, personally. It would really help the younger serials find solid footing if they could simply pay a bit of money for some exposure on the established serials. Leaving non-spammy comments on other serials and just kind of hoping that people eventually take notice of your work... is both ineffective and disingenuous, and some of us find it very difficult to leave comments that are genuinely engaging and not just superficial praise/criticism/nonsense.


Learning how to utilize ads well does take a while, however. And they probably won't net you very much money. But that small bit of money can easily be turned around and used for your own ads on other sites. I've been using Project Wonderful for almost a year and a half now, and I've currently got about 1500 readers (I think--hard to be sure, since I update daily). And I've had a lot of commenters mention discovering my serial through my ads. So yeah.


The problem was one day I looked at the PW ad on my site and I realized that for two months the large banner ad I was displaying was netting me three cents a month and everything else was free. Most of my readers aren't huge fans of ads anyway, so what was the point?


I'm not one of the larger serials out there so it's not a huge loss for anyone but I honestly don't think site ads are a worthwhile roi for most sites. The really big sites can justify them as a way to mitigate the cost of site traffic, but until you hit that point it's a site performance hit that you don't get much out of.


Most of the people who read The Solstice War right now are people who followed me on social media for the past five or six years, and I always say if you've already been socializing a ton over twitter and so on then it can only help if you periodically link your story (maybe throw on some hashtags) and see what happens. If you've never touched twitter before then don't start, because it's not gonna get you anywhere in a long time.


The problem was one day I looked at the PW ad on my site and I realized that for two months the large banner ad I was displaying was netting me three cents a month and everything else was free. Most of my readers aren't huge fans of ads anyway, so what was the point?


I'm not one of the larger serials out there so it's not a huge loss for anyone but I honestly don't think site ads are a worthwhile roi for most sites. The really big sites can justify them as a way to mitigate the cost of site traffic, but until you hit that point it's a site performance hit that you don't get much out of.


That was my point. If more of the larger serials ran ads, then you'd be able to advertise on their sites, appealing to audiences that are much more likely to click on your ad and enjoy your work than the audience of a typical webcomic or whatever. Overall, I think it's a method of connectivity that we, as an industrious community, aren't taking advantage of very well.


I don't think most people respond well to ads that are immediately recognizable as such--I know I don't. When you talk about connectivity within the community, though, that does give me a thought.


Several of the webcomics I read are members of one collective or other, and each comic thus has prominently displayed links to other comics in that "alliance," with a thumbnail image. I think it'd be very cool if some webserial authors banded together and did something like that.


I agree! I actually had a similar idea, but I'm honestly too shy to approach other people to float the idea by them. I'd be up for forming a collective of some sort.


I understand your point, I just don't think ads are relevant enough to make it worthwhile.


At Worm's peak, Wildbow said he was averaging 20K views, consistently. So I went over to Project Wonderful and did a search for everything on its network that got between 15-25K daily traffic, to take a sample of similar sites:


https://www.projectwonderful.com/adsearch.php?advanced=0&sort=6+desc&avguniqueusers=0&minhits=15000&maxhits=25000&hitdays=5&trafficany=2&sumdata=1&showallregions=1&measurement=1&minbids=&maxbids=&biddays=5&mincurrentbid=&maxcurrentbid=&minbidmin=&minbidmax=&biddingany=2&button=2&square=4&halfbanner=6&banner=1&rectangle=7&leaderboard=5&skyscraper=3&namefilter=&domainfilter=&tags=&badtags=&referrerhits=&referrer=&referrerdays=1&referrerany=1&countrypercentage=&countrytype=0&country=&c=1&sfw=1&nsfw=1&adult=1&adrating=6&graphical=2&approval=0&mincols=&maxcols=&submit=1


(sorry for the long link!)


Keep in mind that these sites aren't limited to serials, it includes everything that uses PW, which is predominantly webcomics, and webcomics tend to draw in more money, ad-wise, than serials do.


That's 70 sites returned on that link. The average return for an ad is $1.38/day. If you take out Sinfest, whose $9+ ad price is definitely the outlier of that bunch, it drops down to $1.27. If you take out the four comics that make $4 or more, it drops down to $1.03/day.


$30/month is better than nothing, but it's not necessarily enough to offset the headaches that go with running ads, event through PW which, for the record, I think is a really great service:


- running ads affects your sites performance, because if the ad servers have problems it will affect your load times

- advertisers frequently don't respect your ad guidelines -- when I was using PW the bulk of my audience came from my webcomic, and the bulk of my readers read it from work, so the ads had to be safe for work. This didn't stop advertisers from trying to run their ads for adult sites, or (the most pernicious of the lot) the "learn to be a pick-up artist" ads. (It should also be noted that these ads usually bid substantially higher than your average bidder, which makes blocking them both annoying AND painful)

- Even for ads that do comply with the basic PW guidelines, you're going to run into some that make you squirm. No matter how libertine you are, I guarantee you'll run into an ad that triggers your squick reflex, and if it doesn't trigger yours it will probably trigger your readers'. There was an ad I blocked that was for some guys site that was devoted to taking pictures of crap in toilets. It was disgusting, it was blocked. There was another ad that involved the use of fake blood. It was an ad for a book, if I remember correctly, and while it was shocking it was also within PW guidelines and it was legitimately clever (I wish I could remember more of it, I just remember after clicking through that it wasn't what I expected and it also made sense -- grudging admiration, I guess). However, I also got emails from readers complaining about the ad, including two separate emails from two separate people stating that the ad actually made them throw up. So, again, I blocked it.

- if you're using a service other than PW, you are at the mercy of video ads, flash ads, and ads that try to inject viruses into your site. PW is pretty good about keeping javascript etc out of ads (unless they've changed their policies. I don't think they have there)


In general your readers aren't going to like the ads. They won't necessarily hate them as much as many of my readers do, and they might put up with them as a cost of getting the content they want, but they will pretty much universally always view the ads as an impediment they have to work around/live with, rather than as something that adds value to your site.


From a purely site management perspective, if you don't *need* ads there's absolutely no reason to run them. And if you think you can benefit from them financially, you need to make sure they return enough to make up for the time you'll have to put in managing them.


Never thought I'd be defending advertising...


At Worm's peak, Wildbow said he was averaging 20K views, consistently. So I went over to Project Wonderful and did a search for everything on its network that got between 15-25K daily traffic, to take a sample of similar sites:



I don't know if 20k was Wildbow's total views or just his unique visitors. Either way, your example is still inaccurate, because you're sampling all different sizes of ads, which vary wildly in price due to their varied effectiveness and of course varied placement on a given site.


For a clearer sample, let's look only at leaderboard ads (size 728x90), as they are generally the more effective and valuable than the other types of ads. Let's keep the daily traffic threshold the same but extend the duration to the last 15 days instead of only 5. And because bidding can also vary wildly, we'll also look at the "average historical bid" over those 15 days instead of just the "current bid" that you were looking at. Here's the link.


I'm sure you'll notice the difference. This is also going purely on page views. If we adjusted for "unique views" of whatever Wildbow's stats were, I'm sure we'd see an even larger disparity from your original sampling.


Furthermore, there's the added variable of ad placement. Certainly, an ad placed prominently at the top of a site will be more desirable and valuable than an ad relegated to the bottom or anywhere else that is hard to see.


- running ads affects your sites performance, because if the ad servers have problems it will affect your load times



Indeed, that could be a problem, but for those of us using Wordpress and Blogger, loading times will not be affected very much. Also, ads load asynchronously, so people can keep reading while your ads are busy loading anyway.


- advertisers frequently don't respect your ad guidelines

...

- Even for ads that do comply with the basic PW guidelines, you're going to run into some that make you squirm...



I've had no such problems, personally, but there are multiple steps you would be able to take against this. The first is blocking, which you mentioned. You can block individual ads or the advertiser's account.


Secondly, you can make it so no ads (or just accounts) run on your site without being approved by you first. Many sites do this.


Thirdly, you can set a minimum bidding requirement, which generally prevents "ugly" ads (ads people didn't put much effort into) from running on your site, as those ads often look for free advertising.


Fourthly, adjust your "tags" so that they do not attract ads with undesirable content. If your serial contains sex and gore and whatever else, you don't necessarily need to include those in the tags on your ad boxes. Unless, of course, you don't mind having ads that show such things. But considering that you only get 20 tags to work with, I'd say there are probably better words to include.


These are all just how Project Wonderful handles it, however. I do not know how other networks manage it.


In general your readers aren't going to like the ads. They won't necessarily hate them as much as many of my readers do, and they might put up with them as a cost of getting the content they want, but they will pretty much universally always view the ads as an impediment they have to work around/live with, rather than as something that adds value to your site.



This is the issue of placement. Finding a location on your site that balances appeal for advertisers but does not intrude upon the reading experience. And hell, if ads inexorably bother your readers, they can always use an ad blocker.


From a purely site management perspective, if you don't *need* ads there's absolutely no reason to run them. And if you think you can benefit from them financially, you need to make sure they return enough to make up for the time you'll have to put in managing them.



Again, it's not just a financial issue. It's also communal issue.


Several of the webcomics I read are members of one collective or other, and each comic thus has prominently displayed links to other comics in that "alliance," with a thumbnail image. I think it'd be very cool if some webserial authors banded together and did something like that.


...


I agree! I actually had a similar idea, but I'm honestly too shy to approach other people to float the idea by them. I'd be up for forming a collective of some sort.



Oddly enough, the two of you illuminated the heart of the problem in about two seconds.


Writers with larger serials will see little reason to become part of a "collective," and writers with small serials will generally be too timid to even ask. It's an uneven exchange, as well, based on the how generous the larger serialist feels like being. With ads, however, this is not an issue, because the exchange is no longer uneven.


I don't think most people respond well to ads that are immediately recognizable as such--I know I don't.



It's the advertiser's job to make their ad appealing, not yours. If you hate ads categorically, you can always employ an ad blocker. Also, I think most people who actually enjoy your work will understand if you choose to use ads. That's what supporting you means.


I see your point about writers of "big" serials; that's a simple fact, rooted in plain reality and direct interest. The issue of smaller ones being timid, though, is by its very nature fixable. Relative newbies are the ones most likely in need of such a service, anyway.


The only concern I have is that a webserial consortium composed entirely of young serials without much content would find it difficult to gain traction; the moment readers start figuring out this is a whole group of folks with maybe two arcs of story to offer, each, some will lose patience. Some will doubtless have the opposite response, but (call me a pessimist) I can imagine the bulk of viewers turning away from such an enterprise. On the other hand, if enough members of the group stick with it that they can grow together, the effects could be huge.


I'm more and more interested in this idea the more I think about it.


I'll grant you the data sampling thing -- that was a very poor, off-the-cuff bit of work on my part, and your sample is a lot better.


I do have to take issue with this, though:


Again, it's not just a financial issue. It's also communal issue.


It really isn't. The entire purpose of ads is financial. Everything else is really secondary to that, and comes into the picture only after you've made the initial decision to go with ads or not. It's not that I don't see the benefits you're describing, but you'll never convince me an admin has a moral obligation to run ads on their site.