Marketing Realistically

I am definitely going to need some advice from you guys here, so let me start with a few - as I see them - grounding facts:

1) Marketing is important

2) Continuous marketing is very important

3) You will never truly know when you hit that critical mass

4) Your best marketing tactic may be the exact opposite of what's worked for others

Now, I've got two priorities when it comes to marketing my serial towards my singular goal of building a community around it. I'm defining success here as publicly available fanart/fanfiction. That's my personal metric and it's obviously not everyone's, but - hey. :) It's me.

So the priorities here are to a) direct attention to my website, and b) tap the people who like to giggle and obsess about stories enough to run away with their own ideas.

Because of these priorities, I'm trying to get involved with fanboy/fangirl heavy areas: TV Tropes, Reddit, definitely looking into Tumblr more and more, considering GoodReads again... I'm also sort of axing my ideas to publish on other serial hosting sites: no Wattpad, Jukepop, FictionPress or whatever else. I feel like it might split the readers too much to bring them together in one place later. I'm using me as an example: if I'm on THIS site, I ain't going to THAT site.

The other big consideration I've been... uh - considering is how my serial comes off to new readers. I've got 14 (HELL YEAH) parts up. That's incredibly easy to binge read. Too easy. I want the reader's first time to be, "Aw, that's all? Man, I can't wait for more. I loved everything so far!" instead of, "Wait, that's it? This was just getting started! I'll check back in ten months, I guess."

With that, I've got some questions for you folks:

a) How far into your serial did you start 'advertising'? Not just giving casual mentions to people who seemed interested, but actively piquing the interests of people who never heard of you.

b) How much did you have written before people stopped asking, "That's it?"

c) Are you publishing on other websites or keeping to your own? If not your complete story, what about it are you releasing into the wild?

d) I keep getting stuck talking to other writers. I want to talk to other fans. Blast me with any and all your advice.

Hmm, a) is an interesting one. I didn't advertise, not actively. I got listed here and some nice other serialists linked me. That was it. There was a reddit post that is still my top day ever, but it was anomalous and I'm not entirely sure how many readers stuck around.

b) How much for the first expression of "More" was around the ten- fifteen chapter mark.

c) the whole story is available to buy on Amazon now, and its has netted a fair few people clicking through from the link I placed in it. Other than that, it is only available on my site.

d) Pft, other writers are awesome. But that does seem to be a common issue. We seem to draw each other.

@Tempest - 15 seemed like a good number, but I have it in my head to 'wait' (I'm just air-quoting everything today) until 20. Your chapters look about as long as mine, so I don't think I'm too off if I measure myself to you.

As for other writers, yeah, they're awesome, but they're practically all I talk to. I don't want to read other people as one author to another. I want to read them because, 'Ooh, that's interesting.' So using myself as my best example again, if I don't want people - even here - advertising their stories to me, I'm not going to do it to other writers. These are my sales-free havens.

In my humble opinion, the only truly effective marketing strategy for a web serial (other than getting listed here) is to write something exceptional that makes word of mouth happen. Without word of mouth, Reddit, TVtropes etc will have almost no effect.

Why don't you publish on other platforms like Wattpad? You're not splitting the readership that way. Wattpad has probably... millions of readers? I doubt most of them even know WFG exists. :)

Now advertising a story on Wattpad is a different thing entirely. It's so flooded with fiction that you need to do a lot more to stand out, just getting listed will bring almost no readers.

@Chrysalis - That's the end game, but I'm nowhere near that stage yet. I want to put a plan together bringing 'exceptional thing I've written' to Wordofmouthville. Without places like Reddit or TV Tropes or wherever to actually start the conversation, it doesn't matter if word of mouth is the most effective, 'cause I don't have any of it going.

Everything starts somewhere!

As for Wattpad, I don't like the community and I don't like the fiction they specialize in. My ideal reader doesn't have the patience to sift through giggly group after sparkly picture to find a serial getting off the ground. I'm trying to get a list of pros for being there in particular going, and it's pretty damn dismal. Jukepop - ehhh... it seems better - much better - but given its small community, all the effort spent trying to promote TOKoR there might be better spent pointing to my website.

Edit: that's the other thing: I don't know yet how to offer an exclusive experience over anything I could add to Wattpad or Jukepop. Until I have an intentional overlap and defined separation sorted out, where's the pull to go from one to the other? I'm working on that with some behind the scenes stuff, but I've got a lot more to get in order.

Edit Edit: That's also why I'm looking at Tumblr so closely. Huge community, like Wattpad, but with easier connections to my ideal reader type and - if I focus the blog on writing, fans, whatever else, as well as the behind-the-scenes stuff - I'll be building up an identity beyond 'that writer', talking to people past just yelling about my story, and giving them a reason to go from my website to Tumblr. That, to me, isn't splitting the readership. That's giving the whole group clear, accessible locations to see specific things. :D

I don't think you can start word of mouth or make it happen. It happens on its own, or it doesn't. It happens for SOME of my chapters every once in a blue moon - the handful of exceptional ones that I've written - but after the following spike things go back to normal, because I just can't write only exceptional chapters. I wish I could, but I'm no Wildbow.

I've found that the stories that get 'officially' featured on Wattpad are actually pretty dang good. But with thousands of stories added every day, there's a lot more low quality stuff than on WFG. Featured stories:

Getting featured on that list will bring in thousands upon thousands of readers, guaranteed.

I don't advertise my serials at all. Chrysalis said it well - I'd much rather spend my time and energy writing more or writing better than taking shots in the dark and seeing how many people come in.

I know Alexandra Erin found some success with Tales of MU, advertising it very aggressively during the story's height, using Project Wonderful to advertise on sites like Penny Arcade (which sees a few million unique hits a month). It cost her a lot initially, and she admitted in a blog post that she passed the point of returns, but was addicted to seeing how the numbers changed. Her efforts & the quality of her serial got her to the point that she could live somewhat off her earnings? It's sort of hard to pin down with her though.

I don't recall getting the 'that's it?' more than once or twice. By the time I had readers I had enough content, I think.

I'm publishing on websites, but am considering alternatives, with the issues I've been having lately. Maybe one in five chapters gets posted corrupted, requiring time and energy to fix when I have very little of either (at the end of a long day of writing, 12:30am).

@Chrysalis - Getting featured is for completed stories, though. And then there's the crux of what I'm trying to work to: how to actually get featured.

And I think we're missing each other on our word of mouth ideas. WFG listings count as that to me: you've put something somewhere that can be discussed. So is putting it on Reddit or TV Tropes or even Wattpad. I can't have a website and pray someone notices me, right? I have to make it visible in some way (stand out from the flood of fiction, like you noted).

@Wildbow - You successfully pulled off word of mouth, but I'm trying to dig into what came before that point. I remember you said you just spent time talking to people and mentioning Worm when it was appropriate. That's what I want to learn about. :)

What type of people did you talk to? Were they other writers, or people you met while following your own interests? Before the folks who heard about Worm from friends, how were people hearing about it at all?

It's all obscure, subjective stuff that ships might have already sailed on, but I'm hoping to link a few commonalities together.

@Tartra You can split your serial into 'books' and label each one complete. ;) They just don't like external links leading to other sites with more content, they want everything you've written for that story to be available on Wattpad.

Word of mouth is something readers do for you, you can't influence it. Posting links to your story in places is something different - marketing. :) What I was trying to say that in my experience, without word of mouth from your readers, Reddit and TVtropes are a waste of time. Reddit hates self-promoting with a passion (except in a couple of subreddits that don't get much traffic). You need your readers to do it for you. You also need your readers to add content to your TVtropes page. If they don't do it, you'll see little to no traffic from there.

I think Wildbow got such immense word of mouth effects because he wrote something truly exceptional. Most of us won't ever get that same experience.

@Chrysalis - Ah, so I'd finish and finalize an arc, then say that's Book One. That makes sense. I understand why they want everything on Wattpad, to keep their traffic where it is. I'm back to that other problem, then: how to make the experience of my website unique enough to bring readers over (so it's not the exact same thing in both places, or else why even have my website?) while keeping to Wattpad's rule.

And yes, marketing. That's what I want to discuss. And I agree with you: word od mouth is the single best way to get other readers, and your first readers are the best way to generate that word of mouth. But when you're starting out, like me, short of making sock puppets and being all, "Hey guys, look at this random story I totally just found that you should read," (and the only thing Reddit hates more than self promotion is alts. Poor Unidan), how do I connect to those FIRST readers? What are some of your first steps to marketing before it's strong enough to be organic?

If you made Tumblr work, I'd be fascinated to see it. The spirit of the site seems a bit antithetical to web serial stuff, though. Whereas something like Reddit consists mainly of large blocks of text, Tumblr is more focused on pics and jokes. One of the things that caught my eyes about Antlers, Colorado is that it's a serial that gets posted on Tumblr. It's not getting a large amount of likes and reblogs on Tumblr, but it is getting some -- way more than I'd expect from a serial that's just started. I'd love to hear the behind-the-scenes of that serial, actually, because something's going on there.

There are some popular writing advice blogs on Tumblr, and I even follow a couple of publishing houses on there. But as a whole I think Redditors are going to be easier sells.

(Somewhat related but not really, I love the Wildbow tag on Tumblr. I almost never see new stuff on there, but there are a couple of gems. There's some pretty art, a couple of interesting quotes, and even some fan reactions. My favorite is the meme: "average writer crushes 3 souls a year factoid actualy just statistical error. average writer crushes 0 souls per year. Wildbow Georg, who lives online & crushes over 10,000 souls each day, is an outlier adn should not have been counted.")

Anyway, TV Tropes has given me a nice, steady stream of readers. That said, on average a lot of them tend to blow through Kinda Super Gay in a day and then leave, so I've gotta figure out how to keep their attention.

The Writing Prompts section of Reddit has been ridiculously nice to me. I'll write the stupidest s*** but then get a bunch of upvotes.

I actually wrote a response to a prompt that I turned into a mini-serial. The numbers were pretty nice by my standards -- two hundred new viewers in a day, all following a cheesy YA parody -- but they didn't spill over into any of my other serials (they're all on the same website rn). I even put a link at the end of the post, "If you liked this, you might like Kinda Super Gay!" 10% of the readers followed the link -- which is an alright number imo -- but none of them got past the second chapter. I think length was the big issue there. Whereas the prompt and the serial that resulted from the prompt had 500-ish word posts, KSG had 2,000-ish word chapters.

That experience is part of the reason why I'm trying out a serial with much shorter posts. But that's neither here nor there.

I hope this ramble helped?

@Chrysalis - Ooh! Yes, that's very helpful!

Antlers surprised me, too. I'm amazed someone even tried to put a serial on Tumblr given the format. I doubt I'd do the same by hosting actual chapters on that site, but discussions of them and progress and effort and tips and whatever else seems like it'd fit in. It's a blogging platform, so I'm bracing to use it as a blog. And pictures and stuff - well, I'm getting art commissioned (dragging my heels on the next batch a bit) so I'd have something to add on that front.

Reddit is very content oriented. Where Tumblr seems to want jokes and groups, Reddit is all about OC. Writing Prompts sounds like the perfect use of that.

Before I wax poetic about leaping to r/WP now, would you guess you might get better results if the prompts you wrote for matched your serial better? That way what they read there is what they'll get more of when they move to your serial?

Yeah, admittedly I have a couple different writing styles, but both KSG and the prompt-inspired serial were me writing in my absurdist humor mode, so they were pretty similar. I guess the genres were a little different -- YA parody versus superhero parody, but even then, I'd say that KSG has a YA-ish tone.

We'd probably need more examples to be sure. I personally think KSG was similar-but-better than the prompt-inspired serial, but I'm not a very good judge of that! My hunch tells me that shorter posts are the way to go, but all I know for sure is that Writing Prompts has a large audience that strikes me as (wonderfully) easy to please. I'm trying to figure out how to tap into that group, I'm going to keep experimenting with the site, and hopefully something good will come of it!

@BillyHiggins - Let me know if I can help you out!

Yeah, WP is very short and snappy. For a reader coming from potato chips, they aren't likely to have a lot of room for a burger and fries and a shake, even if they'd love it when they're hungry. r/nosleep might be another good place to hang out. I'm trying to think of other subs where writers can participate alongside readers, not just from a distance.

Hey - if nothing else, these are excellent spots to test out characters.

Huh, I hadn't even thought of that, Tartra! Prompts-as-prototyping for serials. You're sharp! Sharp as knives!

I think any sub would be a good sub for writers to hang out. You know, getting your name out there among groups of people you like is never a bad thing. So long as every post doesn't involve the phrase, "This reminds me of a web serial I wrote, which..."

Oh, you! (Tee-hee-hee!)

I like the idea of handing out samples of your writing through short stories and prompts. Whenever I pick up a book, I flip to the middle to check out the style of it. At the very least, I have to read more than a blurb. Plots get my interest, but the writing style is what keeps my attention.

I've had very light success from subs geared towards purely writing. I know this is anecdotal, but while Redditors there are happy to discuss a topic or technique, they do not give a flying fig about the context of the story around it. They're there to have their questions answered or are too wrapped in discussing their own ideas to let go enough and take an interest in yours (beyond what's immediately relevant to the thread).

Because of that, I'd say to stay away from those when it comes to converting readers into your readers. All the story subs, though? Absolutely! I can't say which is the best for anyone, but them, as well as any sub where people are obviously interested in the story (not just r/books, but even r/movies) would be the best return on the hanging out investment.

I base this hypothesis on utterly nothing but what hasn't worked for me and will soon be off to prove whether this pans out.

The problem with posting on multiple sites is its a pain to update everything. I post on Spacebattles, wordpress, and Patreon. Ok, I just post a link to my Wordpress account on Patreon, but the point is that the more things you post to, the more work it is. If you forget to post to one, you suddenly run into problems like an annoyed fan base or people who don't know your latest chapter is out. For me, for some reason, it always seems to be the Patreon people I miss. Yeah, there's only three of them and one of them's a pledge-for-pledge, but they're the only ones who give me money.

As to Reddit, what sub are you supposed to post on? Yeah, its a nice place in and of itself, but most subs have strict rules about self-promotion (/r/writing, /r/destructivereaders) and the ones that don't (/r/webserials) are pretty much dead. Also, if I just post stuff on Reddit, it would be very hard for people to go back and find the other parts, unless I just leave a link to the chapter.

@t4nky - Don't self-promote in r/writing or any of the critique subs. Even if you were allowed, you're one voice in a mass riot. Same with r/webfiction, honestly, which is pure and ignored self-promotion. We've gotta go to subs where there, sure, are other writers, but people go to for reading and discussing ideas.

I'm going to go in with the writing sample idea: posting to the sub unrelated to my serial, fully related to their sub, and then if they like it and ask, segue into a link to my serial overall, not chapter updates.

That's my new plan for the place, anyhow. I can work with it. :)

I actually got a couple readers from r/webfiction. Nothing mind-blowing, but I was happy.

The Cracked "Writers and Readers" forum got me a couple of readers, which was surprising. I thought I was basically throwing my serial to the wind, but I really wasn't.

That said, I think most of the places you post, you're going to get a small trickle of readers. The question is whether those readers tell their friends, and so on and so forth. And all of THAT depends on how good the serial is! (And if it's found the right audience.)