My samurai tale, Muramasa: Blood Drinker, will be finishing its online run in the next few weeks. For those of you who thought everything would wrap up neatly yesterday… You didn’t think I’d let everything go so easily, did you? I’ve learned a lot through the serial publication of this story over the last few months, and I’m ready to share some of that with you, and to talk about some upcoming experimentation. For those of you who are authors, I hope it will be an interesting discussion of a rather unorthodox business model that will inform your own decisions. For readers, I hope you will understand some of the things that will change.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I shouldn’t expect the market for online fiction published serially to appear overnight, or even over a month. What I do right now is not something that is widely done. This site is not a web comic, or a news blog, or even a flash fiction site. It is an attempt at something different, and getting people to buy into that, or actually enjoy it, will take some time. So far, my non-fiction posts have been MUCH more popular than anything I’ve done fiction-wise, and I’m still not seeing a ton of traffic or generating much ad revenue from my stories. Part of this I’m going to chuck up to people’s current reading habits. The rest is mostly my fault, for not understanding the best way to go about things initially. Here are a few hazy conclusions I’ve come to:
1) The length of posts really matters. Shorter articles are generally better than longer ones. This is because of the way that such things are shared currently, and because people who use social media are used to articles, videos, and comics that only take a few seconds to a few minutes to view. Most of my posts are around 2,500 words, and I figure at 1,000 words people start to get bored and want to look at something different.
2) Images help tremendously. When someone sees an interesting image attached to something, they click it. An image can sum up a lot, and my posts that contain images get much more attention and clicks than ones that don’t, even though some of my best work is image-free.
3) Social media is useful, but not magic. I covered this in my “Your Friends are Not Your Audience” article, but my current social media contacts, other than twitter, are made up of friends that are utterly uninterested in what I have to sell. Twitter has been a much better experience, but the majority of my contacts there are other writers. The community is therefore more meaningful.
4) Advertising works to facilitate pre-existing markets, not create new ones. This is a hard one I’m dealing with right now, because the audience is somewhat invisible. I haven’t come up with great answers here yet, but generally, advertising attempts have been fairly unsuccessful.
5) Update schedules are critical. This is a lesson learned through the web comics market, but scheduled, not just frequent, updates are critical. Not everyone uses RSS to find site updates. The better you can make your site part of a daily routine, the better off you will be. Incidentally, daily updates are best. I’ve been doing 2 days per week, with a big non-fiction article on Saturdays. I’ll need to improve that.
Changes going forward:
1) I’m going to attempt a 5 day per week schedule, limiting posts to around 1,000 words. This is because I feel like 1k words are a good chunk that could still advance story, and because 1k words are also fairly readable in a single, short sitting. I was doing 2 updates per week because at 2500 words I felt like each update was ending on a big beat followed by a nice cliffhanger. It was an artistic decision, but going daily with shorter posts makes better business sense. I’m going to try to make this change after this week, so the final few chapter of Muramasa will have speedy, short updates. I can then see how these play out with my current data to compare within the same work. This might be difficult to do while embedding images in every post.
2) I am considering switching hosts and formats. Blogger has been an amazing place to experiment and grow, but ultimately the front end is not ideal for what I envision. WordPress has more options that appeal to me, but custom coding is definitely on the table, as well as private hosting. Right now, I don’t have forward and backward buttons for the site as a whole. That would make the 5 updates per week a lot more friendly for those who like to gorge on content once per week rather than visit daily.
3) Site redesigns. While the theme of Prometheus is an important one to me spiritually and philosophically, a redesign may be necessary to easily capture the essence of what I do and what I am offering. I still like the color scheme I use as it is easier on the eyes on digital devices. I may rotate the images and accent colors to reflect current projects. We’ll see.
4) Deciding on future stories. Deciding what project will go up next on the site is another difficult decision. Like most writers, I have more ideas than I have time to work on them. I have two unpublished books that could be serialized and many more than could be new works. There is always a potential to gain or lose readership between projects as well, and that has to be taken into consideration.
Another thing I have considered is partnering with similar-minded individuals to produce a greater quantity of content of differing varieties. This casts a wider net, increases the frequency of content updates, possibly improves content by making allowing more focus on each update, and also increases the ability for the site to be promoted by engaging several authors instead of just myself.
That’s it for now!