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Wither Webfiction and Weblit? Reflections on 2013 – A reality check.

As we head into 2014, it’s rather perplexing to find myself wondering if webfiction made much progress this year overall.  Webfiction (or online serials if we follow this year’s fashionable name for this writing format) may have made considerable progress if one looks at the story of Wattpad , Kindle Serials, and Jukepop Serials this past year.  There’s a lot of media energy around those start-ups. Wattpad has brought electronic fiction to the attention of the major traditional publishing houses. Kindle Serials has proven its mettle and seems like it’s here to stay. And Jukepop’s author community has revitalized the Twitter/WFG forums.

The shrinking independent community

Smaller startups like  text-novel.com and fictionaut.com look to be plateauing based on their read /viewer stats on their newest works.  Plympton and Eat Your Serial have evolved into different types of publishing entities altogether.

More worrisome is that a large number of independent  players in webfiction remain silent (novelr.com) or slid off grid.  The publisher 1889.ca/Ergofiction has largely gone quiet in forums and social media channels.  (ETA: Ergofiction’s home page is also gone, replaced by an interior design page.) Fluffy-Seme.com and Weblit.us (originators of the #weblit hashtag)   have gone offline. Novelr.com — one of the more influential blogs on webfiction — went 100% dormant  in 2013.  The podcast Webfiction World lost its mainstay hosts and Webcast Beacon realigned their content to focus more on webfiction readings and allied with the long-running podcast EpiGuide. 

While it is good to see larger more corporate entities participate in digital fiction, there is not necessarily much trickle down effect to other authors. None of the big three are open to advertising or cross-pollination.  So their success hasn’t necessarily reshaped anything for those not within those platforms.

If there is one small branch being offered to the webfic community it comes via WordPress.  Wordpress.com highlighted serial novels/online novels during the month of August (http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/going-serial-2/) . However, there’s not been a necessarily obvious increase in traffic to a wide group of authors posting under the various fiction tags on their sites.

Therefore the plight of marketing the independent sites seems to be left to those  entities like EpiGuide, Webfiction Guide, and Muses Success.   However, for those who think these are the venues that will bring readers need to be aware that these are not solutions.

EpiGuide celebrated its fifteen year in existence recently. (Congratulations!)  I suspect it will ride out the ups and downs of the digital fiction world for a while longer as they have both the web  video series and webprose to cover (and web series do seem have more viral capability than web prose).

Webfiction Guide and Muses Success Directories: Not your marketing strategy

I have always encouraged folks to use the directories to list their works. But expectations of these directories themselves have to be grounded in some kind of reality.

What is that reality?

I know that website ranking tools are not necessarily reliable. In fact, short of the website owners telling us directly their statistics, we can only use them to guess at a range or magnitude of visits coming to directories (and “how” as you can see hints here at the now quiet novelr.com in a post by the main site maintainer for WFG, Chris Poirier).But spend one or two hours on google trying to look at these sites and you have to realize that, at best, you are getting a few hundred visitors to these websites (with WFG likely outperforming Muses Success). How many of these visitors actually engage cannot be guessed at with this pseudo-data, but there’s no reason to believe that 100% visitors actually stay and browse the directories.

wfgguide-estimate2 webfictionguide1muses-success-websitelooker 2013muses-success1

This, of course, makes sense.  There’s only so much these directories can do because they’re not marketed and the social influence of those who developed these platforms is kind of limited. (Most of the coders/editors are not active on Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook.)  None of these guys are aligned with bigger names out there in content creation.  Those big names align themselves with the corporate /venture-capital funded entities, after all such as Wattpad or Amazon.

Of interest to me (although it may not be true) is information from TrafficEstimate.com on WebfictionGuide.

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My  assumption is that if the data is even partly true, then the lesson is for those who put great efforts into WFG (in terms of ensuring visibility) that the directory may be a decreasingly ineffective platform to “market.” For those who put a lot of stock in directories, this kind of data should be a wake up call.  While we should continue to thank the directory owners and hosts for their support, the reality is that author efforts to market their work should not rest upon these directories.  If their traffic/influence continues to go down  then an author needs to look at other options.   There’s sometimes considerable energy being devoted to worrying about persons’ ranking on the WFG sites (Top Web Fiction, Novels Online) while the data suggests that there are fewer visitors coming in to begin with.   The site itself is operating in a fairly passive mode with few new readers coming into the system through new methods (other than organic search) other than those brought in by other authors. In particular, this year, WFG indices and forums received an infusion of authors from Jukepop Serials.

The idea that other authors also are going to help you market your work has some value.  Other authors can make a difference in terms of raising the visibility of your work via links/tweets.  However, the continued turnover and disappearance of sites I mentioned before (many of which were author-created) should be a warning. You can never rely on the existence of other sites to take up the general cause and make “webfiction” famous so that you, as an author, can benefit.  You are, as an author, ultimately responsible for your own marketing as pages and directories come and go .

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, for the webfiction/serial novel community.  While the ebook field is crowded and appears to have plateaued in 2013, there are small hints at ebooks helping specific authors. While I don’t have data from those folks who have published their ebooks and linked them squarely to their own fiction sites, there’s anecdotal information out there suggesting that it does contribute.  As we evolve into an era of tablets over e-readers, one hopes that going from ebook to website will become a norm.

In closing out 2013, I have to say that I have no new resolutions to offer.  Last year’s post still holds true.   Instead of spending time regurgitating that content, I’ll be revisiting the must-read posts at Novelr.com and mulling the future. 

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Increasing serial readership needs better models

Recently, news articles have generated excitement about serials and installed some hope that these new developments will bring more readers, money, or attention to these online novels out there on the web. That said, there is something fundamentally wrong with the ecosystem right now.

Any standalone website with a story on it has two avenues to finding visitors. First — luck of the draw based on your social media capital. (How popular are you online. Or how popular are your online friends. Or how can you go viral?) Second – sharing traffic from a hub or network of existing readers.
There are a few problems I can see right now that mean some problems for the standalone serializer.

Readers exist, they’re just more likely to end up in a colony

(more…)

By the Numbers: "Social Networks- An experiment with Deviantart "

For those who hate Analytics, I would like to show you how you can use it to test different ideas and for those who are social network lightweights like me, how it still can be useful to you in evaluating your marketing efforts and the use of your time on these networks.

Disclaimer

I am not a social media star. I don’t have a high enough output, court controversy, or look to do anything risky online.   I simply acquire connections by sheer endurance online.

I  have a fairly conservative approach to self-promotion using my social platform tools compared to others.   I’m not aggro-tweeting or reposting stuff on an hourly basis or even on repeat on a daily basis. (I find authors who do this to be extremely annoying, so I won’t do this myself!)   I use my networks to do  a one time notice more or less so the payoff is not as good as someone who makes PR on media a high priority for themselves.

So the approach to this post will be a little bit more oriented to drilling down on what happened after I decided to test something out on one social network.

So where did I start?

If you go to “Traffic Sources” in your panel and then click on the “Social” tab, you’ll find six different elements to explore. Of these, I’ll only touch on “Network Referrals” and possibly “Visitor Flow” because I’m certainly not set-up to take advantage of some of the other options.

For those of you who are trying to weigh out the success/utility of your past efforts on social media, the “Network Referrals” panel can be an interesting measurement tool.  For example, if I were to look at almost two years worth of data that Google offers and can get over the references to Social networks I’ve never heard of, the obvious thing to examine is the role of Deviantart in reading of the serial.

There is bad news in these stats.  I generated a trend map covering the period of time I launched the serial until the end of 2012. It’s pretty obvious 2012 traffic just complete outright died.  (For a bigger view, try this link.)

Honestly, my relationship with Deviantart has waxed and waned over the years.  When I launched the website late September I was fairly faithful to Deviantart. I talked about the serial in my journals and new picturesI was creating.  Last year I stayed off DA except to post photos and the random notice about conventions. [Hey. I like photography.]    After looking at this graph while preparing this post, I realize this behavior was not particularly good for my story. One might argue that while the traffic is very small on a daily basis I’ve potentially lost out on several hundred visits in 2012.

There is a caveat though behind all this. Deviantart has been on an appreciable decline amongst artists the past few years.  Most artists have migrated over to Tumblr as of late it would seem, but as Tumblr is also not lit-friendly it is hard for me to conceptualize how this platform can help a primarily text based serial.

Literature has never really taken off on DA, namely because there are better places for discovery.

However, looking at the broad two year view on Deviantart I thought prior to posting I should test this again to see what the impact of engaging might be.

The experiment

This past week I conducted a small experiment this past week by posting an ‘update” on the serial and news on an upcoming convention in my “Deviantart Journal” (see here) as well as as the intro segment of the story here.

The posting of the intro to the literature category yielded only 29 views as of this morning. This is comparably bad to some of my art works posted in the past six months. (Depending on what it is, I see a hundred up to a thousand views on the image.)

And yet, views are not a metric of engagement.  

The below stats are from January 1-12, also obtained from Analytics “Network Traffic” feature.   The traffic push through directly from DA is modest compared to Facebook (where I posted a weekly update link on Sun/Monday).   That said, the average pages per visit and visit duration are good news.

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Facebook is not a surprise as it is simply a page that announces updates to existing fans.  However, it remains a fairly passive feeder of traffic in spite of my neglect for that page. (My twitter and Facebook continue to spar, so I have been erratic in my posting of updates.)

The other surprises, of course, would be Goodread and Twitter.  While of course these sites have yielded a very low number of visits, the quality of the visit (proxied by pages per visit and average visit duration) seem encouraging.  .

Visitor Flow – Not for me, but maybe good for you

Regarding “Visitor Flow” it’s simply worth noting that Analytics does something nice in a canned report.  This is hard to replicate on your own actually. You can certainly get a good hint at how people enter from a site and how long they stay and what percent exit immediately… but this kind of view tells you what happens on a more detailed level.  If you can’t access the big view below, btw, feel free to click to the image directly.

 Right now, it’s not something that I benefit from because I tend to push the top level page as a landing page for the most part.  Seeing it drilled down isn’t necessary. However, for those of you with multiple stories /projects listed on an entry page, this might be worth exploring further.

As far as general next steps for me, I think I’m going to continue to experiment with Deviantart in 2013 when I generate new artwork for the next story and try to maintain a journal presence. I’m on the fence on actual posting of the installments.

That supposed blog on Devices

I’m going to skip the Device data blog as the next report.  After looking at the data, the conclusion I drew was simply this. “People are using a lot of tablets to read this story and wow, more people have tablets specifically iOS tablets.”

In thinking about how that is important, the main issue for me about devices is more about how people might be viewing your website through different web tools that behave very differently and could mess up navigation and reading experience for potential readers.

This should be a much broader topic for a post.  And yes, I’ll consider talking about this soon.

Until next time…

2012 Advertising on webfiction sites – by the numbers

One of the fun things about being a data nerd is that Google Analytics gives a junkie like me something to ponder.  I have  pulled a lot of different charts and tables from last year’s stats on my primary fiction site, Tales of the Big Bad Wolf, and think I’ll be writing about different pieces of data over several posts.

The first I wanted to drill down further is a follow-up to comments in a  previous blog about advertising.

I’ve screenshot the table I prepared for this blog post, but given the possibility that it will emerge on the web as a big garbled mess, you can link to the spreadsheet at this Google docs table and open in another window.

Context:

  • This is a small subsection of fiction sites taken from a much larger list of referring sites. If you read my previous blog about my Project Wonderful experiences, you’ll understand that the majority of the   referring sites are due to the use of the network.
  • The contribution of these sites listed below with respect to the rest of the traffic is small. While I’ve listed the sites in relative order with respect to other fiction sites, the Overall Rank refers to how it compares to all sites, including direct traffic and google searches.  For proper context, these visits are a dismally small part of the overall traffic (64k+ visits, of which 25k were new visits, and I am missing one month of data).
  • The relative # visits from other sites is not directly correlated with traffic that those sites get.  “Tales of Mu”, line entry 31 is actually one of the strongest stories in the ad network and one of the few where the author is making a full-go at supporting herself  She is one of few to hit 1000s of readers a day (according to available public statistics through Project Wonderful).

Okay, now that’s out of the way, let’s continue below the chart…

Webfiction Directories

In orange  I’ve highlighted the five quasi-directories that actually list my work.    The one thing you should recall is that these are not considered high traffic sites.  (In the blogpost I did on stats, the resource sites would not even list anything for these five sites as they claimed the traffic was rather low.)

Three of these – topwebfiction.com (TWF), webfictionguide.com (WFG), and novelsonline.info (NO) are extensions of the same directory. All are tied into some aspect of webfictionguide . (In other words, your listing is primarily on webfictionguide and the other two are different formats of that same data.)

My story’s placement on these sites correlates well with the visits/traffic I receive from them. 

Tales of the Big Bad Wolf has (since I instituted an in-chapter vote reminder this year) been able to move up to first screen status on the Top Webfiction(TWF)  viewpage.   However, its referral pattern is polluted by the vote incentive feature which redirects people from my main site, to TWF, and back to my site for an incentive page.   The actual real new visits that are new are not the 1900 but 20% of that amount.  That said, it may be an appreciable reminder to reader of other sites that once they finish their other serials, to come and read what they find on that page. Hard to say, as without confirmation it’s hard to prove.

“Tales of the Big Bad Wolf” has a pretty average presence on WFG.  It sits on the 3rd page of the Fantasy category.   It is not on the front page (a domain reserved for new stories or editor selected stories via the RSS update feed notice on the top right of the page).   Half of the traffic that comes through that seems to be newer visitors who spend 19 minutes (blue column) and view slightly more pages per visit than TWF. 

Novelsonline.info is another service of WFG that turns up in some keyword searches for “online novels.”  “Tales”  appears halfway down the page. One guesses that its placement is based on the Editorial rating from WFG.  On my screen, it’s 8 screenpages down — less than optimal in webspace real estate.   The low percentage of “new visits” at 7.89% actually suggests the majority of this traffic are from repeat visitors. In other words, no appreciable new traffic comes in through this listing and there’s not much that will change. 

Muses Success is a smaller directory but appears to still yield new visitors at a decent ratio. What I didn’t show is that the bump of visitors came about this year when I enhanced my listing . This afforded a small window whereby the folks in charge of its Twitter account promoted the site (as an example/early adopter).

Tuesdayserials was a site I started playing around with listing my story this year for each week I had an update.  The trend was close to zero visits for the majority of the year until after I posted about Wattpad. I suspect the link from the Wattpad blogpost actually was the main driver and not my listing in the weeklies. I have had no traffic since.

Overall — My lesson learned after this year and the last is that while these sites can bring in new visitors and are important and valuable, that the expectations of an influx of readers is unfounded.  Short of these sites making concerted efforts to promote themselves, their inreach into the web community is questionable. Also due to the story ranking as average on all sites, the only avenue I have to overcome this is to continue to find readers on my own and, if possible, motivate them to help share the story either in these networks or, better yet, outside these directories.

So on to the good news….

Fiction sites:

The fiction sites are a great story in themselves, however.  What I’ve listed are sites that either have Project Wonderful space or are unsolicited links from the authors themselves.

The traffic is not humongous on a broad scale, but blue columns tell a story about the readers who do visit from those pages.  Compared to the list of all the other sites that were part of PW campaigns, the pages visited and length of the visit is among the best overall.   It makes sense, after all, to think that a person who likes one serial is more willing to try another.

That said, there are some rather interesting caveats.  One serial’s fanbase is not another’s.  In general, but not always, the fantasy stories lead to better blue column results than the other genres — superhero and paranormal readers spend less time on the site.

And some other issues that are important.  Some of the paid advertisements continue to do well, but the returning visit % shows for stories like the ones on row 20 and 31 that the actual number of new visits is low.  More or less these boxes have become glorified paid links on the front page for readers who already visit the story.   This means unless those stories acquire new readers in the near future, their benefit for future advertising is likely very small.

Given that some of these spaces are considerably more expensive than webcomic counterparts it becomes clear that next year, intermittent advertising needs to be decided more carefully and only if those sites themselves appear to do a lot more PR.

That said, I’m appreciative of the link exchanges that I do have from other authors and support for the idea that one author’s fate (on the web) can have downstream effects for others.

I feel comfortable that these other sites (particularly those with links) are contributing to the pool of regular readers I have (see purple boxes) and am going to contemplate how to return the favor to those that have freely promoted my site.

Wattpad:

A caveat again – these are stats from Wattpad (an in reading experience) to the website.  From time to time, I push people to incentives/graphic art on the website (as it features more FAQs and extras) and so this is really about reader curiosity than reads.  My Wattpad stats have been fairly modest the past few weeks but continuing to slowly grow. My January update is included on the spreadsheet I’m updating here.   I expect the story to suffer a bit from here until the end of the serial.  As an excessively long work for Wattpad, the best thing right now for the story is to be complete so I can begin tracking behavior for that particular story.

Complete works have a better shot at being read.  I’ll work on getting TE Waters to talk about her Wattpad experience (assuming they let her). Her stats for “Ghost Tiger” versus her serial for “Memory of Ausos” is pretty mindbogglingly different . (Peek here.)  Her experience suggests the importance of “completion” in my mind as well as how a feature on Wattpad’s site can be a game changing experience for an author. 

TVTropes:

This year I added two links to the site from the Web Serials page and from Fairy Tales.  These are fairly buried in the pages themselves (very far down in turns of screenpages) and yet the click through appears modest.   The impact of TVTropes is probably increased for those sites that have dedicated listings and multiple trope examples.  I haven’t pushed this upon my readership, for so far they have been fairly passive in generating reviews.  I would like to experiment with this more next year.

Let me know if you have questions… otherwise next week I’ll be looking at either social networks or reading devices :]