marketing

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.

webfictionguide-3
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. 

Questions newbies should ask when investigating serial publishers and platforms

For some, we prefer posting our own serial. However, others might be interested in being “published” as opposed to self-hosted.  Other than the 500 pound gorilla (Amazon Serials) there are actually half a dozen or so “publishers” out there.  Unlike the open publishing (free) platforms Wattpad or Fictionpress, these publishers often involve a submissions process.

As more of these entities appear on the scene and people flock to submit to these start-ups, a word of caution.  Not all digital publishers are “saviors” for unpublished authors.  In fact, some may be no different in practice than traditional publishers. Please make it a point to read blogs like “Writer’s Beware” to educate yourself on some horror stories that our print colleagues have learned the hard way.

I’ve read a number of case studies about small to mid-size publishers taking writer’s books and going to town – adapting them, tossing them in bankruptcy court as collateral, and so on and so forth. These are heartbreaking stories for authors and sad stories for the readers who get involved.  Just because you want to publish online doesn’t mean that the offline warnings don’t apply.

Certain questions, I feel, really need to be asked. For example – will this entity

  • Pay for your work
  • Claim copyright /license on your work. For how long ? Forever? Five years? One year?
  • Relinquish any claims (above) should they functionally stop existing as a company (e.g., their website disappears, goes dead or inactive, or loses readers in droves)
  • Transfer their licenses/copyrights to other companies should they cease to exist/go bankrupt/get bought out
  • Claim rights to derivative works on other platforms (e.g., audio dramas, games, comics from your novel)

Let’s assume that you have these points addressed satisfactorily and deep down you know you’re working with good guys who have laid out good terms. Then what? Sure it’s great you’re going to be published. Yay! But how are you being paid?

I would hazard that most payment models for these sites are based on straight sales of a subscription or some other metric measuring your popularity or reads.  But then it’s critical to become popular. And how exactly are you going to do that?

The adage “write well and often” certainly holds true as does “you need to promote yourself.” However, the publisher ought to have some responsibility for this promotion as well, particularly since they’re either borrowing or co-owning your product.

The one thing “establishment” is supposed to bring to the table, no matter the entertainment sector is MARKETING. And this is the facet that I wish authors thought about first.  

There are two lines of inquiry I encourage newbie serial authors to think through.

1) What is their baseline popularity (or “Am I moving into an empty house?”): 

  • What does the host/publisher have in terms of existing entertainment capital? Are they already popular ? With who?
  • How many visitors/users do they have? How many stay to read stories? What kind?
  • Are all their followers other authors hoping to make it rich? Or do they have readers actively involved/reading their content?
  • If they claim they can do all this, can  they back this up by giving you data every month? Or are you just guessing /trusting in their success?
  • How much money do they put into a marketing budget? Online ads? Banner exchanges?
  • How responsive are they to readers and authors?

2) Whether small or large in “popularity,” do they have a clear plan to grow that base?  

  • How many have a plan to get new readers?
  • Which readers? Is this an audience you can’t access yourself currently?
  • How  is this supposed to happen?  What does this plan involve? Is it all based on more of the usual online strategies (already being used by everyone who ever wants to write or publish a book )?
    • If yes, can they prove their success? What kind of click-thru rates do they have? How long do those visitors stay? Can they tell you if they are reading  your story? Why not? (Consider, all self-host folks can tell reads/visitors.)
  • How does their plan differ from other start-ups? Is it all online? Is it all ad based? Is it a campaign built on retweets and likes? Are they solely dependent on their authors to do the legwork?
  • Do they have an offline component? Do they go to book fairs, libraries, conventions? Do they have a good relationship with the blogging reviewer community? Or other partnerships that you think can help you?

Earlier in the year I blogged about why I felt the paradigm for online fiction was flawed and needed changing.

I mentioned that we had a fragmented fiction system out there with a lot of communities all inventing the same thing over and over.

To be honest, it’s not a bad thing provided each of those entities could demonstrate success or likely potential for future success.  I’m okay with lots of happy little independent publishers, so long as they were all accomplishing the goal that most authors wanted .

But are any really successful? That’s the question I have to ask as I look across the board. There’s really no articulated vision by a lot of these start-up publishers. And this inability to address the questions in this blog is why I continue to be  reluctant to submit to the majority of these publishers.

Hopefully this, too, will change someday.

March 17 Weekly Roundup

Happy St. Patrick’s Day all!  I’m finally done with three weeks of work/convention/work life and hoping to get back into the quieter activities of life here.  Hopefully I haven’t missed any huge stories, but if I have … tell me about it!

For some reason, an author goes to Huffington Post to put down the idea that blog tours are all that useful 

This seems to make people mad.  This might be bad form too, because the owners of the blogs who reviewed the work get mad.   Writers who use blog tours also get mad!  The irony in this is that the author’s provocative and complaining blog gets him more notice than all of the blog tours combined.  (As a cynical netizen, this is really what I think the author was after to begin with. That said, I still predict that few sales will result from the blog post at HuffPo, despite its high profile given the author’s original hypothesis that blog tours don’t do squat.)   But at least there’s a reasonable comment from someone who sounds like they understand the internet!

Blog tours are, for some reason, part of a lot of ‘Marketing’ strategies that book writers seems to take. I’m not particularly sure why given that a lot of blogs haven’t proven that they have a) an audience b) the audience you want and c) an audience that can be motivated to purchase product.

Authors should spend less time talking to authors IMHO at blogs.  They should look at marketing magazines and sites.  They should go to where the readers are.

Generation M or Generation Mobile

This might be repackaging of information already well-understood by many webfiction/ online novel/ serial writers, but the basic premise is that consumption of media is shifting to mobile platforms.  Webfiction writers need to understand this in terms of how they publish their content.   See this article which reports/repackages data from the Pew Report in ways we might understand: 

Waterstones offers extra content to lure readers away from Amazon

An interesting strategy that webfiction authors might consider to compel readers to buy a compiled, edited version of their serial fiction. We’ll have to see how this works for Waterstones… 

The crude realities of money and fiction

This piece in Salon.com illustrates why neither rank or sales necessarily translates into the ability of writers to actually make a living off their craft. While the success stories of millionaires in the self-publishing world are great, they are the outliers.  Most of the success stories that are touted heavily involve authors with not just one book, but a deeper backlist who are able to mobilize to take advantage of lucky situations like the one that happened to the author. 
I’m not sure why there’s a pervasive belief that writers are going to publish a book and become instantly rich.  Maybe there’s a misunderstanding that in a creative field you can manufacture your success.  That is something artists all know is far from the truth. Much of it is in the hands of lady luck and the audience on the other side.  
And the comments section is pretty interesting as readers attempt to really dissect the numbers.  I’m not sure it matters to me what 4000 copies this guy sold or not. Really the point is the economics of writing is sad.

Captive Prince builds steam, Wattpad ruminations, and the story of paper books

This post is mostly a reaction to three separate things that are rattling around my brain at the moment. Other than they are rattling in there together, the topics are disparate and unrelated. (Or maybe not!)

ONE

First, for those that watch my tweets you would have noticed a few pointers to “The Captive Prince” earlier in the year. For the uninitiated, it is a serial fiction that has been running on Livejournal for years.  Finally, finally, the ebook/paperbacks came out this year.   and it has been gathering quite a bit of attention overseas but not here.

Until now perhaps.

Dear Author – one of my favorite review blogs to read (because the reviews are personal and funny in tone) – took on Captive Prince and voila, endorsed the opinions of many thousands of readers (perhaps tens of thousands?) who have followed the serial for years with a rare RECOMMEND.

I think this is really one of the true success stories in serial fiction. It’s not a serialized novel (released in novellas) like Hugh Howey’s Wool (which is FANTASTIC and comes out in hardback TODAY and should be another inspiration to self-publishers everywhere) but a true text based novel.  It’s not a Kindle Serial that is designed solely to live in the ebook realm.  Rather this was a free work that built up a fandom that pushed the author to seek out publication.  As of this writing, the Livejournal site is still up there at Sucat’s livejournal  living simultaneously as a free read while her paper and ebook versions become available as a paid entity.

This is a demonstration, a true one, of how social communities can make fiction viable.

So my hat’s off to Freece/Sucat and her fans.  I hope they realize they’re breaking ground. I hope the publishing world realizes it too.

TWO

It’s been a month since I completed my story on Wattpad.  I figured I should ask for a feature and was politely declined by the tech /social media people/help desk for a feature within 24 hours of submission. I wasn’t surprised as much by the polite ‘no,’ as much as the last sentence in the response.

“Due to the high volume of submissions we receive daily, we are not able to feature every story we receive. Our aim is to create a list that represents a variety of genres and showcases some of the best writing the community has to offer. We did a quick review of your story and unfortunately, we are not able to give it Featured Story placement on the site at the present time as we are giving preference to stories that have not yet received the kind of attention your story has already gotten.

I honestly do not consider the story to be successful. (ETA: Stats link) But when examining the response, one wonders then if the average Wattpad experience is pretty dismal in comparison.  Yikes.

Wattpad is a bit odd in its current evolution. Its featured section is becoming much more populated with published authors seeking to get more readers at the existing Wattpad base.  While I think that can be good for the visiting authors and readers (who get free books to read), there really are two Wattpads still operating… one that is user created/curated and the other that is corporate curated.

While some of the featured stories do go on to huge success, it’s the efforts of those who rise to the top in the “other pool” that interest me more.  In particular, as of late I’m enjoying the success of  82 year old retired writer, Gwen Madoc, whose story (as of this posting) ranks #2 in the historical romance and #9 in the non-teen romance genre.  I am gathering she must be too, for she has been personally responding to every comment on her work thus far!

It’s an amazing thing sometimes how in spite of the designs of the curators, the social network discovers what they like and, even more amazing, how generations can come together in such an unusual place.  My hats off to this classy dame and the readers of Wattpad for their hand in a second season of writing for Ms. Madoc :).

As for me, my natural experiment on Wattpad continues without interference.  I had worried over length of my serial and entertained some concern about earlier comments from community members that “stories shouldn’t be longer than X parts.” Well, I broke that rule, but at least am glad to report that readers did not fall off a cliff, never to return. In the last month I’ve had 300 more readers cross the finish line.  I will hope there will be more.

THREE

This weekend I was back in the Artist Alley at Momocon, doing my crazy art thing.  I’ve been giving away bookmarks for my serial since last June, but this year I was able to stick them next to copies of the first proof I ran for the compiled print version of the serial.  There was nothing fancy about this display – as you can see  here  for reference). Truly, the book is lost in a table of generally shiny artwork.

To my surprise, I had a few people beeline for the book. In spite of my telling them that the book was online for free and the proof itself had an extra blank page, they purchased the copies anyways.

This surprised me honestly. The convention I was at largely caters to those who are careful about spending and I honestly thought the idea that a book was already online for free would deter them.  But while I didn’t get to chat extensively with these customers about their thoughts on why they still wanted the copy, they still quickly confirmed that they preferred print to “everything else” and/or wanted something to read at that very moment.

It’s given me much to ponder as I wrestle with the issue of putting out a paper copy.  In spite of all the flaws that exist in this work, I still think that the paper book in itself is a marketing tool on its own. I shall have to talk shop with selfpublishers who sell at conventions a bit more in the future.