statistics

Guest Discussion – Najela Cobb reflects on serializing prose vs. webcomics

Najela Cobb (Twitter, Facebook) and I started chatting via comments on an earlier post about webfiction/serial novels . In that conversation we started drawing comparisons between the two niches, particularly since webcomics are, to a degree, more successful than webfiction /serials in reaching an online audience.

This former prose serializer or “webfiction” writer recently ventured into a new story, but this time in the webcomics market. She just Kickstarted her webcomic, “Beyond Beauty” this past week.

This sounded like a good time to formalize our previous chat into a quasi-interview. Hopefully Najela’s responses offer some food for thought. And if you, also, are a serial writer with webfiction cred doing something new and are interested in being interviewed, please contact me with your name, URL (of your past or current work), and briefly describe what you think you have to share with other readers (current and future) of this blog.

And with that business stuff out of the way, off we go.

Please tell us about your former serial.

I worked on a serial called It’s All Relative (IAR).

Here’s a description: “The magical world of Atheria is unraveling at the seams as powerful hybrid creatures disrupt the essential balance. Amidst the chaos, a young revolutionary promises change and freedom at a cost. Three college students and their friends find themselves on different sides of a war where the line between good and evil is not so clearly defined.”

The story hasn’t really changed too much, but its execution has seen various incarnations. Its most recent form was posted at http://iarstory.blogspot.com. I believe it started in late 2007/early 2008 on freewebs and ended in 2009 on Blogspot. Extras, parodies, and collaborative stories are still available to read.

What sort of promotion (e.g., advertising, link exchanges, social media, mirror fiction directories or sites) did you do when you first started to put the story online?

I did promotion through Livejournal groups, Project Wonderful, Pages Unbound, Web Fiction Guide, and was active on forums. I also did review exchanges and collaborative fiction with other web fiction authors.

What successes did you think you accomplished in posting your serial?

My biggest success in posting IAR was watching the webfiction community take shape and grow over time. Posting online helped me develop a thick skin. I’ve learned to put some emotional distance between myself and my stories, which I think is a good skill for any writer to have.

What issues did you feel you could not overcome with the serial (e.g., lack of reader interaction)?

(more…)

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Wordpress, Wattpad, and FictionPress: a comparison of numbers

Context

I’ve been serializing Memory of AUSOS on a free WordPress account since December 2010, also mirroring releases (with a several week lag) at Wattpad and FictionPress. From August 2011 to May 2012 I went on hiatus while I focused on personal issues and on getting my other novel, The Ghost Tiger’s Lament, finished… during which time I totally neglected the serial. I published “Ghost Tiger” the first week of April 2012, and was approached by Wattpad for a feature towards the end of May. I started posting Ghost Tiger on Wattpad in June, and was officially listed as a feature on July 5th. I also relaunched AUSOS at the same time (in May), posting twice a month rather than weekly as before, and this time making sure to keep the mirrored releases better updated.

Also, my social media presence is pathetic.

WordPress

I did some minor advertising via Project Wonderful shortly after I first launched (December 2010, though the site itself has been around since October 2010), and peaked in traffic at a, uh, very modest 150 visitors a day. Since my relaunch in May 2012 I’m at a relatively consistent 400-600 hits a month (if I update in a timely fashion :P). The only other “promo” I’ve done is announcing updates on Twitter (if I remember to), and listing the story on Web Fiction Guide and Muse’s Success.

As I only have the free WordPress tools, I can’t drill down as specifically as SgL has on her stats, however — i.e. I have no idea what percentage of those hits are readers, returning or otherwise, and what percentage are SPAMBOTS.

Wattpad

Frankly speaking, my record on Wattpad is modest compared to the success other featured stories have had (i.e. up to millions of hits). There could be any number of reasons for this: I write in a relatively unpopular genre, I don’t do much promo, I don’t do much networking, etc. But I have been very happy with the results anyway, and the opportunity it’s given me to reach countless new readers.

My stats as of Jan. 19, 2013:

[Title (Genre*) | Date first posted | Total accumulated “reads”**]

* up to two selections allowed
** hits added up per chapter

1. Memory of AUSOS (Fantasy/Science Fiction) | February 2011 | 970

181 reads on the first chapter
14 reads on the most recent chapter (out of 20 installments total)

The first story I ever posted on Wattpad. And the only one, for a long time. Before my feature, I had at most 10-12 installments posted (recall that I’d been on hiatus for months, and before that I’d only been updating the Wattpad listing when I remembered to). I do remember having about 200 reads by June 2012, right before the feature was listed. That said, it’s a bizarre story in a very niche genre, so I’ve never expected much attention on it, and am not at all surprised by the low follow-through rate.

2. “Thousand-Year Cat” (Fantasy/Short Story) | May 2012 | 304

This is a roughly 8k short story* with romantic undertones that I originally self-published back in 2011. I posted this on Wattpad mostly as an experiment (this was before I had been approached for the feature if I recall correctly), as it’s my one story with the most “mainstream” appeal, or at least the most appeal among the majority of the Wattpad population. I did get much better hit rates on it than I did with AUSOS. (And judging by comments, readers adore the story.) Even so, I doubt I would have gotten half the attention this has if it hadn’t been for the subsequent feature.

* approaching novelette territory, actually, considering the length

3. The Ghost Tiger’s Lament (Historical/Fantasy) | June 2012 | 314,104

28,539 first chapter
11,147 last chapter (out of 23 story chapters, though there are 3 additional appendix chapters that are included in the total count above)

(Completion rate was 50% at one point according to SgL — I didn’t record this though, alas. Nice to know I’m still getting readers working their way through though — or trying to. :P)

Well, that’s a drastic difference there. For the record, I had about 300 reads prior to the feature getting listed. I was actually really worried about the story’s potential reception when I first got featured. Obscure historical time period, obscure setting, melancholy narrative arc, most decidedly not YA, and not really a typical fantasy novel in many ways. But, well, aside from some pathetic tweeting/social media notification, and a guest post on the official Wattpad blog the same day the feature listed… I didn’t do much. And yet readers flocked to the story the moment it was listed. Some of them even liked it. 11k readers have apparently liked it enough over the last six months to finish the whole thing.

Which is honestly pretty mindboggling to me — as a self-publisher who’s quietly kept track of the scene over the past 2-3 years, I’m well aware that many people have been able to give away thousands of free downloads via Amazon (and receive subsequent sales boosts). But out of those sales/downloads, it’s impossible to know how many people are actually reading to completion. My Wattpad stats, on the other hand, are very clear. And very humbling.

Are those readers subsequently crossing over to read my other work? Well, honestly, I don’t have enough comparable work out there. (I don’t even have the Ghost Tiger sequel out yet. :P) But a few readers are branching out, nonetheless (there was a definite boost in stats on AUSOS and the Cat story post-feature, if not so drastic).

Still, without the feature, this particular story would have definitely wallowed in obscurity. Is it possible to find visibility on Wattpad without a feature? Yes… but from what I’ve observed it requires a lot of investment in the community (frex the annual contests/events, forums, comments, etc.) and networking with other writers/readers on the site — and you probably need to be writing in a popular genre. YA, romance, paranormal…

4. The Land of Eternal Winter (Fantasy/Adventure) | Jan 16, 2013 | 24

The first chapter of my most recent, not-yet-released novel, which I decided to post for further comparison purposes. This is definitely an improved hit rate compared to when I first posted AUSOS (*crickets*) and when I posted the Cat story (about 10-16 hits over the first couple of days). Beyond that, I can’t say much yet, as it’s far too early and there are any number of factors that could be coming into play:

– I’m now a known entity on Wattpad.
– This is a fantasy with much more mainstream appeal.
– I tweeted it to my nonexistent followers.
– There is a human face on the cover.

FictionPress

I only have AUSOS posted on FictionPress, better known as the little sibling of the much bigger Fanfiction.net. AUSOS was written with the intention of serialization; the other works I have listed at Wattpad were not. Also, note that FP provides two different kinds of stats records*; I’m not entirely sure they match up (and only one kind gives chapter breakdown), but I will provide both.

* Also, the fanfic/fp community has traditionally valued comments/”reviews” much more than they have valued silent hits (despite typical reader behavior skewing to the latter) — take that as you will.

My “legacy” stats (since December 20, 2010):


Total views: 1311
– 241 on the first chapter
– 71 on the most recent chapter (out of 39 installments total — I break down updates differently here than I do on Wattpad)

That number on my most recent chapter is really an outlier though. Most of my other installments have about 10-30 hits (the earlier chapters have a bit more). I have outliers on a few chapters (99 on ch. 35, 108 on ch. 37). I’m frankly not sure why — possibly those were links I promoted on Twitter or that people got in their email alerts, or people like clicking to the last available chapter to judge whether or not they’ll like the rest of the story. But like I said, I’m not entirely sure how these stats are calculated, so who knows.

Monthly breakdown for the last six months, plus January so far:

[month | views | visitors | ratio of views to visitors]
January 2013 | 129 | 36 | 3.58 : 1
December | 191 | 57 | 3.75 : 1
November | 290 | 71 | 4.08 : 1
October | 378 | 108 | 3.5 : 1
September | 50 | 17 | 2.94 : 1
August | 5 | 4 | 1.25 : 1
July | 34 | 14 | 2.43 : 1

What happened between September and October is two things: I got sexy official cover art (FictionPress used to not display cover images, and when it started, I think sometime last year, I was using placeholder art). I also made a rather belated switch of categories from Manga to Science Fiction, a much more high-traffic category. Unfortunately I can no longer remember when I made the category switch exactly, but it must have been toward the end of September or sometime in October. And in August I believe I didn’t have a chance to update as I was overseas.

The subsequent decline in numbers is expected — regular browsers of that category now recognize that story either as one they’re interested in following or not. And I suspect some have been leeched over to my main site (since there is still a lag in updates). Also, as I post two installments at a time on this site, it’s hard to judge exactly how many people are returning readers and how many are new readers.

What has been interesting to me though is that there is a clear genre/audience discrepancy between the two sites (Wattpad and FP). I don’t have the data to back me up and I’m not going to say it’s a gender or age difference (I strongly suspect the female population is in the majority on both sites, and that ages of active readers/writers skew young on both sites as well*) — but I do wonder sometimes if certain types of readers are actually more comfortable on FP than on Wattpad.

Which may or may not tie in to the fact that there is also a significant difference in discovery/reader behavior on both sites. FP readers rely somewhat less on the social reading aspect (there are forums there as well and that certainly plays a factor, but my guess is that typical story discovery results from regular browsing) — whereas on Wattpad it’s much more difficult to browse “neutrally” (nor is the site structured in such a way that you are encouraged to do so). “Growth” on FP is of course much slower in general because of this, but “cricket chirp” situations are arguably fewer too.

The other major difference, potentially, is reader attitudes toward finished and unfinished stories. Due to the overlap from fanfiction culture, FP readers are used to following serialized work — it is more or less expected for a story to be uploaded and consumed in chunks (in contrast, a story uploaded in its entirety at once is quickly buried behind newer updates and forgotten). When I was approached by Wattpad, however, and I asked whether I should upload my whole story at once, or by installments, I was told that Wattpad readers by far prefer completed stories that they can just sit down and dig into. And based on casual observation, at least, I think it is true that Wattpad readers enjoy reading through an entire story in a single sitting. I don’t know how much of a difference there is, but it does seem to be there.

Of course, FP has been revamping itself in recent years, so who knows if these differences will persist.

* if you look at the fantasy/romance/YA categories on the respective sites, you’ll see that there isn’t that much of a difference actually

Conclusion

Isn’t this post long enough already? I’m tempted to end on something pithy like “go where the readers are, not where the writers/social media gurus are,” but I think I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.

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 :]

2012 — Webfiction’s Small Bookstore Problem and 2013 Resolutions

When I started my first online novel several years ago, I used to read the forum threads at Webfiction Guide and blog comments at Novelr quite extensively.

Looking in between the lines of some of the posts, I could see a lot of excitement for writing novels online, but a budding frustration with the ability to advance the notion of “webfiction.”

I recall one astute commentator noting that all it would take was “one big story, one success story” to help push the entire profile of online novels/webfiction forward.

And so here we are at the end of 2012 with a large number of exciting things happening in the web/electronic fiction realm – particularly for serials.

  • Ebooks continue to increase their share of overall book sales
  • Amazon launches a new Kindles Serial program
  • Margaret Atwood enters the world of online fiction through Wattpad.com and Byliner.com 
  • Danielle Steele and other established authors say HEY WHY NOT and announce plans for digital singles
  • Major coverage of “serials” in Time, NPR, WSJ, and other journals in Canada and the UK
  • Major startups launch: Jukepopserials.com  and Plympton.com, with Plympton completing a successful Kickstarter and partnering with Amazon Kindle Serials within a matter of months.
If there is a time to advance the plight of the online independent novel writer, it is now. And yet, can it really be done?
The effectiveness of these other entities is clear. They are well-funded and capitalized to market themselves to an audience.  Granted, serials are not everyone’s cup of tea but there is that small percent who enjoy this serial song and dance with the author. These readers are used to anticipation and to delayed gratification.  

They’re the reading world’s version of roller-coaster riders.Gamblers. Just like the authors who decide to step into online serialization and hope that they don’t crash and burn out in front of an audience.

But can a successful park or casino be built around webfiction?

If one takes a look at the marketplace right now for indie webfictioneers, it’s dismally small.

Of these, it is also impossible to determine the percentage of these works that is complete, save at Webfiction Guide.  This figure may be roughly 16% of listed works.   Tuesdayserial offers 50 “Graduates” with an indeterminate denominator (so no way for me to easily calculate completion rate).

When one looks at the big guys — Wattpad (with its millions of stories) or looks at the webcomic world — with tens of thousands of comics online — you start to realize that the ecosystem for serials and online fiction is very tiny.

In sum, the ability to have something a reader wants is a gamble.  The storefront the indie online novel/webfiction writer inhabits (via these directories) is much beloved (and we do love our folks for hosting these listings) but doesn’t have the choices that the larger players have or the visibility.

Can indie online fiction flourish?  Can it really do all that well when what we have to market as a community is tiny?

That is what really remains to be seen.   So 2012 had its big exciting news stories and the “great lucky break” that some have been clamoring for.  And I venture that the big bump most of the indies hoped for couldn’t happen because we weren’t big enough to ride that wave.

So, my only conclusion for 2013 is going to be this — if I want to see the storefront to grow, I’m going to have to (as a part of this online community)

  • Try to recruit  people and their projects (as I discover them) for the existing indie directories.  Try to force a breakdown of the existing silos as well between the online serial cliques.   (It  vexes me to this day that Tuesdayserial doesn’t list WFG or Muses Success on its front page and features one defunct directory instead.) 
  • Engage in publishing world/writer conversations about the big guys and their experiments in serialization, looking for ways to tactfully bring up these directories as sources of free fiction
  • Cheer other authors on to complete what they’re doing, since a good webfiction directory should not be full of half-completed projects and it seems that the turnover rate is very high. 
  • Look for ways to knit my stories into other platforms (to drive people to my independently managed sites)
And last, but not least — I vow to  keep writing and completing my stories! 

Weekly Discoveries: November 16-23

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the U.S. It’s a few hours early, but I figure since I missed a week WHY NOT? 😀

Will Kindle Serials Transform Anthology Publishing?

I suppose the real newsworthy part of this post is the Vonnegut estate releasing stuff from Vonnegut through this platform!  Oh man! Oh man! (*insert fangirl screaming*)   I love seeing literary people like Atwood and Vonnegut on this “serial” bandwagon.

A quiet time for webcomics?

El Santo at Webcomic Overlook is one of my favorite webcomic reviewers.  He has a serious commitment to giving thoughtful reviews and talking about story and substance.  In this article he asks if readership/discovery at the most popular webcomics are down.  It’s hard to say given the metrics that are being used to examine site traffic. The comments alone are worth reading as well, for you can see how people disagree with his question and how different metrics tell creators different things.  Just as an aside, I’ll tell you that Project Wonderful and Google often don’t agree, with some reporting under and others over.  That said, I think as an estimate of “scale” it’s not terrible. I’ll blog about PW/Google soon.  

Where Europe’s subscribers are — and aren’t

A short article that links/summarizes a few points of the larger 134 page report , “Building the digital single market — cross border demand for content services” that describes implications for subscription based models. The report itself is a large summary of demographics and attitudes and beliefs of those demographic groups. Much of the “content” described really comes to audiovisual products and such, so the application of these findings for online novels is tenuous. However, those creating and marketing webserials in the multimedia dimension might be able to glean some points from the report.

The Revival of the Serial (an “oldie” but a goodie)

Romance is the biggest genre out there, and admittedly I’m a soft romantic at heart so I watch the “Dear Author” blog for the reviews and news.  While I am not a fan of much of the romance genre today (as I find sometimes that there is too much of a formula applied to “getting two people in bed together” and not enough Victorian moral conflict otherwise), following this site has been educational. This article actually precedes the last Amazon inspired rush of news on serials and as such, must be given credit for discussing serials before they were “popular again.”  

I highly recommend reading the comments. They are important because they represent a cross-section of opinions from readers and writers. Writing a novel online is tough stuff because not everyone enjoys serialization.  So as you all plan/write your serials, have an end game in mind that can touch those readers who need an “all in one” experience.  If you’re not thinking about compilation, you absolutely must if your goal is to capture as many readers as you possibly can :).