Wrapping Up: A Few Thoughts on Blogging a Novella

Yesterday I released the last episode of my novella, 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl) here on my blog. If you want to know how it all started, or need an index to specific chapters, please jump back to my original announcement.

I thought I’d post a few quick notes on this experiment. Hopefully this will help others to decide if this is a good approach to take for one of their stories.

1) Thanks to readers like Jason Black, I was able to make some improvements to the story as a result of publishing it. I wasn’t able to make all of the improvements he suggested (some of the structural changes would have forced major changes to the plot including chapters already published). But because it was published on-line, I was able to fix simple issues (the typos, word choice issues, etc.) quickly, and improve the reading experience for future readers. This is definitely something you can’t do in a regular book, but I would also hope that I wouldn’t have these types of issues by the time something goes to print, since I would definitely hire a professional editor prior to publication.

2) The hard part about publishing something online is getting people to read it. Unless you already have a very large daily readership or Twitter following, just publishing something for free doesn’t mean more people will find you. Getting word out on your effort via social media can feel like you’re spamming all of your friends. If you are not comfortable with sending out tweets at least a couple of times a day, don’t count on a sudden flood of traffic to your blog. I tried a number of different hashtags in my marketing efforts, including: #writing #reading #free #TragicalllyHip (since this was a fanfic novella) #fanfic #webfic #amwriting and #fridayreads. A couple of times I noticed bumps in my website traffic after one of these tweets, but nothing jumps out at me as a sure-fire way to draw in more readers. I did get lucky in that John Scalzi had an Open Promotion thread on March 15th, and I was able to jump on that. A significant number of people found me through that post. (Thanks, John!)

3) Having constant content on the blog for a two week period did improve the traffic for the website, and did gain me some new readers and subscribers. Normally, I try to publish blog entries every other day, but coming up with original non-fiction content that often is a difficult task. Having an extended period with original fiction took the burden off my shoulders for a couple of weeks and allowed me to focus on other things for a while… like the writing I get paid to do. Since this was a story I had written a while ago, and wasn’t too long, it was a perfect candidate for this experiment.

4) If I do this again, I’ll do it with do with a story specifically written as a serial, with standard episode lengths. I’ll also put a lot more focus on generating suspense at the end of each episode, to pull the reader back the next day.

5) Episodes posted on weekend days generally get much less traffic, but then people who were reading along, went back on Monday and caught up. But, if I were to do it again, I’d probably hold off on the weekend posts, and only do weekday entries to avoid that issue. People are already busy enough on Mondays. Why raise the barrier to consistent readership any further?

6) Two weeks (ten episodes) feels about right for short fiction. Three weeks is doable, but unless you’re writing a soap opera, expecting people to make the commitment for longer than that is probably too much to ask. Also, since I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the story, I didn’t publish any other blog posts during this time. A lot can happen in three or four weeks, and you may not want to block your blog for much longer than ten days.

7) I probably wouldn’t publish long fiction (i.e. a full novel with consistent, long chapters), this way. I might do a serial, but I wouldn’t put them on a blog. I’d announce them on the blog, and make the episodes downloadable to eReaders. I don’t think people want to sit in front of their computers for hours and read every day.

8) I think the perfect episode length for short fiction is around 1200 words. Too short and it feels like a placeholder. Too long, and people don’t have enough time in their schedules to read it in a single sitting, and are less likely to come back.

9) I didn’t get any comments on formatting or fonts, so setting them up like normal blog entries appears to have worked.

10) I set up all of the entries prior to the announcement going out, and let WordPress do the release on a schedule (every day at 3:00 AM Pacific to catch the early morning readers on the East Coast). Then I went back every morning and updated the announcement post with the link to the chapters. This was much easier and more reliable than trying to post things on the release date.

11) I’m glad I had the header at the top of each episode that pointed to the original announcement. That works very well for this type of publication process. I should probably go back and add a link at the bottom of each episode to allow users to jump to the next one.

12) The hardest part (besides the writing of the original story), is reading the feedback and reviews people send you. This is the first time I’ve put my fiction out there for public criticism, and that takes a thick skin. I’m assuming I’ll get bad reviews in the future, and at some point I’ll learn to ignore them. With traditionally published fiction, that’s possible (and recommended to a certain extent), because there’s not a lot you can (or should) do by the time the story is in the public’s hands. But with blog-serialized fiction, you’re seeing the feedback before the whole story has been read, and it’s hard not to want to try to fix things or debate with the readers. But you can’t do that. For better or worse, the story is done, and, unless the issue is a typo, it’s best to leave it, and move on to the next project.

Do I consider this experiment a success? Yes. I learned what works and what doesn’t, and that’s always a good thing to apply to future efforts. I did draw in new readers—March is on pace to be my best readership month ever. I expect that people will find the story in the future and continue to read it. Thus, it adds a long-tail of readership to my blog. Hopefully some of those readers will buy my books when they come out. Sure, I had dreams of exponential growth and discovery of my story by famous folk who would rave about my storytelling to all of their followers. I didn’t see anything like that. But then again, slow and steady progress is (in my opinion) better than a rocket that burns out after a short flight. I’m in this for the long haul.

So I hope you enjoyed the story. If you have any further comments, feedback or questions, please feel free to let me know. Thanks for reading!

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