One of the surprising things I've noticed when I browse around on many successful web serial sites is that an awful lot of them don't seem to care about new readers.
If you come in on Episode 57, you are just plain out of luck. There is no information about how to get to the start of the story, no "about the story" page where you can see a posting schedule or find out anything about the world or plot or the characters. There's often some chatter about a special feature or something, which assumes you already know all about it. (Like "Don't forget to vote for the Dubgaggle of the week or I won't do it!" with no link and no explanation of what a Dubgaggle is, or what will or won't be done if I don't vote.)
I can only assume that these serials have a related community or forum somewhere, and that's where all the readers come from. This creates a very "insider" and "outsider" dynamic, which might make the insiders more likely to give financial support, but it drives away a lot of new readers.
Like me, for one.
This is one of the two major reasons I have never gotten hooked by a web serial -- even though I like serials and have been actively looking for interesting ones to follow. (The other major reason is when the text itself is presented in tiny white type on a black background, and also is very dense -- with long unbroken paragraphs that scroll on forever.)
Rule one: Make it easy on the reader!
So I'll start that by making sure every episode links back to the first episode and the intro. Eventually I may do a "Table of Contents" or an "About the World" page which can be an index and info page for everything a new reader may want to know.
(To that end, here is a link to the introduction to the story I'll be blogging this summer on Mondays. Also here is some background on the experiment.)
Now, that said, I do think the ideal web serial would be something like a comic strip or TV series, and even if you don't know the history, you can enjoy what's going on right now. I mean, you can tell from context and behavior that Lucy always pulls the football away from Charlie Brown, and that it's an act of faith for him to try again to kick that ball. It's funnier if you know all the different ways she has tricked him, and thus you can appreciate what was different this time -- but the joke still works.
Still, a story has an arc, and unless you are doing anecdotes (which is actually an interesting option for an ongoing serial) you do need to respect the fact that your audience will want to catch up with the whole thing.
Nobody Can Do Everything
I also understand the fact that no blogger can serve everyone perfectly. Not unless they have a full time webmaster on staff. I mean, I have a number of related posts on this blog which I have not put in links to interconnect them. Every so often I go back and put in links to make it easier -- but I can't do it all.
So even though there are a million things I could do to make the experience of this web story magnificent and effortless, I'm going to try to keep it simple for this summer. If I feel the urge to run a Dubgaggle contest, I will restrain myself until I have the resources and attention span to do it right.
And that, my friends, is very often the real secret to success -- don't bite off more than you can chew.
See you in the funny papers.