Thursday, May 3, 2012

Blog Story Experiment - Presentation

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.


Andy said...

I'm looking forward to your story; I am looking around for serials, too, and running into some of the problems you detail here. I am only about 12,000 words into my own serial, so I hadn't really considered that someone might want to pick up there and not go back and read up to the current entry... Perhaps I will write up some "Previously On"s for new readers. Thanks for the idea.

The Daring Novelist said...

Thanks, Andy! Glad to see other folks who are doing serials stopping by.

You can only go as far as you can manage, but you do want to structure your presentation to make it easy on the audience. And to give the audience options.

I'm not necessarily going to do a "previously on" with this one, because the episodes are going to be very short. But I might do some kind of synopsis thing when I've accumulated some larger chunks of story.

Andy said...

Writing a synopsis for every 5-6 parts of the story is what I was thinking, you just explained it more eloquently. :)

Nicole Pyles said...

So SO true. I've stumbled across a few web fiction series and they are also tough to follow! It's impossible to find ways to follow some of them. I've tried my hand at a few fiction posts on my blog, but unless I'm responding to my own weekly blog prompt, I don't do them anymore. They just aren't useable on a blog.

The Daring Novelist said...

Andy: yeah, just a little way-marker along the path.

Nicole: When you post fiction on the blog, people don't tend to comment, but I notice that the analytics stats show a rise in interest in the blog. I also get click throughs to my books on Amazon.

Things are very slow on everything I'm doing right now, so I don't know how easy it will be to judge the "success" of this over summer -- but I'll mainly judge on how much fun it is to do.

Anonymous said...

Since you're looking, these are the 2 web serials I follow religiously:

Both have great menuing systems.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I've even purchased some serials on Amazon and then found myself confused later--which ones I'd read, where the story had left off, etc. I like your ideas for keeping it easy for the reader. I'll be interested to see how your experiment goes. :)

The Daring Novelist said...

Anonymous: thanks for the links. Black Blossom is actually one of the serials that frustrated the heck out of me. The link you give has a nice index, but if you come across the episodes on her blog.... no link to that index. Nuthin' (Or if it's there, it's not labelled well.)

As I said, the impression I got was that it was aimed at readers coming from the other site. And that's nothing against the serial, just a warning of something I know I don't want to do.

Elizabeth: Thanks! I do think that packaging a serial for sale, i.e. in book form, is a whole different kettle of fish -- but you still have to label things well and make it easy on the reader.

Anonymous said...

Black Blossom is located on three different websites, but the blog and the LJ are mirrors and the LJ is better tagged than the blog. After I caught up on the Black Blossom site, I followed on LJ. The blog doesn't have much traffic yet, and it's new.

Andy said...

I am running into the problem of finding, not even a synopsis, but just a link to the beginning of a serial, on various sites I have visited just now. It's frustrating and a bit of a head-scratcher. I assume the authors would want to make it easy for readers. Two or three clicks around hunting for an archive, or table of contents, or a first post, with no luck, and I am out of there.

The Daring Novelist said...

It's just good practice to have a link to the start, and (once it's posted) to the next episode in each posting.

The good thing is that such things are easy enough to go back and add. Sure if you have three hundred episodes to correct, you may not want to do anything complicated, but you could at least paste in a link to the index or first ep.