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Monday, October 18, 2010

What I've Learned

So, now that the novel's done, I've had a few people ask me what I've learned from my little experiment -- what I'd do differently, what I'd improve upon for next time.

And, while there have been a lot of great ideas to come out of this thing, I've definitely realized that there are some bugs in the system.

I think one of the first real complaints I got as the first few weeks rolled on was the frustration about having to buy each individual 'episode'. Not a lot of people enjoyed that, or having to come back every week and/or make a bunch of 99 cent purchases in order to catch up.

My original reasoning behind that approach was that I wanted to give people the freedom to purchase a chapter and then, if they didn't like it, they'd only spent 99 cents and it wouldn't seem like that large of an investment.

However, in retrospect, I think that was the wrong approach to take. You see, selling the first episode made sense because it was a way to get people on board without them spending too much. But as the weeks rolled on, it became a hassle.

And, truth be told, I never sold more individual episodes than in those first two weeks.

What really saved my bacon in the end was an option that I brought about in Week #2 after my friend (and fellow Inkie) Stephanie Law suggested that I create some sort of 'subscription' model; something that would allow people to pre-purchase the whole story upfront.

And so that's what I did. I created a subscription service where for $6.99 you would receive a new 'episode' of five chapters delivered directly to your inbox every Sunday night.

That's where things really took off.

Once people made that singular purchase and didn't have to think about coming back to the site or anything like that, things went swimmingly. My sales soared. Now, to be fair, I'm certainly no millionaire after this little jaunt, but... well, I did okay on that end.

I think the one thing that surprised me the most about the whole experiment was that 'interactivity' was the absolute last thing that my readers wanted.

You see, I'd come into this with an entirely Open Door policy. The whole story was written with the intention that my readers could take part and help to guide the characters and events as I wrote it. I made sure to let it be known that every idea would be considered and I even allowed for several different avenues to reach me... but, that never happened.

I did, however, get lots of feedback about how 'cool' the option was (that I would let people into my story like that) but no one actually took me up on it.

In the end, while people told me they loved the story and even a few thought it'd make a great movie, nobody -- even when prodded -- actually felt comfortable in 'changing my vision'.


So, how would I do this differently in the future?

Well, I think for my next book I'll be moving to a subscription-only service. Something that makes it easy-as-pie for people to join in and just relax and let the episodes roll to them.

I think the idea of treating it like a weekly episode of a TV show worked rather well and it's something I can see myself getting into as I go forward. Though, to be fair, I think one of the things that really helped me was the nature of the story itself.

Because 404 was an Action/Thriller -- something that really lent itself well to the weekly TV concept -- I think that really helped me keep readers hooked and interested. Would it work as well in another format or genre? I'm not sure. My next concept is Action/Horror... so we'll see how that one goes.

I also quite enjoyed writing each chapter on the fly, I felt that it held a number of great advantages for me. Especially when it comes to the 'get something done' department. I've got dozens of half-finished projects over here, all in a myriad of different states, so knowing that I had to finish one chapter every day... yeah, that was fantastic motivation.

That said, I might give myself a bit more of a head start next time, make sure I'm a couple weeks ahead in the writing before I start releasing things. One of the bad things about constantly being under the gun -- as I discovered about mid-way through the story -- is that when you hit upon something that you really like and would love to expand upon, it's incredibly hard to do when the clock is ticking and the delivery deadline looms.

All-in-all I'd like to think that my first experiment was rather successful. I don't think I'm going to jump into another novel this year -- I've got a web series next on the docket, followed by a new Spec Pilot for a TV series, but hopefully 404 will do well over the next little while and by the time the new year rolls around, I can take another swing at it.

Anyways, there'll be more 404-stuff coming up soon with the final launch of the printed book but by all means, if you have any questions about the process or the finished work, ask away.


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