September 6th saw the final update in the Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual Feature "So! You’d Like to See Retropolis!" This sort-of a serial was a filler feature that picked up immediately after "The Lair of the Clockwork Book", and I’d hoped it would give me some breathing space during which I’d be able to get more work done on Part Two of "The Toaster With TWO BRAINS", and get the manuscript (and a few illustrations) done for the next Thrilling Tales serial.
It was a good plan: really, it was.
I did make some more headway on the illustrations for "The Riddle of the Wrong Brain" (that’s Part Two). And I did make a sizable start on the next serial, whose tentative title is – this week – "Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom". I got a bunch of character modeling done for the new Switchboard characters, too.
It’s been about four weeks since there’s been a story update at the Thrilling Tales site; so it’s pretty clear that I missed my self-imposed deadline.
Why is that? There are a couple of reasons.
Let me tell you about "Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom", or whatever its title is by the time you read this. Whereas "The Lair of the Clockwork Book" ran to about 37,000 words, the first draft of "Switchboard" is currently at just over 67,000, and it’s only about two thirds done. And… it’s a first draft. The second draft is going concentrate on vicious editing. The third draft, I hope, will go back over the wreckage and polish it up into a finished manuscript. Because these plans sometimes surprise us, there could easily be a fourth draft too.
So the first problem is that where "Lair" was a novella, this one’s a full length novel. And so in terms of building and finishing it, it turns out to be a completely different sort of beast: compare building a cottage, say, with building a skyscraper. Throughout – and even if there wasn’t that structural difference – I’ve wanted to spend more time with it, because in my need to feed the Thrilling Tales web site I’ve rushed the writing on all of its stories, and that’s curious, since the illustrations were always the genuine bottleneck. This time I’ve wanted to spend all the time it takes to make the story more worthy of the months of work that goes into its illustrations.
"All the time it takes", when it comes to something this much longer and larger, turns out to be quite a lot of time indeed.
Of course the longer length of this book – taken together with its black and white illustrations, which are so much more economical to print – means that it might rouse the interest of a traditional publisher. In view of what follows, it might be worth my while to try to attract a mass market publisher.
Because, and this is the second problem, the Thrilling Tales site is an experiment that I’ve been running for three years now – well, over two and a half years since it launched, anyway. It’s an experiment along the lines of popular Web Site Theory: give away a whole lot of content for free, and people will buy a little bit of stuff from you in return.
The Thrilling Tales site is based on the format of a web comics site. It’s just got more words, and fewer pictures. Web comic sites depend on their readers to buy books and to click on ads, because it’s only through those book and merchandise sales, plus the ad revenue, that the sites make any kind of return on the artist’s investment of time. In my case, all the ads on the Thrilling Tales site lead to other web sites of mine where I hope to shake all the change out of my readers’ pockets. But the model is still the same: a small percentage of readers will buy something, or go to an external site and buy something there, in return for all that wonderful free content. Even in the most successful sites the percentage of people who "convert", or buy something, is very low. That math is pretty much the same for everybody.
So the successful sites are the ones that attract tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of visitors every day. With that kind of traffic even the low conversion rate can result in an income.
It’s very rare for the Thrilling Tales site to see even one thousand visitors in a day. So it ought to be pretty obvious that the math is not on the side of Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual. If it’s not as obvious to you as it seems to me, it’s like this: in order to be successful, this kind of web site has to attract a very, very large audience, and sadly that hasn’t been the case.
If we were to ask "Why?" then I guess the answer probably wouldn’t flatter me. So we’ll avoid that, and instead we’ll look at the results.
During the fourteen months that "The Lair of the Clockwork Book" ran on the site it was effectively my full time job. Just keeping the site fed while trying to make more progress on Part Two of "TWO BRAINS" ate up almost every hour that was available in my day.
So during the feature that ran this summer I cut the number of updates down to one each week so that it would run longer and I would have more time to work.
As we’ve seen… that wasn’t enough time to keep feeding the web site. Like I said at the start: it’s been about four weeks since the site’s last update.
So although the Thrilling Tales web site isn’t dead it still won’t be seeing any new content for awhile. The next thing to appear may be Part Two of "The Toaster With TWO BRAINS", because what I now have to call The Novel is a long term project. It’ll likely be several months before it’s ready to be read – and then, of course, there are the illustrations. When the manuscript is done I might – instead of posting it to the web site – start it on the always depressing rounds of editors and literary agents. In the meantime I also have to pursue freelance work – or any kind of work – more aggressively because my Secret Laboratory’s finances are in a sad, sad state.
You’re not here to hear my Tale of Woe; in fact, there are more than enough Tales of Woe to go around, these days. It’s enough to say "I have one."
I do hope to be able to update the Thrilling Tales site in a while, but even I don’t know when "a while" is. It’s certainly farther away than "soon".