- Start Reading
- Under the Influence
- Take Part
I thought Bad Influences was developing a decent following until a topical little post I made on an unrelated blog started modestly trending. All other concerns went out the window as I watched the stats climb into the hundreds, then thousands, tracking down shares and retweets from people speaking languages I didn’t recognise and watching discussions of my post bloom on fora from Libcom to Mumsnet. I love WordPress Stats. I love that the chart shows not just hits but unique visitors, and the proportion between the two. I love that you get to see the terms people searched for, and imagine how gratified or disappointed they must have been. I especially love seeing more and more of the little world map turn darker shades of orange, and the collection of flags on the left get longer and longer. It’s a bit like playing Risk by yourself (I have Australasia! I have North America! I have half of Asia! Am I winning? I don’t know! It’s great!) My elation has been dulled only by one nagging question: why can’t I make this happen with Bad Influences?
My WordPress stats for BI now reliably spike by about 20 unique visitors on the day of each new post, and another 20 or so altogether in the three or four days between posts. I had a small but mysterious spike on the stats for Mei’s blog on the 6th April – a one-day rise in both views and unique visitors, not huge but beyond the usual levels. At first, I thought this might be explained by the current bird flu scare in China, with the possibility of Mei’s blog getting drawn into the gravity of a few searches for “bird flu” along with “Beijing students” or “PKU”. But the stats show that not a single hit in that spike came from a search term. Just over half came from clicks on links that WordPress stats was able to identify – as usual, mostly Facebook, Google Reader and the main BI site. I have no idea where the others came from – it’s a total mystery. I kind of love that, too, but I would also like to be able to put my obsessive stat-checking to good use.
I want to be able to expand the readership for BI, not just because it’s nice to be read (though it is!) but because I’d like more people to actively participate. I was hoping that by this point in the story there’d be a few regular commenters on each of the characters’ blogs. I’ve shared it among creative writing and gaming students at Edge Hill, and with my students at Liverpool, and acquired a good few more readers and Likes that way, but everybody seems a little shy about joining in. I’m trying to get a range of readers from academic and non-academic backgrounds, both webfic aficionados and newbies. I was excited about the immediate response in likes and shares when I first put BI on Facebook, which is still the main source of its traffic. For a while, it was also getting a lot of hits from Web Fiction Guide, where reception has been mixed but always thought-provoking. Nevertheless, 45 of my 62 Facebook likes are from people I know personally, and since the initial surge of friends, family, colleagues and comrades, new likes have been few and far between. I need to try some new tactics.
I do have plans to make contact with a few more academics, and ask them to share it with their students and colleagues. As well as places like the Electronic Literature Organisation and blogging researchers like Jill Walker Rettberg, I’ve got a presentation at the Mix Digital conference at Bath Spa University coming up in July. However, by that time the project will be over halfway through, and I hope I’ll have some more interactive elements to talk about before then. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to put some time aside to get more involved in web fiction communities – write more reviews on WFG myself, keep up with the forum and make an effort to track down the Facebook pages and blogs of other blog fiction writers. I’m also wondering about pointing writers of webfic that I’ve found through tags and searches towards WFG, or asking if they mind me submitting their work for the directory. I don’t see this as necessarily a directly reciprocal thing (though it may be) but as part of strengthening the community that creates and promotes web fiction, building (or at least reinforcing and possibly helping to expand, in some small way) the infrastructure that makes it possible to gather an audience for online fiction.
I’ve also got some resources for spreading the word offline. I used one of those Vistaprint promotions, and despite finding that once you factor in the upload charge and p&p it’s a hell of a lot more expensive than they make it look, I got some cards printed. Once you’ve ordered one little thing, they bombard you with offers of free samples and free uploads, so I got another lot for postage costs only, along with 15 fridge magnets, 10 postcards and a pen. I give the cards out to people I meet, put the postcards on noticeboards, give the magnets to people who’ve helped and supported me along the way and I haven’t quite decided what to do with the pen yet. I’ll probably keep it – it’s a nicely ironic memento for an online fiction project. Perhaps I should offer these freebies as incentives to frequent commenters on the character blogs. Would anybody want them? Perhaps for participants I could get some more interesting ones done, with the character avatars and quotes on them instead of just the logo and website info.
But I’m not sure all this is going to be enough. I worry about the etiquette of sharing BI on other blogfic writers’ blogs and Facebook pages, or re-posting on communities where it’s already been shared. I’m reluctant to appear to be spamming, even amongst my own friends. Each new character post announces itself on BI’s Facebook page and Twitter, not my personal timeline or tweets. I assume my friends who want to hear about it have subscribed, and I respect that those who haven’t probably aren’t interested. Should I be a little pushier?
Any advice on publicity is much appreciated. As, of course, are likes, shares, mentions and retweets… there’s a BI fridge magnet in it for you, if that appeals at all!