Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: August 2012

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Grand Experiment: A Brief Musing on Numbers

I've been continuing to noodle the numbers on Soulwoven over the last few days, keeping an eye on things like how many new people have looked at Chapter One (started the book) versus read up through the furthest chapter along ("finished it" even though it's not finished), monitoring my reads, experimenting with posting chapters at different times of the day, and generally starting to engage the marketing part of my brain as I get ready to launch this thing.

I have been mostly successful in pushing this thinking to the ends of the day, after I'm done with the writing, which is what matters most.

But this morning, as I logged into Wattpad to jot down some numbers, I noticed two wonderful, astonishing things: First, I got 170 reads over the last 24 hours (a new record! Hooray!). Second, I got 70 reads overnight (again, hooray!) Third, I think I converted (a word I'm using to designate what happens when a person who starts reading continues reading past the first chapter) every single person who started it last night.

There are 18 chapters up on Soulwoven at the moment. This morning, Chapter One had only 7 new reads. This leads me to believe that those 7 people read multiple chapters (they at least went on to Chapter Two, because it had 8 new reads).

So my writing, I think, is doing its job. People are enjoying the book. My ratio of reads from Chapter One to Chapter Two is as good as any of the highest ranked books on Wattpad, and my ratio of reads to votes is actually significantly higher.

I just need to get more people to open the book up.

And I'm working on that. :-)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Ch. 6

It's been far too long since I posted one of these, but I'm nose deep in revisions right now and finding the time to blog has been difficult. Soulwoven's sudden burst of popularity died off last week, which was a little disappointing, but I'm doing my best to just shrug my shoulders and keep working and hoping for the best. Readers are inscrutable, even on Wattpad. :-)

So! Chapter 6 of Soulwoven. Spoilers below, so read it here first.

Chapter 6 of Soulwoven introduces a new point-of-view character in Quay Eldani, Prince of Eldan. We join him as he's packing for a journey, we learn where he's going and why, and we get a hint that someone is going to go with him.

Almost all of of that takes place in a discussion between him and a five-year-old child.

This chapter was hard, for many reasons. First of all, it's a chapter that's primarily dialogue and exposition, and I've always felt that those are the most difficult scenes to pull off. The meat of the scene lies in the information being passed along through the dialogue, but there has to be something else that's interesting going on at the same time to pull the characters along. And there's a fine balance between giving enough information to inform and titillate and so much that the reader gets bored. 

I also have to introduce and build sympathy for Quay, particularly in light of some of his actions later in the novel. It's important that the reader understands at the outset that he's not a bastard. He's just---driven. I'm doing more worldbuilding as well.

In order to accomplish the exposition I need to, I make use of a small, inquisitive child who can ask questions of his older cousin. It helps that Quay is a thoughtful person who is trying to hide something, because when Colin asks a question, Quay responds one way while often thinking about something different. The tension between the two responses helps move the scene along while conveying information about Quay and the world at the same time.

The tension comes from other areas as well. You might recall that I end Chapter 5 with the sentence "Because if the Temple wasn’t going to take the destruction of the heart dragons seriously, she had no idea who would."

The reader then flips the page and finds a new character.

The idea is that the reader will make the assumption that this character must be the person who's going to take the destruction of the heart dragons seriously, because otherwise there doesn't seem to be any reason for him to be in the story. So point of tension #1 is: Who is this guy, and what's he going to do about the heart dragons?

Point of tension #2 is what he's doing. When the chapter opens, he's filling a pack with things that do not belong to him. That is a strange thing to do. One wonders, I hope, why he's doing it.

From there we're off to the races. Quay's cousin keeps asking him what he's going to do, and Quay is evasive, which makes the answer to the question all the more interesting. The heart dragons make an appearance on the second page, and even as Quay tells his cousin that Sherduan must not be real, we see through the book on his shelf, the drawing, and his actions in preparing for a journey that he doesn't believe what he's saying. There's an implication that the only people who wouldn't see that the dragon is real are children (or at least behaving like children). 

Halfway through, we find out that that there is some serious political tension going on in Eldan that's going to complicate things. Close to the end of the chapter, we learn that Quay has seen the dragon, too. And at the very end of the chapter, we get the basic setup for the whole rest of the novel ("Then the journey would begin") and how Quay sees his role in it ("He would do what no one else could"). Hopefully, it's got a bit of an epic feeling to it.

To develop sympathy for Quay, I'm leaning in large part on his relationship with his cousin. He's nice to Colin. He humors him. He takes care of him. These are qualities that we will not see from him often in the rest of the book, so it's important to know that  they're there. There's also a bit of his backstory---he's lost family and been thrust into a very difficult position, and he bears it without complaining. Finally, there's a sense of sacrifice. He and his father are both in life-threatening situations, and they're going to stick them out because they want what's best for the people they're responsible for.

I'm always nervous about how well dialogue-and-exposition chapters work, but I feel pretty good about this one. I like the atmosphere and I like the descriptions, and I think there's enough going on in terms of character development that some readers will just fasten on that and passively absorb the exposition, while others will be interested in the exposition and skim more lightly over the character building.

And hopefully, in the end, it all works.

I'm up through Chapter 17 on Wattpad right now. Go check it out! :-)

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Analytics!

Well, sort of, anyway. I've been taking a look at the statistics of Soulwoven as it stands on Wattpad and want to share a couple of things.

First off, my rankings have dropped off significantly since last week, and I've seen a corresponding drop in reads. I'm averaging more like 40 per day at this point. So it's clear that a lot of people find new stories to read on Wattpad through the rankings.

Beyond that, because Wattpad tracks reads for each chapter individually, I can note the following.

The first chapter of Soulwoven has been viewed 314 times.

About half of those people (156) made it to Chapter 2.

Everyone who read Chapter Two made it to Chapter 3.

134 people made it to Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, 123 reached Chapter 6, 104 reached Chapter 7, and only 69 made it to Chapter 8. Chapter 9 has 64 reads, and by Chapter 10 I'm down to 48. Chapter Eleven has 40 reads.

Chapter 12 just went up yesterday, and it has 29 reads, and in the two hours since Chapter 13 went up, it has 18.

I'm making the major assumption here that my own and other people's views of the chapters mostly cancel each other out (i.e. nobody is repeatedly viewing Chapter Seven and only viewing Chapter Eight once).

I can also see that I've got around 30 or 40 readers keeping pretty on top of the book as it updates. I have a suspicion that that may be mostly traffic from my Facebook links, which would help explain why many of the latest chapters only have votes and comments from people I know.

And, maybe most importantly, these numbers give me a great opportunity to look at where I'm losing people's attention. They're skewed right now because not every chapter has been up for a similar amount of time, but after six months or so that should be much less of a factor, and I may be able to identify problematic chapters (right now it's looking like I may be losing people at Chapter 7, for instance).

In order to see how I'm stacking up, I decided to take a look at the stats on Aaron Kite's A Touch of Poison, which has held the #1 spot in Fantasy on Wattpad for most of the summer. Its stats are as follows: 136,544 reads on the first chapter. 87,910 on the second. 82,017 on the third. 67,771 made it halfway through, and 36,355 finished it.

So viewing things in those terms, I guess I'm doing alright keeping the attention of my readers, though I find the 50% read-through rate of the first chapter a little discouraging. It will be interesting to see how things change when the full book goes up and people have the option of reading all the way through as quickly as they want.

You'll note I've stopped talking about Authonomy. That's because I've been offered a pretty fantastic promotional opportunity on Wattpad, and I want to focus on getting through a heavy-duty revision of Soulwoven in preparation for it. Once that's all in place, I'm going to turn my attention back to Authonomy, and possibly get involved with Figment (a smaller, Wattpad-esque community) as well.

Auf wiedersehen, friendly readers. I hope you're enjoying Soulwoven. :-)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Ch. 5

Hmm...this post was supposed to go up over my vacation, during the middle of week in which I had neither Internet nor running water, and was in fact enjoying myself very much swimming and sailing and playing games with my family and writing in the dead of the night, when all was quiet and peaceful. But I failed at Blogger and it didn't happen.

Also, I built a deck that week. A deck!

Anyway, on to the craft breakdown for Soulwoven Chapter 5. Spoilers to follow! Read the chapter here first.

In Chapter 5, we shift back into Ryse's head. Only a little time has passed since we left her preparing to run away from the Temple. In the interim, she has torn like a bat out of hell through the city and ended up at the Jins' house. She enters Litnig and Cole's room through a window and finds Litnig awake and willing to help her. He then leads her up Sentinel Hill to a childhood hiding place of theirs where he thinks she'll be able to sleep safely.

This is another of my favorite chapters. It was a late addition--in most of the early drafts, I left the time between Ryse's departure from the Temple and her later reemergence at Litnig's side unexplained. But the deeper I got into Ryse's character, the more I wanted to explore what happened in those lost hours. And many of my early readers were clamoring to learn more about Litnig and Ryse, and to see the sweet side of their relationship before events that happen later on in the novel.

So I'm doing three major things in Chapter 5: I'm showing Litnig and Ryse's relationship to the reader, I'm deepening Ryse's character, and I'm furthering the mystery around Sherduan and setting up the next chapter. The first happens pretty naturally through the situation. Ryse comes to Litnig for help. That in itself says something about their relationship. So does Litnig's response, and Ryse's response to his response. She needs help. He offers it. She takes it. He offers more, and she turns it down. We see that he wants to be as close to her as possible, but that she has reservations and wants to keep her distance. Though she's comfortable relying on him, there's also a point beyond which she will not accept further aid. Importantly, that point is one at which he would put himself in significant danger for her.

But there's also a matter of atmosphere. I mentioned in my Chapter 4 craft post that I like to weave aspects of other genres into my writing when I can. I'm particularly proud of one short paragraph in Chapter 5 in that respect:  

She looked up into the gray eyes of Litnig Jin. He was shirtless, his hair mussed at crazy angles. His grip was strong as iron.

Romance, eat your heart out.

There are a couple of other places in the chapter where a few sentences accomplish a great deal (I hope). When Ryse explains why she left the Temple, Litnig responds, "So you left because of us," which vastly oversimplifies and misunderstands the situation. At that point, we start to see some of the problems with Litnig's relationship to Ryse. He overestimates his importance in her life, and he fails to understand a lot of the things she says and does.

The setup of the next chapter, on the other hand, takes two sentences. I struggled a bit in my latest draft to link Chapter 5 and Chapter 6, and I eventually had to look back at old drafts of Soulwoven, from before this chapter existed, to remember how to segue from Ryse's point of view into the point of view in the next chapter. I'll talk in the next craft blog about why that was so difficult, but I ended up recalling that I needed to set up a question in the reader's head that would provide an immediate answer for why the book goes where it does next (This is hard to explain without giving things away. My apologies, but Chapter 6 will be up soon, and then hopefully things will be a little clearer).

At any rate, in order for the next chapter's opening to seem connected to the story as a whole, I needed to make the reader wonder who was going to act on the destruction of the heart dragons. So at the very end of Chapter 5, I raise that question in Ryse's mind, which hopefully raises it in the reader's as well.

This is another chapter where I don't see too many weaknesses. It's got tension, it's got romance, it's got character development, it's got a beautiful setting for me to describe, and I think I execute it fairly well. I do worry a little about over- or under-doing the backstory on the legend of Sherduan (I'm feeding it to the reader in bits in pieces over several chapters), but my hope is that there are enough other things going on in the chapter that it feels seamless, and that readers who want the whole story on the dragon get enough to keep them satisfied while those who don't don't get fed up.

So that's Chapter 5! Chapters 6 and 7 are already up, with Chapter 8 to follow tomorrow. More craft blogs soon to come. Also, Soulwoven is notching about 100 reads and 5-8 votes per day this week, and I'm trying to remain calm about the whole thing while my imagination runs wild with possibilities.

Happy reading, dear friends!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Week...um...well, update, anyway.

Phew! I am completely and utterly exhausted tonight, with more work ahead of me, but I'm going to try to squeeze in a quick update on The Grand Experiment.

First, the numbers:

There are currently six chapters of Soulwoven up on Wattpad. They have received a total of 434 reads, 23 votes, and 20 comments. As I write this, the book is ranked #25 in Adventure and #26 in Fantasy, out of 168,402 and 330,776 stories, respectively.

More on the ranking system later, but may I say---booyah.

On Authonomy, there are still only five chapters up, because time is short for me right now and updating on the site is a pain. The book's rank is 5543, which I'm fairly certain is where all books are sitting right now that have seen no activity whatsoever. I'm neither surprised nor disappointed---I haven't engaged with the site at all yet, but it's good to know that absolutely nothing is going to happen until I do.

So, my thoughts so far:

First and foremost, I think Wattpad is a much, much better fit for Soulwoven than Authonomy is. I can't say that will be true of all writers, but for me it is. Authonomy, so far as I can tell, is a community primarily of writers. I love writers. They make great books. Every once in a while, one sends me an amazing manuscript and I get to recommend it for publication and help him or her make it better and share in the joy and delight of it getting out to the world.

But writers are no better arbiters of what readers will like than editors and agents are.

Which is to say, they're not bad, but their judgment pales in comparison to that of large groups of readers themselves, which is precisely what Wattpad has. More specifically, Wattpad has large groups of teenage readers, who are the people I wrote Soulwoven for in the first place.

The second reason I prefer Wattpad to Authonomy is its rating system. As far as I can tell, Wattpad's ranking algorithm tallies up the number of people who have either voted for (indicated that a book is good) or added a book to their reading list over a rolling two-week period. And it doesn't take much (right now) to move into the higher rankings. One vote (I think) in the period was enough to push me to around a rank of #100. A few more got me to around #50. Since then it's become much more difficult to keep track, but I still only have 23 votes in total (since I started posting, not in the last two weeks), and I think I'm on fewer reading lists than that.

But because Wattpad places 15 books on each page of its listings when you browse, I'm on page 2, well within standard browsing range, and I'm getting hits, votes, reading list adds, and fans from complete strangers in faraway lands.

A.) That's very, very, cool and helps me keep slogging through revisions even though I'm having near-nightly crises of confidence about my writing skills.

B.) That's what I need to go viral, and I haven't even pulled out everything in my bag of tricks yet. The book isn't complete, which I've heard tends to really boost readership. I haven't added photos, maps, background material, or a soundtrack (I will though---I was planning out which chapters are going to get which songs today) either, which are other things I've been told will help draw attention.

Wattpad doesn't have metrics, and my brain is flying in a thousand directions right now between trying to meet various work-related deadlines and finish a full, three-read revision (more on my shiny new revision process, perhaps, in a later post) of Soulwoven before BIG NEWS in September, but I'm fairly certain that when I posted Chapter 6 of Soulwoven to Wattpad yesterday, I had 314 reads.

I'll leave the math to mathy people, but I'm very, very excited.

P.S. Some of my new readers/fans have mentioned that it was the cover that drew them in initially. Thanks to all who helped me pick it.

P.P.S. In the time it took me to write this blog post, Soulwoven got 7 more reads on Wattpad. Did I mention that I'm excited?