Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Experiment Report, in progress

The following feels like a complaint or a whine to me and I really don’t like that. But I’ve been told that readers want to know the “real me”, with my shortcomings and imperfections. I do not understand this. At all. I’d much rather hide my flaws, specifically my massive insecurity, than “be transparent” and let people see what I am really like on the messy underside of the tapestry. If you’re not particularly interested in me and my petty problems, I do NOT blame you! Really. You are excused from reading further. Check back another day when I talk about sharks or bees (my next rant) or some other underdog getting a bum wrap. This is about me and my (probably unreasonable) desire for approval, attention, validation, and encouragement.

I also don’t know how to go about this without it looking like I’m pointing fingers. Kat, your first novel just released three weeks ago. You’re officially excused. The rest of you: I am NOT fishing for apologies. You do not owe me any explanations. However, I did start this little experiment publicly, so I am going to comment on its effectiveness publicly. I will try not to make this personal. No names. No fingers pointed.

It’s not going very well, in my opinion. I have 17 people signed up at fictionpress, that means 17 people get a courtesy email every time I post a chapter. I have been at this since June 24th, posting a chapter about every 5-10 days. I am now up to chapter 20.

Two-thirds of those people who made a commitment to encourage me in this project have either NEVER encouraged me, or they started out and have given up on me for one reason or another. I knew there would be some detractors. Life tends to get in everyone’s way. I didn’t start this until I had more than I thought I’d need, so that a break every now and then wouldn’t be noticeable. I obviously miscalculated.

When I’ve lamented to a friend or two about the drop-off in interest, I inevitably hear, “It’s September.” I guess that is supposed to mean no one has time during the school year. I don’t know everyone’s situation, but I am pretty sure that MOST of those 17 people are not in school themselves. And the one I know who did just return to college, is in the one-third of faithful who are still with me. No matter how busy we are, most people have at least half an hour a week where we could sit in Starbucks and sip a latte or watch a TV show or read a chapter. Anyone who didn’t have at least that minimal free time I am going to be bold enough to venture shouldn’t have volunteered in the first place.

Anyway, this experiment has been going on a while now. I estimate it is beyond the halfway point, at least. Chapter 18 was the worst as far as number of hits and reviews (5), but I discounted it and plowed through because 19 was going to be BIG. I thought. Chapter 19 was a very pivotal and climactic chapter (that I also felt was pretty darned clever). But after I posted it, I got so little reaction and feedback, I felt a bit depressed.

So I fell back on old habits. It was my 2-year anniversary of the day I first posted on fanfiction.net, so I snuck away from fictionpress for just a few days (which SHOULD have given people more time to catch up, right?) and I wrote a very superfluous seaQuest chapter. It was fluff. No conflict at ALL. Nothing very clever or new. I even changed the story description to warn everyone it was fluff and that it didn’t mean I was “back”, not for good, anyway. It was just for fun.

Evidently, September doesn’t affect fanfiction readers like it does original fantasy readers. In less than 24 hours, I had more hits for the tacked-on fluff chapter to a story I DROPPED than I got for all the chapters I posted over the entire month of September at fictionpress. We’re not talking just a few more (FF-net statistics are seven TIMES greater). Remember, this is a show that was cancelled before it even finished its third season, and that cancellation was more than 15 YEARS ago. This is NOT a big fandom by any stretch of imagination.

So what’s my point? In this experiemnt, I was trying to contrive a way to make writing original fiction FEEL the same or at least similar to writing fanfiction. I failed at that. People had no commitment to me whatsoever over at ff-net. If anything, they should be mad at me, because I basically dumped them and announced I was taking an indefinite hiatus to go work on something publishable. Yet when I snuck in and posted a piece of fluff, they came out of the woodwork in droves to read it and to tell me how much they enjoyed it.

But the people who said they are my biggest original-fiction fans and who DID make a commitment to encourage me, well, they all got too busy. Reminds me of the scene in “The Incredibles” where Elastigirl is trying to contact air traffic control and saying to herself, “Don’t panic. They just all stepped out for coffee... at the same time. Yeah, right.”

How can I feel confident about this book going to retail if I can’t even engage the people who are my biggest fans? Why can’t I write original fiction that is compelling enough to make people WANT to read it, not just because they’re my friend or I cajoled them into a commitment?

So yes, I am now officially disillusioned. I am committed to finishing this original novel and I think it’s going to be pretty good, if I do say so myself. But I am seriously concerned about finding its audience. One of the big reasons I wanted to get it written was to complete the trilogy and presumably help sell the other two books that haven’t exactly been doing so well. I don’t want to put my generous publisher in the hole paying the costs associated with publishing yet another of my less-than-stellar-selling books.

After this, what I do as a writer is going to largely depend on results that are out of my hands. If this trilogy can find an audience and sell enough copies that I can see myself as an asset rather than a burden to a publisher, that would help. If I could win an award or two, that would definitely help. (Stop laughing. It could happen.) If not, I won’t quit writing, but I may very well give up on original fiction and publication. Chalk it up to my insecurities or my weird plot proclivities or whatever. I’m not blaming anyone but me.

Oh, and to that one-third minority who have stuck with me when it was hard: THANK YOU. Really and sincerely. Please know that you are appreciated.

1 comment:

  1. Ironically, Caprice, I just read another chapter yesterday but didn't have time to comment on it. So, excused or not, I'm trying to get back to reading them :).

    Also, I have found myself liking reading them in chunks of several chapters so the flow is there and I can keep reading, reading when I'm in the mood.

    I have no hypothesis on why the others have dropped out. I don't think it is a reflection on your writing. Enthusiasm tends to wane no matter what the project for people--it's our rotten human nature. Maybe your fan-fic fans aren't entirely human ;). Just being silly there, but I do think fan-fic fans are a different breed, and I am happy that you have a place where your writing, which does ROCK, can be appreciated.

    Wish I knew what to say to keep you from being discouraged!