Flash Fiction · Writing on writing

The agony of analytics

In which our heroine unwittingly confesses her craven desire for attention

Mostly I write for myself, in the sense that I get intrinsic rewards from the process. If I never achieve my goal of being published, I can keep on writing until the day I drop dead and keep learning new things and keep developing the craft, and I’ll get a great deal of satisfaction from that. But I aspire to being published, so as well as tooling away at stories, I maintain this blog. Which means a love/hate relationship with the analytics module in the software.

It’s pretty much taken for granted that if you aspire to be a published writer, you need an ‘author platform‘, and most advice on how to do that includes maintaining a blog. Such is modern publishing that writers are expected to play a big role in marketing their books, which means maintaining some sort of 24/7 online presence where ‘fans’/customers can track you down in the middle of the night, should they get the urge. An author who already has a loyal following online is therefore attractive to agents and publishers.

As an aspiring fiction writer, most of my ‘platform’ will come from people enjoying my work after it’s published. There’s definitely an argument that investing my time in making my novels as brilliant as possible is the best way to build a platform…but how can I get a sense of how my writing is received, and therefore improve it, without readers? Solution: invest time in the blog.

However, it’s an axiom of all communications that you need to consider what the audience wants or needs. How can you be of service to your potential ‘customer’/reader to make them keep coming back? But what does an unknown, unpublished writer have to offer anyone?

This is a dilemma I’ve struggled with for years. When I started this blog, it was simply a place for me to be accountable to myself: setting myself the task of publishing a new story every week forced me to knuckle down and write every day. I abandoned that project when I started working on novels and feature-length screenplays: I work full-time so I had to choose the best use of the little time I had to write, and I couldn’t make progress on long form projects while trying to write a story every week.

The ‘solution’ was experimenting with different topics and studying the analytics to see what people seemed to want…and discovering that basically the response to anything I publish dogis ‘meh’ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯…on days I don’t publish I usually get somewhere between zero and one visits. On days I do publish, it shoots all the way up into double figures! Tens, twenties, sometimes even thirties! The highest number of views I ever got for a single post on one day was 270, when some kind stranger with far more readers than me linked to my post. These data are hardly going to knock a publisher’s funky* socks off.

So when the traffic to this blog suddenly shot up into triple figures in September last year, I was pretty damn excited, let me tell you. Without me publishing a word, suddenly I was getting double figure visits every day. By the end of the month I’d had nearly 400 visits. Had the world suddenly woken to my genius? I hate to disappoint you, dear reader, but that was not the case (are you SHOCKED?).

Most of the traffic was to a story I wrote back in June 2011 called The Nurse. It was pretty damn popular then, I can tell you, with 53 views that month. WordPress stats helpfully show you the source of your traffic, which was people googling the phrases ‘Nurse Brixton’ and ‘Is Nurse Brixton real’. Google solved the mystery: Nurse Brixton is a character on a US Game Show called Hellevator. By the end of the year, The Nurse has been viewed over 1000 times. It must be on catch up TV or a streaming service, because the constant stream of traffic has continued – 82 views so far this month.

It’s kind of galling, to finally get better traffic and it having nothing to do with my writing. I don’t even know if any of the visitors read it: the stats only tell you if they click on the page. And I like that story! It deserves some love!

I try not to care about the stats, but as well as being frustrated that I can’t figure out what I need to do to improve my writing, I also believe that a story is only half done when the writer finishes it. A story needs to have an audience to be complete, it’s a transmission from a writer to a reader (/listener/viewer). So I do feel sad for the unloved ones, languishing incomplete on the page…

New flash fiction

So, having said that…here’s my first story for 2017!

Cassandra and Lucinda

I joined Sisters in Crime last year, a writing group for crime writers, and each month we are encouraged to write a short crime fiction on a theme. This story came to me as I tried to think of something for the February meeting, the theme of which is Valentine’s Day. To be honest, I’m not even entirely sure it is crime fiction, but crimes definitely take place.

 

 

*funky in the Australian ‘hip’ sense, not the American ‘stinky’ sense

 

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