We’re catching up with Shya Scanlon halfway through the serialization of his novel, Forecast, across 42 web journals and blogs.
The Rumpus: How is the serialization going? How are people responding to it? Are they following the novel across its different web outlets?
Shya Scanlon: Well, let me begin by saying that everyone who has participated so far has been really encouraging, cooperative and supportive. And that’s been a really important part of this, for me. Editors are busy people—it takes an enormous amount of time and dedication to run a journal, and most editors are writers to boot, so they’re just basically up to their lookin’ balls in reading, editing, submitting, etc. Asking them, as I have done, to kind of interrupt their basic editorial patterns to participate in the Forecast 42 Project, is a big deal, so I can’t begin to say how honored I am to receive their attention. The idea itself has received some attention from various lit-related outlets, and that’s also been great. As to how all that support and interest translates into readership, well, it’s really hard to tell. I can say that the traffic on my own blog has risen, and though it goes through peaks and valleys, many people seem to be clicking through to my site from the various chapters. They are also clicking through to the various chapters from my site, one after another—on the advisement of a friend, I had the chapters open in new windows from my site, but I’m not convinced that’s the best way to go about it, since it encourages the reader to use my site as a kind of hub, which I’m not sure I want. Anyway, what I don’t know is whether people are clicking through from site to site—following the thread, as it were. It’s a challenge, I think, in part because the web itself encourages such non-linear behavior. I hope to gather some of this info from the editors/bloggers once things are over, but I didn’t want to ask for yet another thing, and I know for a fact that some editors simply don’t look at their traffic numbers. All of which is to say that, the serialization seems to be going “well,” but it’s hard to tell exactly how well.
The Rumpus: How have the style and format of different web outlets affected the way that people have responded to each chapter?
Shya Scanlon: Again, there’s so much I can’t really tell. It’s like watching one door of a big, many-doored building, and trying to determine what the behavior inside looks like, based on how many people walk through it. I think I can say, for instance, that the “size” or, I don’t know, “stature” of a journal doesn’t equate to web traffic. But my window into that traffic might only show me reader taste, not ultimate count.
The Rumpus: What have you learned from your viral promotion of this novel? Has it been “successful?” What would you do differently in the future? What didn’t you expect?
Shya Scanlon: Mostly what I’ve learned is that promotion takes a lot of work. I think at minimum, the process requires about 5 or 6 emails per chapter—some require, for various reasons, many more. And there’s overlap, so I’m constantly having to keep track of back links and forward links and contact info and timing and whether people have the right info, etc. Part of this is the recognition that, however important something may seem to you, it’s just one of many things your contact person is having to juggle, so if you need something to happen in a certain way, at a certain time, you need to be a little annoying. (Fortunately, that comes naturally to me.) If I do this again—which isn’t out of the question—I think I’d certainly do some things differently. Basically, it’s a lot to read. Even if someone really likes the book (and I’ve heard many positive comments), it’s a long time to have to pay attention to a thing. Think of how long it normally takes you to read a book. One sitting if you have the time. A week to a month if you don’t. I’m basically saying, please read my book for the next five months. I’m not sure what the best way around this is—especially when everyone seems convinced that people won’t read more than a couple thousand words at a time online—but it’s something I’d look at. I read one person commenting in their blog that they liked the book, but that they were going to wait until more of it was online, so they wouldn’t have to stagger their reading experience. And I wonder how many people feel this way. I might, in the future, make some version of the book available on Lulu or something, for instance, so that at any point a reader could make the leap to reading it through if they wanted. Anyway, there are a lot of things to consider, but it’s been a rewarding experience in many ways, so I’d say that I’m drawn to consider them.
Finally, one of the unequivocal successes of the serialization is that the book has been bought by a very exciting, very innovative new press called Flatmancrooked, who will be releasing it in print next year. They heard about it through my call for participants, agreed to participate, and liked the book so much they decided to make it their first full-length novel.