In January, I talked to you about the ups and downs of launching a new project. It’s been six months since then. Some of my favorite bloggers share logistics and details from their efforts, so I thought I’d try a little of the same and see if it was worthwhile for anyone.
I launched my short story site wordhaus the first Wednesday of January. I did it because I felt the publishing industry wasn’t trying enough new models to adapt and make the most of the opportunities of digital marketing. And then I slowly developed an idea that I couldn’t get out of my head. I had to build it. Over about a year and a half, I did. I’ve released a new story every week since, rotating between romance, mystery/thriller, sci-fi/fantasy.
So how’s it been going? I’ve performed a little self-assessment of the first six months, broken into four key areas: content, platform, promotion and finances.
Though I have bigger goals long-term, when I started this, I told myself I’d be happy as long as I had a story to publish every single week my first year, in the appropriate genre. So far, I have succeeded in this. Whew.
There have been many times when I couldn’t even believe that such talented writers would bother submitting to my little site. Even better, a handful of them have submitted multiple stories. I could not be more ecstatic about this. Because the site is just me, I’ve been able to give these authors attention and start the beginnings of a relationship with them–and I think this has benefitted the site in major ways.
There are have been other times when I’ve not really been in love with a story, but printed it anyway because I did not have anything better. Submissions are somewhat steady, but slow. For wordhaus to thrive, I need to find ways to find more consistently excellent stories … and that means a larger pool of submissions.
Website/email design has been an area where I’ve had a lot of trial and error. It’s been a steep learning curve.
When the site first launched, wordhaus.com had a flashier design with a home page slider reflecting each of the genres we published. The template I built it from was pretty slick. But I’m a writer, not a programmer. It took me a little while to admit it, but I didn’t have the chops to do much with it. I switched to a simple free wordpress template, and while the site doesn’t have any fancy bells or whistles, it does serve the content well and make it easier for me to add stories and update each week. (Thank goodness for the kindness of friends with serious skills, or i’d be lost.)
I had a similar problem with my weekly newsletter. At first, my gut was to be greedy with my web stats–I only teased each week’s new story and make people click through to read the rest, because I wanted to see the page traffic. But only a few of those who bothered to open the e-newsletter actually clicked through. Including links to previous weeks’ stories didn’t make a notable difference, either. I slowly came to realize I was approaching this all wrong. What I want is not page hits. What I want is eyes on the stories. And that means making it easy for eyes to see the full stories. A few weeks ago I switched to a new design that includes the full story and author bio, right in the email.
The social media components of my platform, the Twitter account and Facebook page, are slow. Twitter I post to a few times a day. Facebook could be a lot stronger. I’ve mainly been working to connect with writers for more content, but it’s occurred to me a smarter long-term strategy would be to engage more readers, too. I’ve added it to my to-do list to reconstruct the Facebook page with this in mind. Why Facebook? Seems like the stronger platform to get comments and real conversation going.
Early on, I worked pretty hard to get frequent guest posts, and even went on an outreach spree to college writing programs and writers’ organizations to get the word out. This helped me get a jumpstart. I’ve even managed to get listed on a few publication sites like Duotrope, though most want to see that you’ve survived your first year before listing you so the list maintains some stability … I’m starting to see why they’re so wary.
I’ve run one ad, in the three-times-a-year class listings book for The Writers Center in Bethesda. While I love to support my local writers’ shop, I’ve not seen any real difference from this. As a marketer, I should know better–advertising and PR work on synergy, and I’m not advertising enough to gain traction. I should cough up a little dough and experiment with some online advertising before calling it quits. And I should also get back to doing more footwork for guest posts and writer outreach. My best stories were found while I was hot on the trail.
I always knew money would be a secondary thing, but it does still matter. After all, if nothing else, I’d like to be able to pay my writers down the line–they deserve it. It would also be nice to be compensated, even just a little, for the significant time I put in each week. Or even just to be able to finance the money put into promotion and maybe get a real designer to rework the website.
I have tons of ideas on how to generate revenue, from ads partnerships with publishers to promote books with sample chapters, to smaller package deals for individual authors, and even annual “best of” ebooks. But first I need an audience to put it in front of. For now, I’m just working with Google Ads. In six months, I’ve made eight dollars. This is no get-rich-quick scheme.
The common theme here is, I’m staying afloat, but not much more. There’s a lot of good to build from, but there’s a lot of work to do, too. If development continues at this rate and doesn’t improve, I’d have a hard time justifying a more long-term commitment. Which means it’s time to dig in deeper and put in more legwork.
I promised myself three years of giving it all I’ve got on this, and at the end of it, I will assess whether it’s worth a further investment. So for now, I will continue pouring all i can into it, trying new things, learning, reassessing, trying something else, learning, reassessing. This is the hard part of ideas. After the creation is done, sustaining it and turning it into something bigger than just yourself.