Today, by chance, I came across another review of Tamao, written towards the end of last year. I totally agree with the writer about the pacing problem; making it fit the serial format led to some bits being too drawn out, and I misjudged some other bits. I’d like to revise it, I think, but for that I need some time. I’d really like to be writing again, but right now, I just seem to be too busy.
As I mentioned on the Tamao page, the story has now finished, and I’m not currently planning to write a sequel. This is because I have lost money on the project; I have spent more on advertising it than I have received from readers, even leaving aside the fact that I would like to be paid for writing it, as well. So, the question becomes, why was it a commercial failure? There are several possible explanations.
1. It’s just not that good. Clearly ridiculous. It’s true that it isn’t a deathless work of literature; it doesn’t measure up to Middlemarch or even Tigana. However, being a deathless work of literature is not a necessary condition for commercial success; witness the popularity of The Da Vinci Code, or even the Harry Potter books. The Harry Potter books are good, in my opinion, but not great literature. The Da Vinci Code isn’t even well-written. On an artistic and technical level, I would claim that Tamao is better than The Da Vinci Code. (I wouldn’t make that claim with any confidence for the Harry Potter books; I could hope for “not significantly worse”, however. But then, I think The Da Vinci Code is very badly written, which is why I’m not linking to it on Amazon.) It is, of course, very possible that I’m vastly inflating the quality of my own work, but people I have never met like it enough to give me money, so it can’t be that bad. I strongly suspect that it’s good enough to be popular.
2. It doesn’t contain enough kinky sex between teenagers. Well, most of the popular web serials seem to centre on this sort of activity, and Tamao doesn’t. Kazumi has almost certainly had kinky sex in her time, even if you don’t count being paid to do it as intrinsically kinky, but it all happened off stage. This point can be generalised. The problem may be that there was nothing about the story to make people deeply passionate about it, to the point of wearing t-shirts proclaiming their allegiance. If you’re a teenager discovering a sexual identity that involves BDSM, a story centering on BDSM teenagers might well do just that. However, I’m not sure how I could deliberately write a story with that sort of resonance, even in another field. (My lack of personal interest in BDSM would almost certainly make it utterly impossible for me to do it in that context.) If this is the problem, it it probably something I can’t deliberately address.
3. It’s too alien. While the story draws heavily on legends that date back well over a thousand years, those legends are all Japanese. What’s more, they’re not even the ones that get the most publicity in Japan. People who know a bit about Japanese legends have probably noticed that none of the famous kami appear in the story. (That’s not quite true; one does, very briefly, but is not named. Brownie points for people who know where.) Thus, since it’s written in English and directed largely to a non-Japanese audience, people don’t have immediate reference points. I suspect that this is a real problem, and I might try to make future fiction more accessible to people who speak the language it’s written in. This may mean writing a sequel to Tamao in Japanese.
4. Luck. I think this has a lot to do with it. Had Stephen Fry tweeted that he liked the story, I think it would have been a commercial success, given where my standards for success were set. Of course, that would have been a stupendous piece of good luck, and the problems mentioned above may have increased the amount of luck required for it to be a success. However, I think that luck does play a large part in these matters. If you’re good, and persist, you are extremely likely to achieve some degree of success eventually. But then, I already have achieved some degree of success. Just not with this book.
Writing better books is a matter of practice. Finding something that resonates with people requires writing more books. Similarly, I need to write more books to write ones that are more accessible. And, of course, the more I write, the more chance I have to get lucky.
I guess I have to keep writing.
I’ve just registered Tamao on Web Fiction Guide, so if you like the story you can now go and review it over there. Remember, what every author really wants is several thousand words of closely-reasoned adulation. (Not me, but Google has two different attributions on the first page, so I don’t know who.)
I’m using Google AdWords as one of the ways to advertise Tamao, and Google AdSense as one of the ways to make money off it. The ads displayed on AdSense sites are the ones paid for by AdWords customers. They are targeted by Google’s clever metrics to appear on sites where the readers might be interested in them.
It is undoubtedly true that people reading Tamao might be interested in Tamao. However, they already know about it. After all, they’re reading it. Thus, the fact that I just saw my advert for Tamao on the Tamao main page is, well, puzzling. Yes, the algorithms for determining relevance are doing a good job. No, the “don’t display an ad on the page it points to” blindingly-obvious algorithm is not working.
I guess that, for some reason, it could be very difficult for Google to exclude the advertised page from ad displays. But I really can’t see why. Very odd. And it would cost me Google’s cut if anyone clicked on the ad.
I’ve just finished part four, which takes us more than half way through the plotted-out story. Since the first four parts come to just under 125,000 words, I suspect that, when it comes time to produce a printed version, I’ll split the work somewhere around here, either at the end of part four or at the middle. But I won’t be doing that until it’s appeared online, so there’s a few weeks at least before that happens.
So, people reading this on my main blog are likely to be confused, but I’m checking to see whether I can put comments onto Tamao without interrupting the story over there. This is another possible method.
If you haven’t checked out Tamao yet, please do. If you’re reading this on Tamao, er, thanksâ€¦
I’ve just finished writing the central episode of Tamao. It won’t go online until late June, because I have a substantial buffer, but it’s good to have written this much. I’m now about halfway through the plotted arc, and the draft is almost 110,000 words. If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t updated this blog a lot recently, well, that’s why.
If you’ve not looked at Tamao yet, please do. I need readers to make me feel it’s worthwhile.
As people have noticed, it’s a very long time since I wrote anything here. I’ve been too busy; as well as teaching and editing, I’ve been keeping Tamao going and writing a Japanese blog entry every day. So this has got squeezed out, sorry.
We’re all fine. Mayuki is still happy and lively, and her first molar has come through. I think her second is on the way; that would certainly explain the times she has been crying for no readily apparent reason. She’s very good at feeding herself with her fingers now, and getting good with the spoon, and still eats just about anything we do. She also has a few words that she uses in context, and clearly understands a lot more, so she seems to be developing right on schedule. She does really like her DVDs, though; we have to make a determined effort to keep her away from them.
Tokyo is having good weather today, and after a few rainy days a week or so ago that’s been fairly constant. Yuriko’s kimono course is going well; they’ve just had their first exam, which she thinks she passed. I have very nearly as many students as I would like, and the number of readers of Tamao seems to be going up, so that’s looking pretty good at the moment.
So, another reason I’ve not posted anything is that not a great deal has happened. Even the erupting volcano only left us with a fine coating of ash on the balcony.
Today I am starting online publication of another fantasy novel, Tamao. I am doing this a bit differently from Ice Yearning. Tamao is free to read, and updated in daily installments, with a new piece going online every day at midnight Japan time. Most days, the new material comes to between five and six hundred words, but on Sundays you get over a thousand, to complete an episode.
In order to start on New Year’s Day, and still have seven installments in the first episode that finish on a Sunday, there will be two updates every day for the next three days. From next week, the normal updates will start. I have a buffer of written material (although the novel isn’t finished yet, just planned out), and the updates are automated, so I can’t just forget. If the web server is working, the updates should appear on schedule.
Although the novel is free to read, I do want to make money off it, so there is some advertising on the pages, and a button to tip the author (that’s me). If people actually prove to be interested in reading it, I will think about other, paid, things I can offer. Yes, this is another experiment in online publishing. Given the meltdown of paper publishing at the moment, I think this is a good time to be trying alternatives. If paper publishing recovers, I might give it a try in the future.
In the meantime, please enjoy Tamao.
So far, the money has mainly come from people who know me already, but that’s not really too unexpected at the beginning of a new venture. I do need to broaden the range of people reading it, though; my friends and family probably don’t want to pay for the whole thing. So, in a couple of days I’ll be starting some advertising. I have the data for a month without advertising, so I’ll be able to see what difference it makes, and make intelligent decisions about what kinds of advertising to use.
Here’s hoping that at least some of it works well.