ficlets for fun… for profit?


So the ever-energetic John Scalzi has started a new gig. Ficlets. Micro fiction that everyone can add on to. It actually looks pretty fun. The sort of communal writing experience that’s missing from a writer’s general daily life. Creative and community. Nifty.

But, because I’m not ever-energetic, nor even sort-of-energetic, I’m also looking at ficlets in terms of time sink. I just don’t do that many things that are fun, unless I can see an additional benefit.

So if I’m looking to get my name out into a wider world than via blog or short story in a magazine, can ficlets help me do that?


It’s one or two links to get away from AOL’s ficlet community (one to your profile, which will have to be a good ad for yourself, and then another click to get to your website) — so, assuming that 600-1300 readers a week is what you get with your most successful micro-short (that’s what I’m seeing on the ficlet site right now), and assuming said micro-short is successful at generating a 1% click-thru rate to your author’s home page (the baseline of success response for a direct mail package), it means that 6-13 potentially new people per week will arrive at your home page, at least potentially interested in your fiction.

If you can get them within one click to another bit of content by you — either blog posts or a short story or a sample chapter — (let’s be generous and say 25% success on getting them to read enough to get interested and think you’re a good writer), so 1-4 people will read your story and be excited about you.

Now, if you’re lucky, you could have about a 1-10% paying conversion after they decide they really like you, say, at Amazon or off your own personal site… if you set up the promotion of the book effectively. ie the teaser material they saw on ficlets was reinforced by the teaser material for the book they saw on your website, and the navigation funnel is clear enough that they can then proceed to a buying decision.

I’d guess you have the optimistic potential to generate a sale every couple months, assuming you actually have a plan for what you’re going to do with the person once they click through to you. You might also hope to guide them to other sorts of behaviors, maybe get them onto your email list, or subscribed to your RSS feed. But if ficlets (or really, any sort of online promotion: anything from an interview to a banner advertisement to a link to you from another friend’s blog) is going to work, you need to know what you want people to do once they arrive at your site.

Now, back to the question of numbers. I’ve basically made up a bunch of numbers based on guesses and what I’ve seen in my own experience with website promotions, and even these numbers may be wildly optimistic. I’ve worked on other promotions where I’ve channeled thousands upon thousands of readers to a website and had not a conversion occur. Sometimes you can generate traffic, but it does nothing for you.

BUT… Here’s the cool thing: We don’t actually have to speculate about any of this. We could measure it with Google Analytics ( and establish real baseline info for various marketing strategies: how many people click thru from ficlets, how many follow your defined funnel and finally convert to the goal of buying a book of yours? You don’t have to be in the dark about the success of a new promotional method.

If you haven’t checked out Google Analytics, you absolutely should. It’s free and it allows a level of website usage tracking that is extremely useful. On other sites I’ve worked on, I’ve used it to monitor the effectiveness of design changes and advertising promos and it really helps me understand what’s happening with usage, on a day-to-day basis. I can see if an ad idea is a flop within a couple days. I can see if certain content is attracting attention or being ignored, I can tell if there’s something wrong with a purchasing process and I can see where people tend to abandon their orders. There’s a huge amount of information available that can in turn help you make rational decisions about what kinds of online promotion are worthwhile.

Back to ficlets… In my mind, a couple of things are attractive about the idea as a promotional item.

  1. They’re short, and don’t require a great deal of time to create. So they’re low risk.
  2. They’re related directly to the kind of content that I’m interested in selling. So the people who are reading them, and potentially becoming interested in me, are already going to be self-selected fiction readers, which makes them a more sympathetic audience than, say… video game junkies.
  3. You can also post them on your own website, so you can double the value of the thing from a content perspective, allowing you to serve your established audience who already go to your website while at the same time reaching out to a potential new audience.
  4. Hey, they really do look fun.