Introducing the "catch up" button


In a recent post I put forth one of the challenges of attracting readers with a blog fiction site.

You could read a blog fiction just like any other. Subscribe to the feed and when there's a new entry go read it. One entry by itself is easy to read once in a while. The problem is that once we've written a lot of posts, people will want to read our fictional blogs from the start. That can be a lot of on screen text to read "for fun".
The assumption I'm currently working on is that, once a reader is caught up with a story and likes it, they'll subscribe to a feed and read it when updated. So the question is, how do we get readers up to speed on our blog fictions?

Well, one way of dealing with this problem is the way that Tom Evans does it in his blog Fate's Acquittal. He uses a tag (or "label" in blogspot speak) called "Catchup". Each post that has a something important that you need to know about the story is labeled "CatchUp". Of the total 32 posts, I read only the 9 with the "CatchUp" label. It reminds me of those short clip compilations that begin episodes of 24.

So the question is, how well does it work. Well, based only on the one example I've seen so far, pretty well. As you might expect, a lot of the earliest posts are labeled "CatchUp". As the story went on, the posts labeled "CatchUp" became more spread out. After reading only the CatchUp posts, I then read the most recent 2 posts and was able to follow them both pretty darn well. Although, don't take my word for it, go try it yourself. (One thing to note though, if you do read it yourself, use the Catchup Link in the label list, not the one in his welcome message. His link in the welcome message is broken\uses the wrong case.)

So here's a hat tip to Tom Evans for using a common blogging tool to solve a common problem. I think each blog fiction author may want to consider if it would help the readers of their own blog. I'm not saying it'll work for every blog fiction I've read -or even needed-, but I'm willing to bet it could help attract new readers for some.


Greg said...

Nice! But wouldn't it be a lot better for new readers if the "catch up" page started with the oldest posts and proceeded to newest posts (it currently reads newest to oldest)?

DustinM said...

That's a great point and a good idea. The next step would be finding a way to do that with some of the existing blog software that's out there.

Odin said...

Love it or hate it (I usually hate it) you never know if a reader will start at the beginning or join mid-stream. Episodic scriptwriting is full of tricks for mid-streaming viewers, since TV shows and other serials deal with this problem all the time. Something we did in a journalism class once -- watch a soap opera episode, then write down as much backstory as we could. It was amazing to discover how much we'd learned about the setting, characters, conflicts, etc. from a single episode. A lot of backstory can be squeezed into a few asides, flashbacks, conversational references.

In my experience long-form blogfic really puts a premium on mid-streaming readers. Like you point out, who's got time to start from the beginning? And more readers drop out with every mouseclick required to understand the narrative flow (same principle as in ecommerce -- put some extra clicks in between the Buy Now! button and actual checkout, and shoppers drop out). So you need to provide near-instant gratification. It starts with good writing, but you can add stuff like pictures -- worth a thousand words each -- and an About synopsis in the sidebar to speed up the narrative framing.

Calling out the signposts in the narrative is still a good approach -- primary conflict here, plot arc launch there, etc. But when I hit the "start here" or "catching up" section, I'm only looking for 2-3 posts. Or better yet, just a good About page. Not to pick on Fate's Acquittal, but 9 out of 31 posts -- 30% of the entire blog -- is a lot of catching up.

DustinM said...

>>Not to pick on Fate's Acquittal, but 9 out of 31 posts -- 30% of the entire blog -- is a lot of catching up.

In defense, the trend is getting better as I stated. If you divide the posts up into groups of 9 you'll see that the first 9 posts, have 5 marked important, the second group have 3, the third group has only 1, and so far, the 4th group have none. So expect that percentage to go down.

renalfailure said...

This may only work for me, but when I have to be away from my blog for an extended period of time I have some Turn Back the Clock posts ready. They're just links to posts from the previous year, but it gives readers a convenient opportunity to read posts they hadn't seen before.

Tom Evans said...

Thanks for this post about my site Dustin, and thanks for telling me the link was broken!

I certainly am reducing the number of 'catch-up' posts and hopefully it's reasonable for the average reader. In a way the hope is that they'd read everything so you want to put everything on catchup!

As for putting them in reverse chronological order I agree that would be a good idea but am stuck for how to do it!

Miladysa said...

I have just started to put links in my fiction posts so that the reader can catch up. ie. if I mention a character then a link back to a post from that characters perspective.

Tree over at Decadent Tranquility has one of the best fiction blogs which recently became a 'Blog of Note'. I think it would be worthwhile if you took a look at his blog - the story is 'alive' and has been existing for a number of years now.


DustinM said...

Miladysa, thanks for the tip. I'll be checking out his website soon.

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