So, it's done then. The Second Realm is complete.
What the hell do I do now?
Actually, before I get to the future (...he said as if he wasn't entering it right now), I'd like to take a moment to look back over the series and what it's done for me.
I never actually wrote a blog post at the start of the project laying out my aims for it (though somewhere in the past three years I've convinced myself I did). In October of 2011, I'd just published Heaven Can Wait (which I might finally get around to republishing soon, but I'm not sure), and was two years into my PhD, with the hard part very much still ahead of me.
I wasn't sure how much attention I'd be able to give to my writing and platform-building over the coming couple of years, a concern that proved well-justified. I'd made what felt like a good start, joining a warm, passionate and very active community of authors spread out across social networking and the blogosphere, but it was very early days - this blog, for example, enjoyed less than a thousand pageviews in the month that The Second Realm launched (this month is on course to be the first to break 50k).
I felt a bit like I was trying to kindle (see what I did there?) a fire in a high wind. Constant attention would be needed to maintain progress, during a period in which I would have little attention to spare. A serial looked like a good option - a way to write, publish and promote in small chunks scattered through my otherwise busy life.
This wasn't just about promotion and platform-building, by the way. It was also about practicing and developing my craft. In the thirteen months November 2010-November 2011, I wrote five whole novels, and I knew I wasn't going to be able to do that again any time soon. My technique had improved markedly over the time and I didn't want to start back-sliding.
So The Second Realm had two purposes, really; to keep me writing and to keep me publishing. It wasn't, initially at least, intended to make any money. Episodes went out completely free (except for the few that I pushed onto Amazon, where I couldn't set 'free' as a price), and I'm not convinced that my introduction of pay-what-you-like mechanisms from season 2 onwards was a well-thought-out strategy.
Given those goals, I think I have to consider The Second Realm a success. I finished the thing, so I must have kept writing. Indeed, my writing has definitely benefitted, not just from repeated practice, but also from regular, robust feedback. As a writer, I've not degenerated, I've advanced.
As a platform-building exercise, the analysis has to be a bit more complex. On Smashwords, episodes and samples have been downloaded a total of over 9000 times, but while the persistent growth of that number over time entails continuing (and even growing) interest, it's not clear how much of that represents people actually reading my words. The same goes for the traffic on this blog, which has shot up over the last year - there's a lot of page-viewing happening, but not much visible sign of engagement (I get over a hundred spam comments a day, but that hardly counts).
Still, my storefront on Smashwords has 32 book covers on it, and the number 9000 is a pretty good calling-card. Money has trickled in, though not yet enough to justify the expense of getting a passport so I can apply to the US IRS for tax treaty status and actually collect my earnings.
The test will be whether there's significant carry-over into whatever I publish next, and that requires me to publish something. Which brings us up to date. I have several options, and would love nothing more than to go for all of them (I can't, after all, out-compete myself), but the demands of earning a living make that infeasible right now. When I make up my mind, you'll all be the first to know.
One thing that can't be underestimated is the value to my self-esteem and self-perception of having finished this thing. I don't feel like I have to cringe anymore when someone asks me 'yeah, but are you really an author, or are you just saying that?'. I can give them a link. Hopefully soon, I'll be able to hand them a physical copy of (at least part of) The Second Realm, or maybe hit them with it if they get really uppity about it.
Thanks for taking this journey with me. Here's to the next leg!