Nowhere Island University’s Second Anniversary

So, it’s been two years. Two years since this became a thing. I’m not going to say that this is the serial that changed everything, or will change everything. Honestly, if you go solely by numbers, NIU should have changed nothing. However, numbers lie a hell of a lot.

For instance, my life has been changed. Whether for better or worse, its hard to to say. I mean, I’ve only been doing this for two years. I can say that thanks in part to the internet, and thanks in part to whoever is reading my little ramblings, I am living my dream of being a world famous author. (Ok, definitely not famous, but people all over the world are reading this, and thinking about it gives me this wonderful mix of sheer panic and joy.)

Seriously, though, I would like to take this time to thank some people. I should probably start off with the people who I see every day: my family. Mom, Dad, you could have kicked me out of the house when I dropped out of college. Instead, you gave me free room and board while I job-searched (way too little,) wrote, and played way too many computer games. Without you, none of this would have been possible. Also, to my sister. You did not even have to dignify my scribblings with a response, as is your ancient sisterly right/duty. Instead, you would look them over and do minor editing and critiquing. I, and the readers, owe you a big thanks.

To the guys at Spacebattles, you are the first. You read this story there despite the fact I have no idea how to organize it properly there. I’m sorry I’m not as quick at responding to comments now. Most of that has to do with changing email accounts and work.

To the people who read this on Royal Road, you guys actually gave me one of my biggest readership boosts. On March 31st last year, I was having a birthday party. Me, my dad, and my friend, were sitting around playing games or something, and I just kept occasionally watching the numbers on my WordPress site go up and up. You are seriously all amazing. Special mention to J0nno who found my story first, and Blaise Corvin who talks to me on Twitter.

Also, I’d like to give a shout out to the people who gave me encouragement on the Web Fiction Guide forums. You guys rock. Especially Chris, who keeps things running. Having “learned” some programming (and even with the finger quotes, I use that term very loosely,) I can guess what a massive effort it takes to keep a review aggregator, a forum, and a serial ranking system running. You da man. Also, to anyone from there who linked to my story, you guys are also pretty cool yourselves. Again, special mention to the guys who keep me company on Twitter every once in a while, PsychoGecko and Matthans.

Finally, to everyone who has donated to my Patreon and allowed me to make a profit. To everyone who has clicked on that link that should be on the bottom of every one of the WordPress site’s pages to vote for me on Top Web Fiction but for some reason isn’t because I’m an idiot. To the people who have shared me with friends, both prompted by me and of your own volition. To those of you who have left something positive for me in the comments. You have done something beautiful and good. You’ve found a lesser-known artist you enjoy and instead of keeping him to yourself and enjoyed his work for free, you’ve supported him. Thank you.

In closing, I’m sure I’ve forgotten some people. Sorry. If you politely remind me, I’m sure I can squeeze you in. In the meantime, thank you.

Post Mortem: NIU Book 4, Edit 1

So, this arc wasn’t as exciting as the last one, was it? Not much really happened for the vast majority of it, apart from a few weapons being designed. In fact, things were going so Goddamned slowly I decided to change the serial’s entire structure to avoid what I perceived brings this and Book 2 down into a giant mass of boring.

Goals

One of the points of this whole post-mortem thing is to learn from my mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes in Book 4. This mostly had to do with pacing. In fact, it was so bad I had to change the point of this arc halfway through.

Another thing, the reason this arc seemed so directionless was that, well, I did not really have very many goals.

Set Up Nathan the Weapons Designer

Well, I did this. I did this, and I’m not sure people found the obviously rushed pace of  enjoyable. There’s a reason for it, but I’m not sure how many people cared. I do know that at least two people did, and they commented on it with various suggestions. I liked that part.

Make something happen, for the love of God!

So, I have been hearing some criticism of how nothing was happening. So, I accelerated the sequence of events. Originally, The Architect was supposed to reveal himself next arc. That wasn’t going to work in any way. Why? Because everything falls apart whenever I have to spend time on daily life at NIU. I won’t make that mistake a third time.

Community Response

Community response was mixed. This is the first section in which I’ve generated a bad review on any platform. While there has been an uptick in comments on all platforms, that still feels bad.

Metrics

The Good

I do think that I have some good comedy bits. For instance, Timothy finding out May was into hip-hop and how he tries to use that to win her over.

Nari and May have an interesting relationship, I think. I like how Nari is sort of id unleashed: as long as she’s making things, she can be happy. May is the Super Ego. She spends more time thinking about the potential ways the creations of Olympus Inc. can be used inappropriately than anyone else.

The Bad

In case you didn’t realize it, I try to have a set amount of words as a minimum. That, and the fact that I didn’t have a clear goal made this arc somewhat painful. Next time, I hope we get some more direction.

I hope I can do better next time.

The Future

Ok, I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m not sure if I can do side stories every month. I am falling behind on my backlog and only have four. It can’t go on, no matter how much I’d like to do them.

Post Mortem: NIU Book 3, Edit 1

So, wow, this is over. We may or may not be halfway done with this thing I’ve called Nowhere Island University. That’s kind of crazy, right?

Speaking of crazy, wasn’t this volume pretty crazy? The Dragon’s Teeth are, if you haven’t guessed, going to be very important. I’m not sure how much I should give away, but Nate’s right about the Dragon’s Teeth.

In other news, I also started posting on Royal Road. That boosted stats by a significant margin from last time. That is really cool.

Anyway, what matters is that The North Korean Affair is over. Like the last two times, we have killed it. Now let’s go poke around the corpse. For science.

Goals

The point of a post mortem is to make me think about my own work. I have a lot of respect for good reviewers, especially the Channel Awesome crowd and several former and current Escapist people. However, I know that no person who reads NIU on its own can fully know what I want.

Therefore, I talk about my goals so people are more likely to judge my work by my standards, as well their own.

Introduce The Dragon’s Teeth

Now, The Dragon’s Teeth are important to the story. They will leave North Korea, and it will be big. I can’t say exactly how big it will be yet, but it will be the second biggest event in the entire story. To give you an idea of how big they are, I’m not sure I’ve made them intimidating enough.

That being said, I’m not sure I want them to be too intimidating. After all, Nathan (and the audience) has to have a reason to believe that the Dragon’s Teeth can be defeated. Otherwise, Nathan’s insistence that they can be defeated looks unreasonable.

Finally, I needed to give them a bit of character. The Dragon’s Teeth can’t just be just some nameless, faceless, unknowable force. They need a personality and a goal. And so, since they have several different “services” (Ninjas, Picts, Legionaries and Berserkers… so far) I decided to give each branch a different personality. The only problem is that I hadn’t really been given a good opportunity to introduce them as I want them to have a sense of mystery.

Still, I’m very happy at the way the Dragon’s Teeth came out. They are a very threatening force and an intriguing mystery. At this point, that’s all they really need to be.

Explain NIU’s Politics

This is why I need to make my goals more defined. I give a bit of a hint at how things work, but not much. I do think that I’m showing that there are some tensions, but I didn’t really go in deep as I wanted.

Still, there’s time for me to get more in-depth. I guess that will come next volume.

No New Characters!

The goal was to only introduce characters that would be killed off in short order. Instead, I gained two more. More on them later.

Community Response

Between volume one and two, there doesn’t seem to be that much of an uptick in interest from WFG or Spacebattles. Still, I’ve been getting a massive increase in views. Why? Well, that’s because I’ve started posting on Royal Road.

So, that’s three places I’m posting. When I’m done with NIU, for the sake of my own sanity, I think I might cut down on the places I post. Having to only update one site will allow me to focus on only moderating one place, save time posting, and consolidate the fanbase. Until then, I plan on NIU being in all three places.

Back to Royal Road. In his very detailed review, j0nn0 mentioned that he felt the story felt too fast-paced (Note: he had gone from RRL to the WordPress site, so he had read from the beginning through most of Volume 3 for his review.) Weirdly enough, this is the exact opposite problem I had with Volume 2. In my opinion, reading through that was an interminable slog.

This is not to suggest j0nn0 is wrong. In fact, this is to say that his disagreement is actually very helpful (and you should totally check out Trending News (According to the Narrator).) In the next volume, there’s going to be a lot of time spent at NIU, just like in Volume 2. That was deliberately set up to give a break to the story, and let the readers rest. Yet people still think the entire story is too fast-paced? That is something I need to fix.

Metrics

Now, for those of you who don’t know, this section is something I usually keep for my fellow WFG writers. If you have no interest in this, feel free to skip.

The first thing I’d like to report, while Patreon funding has remained relatively the same, views and visitors have grown.If you’ll recall from last time, you’ll remember that there was not a single month over four thousand views and eight hundred visitors. That has changed.

 

Views and Visitors 2
Views/visitors per month as of 5/10/2016

I find it curious that the two big jumps have happened in the spring. I’d be curious to see if this happens again. I’d also be curious to see if, like last year, traffic peaks around July and goes into a slump that bottoms out in the winter.

As to referrers, I had a lot of luck with Royal Road. I believe my first post on that site went up in March. Most of the views from that month came when I set up the RRL page.

Plus, in April, I found out how useful r/noveltranslations can be. One post referred sixty-five visitors to me in a single night. The next day was my best ever, with 1,812 views and 205 visitors. Subsequent postings have had… less positive results. I’m going to have to play around with when I post there to get the optimal number of views.

The Good

There’s a lot to like here, at least from my point of view. Partly because this arc has been more focused. Every action is in pursuit of a goal: in this case, getting home. Yeah, in the last arc, that goes out the window, but at that point, it helps brings things to a close.

Also, I think I like how several of the characters are starting to completely lose it. Nate, just like planned, is starting to become a bit obsessed. Combined with his burgeoning alcoholism and a few incidents of near-homicidal rage, it should be interesting when he gets to a certain point of his development. Also not helping Nate is the fact that so far, his risks have paid off.

John and Kyle, meanwhile, are much more sensible. They want to get out. Both have their reasons (I’ll get to Kyle’s in a bit) and they are very good. Yet they still have things keeping them in the game.

There’s also some pretty nice fight scenes. With the cool opportunities that the Dragon’s Teeth and locations present and the squishiness of our heroes, it actually would be hard to make a boring fight scene. Ironically, though, the best comes at the very end against the South Korean police. I’ll have to make Nate confront that at some point.

All in all, I’m reasonably happy at how this volume has turned out. Are there problems? Well, yes. On that note, let’s take a journey over to…

The Bad

Now, before I begin, let me just say that a lot of these problems are more like time bombs. These are mostly characterizations that might draw criticisms later down the line. One in particular could be so bad I get hit from two very different groups of people.

Joseph’s characterization, however, is just bad. He is pretty much two different characters. This would be ok if he just underwent an arc like, y’know, an actual character. Instead, he randomly changes personalities at least once. Shame, he could have been interesting. At least I was planning on killing him anyway.

The next potentially bad character I have is Nari. Now, I like Nari. The problem is that she’s a nine-year-old girl hanging out with hardened commandos. My fear is she becomes what is commonly known as a scrappy. Maybe its an unreasonable fear, but I don’t want people to think she’s useless. On the contrary, I want them to think she’s useful… maybe a little too useful.

However, the most potentially headache-inducing character I have at the moment is Kyle. Kyle, in this arc, revealed himself to be trans. Now, transsexual people, as I’m sure a few of you are aware, are a touchy subject. That makes them a very interesting subject. It also means I have to get a trans character right if I want to avoid certain kinds of backlash. The thing is, I’ve already made Kyle say something that kind of demands clarification.

Still, I think I’ve done very well. Its just… I’ve given myself a bit of a challenge, that’s all.

The Future

Now, things are going to have to calm down for a bit. There’s a storm coming, and its going to be a big one. Most of you have a partial idea of what I mean. Some of the more perceptive of you might have caught a hint of what is coming after that. There is also a third big thing that I want to touch on soon.

Still, every storm has its calm. Most of the next volume should be that: calm. Yes, outside NIU, things are going to be going pretty sour, but on the titular Pacific island, it will be pretty much business as normal for an arc or two. Then everything will go to hell.

Some people, needless to say, will realize that bad things are going to happen. Nathan, obviously, being one of them. They will be in a desperate race to get the world ready for what they think is coming.

Also, I’m thinking of potentially reworking my Patreon setup. Royal Road, from what I can see, doesn’t approve of donation bonuses. Also, donations have been pretty steady for several months. Maybe offering  more content to Patrons could boost subscribership, but I’m not sure.