So, last week I wasn’t watching my Medium stats (a thing that pretty much consumed me the week before that) nearly as closely, because vacation. I was watching and cheering as July’s short story “The Numbers Game” crossed the 1,000 hit mark pretty early on. It both hit that mark more quickly than I expected and slowed to a trickle more quickly than I expected after that, but not by much on either count.
What I really didn’t expect is that when I got home and dived into the referral stats, I found a whole lot of nothing. Most of the incoming links are from social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook) or internal to Medium. My quick search for such shares/mentions suggests this was mostly done on a personal level, with few big pushes from big names. My previous Medium hits, both the unqualified runaway viral smash and my other short story that did respectable numbers and generated some nice tips, both had some clear “turning points” where you could see them catching fire, and both had referrals showing up from unexpected places (such as Ravelry). This story didn’t have any of that.
Now, this is not a lament. I’d love it if everything I did caught fire the way “Infidelity Will Be The Death Of My Marriage” did and then some, but if everything I did had to catch fire to be worth doing, I would never do it. And also, just because something doesn’t immediately catch fire doesn’t mean it has no value over the long term. It did generate tips (immediate money) and possibly got some more patrons (though there’s more guesswork there). It did provide value for my existing readers. It’s something I can sell. And I think it forms an important part of the body of my work, along with other recent longer pieces “Infidelity” and “Women Making Bees In Public.
It’s also not a lament because I see many positive indicators here. This story did not catch fire. It did not go viral. It did not receive a strong push from any particular quarter. Yet it reached the benchmark of a thousand hits very quickly, it generated revenue. It was, by every measurement, a successful story.
So that’s a good sign. There’s an audience. There are people watching, looking for my stuff. They don’t need to be told it’s there. I can just release it with the usual fanfare and it will be read.
The other takeaway is that it’s always better to give a story a distinctive title than not. I can very easily figure out how often “Women Making Bees In Public” or “Infidelity Will Be The Death Of My Marriage” was mentioned by name on Twitter or discussed in a particularly public forum. “The Numbers Game”, not so much. The phrase crops up on Twitter several times an hour, usually in conjunction with sports.
This isn’t to say that you should never use a common phrase for a story title. My time travel short “Those Who Fail To Learn” has the perfect title for itself. I’m less happy with the title of “The Numbers Game”, though. The phrase does appear in the story and the action/conflict at the heart of it involves a phone number, but I don’t think it really describes what is happening. I suspect if I hadn’t been in a hurry to finalize it before I went on vacation, I might have come up with a better title.
I don’t think think I’m likely to change it, though, unless and until I package it to sell in a different format (like an anthology). Whatever marginal value would be created by giving it a more unique or better-fitting title would be erased by the confusion it would create.
Again, not really a lament so much as an observation: giving something a distinctive title makes it easier to track, but that should really not be your sole or main criteria when naming something. The DigiPen class that would go on to create the game Portal named their class project Narbacular Drop specifically because they could track mentions without getting false hits, but the much more popular and successful follow-up game was called Portal, a common noun that is used heavily in sf/f games and as a term of art in web architecture. Yet calling it Portal was undoubtedly the right move.