A Pause For Quality Control

on June 19, 2013 in MU Blog

So, some of you might have guessed from the little coda at the end of Friday’s chapter that I wasn’t satisfied with the pacing and general quality of Wednesday’s chapter. In fact, the whole thing with Mackenzie and Jamie generally didn’t work out nearly as well as I’d envisioned.

Part of that might have been inevitable… some ideas just don’t pan out. I think this was one of them. The idea of Mackenzie and Jamie together was intriguing, but the reality just didn’t click. In a traditional novel, if a subplot isn’t working, it can be removed or reworked before the book ever sees print. For a serial that’s published as it goes, I’m limited to some degree by what’s gone before. The groundwork for this was laid down in the story months ago. I could have canceled it when I realized it wasn’t working by having events in the story overtake it somehow, but to some extent I had to get into the middle of it to see that it wasn’t working.

If this had happened back around March/April/May when I was constantly writing with at least a chapter or two of padding, I might have been able to make a course correction without it being noticed. I could have abandoned the chapters as written and come at them from a different angle (which sometimes works), or taken the story in a different direction if I couldn’t make it work.

But the problem with writing ahead is that inevitably, it can only last for so long. Because each time I take extra time for a chapter or throw something into the recycling bin, the padding shrinks. Under ideal circumstances like I had this past spring, I can recover from that without any special efforts. In those situations, I can write new chapters quickly enough that I always have padding.

In most circumstances, though, that’s not the case. So last Wednesday, after wrestling with a chapter for days and having less than 1800 words of what was definitely not my best work to show for it, my choices were to post it to meet a self-imposed deadline, or hold it back to meet a self-imposed standard.

I did the former.

And I’d like to apologize, because upon reflection I believe that was entirely the wrong choice. It wasn’t the first time somebody made a poor choice to meet a deadline, but one of the advantages of our little arrangement is that there’s very little downside to erring on the side of quality control.

Bottom line; I should have held it back and tried again. That would have been the most professional thing for me to do. My job—my primary obligation—wasn’t to post something because it’s Wednesday, it was to write something worth reading, and I failed at that.

The attraction of keeping up a strict schedule—especially when I’ve been doing such a good job at it this year—is strong, but I have literally never regretted not posting a chapter. The times I’ve made this choice—made a blog post or a tweet saying “Sorry, this chapter isn’t coming together. I’ll try again.”—I get very few (if any) complaints and often the end result is praised with comments to the effect that the extra effort shows or that the wait was clearly worth it. The times I’ve known in my gut that what I’m about to post isn’t good enough and then posted it anyway are the chapters I end up regretting, if not because they’re poorly received then because they saddle me with poor decisions that remain in continuity.

Luckily, the chapters under discussion weren’t a mistake in a larger sense, they just… weren’t that good. If I’d had them all ahead of time, I probably would have taken the best elements of the past few chapters and edited them together with Friday’s and ended up with something that was decent, if not great. The very very best chapters of this story are mostly written all in one go, because when everything’s coming together it really comes together, but really good chapters are ones that I was able to sit on and then come back to after sleeping on them.

During the unusually cool spring when I had an unusual amount of space and time and privacy, that was pretty much every chapter. During the heat of summer in a cramped apartment, that’s not going to happen unless I take some drastic action. I’m going to be here for another month and I’m not sure what conditions I’ll be returning to when I get back to Nebraska, so in the interest of not giving you four more straight weeks of plodding, short yet somehow tedious chapters, I’m taking that action.

This week… that is to say, today and Friday… I’m taking a publishing hiatus. This isn’t a work break for me. I’m going to finish this week up with two finished chapters. I’m just saving them to put up next week, when I’ll be writing two chapters that go up the week after.

This is not something I do lightly, which is why I didn’t announce it until now, when I’m absolutely 100% sure it’s necessary… I spent yesterday and today seeing if I could get ahead enough just by working harder.

I didn’t think it was likely; Wednesday’s chapter and the ones that preceded it were the product of extremely hard work, but that didn’t make them any better.

Still, I wanted to try it. A break in publishing is not something I do lightly, as it directly impacts my ad revenues and fundraising efforts, and money is a serious concern right now with the move coming up.

But it’s the right decision. I’ll lose some hits with two days off of publishing but I’ll lose readers with weeks of sub-par stories.

And as I said, I have never had cause to regret waiting.

So I’ll see you all next Monday with another installment of the alternate universe story (I’m pleased that at least has been well-received) and then on Wednesday and Friday for regular chapters. Thank you for your patience, and as always, thank you for reading.

<3 AE

(Also, unrelated sidenote… I’m trying to figure out why/how my Twitter feed disappeared from the front page. Did anyone happen to notice when it went missing?)

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25 Responses to “A Pause For Quality Control”

  1. JuiceGoose says:

    …I read that as a movie coming up and reacted to that first before rethinking it as move

    Current score: 0
  2. Lyssa says:

    Thank you for this post. I really appreciate your dedication to your readers, and this makes me feel a lot better about my discomfort with the last couple chapters. I agree with you that not posting them (and saying so) would have been the better choice, but the fact that you acknowledge that really makes up for it.

    I can also understand how much harder it is to work when you’re ridiculously hot, and I know you’ve been having a lot of trouble with that.

    Do what you gotta do. I, for one, will keep on reading. 🙂

    Current score: 1
  3. Carnivoracious says:

    Longtime reader, first time post here:)

    Honestly, I’m glad you posted this note. It seemed to me that the recent chapters with Jamie weren’t so much lacking in quality so much as the dynamic of two characters that don’t feel much affinity for one another interacting very realistically. That said I understand how that could become a lure for posting something you’re unsatisfied with and feel would be unsatisfying to your readers. Thank you for your honesty, commitment, and work ethic (and of course for the great stories)!

    Current score: 1
  4. DevanGelic says:

    It went missing (the twitter feed), when the last you had 2 Bonus stories available, Warren Tales or The Healing process. And the bit above the feeds stating donation amounts etc.

    As of right now, and since then, the “Bonus story next week! $100 until the next one. Help make it happen! New subscriptions count double.” show up, but it looks as if it has a strike-through, over the words “happen! New subscriptions count”

    As for the holding back two chapters, wise choice. Having that padding is preferred, especially if it allows for behind-the-scene corrections or changes in other directions. Personally, I like the Jaimie and Mack sub-sub-plot, but felt it was more like a side-story/quest to pad the main plot with Glory and her sister. It breaks the rhythm of the main story, but again, that’s what RPG side-quests do, divert and add a piece or two of interesting tidbits about the main quest/story.

    Current score: 0
  5. Grant says:

    I know you had more than your fair share of criticism over the last few chapters, but I for one really enjoy the dynamic between Mack and Jamie. Pacing and technical quality may not have been your best, but please don’t completely abandon the story arc.

    Current score: 0
  6. P says:

    I kind of think you’re being unnecessarily harsh on yourself. Maybe that’s your job and you have to be your harshest critic, but I don’t think it was bad or that you have anything to apologize for. It’s okay to backtrack, too, and try something different. What you’re doing is basically art in the wider sense and art can be a little bumpy.

    Current score: 0
  7. pedestrian says:

    Alexandra, I would respectfully disagree that the Mack/Jamie arc is substandard. Perhaps it should have been coalesced in one or two longer chapters, with a definitive ending of “Let’s face it, we are not going to have a relationship. Good bye and Good luck!”

    This is your work and it is important for us readers to understand the effort you put into your labor of love. For us to have patience as you develop the plotline to your vision. To realize that real life and personal commitments will always rudely intrude upon your creative time.

    Current score: 0
    • cnic says:

      I agree. Maybe it could have been tighter but this firmly ties up a loose end while still leaving room if you do come up with a good idea to use Jamie.

      But honestly if I have character development and interaction I’m pretty much happy. Heck I would even find a chapter of Soonie trying to get Two to help her with her costume business interesting just because of the characters and the way they interact with others.

      Current score: 0
  8. zeel says:

    Sounds good, only one thing I think needs said. . .

    Every post on this blog goes to twitter as:
    #talesofmu updated! [bit.ly] #ae_stories #weblit

    So it’s slightly misleading. . . No idea if the app responsible can be adjusted, but if it can add the title (or some such identifying info) that would be awesome.

    Current score: 0
  9. Burnsidhe says:

    The bits with Jamie and Mack showed how poorly they get along in general. It feels like Jamie’s forcing himself to take an interest, and of course we know that Mack was pushed to give Jamie another chance.

    Frankly, I don’t see them ever becoming close friends. They’re not a good fit for each other. That said, any friendship that does develop between them will be, as Mack says, because Jamie hangs out with them and it will have to develop over time.

    Current score: 0
    • Cass says:

      Hi, I so agree.
      I can’t see Mackenzie and Jamie together because it’s not a fit – and her being pushed into it – I wish she would stand up for herself more to Amaranth. She might be her Owner but she is’t always right.
      Anyway, I enjoyed the chapters for what they were and even moe because there was no relationship in there after all.

      Current score: 0
  10. JuiceGoose says:

    don’t be so hard on yourself. the story was fine, it was only the entire lead up to it that felt forced.

    (it read like the gm (and every single npc under his control, and half the other player characters joined in) was railroading mac into a date as an excuse to reintroduce the character, but the dinner itself was fine. no reason giving up on the sie-arc now that you’re past that “put it on rails to make them go where they need to be to set it up” bit and the players can start moving on their own again. that awkwardness is out of the way now anyway. the character is reintroduced and can just start showing up whenever/however it makes sense. so if you like bowman and want him back in theres no reason to stop now.)

    Current score: 0
    • JuiceGoose says:

      that sounds worse than I meant it

      basically the part people complained about is done anyway so why worry.

      Current score: 0
  11. Erm says:

    I mean it in a good sense when I say that I didn’t really notice.
    To be honest, the ambiguity about where the meeting of Mack and Jamie would go seemed believable, and the only outcome being some exposition on the elves didn’t hurt.

    All the same, building up a buffer to allow for quality control is probably a great idea, and worth a few extra days anytime.

    (Also, unrelated sidenote… I’m trying to figure out why/how my Twitter feed disappeared from the front page. Did anyone happen to notice when it went missing?)

    I didn’t see exactly when it disappeared, but I’ve noticed that one of my favorite webcomics just lost its feed widget (which looked really similar to the one here), and later replaced it with a different-looking widget.

    Current score: 0
  12. Rob says:

    I’m on my phone so I can’t help debug… But check the Javascript console.

    Twitter finally disabled old widgets late last week as part of shutting down the old API.

    They do kindly put instructions for upgrading in the console, though.

    Best of luck getting back in the groove.

    Current score: 0
  13. Mike says:

    Do what you gotta do. Quality over quantity, definitely. And I’m sure alot of people will keep checing back, just in case, and clicking a banner or two to help you out. Keep up the good work!

    Oh, and is there any chance the rest of the story will be up on Lulu sometime? I love your work but I much prefer an actual book in my hands. I already have the first ones, but you’ve written so much more since then. Anyways, we love you and your art, keep on keeping on!

    Current score: 0
  14. Dean says:

    FWIW, although the Jamie chapter wasn’t terribly exciting, and while the character probably needs to go away (or maybe become part of the OT stuff with Barley?), it wasn’t a bad chapter. It still gave good insight into both characters.

    While we tend to get the highlights of Mac’s life, it doesn’t mean her whole existence is exciting. This is just a peek into those times when things, no matter the expectations, just aren’t filled with fireworks.

    Current score: 0
  15. RealityExcursion says:

    Thanks for posting about your process; it’s nice to get a look behind the scenes. I’ve got to agree that while this arc wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t up to your usual quality. I do think the Treehome exposition needed to be there, but you kind of took the long way around through a very awkward interaction. You’re right that I, at least, would much rather read something really good later than just okay now.

    Current score: 0
  16. JS says:

    Sometimes things don’t work out and you have to reroute. That you have less padding available for during that time than other businesses would doesn’t mean it still isn’t the best thing for your business at this time. We all want you to do this story well and, at least I feel I can speak for those who have been reading this for years (I started when there were 30 chapters posted) that when you make decisions like this it is always for the better.

    Good luck! Now I’ve got to go and send you a leetle beet of money since I remember to.

    Current score: 0
  17. Lunaroki says:

    Question: would it help your ad revenues if folks went back and started rereading the archives between now and Monday? I’m personally considering taking advantage of the interval to review what’s come before and refresh my knowledge of MU.

    Current score: 0
  18. Orlanth says:

    Actually, it was good to see a failed date. That worked really well. Makes Mack even more human and definitely not Mary Sue.

    Also allowed some additional background. The only mistake is the pause. That is easy enough to fix. 😉

    Back to lurking.

    Current score: 0
  19. PrometheanSky says:

    First off, I know that I’m a lousy judge of quality when it comes to the technical side of a story. That said, the previous chapter did seem a bit awkward plotwise, but I don’t have a problem at all with that. Sometimes life is awkward, and this struck me as just one of those moments.

    Current score: 0
  20. Ducky says:

    I do remember your Twitter feed not loading this past week, but I don’t recall seeing it disappear completely prior to your mentioning it in this post.

    Current score: 0
  21. Jackie says:

    I have been quite enjoying the last few chapters personally – the Nikki subplot is interesting and Jamie had an interesting take on Treeholme. However, I understand needing to be happy with what you are doing.

    Current score: 0