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Jan 23 2017

Readership

The majority of this post is in regards to a question someone asked me about readership, but, based on some comments earlier in the day, I need to clarify something about my decision to remove myself from AO3.

Yes, the huge majority of my comments on AO3 were supportive and positive. De Novo oddly attracted more annoying comments than most stories I’ve written. There were about 15 or so that ranged from annoying to upsetting. But I don’t have a thin skin. I can take the crap. I wasn’t feeling abused. If I were truly feeling abused in a way I couldn’t handle, my work would be gone. If AO3 was my best option, I’d delete the annoying comments and move on. Just like I do on my site.

Here’s why it wasn’t my best option: We discussed this briefly on the radio show once, but it bears repeating. Archives are for readers. They always have been, they always will be. And on some level, readers know it’s for them. Fanfiction.net downright panders to readers because without readers, they don’t have advertisers, and so they don’t have revenue. AO3 is different, but fundamentally, it’s reader oriented. It’s a little odd considering why it was created, but that’s a whole other topic.

Writers are second-class citizens on most archives, even though they supply the commodity—the fiction. But the archives have a commodity, too, and that’s an audience. The archives weight the value of the audience higher than the value of the fiction. If that works for them, or some of the writers, that’s fine. It doesn’t work for me.

The power dynamic is different on a writer’s private website. It’s a simple fact.

I reached the point in my writing ventures where an archive’s commodity isn’t alluring enough for me to stay.

My decision to leave AO3 was not about being abused. It was because I’m tired of my creative efforts being valued LESS than the audience.

And that segues so perfectly into the question I was asked.

I just read your announcement that you pulled away from A03. I’m so sorry you had to deal with stupid people being mean. I should have commented on your post but I have a question if it’s not too much trouble.

I’m a new writer and have heard awful stories about abuse on sites like fanfiction.net and a03. The idea of posting there kind of terrifies me. But how do you get readers if you don’t put your work on a site where people read?

If you don’t have time to answer I understand. I just wondered if you have any advice for newer writers like me.

Thank you for all the wonderful stories and hours of entertainment.

There’s not really a clear-cut answer to that question. Posting your work online is an exercise in feeling exposed and sometimes getting your feelings hurt. You have to develop a thick skin in at least some areas.

But, yeah, if you’re a brand new writer with limited or no ties to fandom, and you create a blog and put up your first story, it’s gonna be crickets.

I completely understand that readership is a factor, and the easiest way to find a pool of potential readers is to post on an archive—either a multi-fandom archive or a fandom-specific one. And therein lies the problem if you’re sensitive to anything on the spectrum from “you need a beta” to “you’re gonna burn in hell.”

But there are other ways to gain at least a small readership. Create your blog and start participating in fandom-specific challenges. Write in a Bang, participate in Rough Trade, do a kink meme on Live Journal. Something. And tell people where to find you online. If they like what you wrote, they’ll follow you. And, yeah, probably bug you to post on an archive, but you need to start learning how to ignore requests. Because the asking never stops, and you are not obligated to do anything.

When I did my first Rough Trade challenge back in Nov 2013, I had no online presence. But when the challenge came to a close, I created a blog on WordPress and gave a link to it on my last chapter. I think I had about 100 followers who just wanted to follow Emergence, since that’s all I’d written at that point. By the time of the next RT in the spring of 2014, I had picked up more followers and knew I needed to make a decision about where my work would live.

I created my own website before I ever published anywhere else. I knew I wanted the kind of control having all my work under my own domain would give me. I could have stayed on the WordPress blog and been fine, but I’m comfortable running a website and I preferred that option.

On that original blog, people asked that I post to an archive. Honestly, I was asked to go to FFN more than AO3, but no way. Fanficiton.net’s culture of bullying writers was unacceptable to me. And the NCIS fandom, which is my primary fandom, is often abusive over there.

I went to AO3 partly because people asked me to—for ease of access, reading the entire work at once, and the download feature. But the other reason I decided to go was the reader base. Although, if reader base was all I cared about, I’d have gone to FFN.

My readership grew much quicker because I posted to an archive site. That’s just a fact. But considering my participation in fandom challenges and Rough Trade, I believe it would have grown without AO3. Perhaps not as fast or as large, but it would have happened.

I think you have to ask yourself what you’re looking for with your readership. If you want maximum exposure and largest potential reader pool, you’re gonna post to the big archive sites—maybe even all of them. And you better develop a thick skin.

If you want something more controlled and contained, try the method I mention above of getting your own blog and just getting involved in fandom and do some writing. No one can tell you what the best method for getting your work out there is. But there are ways to build readership that don’t put you in the position of an author on an archive.

Some tips for improving your reader base simply based on my own experience and opinions:

  • Post completed works.
    • As much as possible don’t have your catalog be comprised primarily of works in progress. That’s advice I’d give to someone who wants to write, not just get input and validation every 500 words. If that’s what you’re seeking, definitely go to an archive. If you want to write, and the writing is the thing, then FINISH your work.
    • People aren’t going to follow you on an isolated site if you have a string of WIPs that they have to re-read every time you update because no one remembers what you last wrote six months ago. And if you never finish anything, they’re not going to stick around.
    • I’m NOT saying WIP writers are only seeking validation. I’m talking about readership, and my experience is that readers are more drawn to completed works. But there is a segment of WIP writers who simply cannot complete a work because they need the validation as they go to provide them motivation. I think the majority just came up in fandom posting as they write. But it’s not great for building a reader base, IMO.
    • That’s not to say you have to post your finished story all at once. If you want to post a chapter a day or a week, go for it.
  • Learn to write a good summary.
    • If you’re building readership, especially away from an archive, you can’t afford to say “I suck at summaries, just read it.”
    • People often pick stories by the summary, so if yours is too vague or has no hook, people might come to your site, but then move on.
  • Get a beta.
    • This is good for your craft, but since we’re talking about readership, readers are more likely to finish your story and want to read more if they aren’t madly going for the X because of an egregious number of mistakes.
    • I know those three words sound much easier than they actually are, but this is where getting involved in some communities will help you. Many challenges have people sign up to beta you can ask for help.
    • If nothing else, at least run spell check, FFS.
  • Don’t alienate your readers.
    • Avoid assholery like not giving trigger warnings or demanding feedback in exchange for future updates. You could be the best writer in the world and I’d double-bird you and leave.
  • Learn about style and structure and proper formatting.
    • I’m not saying don’t write until you have it all down, but you have to be willing to improve your craft. Maybe your story is great, but your dialogue mechanics suck, and so someone never picks up your work again. Or maybe you have the best characterization ever, but you present it in a wall of text that almost no one can read.
    • I’m not saying care about your readers more than your writing, I’m saying you have to care about readability if you want readership.
  • Get involved in some kind of writing community.
    • Writers are your tribe. Seriously.
    • Interacting with other writers will make you a better writer, which will make your stories better, which will give you more readers.

All of this was assuming that you care about the actual writing and improving your craft, that archives make you nervous, and yet you still want readership. This is my best advice for that scenario. It’ll take time and patience, but you can make it happen.

And if, in the end, you want the commodity the archive sites are offering, go for it. I’m not judging that in any way. I don’t regret my choice to post on an archive. But you go into it prepared to defend your boundaries. Delete every fucking comment you don’t like. Seriously. You don’t have to be gracious about someone else’s unsolicited assholery.

This is SPARTA!

18 comments

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  1. Katherine

    Very well said so that a non writer like myself can understand. I’ve read your words and followed your muse. I can’t begin to know what it takes to write such polished stories. I’m glad you give of yourself through words. It seems the few try to control the many in a way. Entitlement seems to be an ongoing issue in fan fiction. I’ve never paid much attention to others comments when leaving a review. However, I try to leave at least a thanks for the offerings given. I tip my hat to you! So Thanks.

  2. Marge

    Great! Love it. Like most of your fiction, also.
    Marge

  3. Mistress Tien

    Thanks for your thoughtful notes. I found you through Rough Trade, and wild horses couldn’t keep me away from your writing. I love what you were sharing from day one. I was hooked at the first chapter. The fact that you continue to mature and stretch your writing skills is what keeps me coming back.

  4. darkseraphina

    If this is Sparta, are we the 300? Because I do not have the pecs for that costume. Just saying.

    This is interesting – it’s always interesting to read someone else’s experience and realize, yes, that’s how it is for me too. Also, that writers need to stop separating their lives as readers and as writers. I recently realized that I was trying to emulate fanfiction habits that I had grown familiar with as a reader, but that honestly irritate me as a reader. So why recreate that in my own posting? Because everyone else does. Thankfully, diving into Keira’s world and RT showed me some f the toxic behaviours I’d become immune too, and made me realize why I’d stopped posting anything years ago.

    Thank you, Jilly, for demonstrating that a broken give a fuck would make me a better, happier writer.

    Everything you said about commodities makes sense. I started a WordPress site last summer, entirely to post my April RT story. I’ve since posted 180000 words there, and gotten 15000 hits and five comments. The same amount of work on AO3 has 56000 hits and 350 comments. But, I’ve found that people on AO3 trickle over slowly, and each post gets more email subscriptions.

    Also, I tend to post on my own site first, then on AO3 a few days later.

    E partI agree, absolutely that writing in challenges and communities gets you readership – most of those 15000 hits wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t been writing in RT – but it has also been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a writer in fandom. That first review on the first story you ever posted might top it slightly, but. It by much. RT is a pleasure, and most of the reason I’ve written more in the last year than in the ten before it, and that is down to he administrators who, as writers, have chosen to make it a positive place for tha participants. I would say to writers like the one above to write in communities, but to chose a dynamic, positive one with engaging writers who encourage you to push yourself and your craft.

    Now, I’m going to go eat a brownie, write a soppy email to Keira, and plot a sex scene between Tony and someone pretty. Thank you.

  5. greywolfthewanderer

    well said, lass, well said indeed. and I agree with it.

    I’ve been really lucky on archives I think. I never went to ff.net cos I can’t deal with the pleas for feedback every 500 words, and I avoid WIPs as a rule due to serious permanent memory issues. I’ve been lucky on both the ksarchive and on AO3. and I’m an asshole who enjoys dissecting flamers live for fun.

    that said, if I could afford a website I would *so* have one! you got to go with what works for you. and this site is easy to read, loads nice and fast, it rocks.

    ‘s’all good, yo.

  6. greywolfthewanderer

    well hell, I zorched my own post. tl;dr, just hey, you gots to go where it works for you. I’ve had good luck on both AO3 and the ksarchive, but ’tis not always so I know.

    just glad you have a site so we can read and enjoy these fine fics over and over. *grin* must admit, if I could afford the bandwidth I’d so have one too. for now, glad to have all teh lovely fics to read!

    peace out.

  7. Kristin

    Like I said in a previous post, I don’t write fanfiction. However I do have a business in massage and a blog or two. Reading your post, makes me think about boundaries. With anything you’re going into, know your boundaries, know which boundaries you are willing to have pushed or experimented with, and which boundaries that you are firm on. It’ll help a lot mentally as you prepare and actively take the leap. Complaints are not the whole thing, neither or trolls, you have the potential to have great reviews depending on your writing style.

    As a reader and a lurker, I can attest that poor grammar irritates me and most of the stories I have bookmarked are completed stories. I love the fact that I’ve found a couple authors that post their fiction in whole and completed status, but if you are a regular updater I’d love you, too.

  8. Witchdoctor

    Hi Jilly,

    Thank you for the explanation and notes above, on this posting, and the other. As with all your works, whether fiction or on-fiction, they are well written, and in this particular case, most informative. It’s shameful that some people have apparently never learned manners enough to appreciate the bounty they had before them on A03, but I understand your position and appreciate that you are still making all your works available on this site.

    I wanted to let you know that I find your works inspiring, and thought provoking, and helpful in ways that perhaps was never intended when you wrote them. For instance:

    Your recent story about Vicious (love that little Heathen)…. I was recently put in a bad situation at work where I was hauled over the coals for making people follow the rules in a situation which had a bad potential for coming back and biting everybody on the arse. After reading Vicious, I was able to relate to Tony at the FBI lab, ensuring people were following the rules, and the reasons why. The explanations you wrote for Fornell, allowed me to think and construct my arguments to justify my responses to my senior management.

    (On the other hand, reading Keira’s Ties That Bind next, has also helped me deal with the rest of the situation, including rapidly breaking my give-a-fuck meter).

    I don’t always comment, and I certainly didn’t get to read anything for Rough Trade at end of 2016, until the Christmas break (long past official posting times), but I did enjoy Subversive also. De Novo is also a great work – not necessarily my absolute best of all favourite of all I’ve read of your works, but never the less, very enjoyable. There are times when I am looking on my e-reader, and will just search for your name as author, and then start reading through everything one by one, because I know I will have a great read.

    Thank you once again.

  9. Lee

    Thank you for sharing your ‘Self’.

  10. Professor Frankly

    This is an excellent set of advice. Thank you for sharing it–it certainly mirrors what I’ve found, too. I write for myself. I delete asshole comments on any archive work. If others like what I write, great. I find archives convenient, so I use them. The Rough Trade community has been fantastic support as I stretch my wings with fiction, and I wouldn’t have found that easily without your web site. And that goes to your point about getting readers–if you want people to read your stuff, you need to let them know where to find it. If it’s good, they’ll come. (Terribly tempted to write a Field of Dreams joke here.)

    Well said, at any rate. And thanks.

    1. Jilly James

      I think the issue is that I rarely engage with people being stupid on AO3. I either ignore the comment or just delete it. I probably should tell them I don’t appreciate it, but I’ve always been more the delete sort. I started to feel like I was rewarding their entitlement by letting go it unchecked AND giving them more stories. It sounds kind of ridiculous, but in my head, it was like “I’m tired of rewarding your bad behavior. If you’re gonna act up, you’re gonna have to work for it and risk running afoul of my ban list.”

  11. angelcat70

    This is an awesome post and hits the salient points that writers and dare I say us readers need to hear. Thank you!

  12. AmyCat

    Thanks for this, and please ignore the message I sent earlier from your site’s Comment Form… Now I’m caught up on your two yummy new stories, I’ve had time to rummage around, and find the answers to my question about why you left AO3.

    As one who’s using AO3 primarily as a reader (I agree 100% with your suggestion to only post completed works, so I have one teeny story on AO3 and lots of WiPs on my ‘puter at home), I’m sad that you can no longer put up with AO3’s issues… because they ARE a wonderful archive for readers. Being able to Subscribe, and thus getting e-mails which, among other things, show whether a work’s complete, has been great for me… but I can SO see your point about AO3 not properly valuing the writers who create all the goodness. 😿

    At this point, there are two authors I follow outside of AO3: Keira Marcos and now you. I’ve found, since following Keira, that the notifications I get are a bit less informative (I have to click over to the site to find out if a work’s complete or not, and sometimes I don’t get notifications at all; have gone to Keira’s site to re-read things, and found there’s a whole new story in one of her series that I hadn’t heard of)… but as a reader, I’ve been spoiled by AO3, I guess. If I have to work a bit harder to find the good stuff, so be it.

    Your Advice to New Writers here is excellent, BTW. The whole thing about posting completed works is spot-on; the unfinished-WiP issue is why I stopped trying to follow Rough Trade, despite some wonderful stories being born there. If I had time to check it every few days, it’d be different…

    One thing I’d venture to suggest for writers who want “Big Archive” exposure, but also a better way to deal with reader-centric sites like AO3: Along with your Notes in the story-header material at the top of the page, try including a “boilerplate” PostScript at the end of each chapter/story post (i.e.: right above the Archive’s Comments window) with whatever “Commenting Rules” you prefer. If you don’t want to hear about typos, or if you aren’t going to respond to comments except on your own blog/website where YOU control the Ban-Hammer (“…and here’s the link!…”), or if you’re gonna delete any comments that complain about [insert your Pet Peeves here], say so… then do the bare-minimum interaction with the Big Archive’s commenters, and let your posts there be more to draw readers to your own site. (The advice you gave about needing a thick skin still applies, and one would need to be able to “detach” and ignore the annoying stuff…)

    Sorry for yammering on. I think I’m gonna go re-read some more of your stories now I’ve found your site… 😸 I like Tony DiNozzo *so* much more the way you write him than the way he is in canon!

  13. Astrid Abdel Zuniga Salgado

    I like what you wrote and your opinion was great. I am a reader and I do not always comment on stories but I try to always make them positive since I know authors take time from their schedule to write this stories for our entertainment. I like also that it give us closeness to the authors perspective like mental blocks, lack of muse or time since they are not being paid for it they do not have the luxury to dedicate all their time to write even if they want to. My only regret is that I will not be able to download your stories anymore, maybe you can put the download link in your website. Thank you for your latest post it was great and you where the reason I started reading NCIS fanfiction since I never really liked the show but I liked the dephts you hace to the characters. ❤❤ 🌺

    1. Jilly James

      Several of my stories are already available for download, and I plan to continue to provide them. But I refuse to have readers poking me about it. I honestly don’t care if people found AO3 more convenient. Reader convenience has had the prime spot in fandom for decades. It means fuck all here.

      Making demands here will get people banned. Fair warning.

  14. Abdel Zuniga

    I will respect your wishes and will not make demands. I saw the download links and I am sorry when I wrote the comment form before I had not finished exploring this site. It is great my favorite part is the image of who you see representing each character it makes it easier for me to picture the story in my mind while reading it. 😀

  15. Terizia Glenn

    Some great comments you have laid out, Jilly. Particularly on how to be a responsibile writer – the interesting thing is that they also make sense for being a responsible reader

  16. timepiece

    I’m so blown away by that one comment, because who could read De Novo and say “you can do better”? it’s pretty much perfect. The only possible improvement is to expand it, but it felt pretty complete. It doesn’t need expansion, that’s just a fan wishing that the experience of reading it lasted longer.

    I am grateful your stuff remains available here. In whatever form.

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