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!