I’ve seen five different authors take down, or prepare to take down, their posted works on Ao3 this week. At the same time, I’ve seen several people wishing there was more new content to read. I’ve also seen countless posts by authors begging for people to leave comments and kudos.
People tell me I am a big name fan in my chosen fandom. I don’t quite get that but for the purposes of this post, let’s roll with it. On my latest one shot, less than 18% of the people who read it bothered to hit the kudos button. Sure, okay, maybe that one sort of sucked. Let’s look at the one shot posted before that – less than 16% left kudos. Before that – 10%, and then 16%. I’m not even going to get into the comments. Let’s just say the numbers drop a lot. I’m just looking at one shots here so we don’t have to worry about multiple hits from multiple chapters, people reading previous chapters over, etc. And if I am a BNF, that means other people are getting significantly less kudos and comments.
Fandom is withering away because it feels like people don’t care about the works that are posted. Why should I go to the trouble of posting my stories if no one reads them, and of the people who do read them, less than a fifth like them? Even if you are not a huge fan of the story, if it kept your attention long enough for you to get to the bottom, go ahead and mash that kudos button. It’s a drop of encouragement in a big desert.
TL;DR: Passively devouring content is killing fandom.
So much this
You know, kudos and comments are much beloved by all esp. yrs truly, but I have to say: I’ve been posting fic for 20 years, and I have never in my entire life had a story stay above a 1:9 kudos to hits ratio (or comments to hits, back when kudo wasn’t an option). Usually they don’t stay above 1:10, once they’ve been around for a few weeks.
I also have a working background in online marketing. In social media 1:10 is what you would call a solid engagement score, when people actually care about your product (as opposed to “liking” your Facebook page so they could join a contest or whatever). If BNFs are getting 1:5 – and I do sometimes see it – that is sky-high engagement. Take any celebrity; take Harry Styles, who has just under 30M followers and doesn’t tweet all that often. He regularly gets 3-400K likes, 1-200K retweets. I’ve seen him get up to just under 1M likes on a tweet. That’s a 1:30 engagement ratio, for Harry Styles, and though some of you guys enjoy my fics and have said so, I don’t think you have as lasting a relationship with my stories as Harry Styles’s fans do with him. XD;
Again, this is not to say we, as readers, should all go home and not bother to kudo or comment or engage with fic writers. That definitely is a recipe for discouraging what you want to see in future. But this is not the first post I’ve seen that suggests a 20% kudo ratio is the equivalent of yelling into the void, and I’m worried that we as writers are discouraging ourselves because our expectations are out of whack.
I think about this a lot, because it’s important to know what a realistic goal to expect from an audience is, even though I admit it definitely is kind of depressing when you look at the numbers. I was doing reading on what sort of money you can expect to make from a successful webcomic, and the general rule of thumb seems to be that if your merchandising is meshing well with your audience, about 1% will give you merch. I imagine ‘subscribe to patreon’ also falls in this general range.
Stuff that is ONLY available for dollars are obviously going to have a different way of measuring this, but when it comes to ‘If people can consume something without engaging back in any fashion (hitting a like button, buying something, leaving a comment)’ the vast majority will.
And as a creator that is frustrating but as a consumer it’s pretty easy to see how it happens. I have gotten steadily worse at even liking posts, much less leaving comments on ones I enjoy, since I started using tumblr. It’s very difficult to engage consistently. I always kudo on any fanfic I read and comment on the vast majority, but then again I don’t read a lot of fanfic, if you are someone who browses AO3 constantly/regularly for months or years, I could see how it’s easy to stop engaging. I don’t remember to like every YT video or tumblr fanart I see, much less comment on them.
When we are constantly consuming free content it’s hard to remember to engage with it or what that engagement means to the creators. And lol, honestly that sucks. Certainly as consumers we should be better about it. But also like, as a creator be kinder to yourself by setting a realistic bar of what you can achieve.
And IMO, if numbers matter to you (kudos, comments, etc) be honest about the fact that you CAN improve those things by marketing yourself better. The ‘I just produced my art and put it out there and got insanely popular because it was just so brilliant’ is less than a one a million chance. Lots of amazing content is overlooked every day because there is a lot of good content and a metric fuckton of mediocre to bad content. You can only SORT of judge the quality of your work based on the audience it generates, but if what you WANT is an audience there is way, way, WAY more you can be doing than simply producing whatever you immediately feel like. Marketing yourself is a skill and if you want the benefits of it you have to practice it.
I have a professional background in internet marketing as my day job and a moderate hobby business. My definition for “moderate” is “it pays for itself, keeps me in product, and occasionally buys groceries.”
In the day job, which is for an extremely large global company, there are entire teams of people whose entire purpose of employment is to ensure a 3% conversion rate. That’s it. That is for a Fortune 100 company: the success metric is for 3% of all visitors to a marketing web site to click the “send me more info” link.
My moderate business that pays for itself has a 0.94% conversion rate of views to orders. Less than 1%, and it’s still worth its time – and this is without me bothering to do any marketing beyond instagram and tumblr posts with new product.
I know it feels like no one is paying attention to you and you’re wasting your time if you don’t get everyone clicking kudos or commenting but I promise, I PROMISE, you are doing fantastically, amazingly well with your 10% rate. You probably aren’t going to go viral AND THAT’S FINE. You’re only hurting yourself if you’re expecting a greater return – don’t call yourself a failure, because you’re NOT. You’re just looking at it the wrong way. I promise, you’re lovely just the way you are.
This is actually really good to know – helpful.
I keep track of what stories are doing well based on the reading to kudos ratio. I aim for close to 10%…and a story that hits between 5% and 10% kudos, to me, is considered a success. That means 10% of all readers liked the story enough to slap the kudos button. For me – that’s a big deal. Enough to struggle with writers block, re-writes, edits, writing when I’m tired, etc etc etc.
A story with a low kudos ration may get taken down as a “not enough liked it to deal with the stress of writing it.”
I just got some people interested in a story I haven’t touched in 2 years. I checked its kudos ration. It’s almost 7% on a self-insert. Damn. I should work on that story. See?
And oddly enough – sometimes I look not at total hits or kudos, but a kudo ratio to see if a long story is worth trying out. Because you may have low numbers, but if you’re hitting close to 10%…I’mma give that story a solid chance and 99% of the time add to that kudos ratio because that means 10% of the readership loved it.
I think…no, I know that I don’t understand marketing numbers well. I know that 10% kudos ratio seems low. Especially since hitting that kudos button is so easy. But then I think about stories I’ve read where I haven’t hit the kudos button and yeah…ok…I get it. I’m guilty of it too. We all are.
So hey – kudos to the people who leave me kudos.
CAKE to the people who leave me a comment. Even if it’s just a whole bunch of <3 <3 <3 <3.
I love you too!
This is interesting because I actually teach online engagement at university. And most online content is lucky to get a 2% “like” rate on a facebook post or a blog. TO expect a 10% response rate is an unrealistic expectation IMHO. If people leave a comment, that’s a higher degree of engagement- it shows a level of personal investment that NO so called “published” author gets to see unless you count Amazon reviews (which are dubious and in the so tiny % per purchasers that it isn’t appropriate to compare). I think authors should also consider the QUALITY of engagement- and also whether it is a one shot or a multi-chapter fic. If it’s long (and I am currently at 50 of a 55 chapter story of over 250,000 words in length, I know that every one of those hits is someone who is *really* engaged with the material. And I write for them. And the comments and exchanges and feelings that get shared are better than leaving a pile of books on a table that says “buy me” as a way of measuring my worth as a writer. Which is why I write fan fiction. Thank you for starting this conversation. I think that my current co-authoress J_Baillier would agree.
As someone who broadcasts online without expecting interaction from others, all of this fascinates me.
ao3′s orphaning option is cool and a good idea but mostly very fucking funny. i posted this work for fun when i was younger and i still want people to be able to come back to it if they liked it, but now im an adult professional and i dont want it attached to my name. whats the word for that? umm, anonymously posting? no. i want something that indicates i murdered this story’s parents
technically the story’s parents faked their own death and disappeared to go have an office job, and that’s even funnier
I read your Steve and Logan bits and they are amazing. But consider this; Steve learns that Logan, who’s older than WW1, has lost his memories. He gives a statement in an interview describing this man, this patriot who always looked after other people in his own gruff way, describes his side-burns, his claws, his cigars. And suddenly, people are calling into the station; “Yeah, think I met this guy a few years ago” “My granddad has this photo…” “So, In this bar one time…”
And all these people call in, sharing their own memories of this mysterious Cryptid named Logan who is apparently an immortal, grumpy, wandering dad-friend who’s also a patriot and he helped punch out Nazi’s and free camps and beats up assholes who don’t respect women. And the whole while Logan is watching this from a TV screen with Kitty or Rogue holding his hand so gently, after they dragged him to the couch in a hurry. “You recording this?” “Don’t worry, we won’t let you miss a single word.”
Okay but if we’re gonna do this we’re gonna do this HARDCORE HISTORIAN STYLE, and it initially comes up while Steve is being interviewed for a book about the Howling Commandos or a bit for the History Channel or something. Because this person is like “Hey, there are a bunch of stories of you showing up somewhere with only one dude for backup, was that Bucky?” And we’ll assume that this is before the whole Winter Soldier thing, so that’s not a hideously loaded question.
And Steve kind of laughs and he’s like, “Oh, wow, God, that was actually this dude on detached duty from the Canadian special forces, he and I got sent on a bunch of missions together. His name was Logan, he was the weirdest guy I ever met, and I knew some pretty weird guys, but he could take a hit even better than I could, so when the Howlies were laid up, they sent us out together.” And he launches into this story about how one time he and Logan stole a plane complete with pilot and stormed a prison camp that was holding German Jews before sending them up to Poland, and the historian he’s talking to is taking frantic notes and trying not to drool because THIS IS A NEW GUY. CAPTAIN AMERICA’S STORY IS METICULOUSLY WELL DOCUMENTED BUT NO ONE’S EVER MENTIONED THIS GUY.
There are no pictures, obviously, so Steve does a sketch for this historian, because he’s helpful like that and also because. Like. Listen. Steve’s been through a lot of weird shit, and to be sure this Logan he used to know could take a bullet and keep coming no problem, but this dude’s probably been dead fifty or sixty years. No harm in giving him a little posthumous glory, right?
So this historian runs back to her university and starts doing research on the Internet. She reaches out to her coworkers first, then to anyone else she knows, then to the premier WWII and Captain America scholars of the world, and asks all of them “Do you happen to know who the fuck this dude is?”
And like, no, they don’t. They’ve got no idea. Steve’s not even totally sure what the guy’s real last name was, because Jameson is common as hell and there’s no Logan Jameson on the books. So they start doing research into this WWII cryptid, and finally they reach an old woman who listens to her grandson’s boyfriend talk passionately about this new project he’s working on and goes “Oh, yeah, I met Cap in Germany one time, there was a guy with him who sounds kind of like what you’re talking about.”
This passionate history major immediately sends an email in all caps to his adviser and it just says “MY BOYFRIEND’S GRANNY KNOWS WHO WE’RE TALKING ABOUT PLEASE COME TO KANSAS ASAP THANKS” or whatever, because, listen, historians are Like That. Speaking as someone who could easily have claimed to be a history major based on my thesis, I would have gone to Kansas in 0.2 seconds if someone had been like “What’s up we found that book you were after but we can’t take it out of the museum.” It does stuff to you. Trust me here.
So this woman tells the story of how Cap and his weird buddy broke her and her mother and father out of a temporary prison camp, and this history professor immediately takes all the tiny bits of information and starts asking around, looking for literally anyone else who knows this Logan dude. He saved your ass one time in Paris? He gave you some rations in Berlin? He beat your grandfather’s ass in Russia? He took three bullets for you? You had a passing conversation? This historian and his extremely pumped undergrad who just changed his senior thesis want to hear about it.
And then someone gets in touch with them and is like “Hey, I know you’re looking for WWII stories, but this guy saved my dad’s entire unit on the Somme and I have pictures?” And someone else is like “Hey, I have a file from a Vietnam MASH unit for a Logan who looks like that guy, do you want it?” And someone else is like “Uh, fuck all of y’all, I think this is him in the Civil War, what do I do about that?”
AND SO BEGINS LOGAN, THE HISTORICAL CRYPTID.
This undergrad is taking an extra year of college and basically getting a Bachelor’s degree in Tracking Weird Mutants Through History, and also his adviser is very lucky to be on tenure, because otherwise he would have been laughed out of the college three times by now. But there is an absolute preponderance of evidence, is the thing, so it just turns into this massive quest to investigate exactly whether or not Logan the Mystery Dude was actually in China for the Boxer Rebellion or whatever.
Forget this being a collaborative effort between colleges, there are multiple continents involved in this by now. Canadian government is under pressure to turn out their WWII special operations files for this guy from five different big name universities in five different countries, including their own. Things are getting a little wild in academia. Steve’s been interviewed nine times and he has a filter set up in his email specifically to catch stuff from the University of Toronto.
It takes a little bit for Kitty’s bubbe to get a phone call. Kitty’s bubbe has been living a quiet-ass life in Illinois and likes it that way, especially because her last name is not Pryde and therefore Kitty and her weird friends can crash at Bubbe’s house whenever they’re in the area without any trouble. It’s fine if her granddaughter wants to run around in spandex and save the world and shit, she’s honestly much more chill about it than Kitty’s parents, but Bubbe does not care for news crews in her neighborhood thank you very much.
But so eventually this nice old Ashkenazi woman gets a phone call from an extremely pumped undergrad who read a very brief statement she gave in a news article forty years ago about Captain America, who she is very grateful to for breaking her, her older sister, and their little brother out of a prison camp during WWII and also helping them get across the border. Did she happen to see anyone else? Why yes, very polite young man, the Captain had another man with him, he was very grumpy but he let my brother ride on his shoulders so I liked him very much. That’s great, would she mind if someone came and talked to her about that? No, very polite young man, not at all, when would work for you?
And she gives Kitty a call that night, because she gives Kitty a weekly call since Kitty and her parents are going through a rough spot to the tune of “please God stop risking your life//listen I’m saving people I’m not going to stop learn to cope”. Bubbe mentions offhand that she’s going to have a talk with this very polite young historian about the Shoah and Kitty’s understandably a little concerned for her bubbe’s mental health, and asks some questions.
So Kitty hears her bubbe out in increasing degrees of shock, hangs up the phone, and immediately goes and does an extensive google.
Then she goes and hammers on Logan’s door until he says to come in, slams her computer down in front of him, and says “Holy shit, Logan, why didn’t you tell us that you knew Captain America?”
“Uh, because I mostly didn’t,” Logan says, wary. “Don’t remember that much.”
“You might want to take a look at this, then,” Kitty says, and Logan looks through her fifteen tabs and thanks her and calls the university that seems best informed.
Which is the story of how an extremely pumped undergrad gets a phone call from the object of his thesis that opens with “This is gonna sound pretty fuckin’ wild, but my name is Logan and I’m pretty sure you can catch me up on the last hundred years better than I can.”
Oh, and then Logan and Steve meet up again and it’s very nice and sweet and that undergrad gets a full ride to the PhD program of his choice. The full ride’s name is actually Tony Stark, who’s doing a favor for Steve, who’s doing a favor for Logan, who’s secretly doing a favor for the undergrad, but no one really knows that.
[stuart semple, covered in vivid pink, yellow, and green powder staggers up a seemingly infinite number of steps toward the top of a marble pyramid upon which rests his coveted prize]
[he reaches the top, gasping for air. in the middle of the pedestal at the top of the pyramid there is a gaping black hole, endlessly deep.]
stuart semple, quietly: what is this
[sir anish kapoor, from the bottom of the pyramid lifts his head and gazes upward at semple’s back. his face is also covered in pink, green, and yellow. it is unclear how he heard semple’s voice from so far away]
anish kapoor: it is what you seek
semple: it’s so
sir anish kapoor: beautiful, yes
semple, turning his head just enough to look at anish over one shoulder: your reign of tyranny is over, kapoor. youve underestimated me for the last time. i will take the vantablack you so selfishly stole from us and return it to its place in the hands of the people.
sir anish kapoor: youre a fool, semple. stop this madness now before it’s too late. you know not the dangerous powers with which you toy
semple, turning back to face the void: you cannot deceive me, your ploys won’t work
[semple extends his hands, long pale fingers hovering inches from the inky darkness, hesitating]
sir anish kapoor: stuart, no!
[semple’s hand shoots forward and collides with the vantablack. instantly the void envelops his arm, then his whole body. semple’s screams of agony are swallowed in the crushing silence of vantablack and soon the pyramid and sir anish kapoor are also devoured.]
semple: …where are we?
sir anish kapoor: we are unstuck from time and space, trapped in a nanotechnological purgatory
[stuart semple’s lips have been replaced with photorealistic magazine cutouts of other people’s mouths, stop-motion flickering through each syllable, none truly belonging to him]
semple: how,, how could this have happened?
anish, whose entire being has been replaced by a series of clockwork cogs and a single, unblinking eye: you toyed with dangers beyond your imaging stuart. reality itself has been pulled into the vantablack. soon, the whole world will know the void as we do
semple, sobbing into his hands which have become splotches of warmth on a heat-vision screen, his body dissolving into salt and sand: i-i didnt know…… how do i stop it?
sir anish kapoor, his gears turning and clicking ever faster: the same way you stop a galaxy from expanding, a star from collapsing. the same way you stop human avarice and pride, from one man coveting what belongs to another.
semple, weeping: please,,, please tell me
[sir anish kapoor’s cogs begin to break apart, dividing like so many cells into the vast abyssal plane]
[semple, wrought with grief and desperation reaches out to grasp at the eye, which has begun to shrink and disintegrate at the edges. the eye pulses with one last surge of warmth. is it sympathy? is it love? the eye disappears and reality along with it.]
“Heil Hydra,” the enemy agent shouts.
“Heil this, motherfucker,” says Captain America, shooting off a rocket.
Steve and Bucky find out Hollywood has been busy since they went away. A historical survey, including but not limited to: one set of exploded genitals, a brief interlude in France, Mel Gibson and other masterworks of casting, eight Academy awards, several dinosaurs, and something Tony Stark has ominously dubbed “the masterpiece.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OUR GREATEST WORK
WHAT A GOOD
Despite being a work of fanfiction in the most literal sense of the term, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t quite a labor of love. The book actually originated from an editor going through a list of classic literary titles and matching them to genre buzzword characters like ninjas, zombies and pirates. This editor then called Seth Grahame-Smith to write the book, inserting zombie references into Jane Austen’s text.
It feels a little silly to criticize a zombie movie on its treatment of Jane Austen characterization, a detail that won’t matter to most viewers. But in the context of two centuries of Pride & Prejudice fandom, it’s worth mentioning.
Along with the Sherlock Holmes stories, Pride & Prejudice (and Jane Austen in general) is probably the longest-running literary fandom in the modern sense of the term. Fans have been analyzing the novel for 200 years, and there are dozens of published sequels and spinoffs. Crucially, this community of Austen fans has always been predominantly female and with a few exceptions like P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley, it rarely receives mainstream recognition. Meanwhile Pride and Prejudice and Zombies won immediate commercial success.