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.