So you’ve written your magnum opus, it’s perfect, you release it into the world and… no-one reads it. Damn.
A lot of people ask me how they can make their stories more popular, so I thought I’d put some advice down here for posterity. This post isn’t about story writing. Of COURSE that is the most important thing in writing a good story, don’t think it isn’t. But once you’ve done the hard work in writing a brilliant tale, there’s a lot more you should do to attract readers and I see people making the same obvious mistakes again and again. Maybe your story is brilliant, but if people never click on it, they’ll never get to read it!
What’s your story called? Maybe it’s a spinoff of a popular tale like Fallout Equestria or My Little Dashie. Don’t go calling it “Fallout Equestria: Fall Harder” or “My Little Thunderlane”. You instantly restrict your readership before you begin to just the people who have read the original. Your story should stand on its own two feet.
Your title should be unique and also relatable to your story. There are so many stories with extremely generic titles. You might want to call your Flutterdash ship fic “ON THE WINGS OF AN ANGEL” but that tells the reader absolutely nothing about the story (unless it is about Angel growing wings). Stuff that sounds nice but is generic should be off the board, you want a title that instantly conjures up your story to mind and trips off the tongue. This will also help in passing along word of mouth because people will be able to recall your story more quickly.
(If anyone wants to write ‘On The Wings Of An Angel’ about Angel getting jealous of a Flutterdash ship and growing wings, be my guest).
Also remember that no-one knows your OC. No-one cares about your OC. Don’t name your story after your OC unless it’s a clever title. There’s about five million stories with the title “The Adventures of Floaty McPegasus”. You might love your OC, but no-one else does, your story title may as well be “The Adventures of Blah Blah Blah” for all the impact it will have on the reader.
This is ridiculously important. It's this which will convince people to click on your story in the first place. The quality of your writing makes them stay. The short description is what is used on the front page now, so make sure it grabs the reader. Advertise your story's unique selling point. Intrigue them.
There are a lot of stories with very vague descriptions. “A story about Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash”. Avoid this. There’s nothing unique about this – about 100 stories are submitted to fimfiction a day, you need to make sure your description shows the reader in a very concise manner the following:
WHAT your story is about
WHO is in your story
WHY it is unique and worth the reader’s time.
If you can't find a good way to quickly describe why your story is unique, odds are it's not and you're already in trouble.
Again, remember that no-one cares about your OC. A description along the lines “This story is about Marmite Showers my OC” will not interest anyone. Why would anyone then decide to read that? How about: “Marmite Showers accidently delivers a truckload of weapon-grade Marmite to Twilight Sparkle’s house. Can he save the day before all of Ponyville is poisoned by the toxic yet oddly delicious goo?” That’s more exciting, though some people hate rhetorical questions (they would be wrong. Your description needs to be short, you should use all the tools at your disposal).
Take a look at stories which have 1000+ views and see what their descriptions are like. Most of them will probably get right in there with the key unique selling point of the story to pull the readers in.
Don’t be self-deprecating
There is nothing worse than a story’s description or opening lines being a note from the author about how “This is my first fanfic and it’s probably rubbish” or “I know my story is awful don’t hate me too much”.
It’s not charming. It won’t make people treat you nicer. All it will do is completely reduce any expectation a reader has of a story. Telling your reader this story is likely to be awful will make them think it’s awful even if it isn’t. It puts people in the mindset that they’re about to read something bad. If you really, really have to mention that it is your first story, put that in the author’s notes at the end. Don’t tell us your story is terrible, let the reader make their own mind up!
Your first chapter, indeed your first LINE is so important that it needs to grab the reader and not let them go. Most people will click onto the first chapter, and if you've not captured their attention, they'll drift on to the next story. The opening to your story needs to be exciting, it needs to be dynamic! Attention spans these days are really short; you need to make sure your story starts with a metaphorical bang that makes people want to keep reading.
This does NOT include starting chapter 1 with a long, ponderous author’s note, or some really dry prose or descriptions. If you’re writing about an OC, remember that no-one cares about your OC at first, the job of your story is to make the audience care about your OC, then you can delve into them a bit more. Knowing that Marmite Showers is black with a yellow mane does not make the opening of a story exciting. Knowing that Marmite Showers has just accidently delivered industrial grade poison Marmite to Twilight Sparkle’s house does.
Yes, I know it’s tempting to share your work as quickly as possible. Dash out a few hundred words and mash ‘publish’ and it’ll be in the public domain. Stop! Stop now!
There are lots of stories with really tiny chapters, of about 500-1000 words. Seeing a gigantic list of chapters in a story is really daunting. The story might not even be that long, but being faced with a mammoth list of chapters can flick a switch in your reader’s head and make them leg it. Play the long game; make sure your chapters are big and meaty. Aim for about 3-5k a chapter, each chapter starting and finishing in an exciting place and moving the story forward. That’ll help give your story momentum and keep your readership.
When to upload
Don't upload a gigantic story all in one go, that's also off-putting. You want to reduce the feeling of 'not reading that!' which people might have as a gut reaction. In the same vein, don't scrape the bare minimum and upload 1000 words. That won't be enough to enthral your readers and make them stick around. That’s the number one problem I see – people have an interesting idea, but publish the story the moment it hits 1000 words.
When your story is uploaded onto the site it hits the front page. That’s a massive boost, that’s your best advantage to getting readers. Your story needs to be in its best, most enticing form. Not barely formed and weakly limping across the site. When you hit publish, I recommend having about 5-10k of your story done, that's enough to leave people wanting more, but not scaring them away from your gigantic story. A story will get most of its hits on the first day because it appears on the front page, you want to use that to maximum advantage.
Yes, this is shallow, but we live in a shallow world. Make sure you have an exciting image for your story. Pony Creator images are an instant turnoff. If you find yourself uploading a Pony Creator image, stop and throw your computer out of the window.
Your story picture has to be eye-catching. If you can’t draw, ask an artist if you can use their art. There’s a ‘source’ option on the image upload function to enable you to properly credit the artist and link back to their own site, so it can be a good deal for the artist as well to be attached to a popular story!
For most of you, the above may seem astonishingly obvious, but just check the front page for recently uploaded stories. Odds are that about half of them will make some obvious errors which will cause perhaps a good story from getting noticed.
Agree? Disagree? Got more advice? Leave comments below! Remember, again, this post isn't about writing an amazing story, it assumes you've already written something brilliant. Obviously that's the most important thing!