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How to get people to actually read your stories · 8:39pm Dec 18th, 2012

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!

Exciting opening
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.

Chapter length
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!

Report Blueshift · 12,933 views ·
Comments ( 149 )
Comment posted by UseFistNotMouth deleted Dec 18th, 2012
Garion #2 · Dec 18th, 2012 · · 5 ·

Also boobs, show a little skin in your cover pic and you are good to go.

Source: Ex-Ponyfall Writer

Wanderer D

You lie. :derpytongue2: Everyone knows the secret to have someone read your story is to include the phrase: "Soft Drinks and Pie" in the description. Not... your common sense.

Many of these things I incorporated into my story. Listen to this guy everypony, he knows what he's talking about.

Well, I already do all this... it's just the time that it's uploaded that kills me. When I uploaded my story, I thought it would've taken a good 12 hours like before! Instead, it came one hour after submission at 12... in the night... when I wanted it when people WEREN'T sleeping.

You forgot to mention that if you really want your story to popular, you must have an original idea.

Unless it's Halo...


...So what happens when you do all of the above and your story is still forgotten?

Really good advise. :twilightsmile::twilightsmile:
Wish someone posted this sooner. :twilightoops:

You mean that people don't want to read my story "The Inferno Within the Shadow of Darkness" about my black and red Alicorn-Zebra-Dragon-Minotaur who falls in love with Twilight Sparkle and saves the world from his mother, Celestia? Awww. But I had the Pony-Gen image ready and everything. :fluttercry:


Well you can't have NWS images, though yes, sadly sometimes a racy image can help even the most mundane fic. I wouldn't recommend that though!

Hmmmm, by this logic Green would have never gotten read. But then I suppose minimalism in a title is striking as well. And the image is very memorable.


The main problem with rhetorical questions is that on a site like this, where at least half your readers are fic writers themselves, you run the risk of having them come up with their own answers to your rhetorical questions and going off to write their own stuff, or at least preferring their hypothetical versions of your fic to your actual fic.

Good advice in general, though.


Knighty has added some new admin from various timezones (including me!) so that there should always be someone online to approve fics!

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).

They can get really annoying when you over do it, though. Something like "What if a new pony name Marmite Showers came to Ponyville? What would happen if he asked Twilight Sparkle on a date? What if she said yes? What if they got married and had five children? Read and find out!"

It's a big pet peeve of mine and I see it way too often; not as much in this fandom, but it should still be avoided.

I think I'm supposed to take offense to this on principle. So... I'm offended? :unsuresweetie:

I would. Got me 300+ likes when normally I would of had 7.

625343 And now I know :facehoof: :raritydespair: Can't complain, though... still got a lot of views, even for 12 o'clock.

Bang on. Preach it brother! Every single element you list as a mistake has turned me off at one point or another. Excellent.


Oh yes, I can think of a few fics off the top of my head that have attracted readers with a super minimalist approach. But also a lot more that got ignored.

Did practically everything you suggested with my two highest read stories. Results speak for themselves. Anyone who wants to attract a stable and size-able readership should take heed of this blog. :twilightsmile: :moustache:

Title, Synopsis, Length, Opening, Art; all are extremely important and to overlook one is at your own peril! :trixieshiftright:

Agree with all points.

I will keep them in mind before publishing my current story.
Question: is there a place to run short descriptions by? I know my long description is good but I am having trouble with the short version.


Researcher: The average radio listener listens for eighteen minutes a day. The average Howard Stern fan listens for - are you ready for this? - an hour and twenty minutes.
Kenny: How could this be?
Researcher: Answer most commonly given: "I want to see what he'll say next."
Kenny: : All right, fine. But what about the people who hate Stern?
Researcher: Good point. The average Stern hater listens for two and a half hours a day.
Kenny: : But... if they hate him, why do they listen?
Researcher: Most common answer: "I want to see what he'll say next."

Actually you can start with Marmite Showers' mane (and by this I mean to prove your point, please don't hate me :fluttershysad:)

Marmite Showers had a black and yellow mane. It had been a beautiful mane. Lush, shimmering, styled to perfection. The very epitome of the equine coiffure. He had loved that mane. Adored it. Cared for it. Given it his every waking moment.
Now the black and yellow strands of what had once been his most treasured possession in all the earth littered the ground around his feet. The grass was thick with the bristly remains of his crinière, a million lustrous strands immersed in the sticky brown apocalypse that had flowed forth from the package he had, just moments earlier, attempted to deliver to one Twilight Sparkle.
Her eyes shone blacker than the blackest depths of those shattered jars now slowly sucking the soul from his shaven pate, the remnants of her magic glowing in their inky depths, to be extinguished like the last sputtering embers of Marmite's self-worth.
"I hate that stuff," she said, and slammed the door.

This... makes sense, actually. Will make note.

625291 Fuck you


I tend to run mine by friends. It's especially useful to run them by people who haven't read your story to see if they find it interesting or not. The problem I find is that as I know what my story is like, my mind tends to fill in the blanks when writing a description and I miss out obvious stuff.

Obviously the correct way is to use all those blackmail points you've been saving up to make highly followed writers advertise your story.

You should add the line at the very end, "Sadly, if you do all of this, you might not have a popular story." I've seen a lot of stories (and written two) that followed every single one of these things, and it doesn't work sometimes. Sometimes, it's down to just being lucky.

Oh, and this:

...stop and throw your computer out of the window.

You missed the perfect moment to use the word "defenestrate". I am disappointed in you.


Perhaps swearing at people is your special talent?

I agree with everything in this.

The only problem is that the authors who would most likely benefit from this the most probably aren't even aware of the existence of this post.


I... I think I love you. :twilightblush:

I'm fairly certain I'm still supposed to be offended. Blargh.


Well, at least I've written it down so I (or someone else) can point them this way!


I am saving the word 'defenestrate' for a special occasion (no, seriously!)

A description that raises more questions than it answers is always good. Another way to hook people is the juxtaposition of a seemingly disjointed title and description.
For example, SS&E's Gift: "Then one day, a mysterious pony visits from out of town. She wishes to meet Rarity, but not to thank her." (It also helps that I knew Gift means poison in German.)
Example of juxtaposition: Clop It! by PrettyMonster: "This is not a clop fic."

Nooooooo! Your common sense is burning my ears! :fluttershbad:

625383 Lets elope and make writing babies! :raritywink:

625375 Flattery also works.

625394 It better be a damn good moment, and you better link me to it.

If it isn't worth it... son... I am disappoint.


Oh well. I guess ironic trolling is not for me. I was simply pointing out how much attention can be garnered negatively, as opposed to positively. If it was overly offensive in your opinion, then I acknowledge that you were offended and will try to avoid offending you in the future.

I noticed another Story labeled "The Great Pony War" - perhaps that title indeed needs changing! :facehoof:

But... I wanna be offended!

...Am I trying too hard? Yes? Thought so...

What a great idea for a blog post!

But seriously! This one is a lot better than my take on the same idea, and combines some ideas I've been pondering since, particularly the bit about needing a good first chapter that I've been trying to teach others.

I'll probably link back to this thing. And yeah, Pony Creator images are not a good idea; why? Because they LOOK lazy. They look like the author doesn't care, and if the author doesn't care, why should we?

Excellent Blog!
I especially agree with the "Don’t be self-deprecating" part; it is a negative double-whammy for me (as a reader).
As a potential reader I do not care if it is the first or the 573th piece of fiction you write - some authors have gained a following and reputation (good or ill) but the majority are blank sheets in the eyes of most readers, including you. No need to point that out.
Also, it does not matter to the story itself, so why would you make it part of the summary? At this point, no matter the answer you give, it will count against you:

A) You didn't know better - which casts your skills as an author in doubt.
B) You felt your story is really not good - which casts a negative light on your story.
C) You want to garner sympathy and deflect criticism - see A & B

So for Faust's sake DON'T!
If you honestly want to get feedback put a line in the Author's notes ("Feedback, good or bad, and criticism is always welcome") and/or get a pre-reader.

Honestly, I'd read that story. Seriously.

This might be literally the most inconviniently timed piece of advice I have ever received:applejackconfused:.

Well, I'll still take any advice I can get.

You should add that writing stories with a ridiculous concept is also generally a bad idea, like a ravenous vegetable critiquing the food and service at Sugarcube Corner and if they don't do a good job then they'll go out of business. That was my mistake. Nobody said it was bad... out of the eight people who actually read it, that is. They actually seemed to like it. But, let that be a lesson. Don't write stories about sentient, hungry vegetables.

Comment posted by reader of the night deleted Dec 18th, 2012

Yes, this is shallow, but we live in a shallow world. Make sure you have an exciting image for your story.

I wouldn't exactly call it shallow. I expect the picture of a story to be related to the story in some way and therefor help the description along with giving me an idea what the story is about. Just because it's not written text doesn't make it any less valid.

... of course, if the picture is generic or has nothing at all to do with the story, that's not helping. ESPECIALLY if it promises something the story isn't

grats to that.


You... realise who you're talking to, right? :twilightoops:

I can attest that this advice given here works, and I am still learning to apply it all to my writing.

One thing I would suggest is that if your story fits within a popular group, then join and add your story to it. I have found that it increased the number of views for those that have gone into their groups.

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