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Bad Horse


You shall love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart. -- W. H. Auden

More Blog Posts689

Dec
19th
2016

The importance of having a picture for your story · 8:55pm Dec 19th, 2016

A picture.

sqlite> select count(*) from story;
90173
sqlite> select avg(views) from story where image is null;
709.294801166613
sqlite> select avg(views) from story where image is not null;
1804.19876917692

A story with a picture has on average 1804 / 709 = 2.54 times as many views as one with no picture.

sqlite> select avg(views) from story where image is not null and date_modified > (2015-1970)*365*24*3600;
1339.85339921196
sqlite> select avg(views) from story where image is null and date_modified > (2015-1970)*365*24*3600;
395.027623318386

A story published from Jan-Oct 2015 with a picture had, at the end of Oct. 2015, on average 1340 / 395 = 3.39 times as many views as one with no picture.

sqlite> select avg(s.views) from story s, users u where s.image is not null and s.date_modified > (2015-1970)*365*24*3600 and s.uid=u.id and u.watchers < 500;
1054.17156690759
sqlite> select avg(s.views) from story s, users u where s.image is null and s.date_modified > (2015-1970)*365*24*3600 and s.uid=u.id and u.watchers < 500;
364.606479796141

A story with a picture, published from Jan-Oct 2015 by an author with fewer than 500 watchers, has on average 1054 / 365 = 2.89 as many views as one with no picture.

EDIT: WHOOPS! A little typo ('<' instead of '/') made the previous values below ENTIRELY wrong. Fixed.

sqlite> select count(id), avg(views) from story where image is not null and likes/dislikes > 10 and likes/dislikes < 15;
5928|2321.6487854251
sqlite> select count(id), avg(views) from story where image is null and likes/dislikes > 10 and likes/dislikes < 15;
1005|1301.74825870647

A story with a picture which has a ratio of likes / dislikes between 10 and 15 has on average 2322 / 1302 = 1.78 times as many views as a similarly-liked one with no picture.

Well, maybe not any picture.

(No, Biscuit. Whatever you're thinking, please, no.)

Report Bad Horse · 1,498 views · #data #pictures #publishing
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Comments ( 60 )

And then you have me, who spent $125 on a picture, have 215 watchers, and have 300 views on a story after a year.

Human: "Hubba hubba" "Hello pretty lady care to Go out som time"

Applejack: No. *kicks me in the nuts*

An extremely German friend of mine (who compliments this quirk with a knack for being extremely stereotypical) once explained to me, in high detail, why a picture is of utmost importance when posting a story. Dude's got little to no taste when it comes to the picture itself, but he'll criticise whatever you show him if the contrast isn't high enough, or if the colors aren't right.

What's important, he says, is not that the picture is good -- what matters is that the picture works both in the smallest size Fimfic will use, and the biggest. It needs to be eye-grabbing in a purely aesthetical sense, and forget about it being pleasant or whatever. It's about literally popping out of the page. So, highly saturated colors, high contrast, and nothing in the brown color spectrum.

Make the reader click on it, and then hope that they'll read the story -- what you need is that initial click. That moment of "hey, what's this?" Colors matter more than anything. It's also why "sexy" art works so well.

I always run my cover arts by him before posting. It's a surprisingly "cynical" view on what to attach to your story, but in my personal experience, it works. I'll have the best, most-representative-of-the-story picture I can possibly find as a cover art, and I'll get 1,000 views. Get something purely eye-grabbing that everybody will immediately forget, and you get 5k views in the same amount of time.

Scary stuff. Makes sense, but it's always amazing to see marketing culture being applied to this website.

I know it is true, I just posted a story without a picture, the first time I have ever done so

Even I do not want to read it!!! :raritydespair:

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

That's either the world's biggest cigar, poop or fly pupa. <.< I'm not sure which is worse.

Note a picture can be as simple as a clip from the show. It doesn't have to be a high end $125 commission. It could be a $20 commission tho. It always struck me as weird to pay money for a picture for a story that is given out for free.

4346552 I think it's conceptual art, and its intended meaning is probably, "This art is crap."

If that meaning makes it art, then this sculpture is a real-life example of Russell's paradox.

I'm just gonna keep posting chapters of my story until people love it enough to make fanart of it. Then I'll ask if I can use that :rainbowdetermined2:

... maybe.

It's a strongly evidenced correlation. Now, the real question: which direction does the causal relationship actually go in?

Is the picture the important thing that causes people to read the story, or are better stories—the ones that had more effort put into their writing, both in their actual text and in better short and long descriptions, and accordingly received more attention through word-of-mouth, lots of bookshelf adds, and good upvote ratios—just more likely to have a picture as a result of the author being willing to put in that effort?

While I'm sure it's not a binary answer (surely some people do read stories they otherwise wouldn't have just because there's a picture instead of nothing, while other people don't care), it'd be interesting to figure out which direction is the majority flow.

I have a strong feeling it's just having a picture (or at least a good picture) that's usually the causal factor making the difference, but that's intuitive rather than based on empirical evidence so I couldn't say it's a sure thing.

If biscuit doesn't do it, I call dibs.

4346562 It can make sense sometimes to go all-out on an expensive commission for story cover art in order to project a perception of professionalism and attention to high quality, especially in scenarios where getting significantly more readers is something you can leverage to make more money (through things like attracting more sponsors to your Patreon and the like).

If it's generating tons of readership for you, a good cover picture can pay for its own commissioning cost and then some.

Correlation != causation. I'd bet that the average quality of story (if such a thing can be quantified [and I am aware that you have tried]) is lower for the stories with no pictures than those with pictures simply because authors who can't be bothered to find cover art probably are also not putting a lot of effort into their story (and marketing their story).

Fimfiction has a minimum word count of 1,000. You'd think you just just post a picture with no text and meet the qualification that way. :trollestia:

...I should be grading. Back to the grind.

It's the sarcophagus of Han-ki Ho-tep, ruler of the Lower Bowl!

(No, Biscuit. Whatever you're thinking, please, no.)

<twirls moustache>

Interesting... though personally I read it even if it doesn't have a picture.

4346552
It is clearly a burned pretzel log awaiting salt :trixieshiftright:

Yep, that makes sense. Can say from experience that when I'm blankly staring at the featured box ticking along, I will actively click to the next story if it has no picture.

4346609 Yes! Probably true. I should have said that. I don't know how to correct for it, though. Maybe by number of stories written by the author. But that /could/ go either way. How about by story ratings? I can do that!

sqlite> select count(id), avg(views) from story where image is not null and likes/dislikes > 10 and likes/dislikes < 15;
5928|2321.6487854251
sqlite> select count(id), avg(views) from story where image is null and likes/dislikes > 10 and likes/dislikes < 15;
1005|1301.74825870647

(EDIT: Fixed typo in query 12/19 20:38 Eastern time)

4346562 Show screencaps can work very well indeed. With over 3,000 minutes of them now, you can find ones to fit a remarkable range of stories. The trick is in finding the right screencap, something I'm not terribly good at. I always use some sort of a cover picture, though, and would feel there was something missing if I didn't. I also always have a chapter title even for one-shots, though I'm not sure that makes much of a difference to most readers.

4346805

Here is one you can check that could be the difference between bought images and screencaps etc. (It isn't foolproof because some fanart pics don't get an attribution etc) You could check on fics with pics that have an attribution and those that do not have an attribution.

4346823 Ditto on that observation. I've found the Wiki page a good source too, even if you have to disentangle some of them from the wiki source to get them to display.

The disadvantage of me being a cheap-(censored censored) is a certain reluctance to open the wallet while we're trying so hard to get the money together to fix our roof (delayed two years so far, and it's going to start raining inside soon). I've been blessed multiple times by wonderful artists (MuffinExplosion, PenMightier) who made covers for me gratis, and several (RealityCheck, PhoenixSwift, MicahDesigns) who made a cover for extremely bargain budget. In addition, I have yet to have a DeviantArt artist refuse a polite request, provided you are *very* careful to credit and thank. (special thanks to Earthsong9405)

The less that is said about my attempts to use Inkscape to put together cover art, the better. Functional, but not pretty.

And of course, the cover art for Twilight Sparkle Lays an Egg was found by entering "Twilight Sparkle Egg" into Google image search and picking the first one that made me go "What in heck is that?" Play-doh MLP eggs. Who knew?

4346572
I hope you're happy, Bad Horse.

My other thought was a Milk Dud, and it's probably best I didn't go that route.

4346727
And now my work here is done.

4346862 Hey! I was going to tell on you. Unfair! :pinkiehappy:

4346609 Let me reverse this. There is no causal link between having a picture and being better quality. Its dead easy to just grab a random image to slap on a story. Some people even throw a ton of money at art and then write a sloppy story. I think the issue here is that there are over 100,000 stories on fimfiction and people don't have time to read them all. People look to coverart to make something stand out. This is the simple buridan's ass scenario. A mule is equally thirsty as it is hungry, and is equidistant from food as it is from water. Being unable to decide, the mule stays in the center and dies. It needs one of them to be closer to make the decision. Just change it up so the food and water are fics, and the distance is merely how interesting they appear.

The world does not run on quality. It runs on advertising. Why do you think McDonalds rules the world when there are so many delicious hole-in-the-wall diners?

4346591
I did it, but you're welcome to have a go, as well.

Thank you! I've been saying this for years. Sometimes the pic is the only reason I click on a fic. Sounds terrible but it's true. And I doubt I'm the only one. :derpytongue2:

4346552 You remember that story that kept pronouncing it "poop-a", Present? Well, there you go.

4346517 See my post on using The GIMP to make cover art from screen captures and fan art. It's pretty amazing. It's an open-source alternative to Photoshop.

4346956 There's a marketing legend about Ray Kroc which says that he used surveys of customer satisfaction to decrease the quality of the food at McDonalds' that had above-average satisfaction, because his theory was that people wanted predictability more than quality. (Alternatively, quality is too subjective.)

4346862 I'll... I'll just wait 'till it shows up in the featured box. :facehoof:

So... how in the hell did we get by on fanfiction.net a few years ago? Like, before 2010 or whenever. Y'know, when pictures weren't an option. Really, how I'm the actual hell did we get by? Sure, descriptions were a thing, and story titles, too. I guess you needed to, like in a picture, put the shininess in the description. However that works.

I guess the pics grab attention cuz people would prefer not having to read crap cuz there's a crapton of ficsto read already, all of them competing simultaneously with madcap attention whoring skillz.

Bleh. For me, fics have to grab my ADD filled attention. Sometimes I'm attracted to pics, most of the time it's wordplay or terrible puns in the title and/or description, and sometimes it's just a description that's professional looking and to the point, filled with interesting subject matter. Then again, I often forget to look at the genre tags while reading the description (genre tags are super importump :derpytongue2:), often with hilarious results. Like "Oh... this isn't smut. Fuck. I guess that wasn't actually innuendo in the description. Wait. This story is rated E and totally not M. Huh. I wonder if I can still get off to this anyways."

So... anyways, BH do you think that rather than having an artist draw custom stuff, one could take their pony toys and pose them in some (potentially hilariously crappy) diorama, and still have the same effect of a drawn pic? You know, be all attention grabby. I dunno. I did this for shits awhile back. I guess it would be hard to convey any sort of emotion because you can't exactly shape their facial expression. Well, I guess clay might work, but you'd have to be talented enough. I guess something like this might be able to convey the atmosphere of a story. It's certainly an amusing way to use your pony toys though.

4346552
It's fossilized puupuu. Yeah, PP. I know you want to read Biscuit's story. The poop becons you. I know what you like. Cuz it's the same thing I like. Shit is funny. Always :B

and a picture to get people to read blog posts too, I assume? :raritywink:

4346528
now THIS is much more useful than "picture or no picture?" People should pay attention to that post!

what matters is that the picture works both in the smallest size Fimfic will use, and the biggest. It needs to be eye-grabbing in a purely aesthetical sense, and forget about it being pleasant or whatever. It's about literally popping out of the page. So, highly saturated colors, high contrast, and nothing in the brown color spectrum.

this is good common sense for choosing a picture/artist or even creating your own. technical skill and realistic detail matters far less than overall composition and color sense. though, it's a tricky skill because most people can better judge the former than the latter qualities.

I'll have the best, most-representative-of-the-story picture I can possibly find as a cover art, and I'll get 1,000 views. Get something purely eye-grabbing that everybody will immediately forget, and you get 5k views in the same amount of time.

Very true. It may sound like a bitter cynical view, that readers would rather have advertising eye-candy than detailed & representational covers, but I think it's actually a naive illusion that many writers start out with. Nobody cares about the meaning of your story before they get to read it! :derpytongue2: Yet I see many writers who'll request cover art that go overboard on character details, their relationships and backstory, the way so-and-so is posed next to whats-her-face... imagery that's only interesting after one is familiar with the story. :facehoof:

the conclusion is not that readers are simple-minded and manipulated. they're just here to read fanfics, not appreciate an art gallery. they'll receive the story, characters, and ideas from reading the work itself, and upvote/favorite based on that (usually). so you can do whatever you want with the cover art as long as it advertises properly! a general tone such as "this is about cute shipping" or "this is a dark adventure" is all it really needs to communicate, so it can find the right readers.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

4347167
GODDAMMIT, PRINCESS POOPA!

4346956 I'm not arguing that pictures have no effect on views, just that when looking at correlations such as the one Bad Horse originally posted, one also has to be aware of alternative explanations. From Jan-Oct 2015 stories with pictures had, on average, 239% more views. Not all of this increase is attributable only to the fact that the story had a picture. Once you control for story quality, stories with pictures had only a 78% increase in views. Thus, about two thirds of the effect is due to stories without images having, on average, worse writing quality than stories with images. Yes, cover images do increase readership. But story quality is still a much bigger factor in increasing readership.

4347211 If nobody has pictures, nobody needs pictures. Pictures are escalation. THEY SHOULD BE BANNED>

Yeah, that could work, though I don't think the black background helps. You have more views on that picture than I have on some of my stories.

4347191 cdn-img.fimfiction.net/story/f0vb-1451351106-308096-full
Nothing even remotely similar to this image that I could just photoshop together has ever existed before this image.
Also my statement was about your blanket generalization that art = views, so I'm not seeing where that all is coming from.

4346573
Let me know when that works. I've gotten two pieces of fanart in my almost five years here.

4346823
4346861
I used to have Photoshop, and more recently GIMP, and I found it fairly easy to use Photoshop (and less easy but still do-able to use GIMP) to edit stills from the show. The show works mostly in solid colors with thick outlines, so with smart select and a little patience (and the occasional blatant use of filters to cover up ineptitude) you can usually make something by cutting and pasting characters, unless you're trying to show off an OC.

At this point I can even use Paint in a pinch, but that involves a lot more looking for exactly the right shot from the show and getting creative with backgrounds.

4347298 I typo'd the first query. It's fixed, but you have to compare all stories (ratio = 2.54) vs. all stories with 10 < likes/dislikes < 15 (ratio = 1.78), because I didn't do queries by date after fixing the typo. I think the way to do this is to attribute a factor of 2.54 / 1.78 = 1.43 to the story quality, and 1.78 to the picture. So the picture is 1.78 / 1.43 = 1.24 times as important as the quality.

4347368

Also my statement was about your blanket generalization that art = views, so I'm not seeing where that all is coming from.

I didn't make a blanket generalization. I made a precise statement, which is precisely true for the dataset of 90,173 stories I used. (Well, I did round to only 3 digits.) But it only means what it says, which is that those categories of stories have those average numbers of views.

The picture you have is artistic, but it might not work as well as you'd like on the front page of fimfiction. To get into the featured box, people have to click on it after seeing the 50 x 30 pixel version of it on the normal list, and it will just be a smudge of purple. Even if it gets in the featured box, it's subdued, kinda gloomy, and hard to make out who's who. A good picture, but not clickbait.

I once commissioned some fancy artwork for a story, and when it got onto the front page, it looked like food stains. Now I try to use close-ups of pony heads, like these:

cdn-img.fimfiction.net/story/aftr-1432554674-174038-tiny
cdn-img.fimfiction.net/story/ts1y-1457397525-319389-tiny
cdn-img.fimfiction.net/story/zu6x-1465328334-332780-tiny

This one is a close-up of a pony head, but you can't really tell that because it's so dark. I should probably touch it up with the GIMP before posting it. Or switch it to something with ponies looking at each other.
cdn-img.fimfiction.net/story/vnk0-1463542638-329758-tiny

4347460 Sure. Even though your question already seem to be answered. Does it count if I learn how to draw and make some myself?

A quick look through your story-list and I see mostly shorter stories, and Applejack-Rainbow shipping, I don't want to sound dismissive, but to me, spontaneously, it seems like there's a lot of pics in general that could fit as cover art for a lot of your stories.

4347680
I don't usually use fanart because I'm a dork and don't like asking artists, but also won't use fanart without asking. (The exception is SketchyJackie; I know her so I don't mind asking.)

That's besides the fact that I don't like a ton of shipping art. It's usually fluffy, and I usually would rather advertise the most interesting part of a fic, which is the part where they aren't kissing for whatever reason.

I get by just fine, I'd just really love some fanart of my fics. :twilightsmile:

4347642 :ajbemused: K.
As a statistical outlier, then, who falls below the "no picture" side of your dataset, I'm telling you correlation isn't causation.

4347688 I sympathize with the asking-part.

I think I get by fine too. I'm just one of those lame artist who doesn't write solely for my muse, and really like getting attention. Which is why I'd like some cover art some day :twilightsmile:

E-rated horsie-snuggles are cute, though :eeyup:

4347368 You've got 11 chapters. You could try a different picture with each chapter--even one that's not closely related--and count how many views you get on the first chapter in the 3 hours after posting it.

4347711 Correlation doesn't imply causation, but there are outliers even when there is causation.

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