You've now gotten some readers and reviewers. How do you keep them? How do you increase them?
- Consistency: this could be a segment unto itself. In fact, it will be. For the abbreviated purpose of this segment, I'll leave it at this: If you take a lot of time between updates, you are likely to lose readers. Either they will stop reading and/or reviewing because they stop visiting the site out of impatience, or they prioritize other stories before yours. Similarly, if you keep throwing in random twists and/or tangents in your stories, readers and/or reviewers are likely to miss the reason they started following your story. Inconsistency breeds inconsistency....if not complete absence.
Michael's quality of his performances are a lesson in consistency.
- Respond to them: This is a basic but fatal error that many writers make. Consistently posting quality chapters is enough to get consistent readers, but reviewers take a bit more. I know, it feels like you have to keep giving and get so little in return. You already wrote those 2-6,000 words, so you should be done, right? Wrong. If a reader leaves you a response, don't leave them hanging. Even if it is just "thanks!" of "you're welcome!" that little bit lets them know that you actually read and care about your reviews. I do check back on the comments I leave, to see if the writer has responded. Quite often we'll engage in a back-and-forth. I don't get the point of continuing to review if the writer doesn't seem to care what I say.
As busy as he was, Michael was known for calling fans and taking an extra moment to talk to them.
- Know how to take (constructive) criticism: Yeah, not being perfect sucks. I mean, jeez, you posted something. Shouldn't that come with 100% accolades or at least "thanks"? The fact is that if you are posting your fics in a public space, then you are inviting people to comment on your work. Does that mean people have the right to rip you to pieces and tell you that you are a horrible author? Frankly, yes. Should they? No, that is just mean. Now, if you really are writing to become better at writing, then listening to your audience is very important. You could get compliments, complaints, helpful constructive criticism, or get horribly flamed. Whatever you receive, it is important that you analyze the comment carefully, and see if you think it applies to your writing or not. Don't just throw it aside because it isn't what you want to hear. If a few people mention a similar flaw in your writing, or someone whose comments you respect brings something up, then you should pay heed. Think of it as free inspiration and help.
When he got backlash over certain things (e.g. BoW short film, TDCAU), he listened and took the feedback into consideration.
- Don't ignore your roots: If you find that your chapters increase in length and/or your writing significantly improves as time goes on, go back and adjust your earlier chapter accordingly. A lot of people improve as they proceed in their story, however readers won't know that unless they get past X number of chapters. If the writing was of significantly poorer quality in the beginning, chances are the reader won't bother continuing. In my mind, this is one of the biggest problems authors face and many get upset about their lack of reviewers despite improvements in their writing. This frustration isn't unwarranted. At the same time, the person who reads chapter one and sees it barely scrapes 1000 words (if that), is superficial, and very "he said, she said" in it's delivery, is unlikely to stick around so that they discover the richly written chapter 10. Note that this doesn't mean you change your plot, just that you add richness to your chapters.
Now for the Don'ts:
- Beg for more: Begging for reviews may work to get some readers to review, but trust that you will likely also put others off. Those might include some of your previous reviewers. Instead, try more subtle ways of encouragement.
- Hold your story hostage: Saying that you won't post another chapter until you get a certain number of reviews will put people off. Some may post, but it won't be because they want to. Forcing someone's hand doesn't leave them with a warm feeling in their stomach. Trust that some may dip.
- Whine about not getting enough people reviewing: Look at stories that get a bigger number of reviewers and checkout the things I've already mentioned about their writing, but also check out how they interact with readers. Chances are that they engage with their readers consistently and have some fun with it. If you still don't know, leave a comment here and I'll try to help.
- Comment on others' stories and include plugs for your story. It is tacky and people see right through that. It doesn't let an author know that you liked their chapter so much as it says "I sorta read your chapter so that I could ask you to read mine".
- Bump your story: People notice that and it looks tacky. If you didn't add anything of substance or make significant changes to something, then it isn't like you are trying to spread new info. Rather, you are just telling everyone who posted after you that you think their efforts are unimportant and you have no respect for other authors. It's the efiction equivalent of Kanye interrupting Taylor Swift. Now, I get doing it in some cases (e.g. when someone who virtually spams the board posts 50-200 word updates on all their stories at once, or a ton of people post journal updates of no substance), but at the end of the day it is still in poor taste and can turn off even regular reviewers.
Take Home Message:
As an author of publicly posted fan fiction, keep in mind that your goal is to have your audience actually read your story. This isn't simply accomplished by posting a picture and a summary. Rather it involves multiple phases.
- Finding your audience
- Convincing your audience to give your story a chance
- Keeping that audience engaged
- Getting your audience to speak up.