This post is loosely a follow-up to Laura’s post from yesterday on Fan fiction, social media & chasing the numbers with quality content (Hint: Doesn’t matter). If your main goal in writing fan-fiction is getting feedback and readership, Laura’s article offers some blunt but honest advice: go for the big fandoms and ‘ships. The hard truth of the matter is you’re never going to get the readership for say, a Philadelphia Eagles, Police, or Ocean’s 11 story the way you would writing Twilight, Harry Potter, or Naruto. It doesn’t matter if you write the most brilliant piece of fan-fiction ever; the audience just isn’t going to be there for it. So rule #1 of being an obscure fandom author is to accept this fact: you have to write more for yourself than for any potential audience, because otherwise you’re setting yourself up pretty quickly for disappointment and discouragement. You’re not going to get 1,000+ comments on your story; likely you’re not going to get 100; if you’re really lucky you may get 10 or 20 at best.
That said, there are some specific ways to help get readership for your obscure fandom stories, and this article is designed to highlight some of them.
1. Gain a following in a mainstream fandom first. You can use some of the advice in the last blog to help gather a following of readers and on-line friends who are interested in your work in larger fandoms. Many readers will follow authors they especially like into unfamiliar fandoms, or at least give them a try if they post a new, obscure fandom story to their LiveJournal, personal mailing list, or fic archive. It’s not a guaranty and a “fan” from a big fandom might not read more than one or two of your new fandom stories, but at least you’ve got that shot if you’ve already got an audience familiar with your work.
2. Promote your small fandom! Get information about it out there on the net that you can point curious readers towards. For instance, develop a good page about the fandom at Fan History. Make sure someone who might be curious to read your fiction can find out more information about the source material, either before to get the context of the work or afterward if they find themselves interested in learning more.
3. Join and participate in suitable multi-fandom communities Find mailing lists, archives, livejournal communities that are appropriate for your small fandom. For instance, writing a small rockband fandom? Join RockFic (wiki). Writing American football slash? Join nfl_rps. But don’t just join the communities – become an active member there. Feedback other writers’ work so they become familiar with you. Participate in the community by sharing links, photographs, taking part in meta. This is similar to the advice already given in the previous blog, but can be vital if you want to then share your obscure fandom work with a community and have people give it a chance, when you don’t already have a popular pairing or ship working in your favor. I’ve seen excellent authors post obscure fandom stories at, say, RockFic and get no or little feedback because they posted without interacting at all with the community there, just “dumped” their stories in the archive and ran.
4. Find people interested in your fandom through multi-fandom challenges and communities. Drabble communities are great for this, like slashthedrabble. Readers are often more willing to give a short drabble a try in an unfamiliar fandom. You might also find someone who goes “Oh my gosh, I never thought someone else was interested in Wheel of Fortune fan-fic!” who will then be an eager reader for your other, longer work.
5. Write crossovers with a popular fandom. The Brimstone story to get the most feedback during Yuletide this year? Was a crossover with Supernatural. By bringing in a familiar universe and characters, you may get new people to get a “taste” for your obscure fandom and want to know more about it.
6. Promote and link! It’s important for people to be able to find your obscure fandom stories, especially if you are not or can’t post then in a large multi-fandom archive like FanFiction.Net (wiki). Remember that one of the first things many potentially interested readers are likely to do is run a google search for fiction in that fandom – so will your stories come up? Fan History has excellent google placement for many fandoms, so you can use that to your advatage by both building up the page for your fandom there (with links to where to find fiction – including yours!) as well as creating an entry there for your story (such as the one I built here for my story Earthbound). Statistics have shown me consistent traffic from FH to my stories when I’ve done this.
Of course, some people sometimes have reasons to not want their stories to have high google visibility (or any google visibility at all). This can especially be an issue for some RPF writers who, say, don’t want general fans of the Philadelphia Eagles stumbling onto their Donovan McNabb/Brian Dawkins slash fic (which, by the way, if any such fiction actually exists could someone please send me a link?!). This is again a risk/reward trade-off you have to decide upon as an obscure fandom author: is preserving your anonymity and keeping your fanfiction away from those who might not understand or appreciate it more or less important than building readership? Only you can decide this matter for yourself (and as always, if privacy is a big concern for you in your involvement in fandom, be sure to understand the matter fully. Our Help page on privacy gives much information for all to consider on the matter.)
7. Recruit readers from the general fandom. This method can work if your fandom has a large fanbase which is not at all involved in activities such as writing and reading fan-fiction, but it should be undertaken with care. For instance, The Police? Big fandom. Tiny fandom for fiction. However, in hanging out on general interest boards for the band, getting to know fans in person and making jokes/perhaps commenting on “slashy” behavior as observed (even by those who don’t know what slash is), I have slowly introduced a number of people to fan-fiction about the band once determining that they would a) not be offended by it and b) might be genuinely interested in reading it. This is much like the old mentoring techniques which were commonplace in fandoms such as Star Trek in the ’70s and ’80s. Mentoring is certainly not dead, and can in fact be a vital step in building up “sub-fandoms” for things like fan-fiction and other fanworks within already large “mainstream” fandoms.
8. In an obscure fandom, quality does matter – to an extent. I’ve saved this point for last, not because it is the least important, but because, without having put some effort into the previous points, it’s not going to matter very much at all. But yes, one of the things you have to attempt to do, in building a readership for an obscure fandom, is pull readers into a story when they might not already be familiar with the source material – at least not intimately so. Once you’ve done what you need to do to help people find your story and want to give it a chance, you have to give them reason to stick around. That’s much easier in a large fandom where already devoted followers of a canon may want to read anything with their favorite characters or ‘ships, no matter what the quality. In a smaller fandom, far fewer people are going to be that devoted so you need to put more effort into your work to keep readers interested. That means, obscure fandom writers, make sure your writing is properly formatted and easy to read; pay attention to basic grammar (get a beta, because hey! That’s at least one person who is going to read your story!); put effort into developing your characters so that they become “real” to the readers, who may not already have a full picture of them in their minds.
And if you get some good feedback on your obscure fandom stories, be sure to thank those who comment to you and listen to what they have to say: what did they like about it? What are they interested in reading more about? What might they have thought you could have done better? You want to develop a good relationship with your readers, who might only be 2 or 3 in number at first, but if you keep at it those numbers may slowly increase. They might not ever reach the hundreds like they would for a large fandom, but you can have a rewarding experience writing in a small fandom. It just can take a little extra hard work and patience.