Monday, December 22, 2014

The Numbers Game

If you've published any stories on FiMFiction, then you probably have a pretty good idea what your story's statistics are.  You know, views, up/downvotes, total comments, that sort of thing.  Maybe you obsessively track every time one of those numbers goes up; maybe you're not quite that attentive.  But either way, you could probably say, or give a very close estimate, what those numbers look like on your biggest story or stories.

I want to talk about those numbers for a minute, because I think sometimes context gets lost.  Click down below the break to read what I think about all those stats, in a slightly more rambly-than-usual format.

In the last month, I've seen two different authors lament that's nobody reads their stories.  Both of those authors, incidentally, had stories with over 500 views.

Think about that for a moment.  That's 500 people.  Okay, I think the counter might track total views rather than unique views, but you've still got to figure at least 250 individuals have put their eyes on those stories.  And that's... that's kind of a lot of people.  That's a middle-large church; that's every chess Grand Master in Russia; if you're into Dunbarian theory, that's the upper limit of how many people you're capable of knowing socially.  It's that many people, all reading--or at least, starting--your story.

It's not hard to see why those numbers don't look too impressive, though: just look at the context in which these numbers are appearing, that is to say, stories on FiMFiction.  As I write this, My Little Dashie is getting close to half a million views, and another half-dozen or so stories are over 100,000 views each.  Granted, 500 is much, much smaller than those kind of numbers.

But I don't think that's the right way to look at things.  Stories are fundamentally about communicating; whether you're trying to communicate emotions, ideas, worldviews, or whatever else depends on the story, but all fiction is about communication at its core.  In many cases, it's also an intensely personal form of communication;the best stories we tell show readers more about us, as authors, than most people would be comfortable putting into less metaphorical terms.  That's a level of communication that's almost exclusively available through the arts, and while it can be achieved through other mediums, my experience is that it's far easier to "say" something via the written world.

So, of those 250 people, how many "got" a story?  There's no good way to know, but as long as the answer is "more than one," an author should feel like that's something to hang his hat on.  To reach out and touch a stranger is a powerful thing.  To make someone think about the world in a new way, to brighten up a down day, to bring someone to tears, or to cap a stressful week with a smile... this is what stories can do, and it's humbling to imagine that one's story has done that.

I've never written anything near as popular as the most-viewed stories on FiMFiction.  I can pretty much guarantee I never will.  But my stories have been seen by more people than I could have imagined reading something I wrote just a few years ago, and I know for a fact that, at least in small ways, I've touched some of my readers in important, lasting ways.  When you put it in that context, the numbers look pretty amazing.


  1. See, I went the other route. I just made up my own statistics for other people's stories that I track obsessively. I've pretty sure that all three of my original stories I've been selling don't have 500 views combined. If you've got more people reading your writing than family and friends, that's a victory.

  2. The internet makes large numbers seem small all the time. It's especially pronounced when you look at YouTube, where having a thousand subscribers is still considered minor. We've all suffering skewed perspective here.

  3. Just a little over two years ago, only one other person had read any fiction that I had written. I had spent odds and ends of fifteen years (Yes, I'm old. Go away.) working on a Swords and Sorcery novel, and never thought I would finish it. Six months later I had written more pony words than fifteen years of fiction. Now I've written close to a quarter-million words, twenty of which are fairly good. Scares me sometimes.

  4. And this is why one comment on a story is worth more to me than any number of views: because it's real communication from a real person, not just an impersonal ticker. Of course I'd love to have written a story that caught fire across the fandom -- most of us would, surely -- but I've got more satisfaction from what I have done in the ponyfic world than even a million views could achieve alone.

    Besides, I came to pony via furry, which for the most part doesn't care about writing and where the thought of getting, say, 100 views on a story was but a distant dream!

  5. I think one of the big things pushing view dissatisfaction isn't the number itself, but what it represents inside your larger body of work. For me, I want to feel like I'm improving, and I only have so many way to measure that. If my last two stories got three thousand views over the course of a year, it's disheartening if my new one gets five hundred in the same time period. I appreciate those views, but I'm left wondering what I've done wrong.

    And I will admit to being irritated by several My Little Dashie level stories that I've read at least part of. When you watch you story drop off into that "two readers a month look at this story" void, those other stories that everyone agree just isn't very good at all gets to be irksome. However, it's all about being at the right place at the right time, and those stories tend to be earlier ones that were. Not much I can do about that, and that's frustrating, too.

    In the end, though, I'm happy with the views I've received on most everything. I have a few stories that leave me wondering what happened, but by and large I think this community is pretty giving with the views. The New Crop actually doubled the target amount of views I'd projected it would get, and if people will give something like that a try, then I'd say most stories have a good shot. It can be frustrating to see the billionth poorly-written Vinyl/Octavia story hit nine hundred upvotes and two thousand views in two days, but there are still others around to read stories that go in new directions. Swallowing that smaller number is hard, though. At least, it is for me. I'd like to think that quality wins out, but that's certainly not the case at Fimfiction.