Why I Won't Read Your Story, or in converse, Why I Will:
My step-by-step, completely egocentric—yet strangely informative—guide ::rant:: to why I will not read your story, and conversely, why I will.
It's actually been bothering me a while. There are so many stories out there that are truly bad, and yet the authors of those stories are: A) confused about why no one is reading or reviewing, or B) confused about why I would write certain things as constructive criticism. This step-by-step guide is to help all writers figure out what to do to make their stories worth my while.
Part One: Before the Story. Why I haven't clicked on the link to let me read your story, or conversely, why I have.
Step 1: Title
Everyone knows that an interesting title is a must. It draws in readers and gives a peek into what the story is about. Therefore, there are certain things you should and should not do when deciding on your title.
1. Capitalize. It is not only bad form to not capitalize your title, it is also lazy. Regardless of whether your title is a good one or not, I refuse to read anything that shows a lack of effort on the authors' part. If you're not bothered to capitalize your title then I have to assume that you're not bothered to do other important things correctly in the rest of your story. Why should I bother to read something that will have all those problems? The simple truth is, I won't bother. It doesn't matter if your story is god's gift to human kind, if you can't bother to capitalize, I won't bother to read it.
2. Untitled. This is a very important one not to do. If you can't come up with a title, then why are you posting? An author should know their story well enough by the time they put it up on this site to be able to come up with something better than "Untitled". Even if it's just the main character's first name, it's better and more descriptive for your readers than Untitled will ever be.
Now, if the best title for your story is actually Untitled then you have to be really creative. Never just leave it at Untitled; instead add another word to it to give it a larger oomph. "Untitled Life", a story about a boy who doesn't know who he is or what he wants to do with his life. Just the title, without the descriptions afterwards, gives me more insight into your story than just plain old Untitled.
3. Creativity. If your title is boring, then I feel like the story would be boring as well. Something out of a textbook like, A Look into the Life of Bob, is not going to pull in a reader. The title needs to make a reader want to read the summary. It has to be memorable so a reader will remember which story they're waiting on the next chapter from, rather than seeing a boring title in their inbox that they've forgotten about. (I actually end up deleting a lot of those update notices the site sends because of a boring title that doesn't make me want to read whatever new chapter has been posted.)
Your title also needs to pertain to your story. If your title is Magical Sorcery but your story has nothing to do with magic or sorcery then I may read it initially, but I will forget about it later on because the title will not help me remember what your story was about. Also, the title is supposed to give a bit of information about what your story is about. Having a title that doesn't actually go with the story defeats that purpose.
Also, don't ramble on and have a long title filled with useless information. The only books that have titles longer than a few words tend to be textbooks. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone" is technically a two-word title. The name is a style choice, so the real title is Sorcerers Stone. The title is short, concise, and to the point. A Look into the Life of Bob can easily be changed to Bob's Life. It's short, but it still gives the exact same information and my eyes don't get tired while reading it.
4. Superfluous Information. Bob's Life, second draft is not a title. It is a reference that you, as the writer, are using to remember which draft you're on. But I, as the reader, don't care and I honestly don't want to know. On your computer put that draft of the story in a separate folder from the original. There you can label it however you would like. Just please don't subject me to knowing which draft you're on. It actually makes me ask questions like: why not a third draft? and, what was wrong with the first draft? Do I really want to read something that isn't polished yet? no, not really.
(Also, there are two things you should know. One, it is against this site's policy to have two versions of the same story up, even if they're both by the same author. You could get in trouble for that. Two, I'm not going to go back and read your first draft. Obviously it wasn't worth reading because you're changing things and reposting the new information in a separate story. Just take the first draft down and save you, and me, the trouble of having to deal with it.)
Bob's Life: A Pillow Book is also not a title. Bob's Life is a title; Pillow Book is not. Pillow Book should be part of your summary, not your title. Get rid of the clarification and let your title stand alone. The summary is meant for clarification and deeper insight into your story. Don't cloud the title with that extra bit.
Step 2: The Summary
The summary is where you really need to be creative as it is supposed to draw readers in like a moth to a flame. A bad summary can turn readers away even if your story is amazing, while a good summary can pull readers in even if your story sucks. A summary is a deeper window into your story, so you need to make sure that the window isn't a bad one.
1. Spelling and Grammar. When I read a summary I am looking to see what I will run into while reading your story. If there are words misspelled in your summary, or if your grammar is awful, then I know that your story will also have misspelled words and poor grammar. Why would I want to subject myself to that? It doesn't matter if your plot is awesome and your characterizations are perfect, if your spelling and grammar is bad then I will not read your story. It's not just laziness on the writer's part, like I mentioned above. It shows what type of writer you are and whether you've invested in a basic spell check on your computer. If the Internet browser you use doesn't check your spelling while you're online, then copy and paste your summary to a word processing program that does have a spelling and grammar check, fix the mistakes, and then post your summary. And, if you're unable to tell when there are severely misspelled words and extremely bad grammar then you should go back to school and pay a little more attention in English class.
Another no-no is net speak. If you're going to write a summary, please actually write it. I have no wish to decipher your summary and if I'm forced to because you wrote in a language I don't understand, then I will be the lazy one and skip your story in favor of something I can read. Write out you instead of just writing U. You may think you're saving space so you have more room for more summary, but in reality it looks lazy and unprofessional. If your summary is so long that it doesn't fit within the parameters given to writers by this site, then your summary is probably too wordy or has too much information that a reader doesn't really need. Instead of degenerating to net speak; you should instead go back to your summary and edit.
2. Creativity. Yes, it's back, and it's more important this time. A title is just a glimpse in the window while the summary is a full out look, complete with hands cupped around your eyes and your breath fogging up the pane. Really let your readers know what the story is about; give them hints of the plot and the characters, but don't tell every last detail. The summary should make me curious enough that I want to click on your story without giving away the ending or major plot points.
A summary that goes: My dog ate my homework, and I cried. The rest of my day sucked, is not going to get me excited to find out more. Change the wording a bit, twist it so your plot shines through, and maybe a bit of personality from your main character as well. The damned dog ate my homework. The teacher hates my guts. Now I'm trying to figure out who to kill to make up for my terrible day. It's the same idea with the same part of the plot being told, but there's personality and creativity. It goes more in depth without giving away the actual solution to the problem.
Plus, a boring, uncreative summary will make a reader think that your story will also be boring and uncreative. No one wants to read something boring and will pass your story by.
3. Warnings. Warnings are good to have in your summary, but too many warnings turn people away. If you have a story where the main character is gay, then it is right to have a warning in the summary. Many people don't want to read MxM fiction, just as equally many people do. Warning them will keep people who simply aren't comfortable with the subject matter away and will draw those who enjoy it in. But, writing one word is enough. Three words to describe one warning are too much. Pick one, yaoi, MxM, boyxboy, male love, etc., and stick with it. Don't put all four because that is annoying and way overkill.
If you have yaoi and violence in your story, warn for both in your summary. If you have yaoi, violence, graphic sex, underage drinking, rape, etc. in your story then don't put them all in your summary. Chose the two most controversial of them to put in your summary and put the rest as warning note in an authors note at the beginning of your first chapter. Choosing the two most controversial will keep away the majority of those who are twitchy about those subjects, and the warning note will warn away the rest. There is simply no need to take up an entire summary with warnings. There will be no more room for an actual summary. And, to be honest, while warnings are helpful to readers so they don't read something that will give them nightmares, I'd prefer to know what your story is actually about rather than just what I should be careful of.
4. Superfluous Information. This tends to be stuff I, as the reader, don't care about or don't want to know. Many summaries include things like: My first story, please don't flame, or: please read and review, and I'll review one of your stories. There are many other examples, too many for me to write out, but the general idea is the same.
I don't care if it's your first story or your fifth. I just want something good to read and knowing that you're an unpracticed writer will not draw me in at all. Plus, asking for people not to flame is like asking for popsicles not to have sticks. If someone reads your story, thinks it sucks, then they will flame regardless of whether you asked for them not to. In fact, asking for no flames may reduce the amount of constructive criticism you get. As a new writer, you want as much constructive criticism as possible so you can improve your writing. The last thing you want to do is scare away all those who might review just because they're afraid you might take it as a flame instead. (This has actually happened to me once. I gave great constructive criticism and this kid author who thought I was flaming her story yelled at me for it. It's unpleasant.)
Other useless add-ins detract from the summary. I want to know what your story is about and I don't really care if you reciprocate reviews. I just want a story to read and I'm not going to review just for a review for my own story, nor am I going to review just so I can wait on pins and needles for your reply, nor am I going to review just because you asked. Use the summary for what it was made for and leave all that extra stuff out.
And leave all the begging for reviews for the end of your chapter. Needy writers who specifically publicize the fact that they are only writing for the reward of reviews do not endear themselves to me. A writer should be writing for the love of it, not the reward and if the opposite is true, then keep it to yourself, or at least don't beg in the summary.
5. Lack of a Summary. Summary inside; Summary in my profile; Summary to come…all very great ways to get me to pass by your story. If you're too lazy to write out a summary in the available box then I guess you won't mind if I'm too lazy to read your story…
If you couldn't get your summary small enough to fit within the given parameters then there is something wrong with your summary and you need to go back and edit. Don't be lazy and force me to click on your story or profile just to get a basic idea of what your story is about. I will not do it because I don't care enough about your story to make that extra effort. You have just the summary to get me interested and I'm not going digging to find out that interesting bit. You want me to read your story; you put the summary where I can read it.
Summary to come is the worst possible way to get a reader interested in your story. Summary to come tells me that you don't even know enough about your story to create an adequate summary for it. It tells me that you have no idea what the plot to your story is, or your characters, or if anything actually happens beyond the first chapter. It tells me that you don't actually have a story posted yet, just an unfinished idea that might become something in the future, but you're not sure yet. I really don't want to subject myself to that. Write your story, plan out what you think is going to happen, your characters, etc. and then learn enough about your story to write a summary. If you can't do that then please don't bother posting!
My favorites are: On Hiatus, or, Being Rewritten. If your story is on hiatus then why have you posted a new chapter where I can find it? Obviously it's not actually on hiatus because you're putting up new chapters so change the damned summary. It's like being told in the summary that "chapter thirteen is up!" when you've just posted chapter forty. Make the effort to change your summary so I don't get annoyed or confused with you. And, if your story is being rewritten then why are you posting new chapters? Go back, rewrite your story, post the fixed bits, and change your summary so I know it's safe to read and not going to be changed underneath me. I don't want to read something that either isn't polished or is about to have major plot changes because that means I will be the one sifting through your story. And if you're done rewriting, then change the summary so I know that!
My Own Personal Reason for not Reading Your Title or Summary:
Review count. Sorry, I know it's shallow and terrible of me, but I look at your review count before I look at your title or your summary. A story with twenty chapters that has a hundred reviews will pass. A story with twenty chapters and only three reviews will not. If others don't feel your story is worth reviewing, then why should I bother myself with it? My general rule of thumb is, if there are more reviews than chapters then I will check out your summary. A hundred reviews for twenty chapters, or even twenty-one reviews for twenty chapters, doesn't automatically mean I'll read your story, but it does mean I'll look at your summary.
However, this only pertains to stories with a higher chapter count. If you have only two chapters posted and only one review, then I will still read your summary. Clearly you have not had the time to accumulate reviews, not like a twenty chapter story has, so you still deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Also, a twenty-chapter story that only has nineteen reviews may or may not garner my attention. It depends on what sort of mood I'm in that day. Generally, I will again give the benefit of the doubt and will read your summary.
As for the idiots who post ten chapters of their story on the same day and therefore have no reviews…you're idiots. Give your story a chance to find a fan base before bombarding us with chapters. I don't look at the date you posted your story, so you would almost automatically be counted out of my reading choices.
I hope Part One helps. Part Two will be out soon and it will include responses to any meaningful reviews that are pertinent to this chapter's subject matter. This means that I want to hear your reactions to what I've said. Do you agree or disagree with my statements? Do you think I could have said more about Titles or Summaries? Tell me, and if I have a response or something to add, I will!