Good Writing Technique #1: Working an Audience in Less Than Ten Seconds
Some writers get carpal tunnel syndrome from clicking all the review notifications flooding their email accounts. This is not just because of their writing skills. It's also their advertising ability that makes or breaks their popularity. From what I've seen on FP, making a story popular starts with a two-line blurb. When searching for a story on this site, a blurb appears right below the title and author of a story. Here's how most people use those two lines for maximum bait capacity.
The Right Hook
In some cases, blurbs invoke humor; there will be something sarcastic or ironically funny about those two lines that pique the reader's interest. But the most popular blurbs are just straightforward. Never in a 1000+ reviewed story have I seen a blurb that didn't include the premise of the storyline.
False Facades by Maeven
Sam Westlane is the new kid in the famous all boys Crestan High School for the rich and the spoiled ... There's only one problem. Sam is a girl.
Chapters: 30 Reviews: 6834 (I kid you not)
The Matchmaker by StormDancer
It is said that if you put your name in locker 420, the Matchmaker will find you your perfect match. So what happens when the arrogant spoiled brat is captivated and the matchmaker meets her match?
Chapters: 39 Reviews: 3222
See? Clear and succinct. But that's not all you need for fans to flock to your work. The two stories I mentioned are more than 100,000 words in length apiece. But here are two stories that are just as long, but with different results.
Fool Moon Rising by Chezzles. ze .Great
Penelope Grant, a typical teenager from Wisconsin, wants to be a famous singer. Unfortunately her body type can be a stubborn obstacle. Until she meets James...
Chapters: 23 Words: 141,559 Reviews: 24
The Other One by Impersonating Sugar
Take one inferior twin and throw her in her sister's school, where the sister rules. Now add a sarcastic musician, a persistant football player, and a fierce sibling rivalry. How is she supposed to find her own identity, much less survive?
Chapters: 24 Words: 104,085 Reviews: 37
These blurbs are clear-cut, suited for the genre. These two writers must have gone through the pain-staking writing process just like the others. So why is there such a big difference in fan support?*
Hooks Need Bandwagon Bait
The difference depends on the popularity of the plot. As I was scrolling through 100,000+words-in-length stories in the romance section, the least reviewed stories (under 100 reviews) were ones that mentioned bands, tragic accidents, and the word "struggling." For the stories with over 300 reviews, blurbs included arrogant, rich, impossibly-the-most-handsome playboys, best friends, best friend's brothers, and or all-boys boarding schools.
Apparently, plots that emphasize male eye-candy and high-school fantasies trump those with real-world hardships and rises to fame. Odd. Talent contests are better off on television, then.
The Bottom Line
So what do we learn from all this? That sex sells and the newest generation of young girls prefer clichés? Yes. That if you wrote a story about a cross-dressing matchmaker stuck in an all-boys school full of handsome, rich playboy brats, you'd strike review gold? Maybe. But that's not my point. My point is that though the content of a writer's blurb may be clear, the interests of the readers affect the popularity of a story, no matter what the genre. Knowing this is useful when advertising and writing your story. Understanding your demographic can help you create a blurb they will find attractive. In turn, that enables the creation of a support base who can encourage you to keep writing.
No Sinker For You
On the flip side, popularity alone does not make the more popular stories "better" than their lesser known counterparts. If you are an online writer who is putting lots of effort into your story and only getting a small response for it, you can rest assured that 1) your writing might not be the problem, and 2) you don't have to sell your soul to the hormone devil to create a large, active fanbase. The content might just not fit the usual reader's preferences. When that happens, advertising on a larger scale through forum participation can attract those more suited to your work. Fictionpress is a big archive; your brand of writing may just be hard to find.
*The stats used here show fan support, not story quality. Just to reiterate, plot popularity alone does not make the certain stories "better" than their less-reviewed counterparts.