A giant fucking caveat: There’s a reason I’m not calling this The Right Way to Use Your AO3 Statistics or even The Best Way to Use Your AO3 Statistics, because I’m just a hominid with a libido, idfk what’s best for everyone. I don’t think there is an objective “best” to a lot of things, life is subjective as hell.
As one of the Elder Ravens of AO3 Twitter (ok I’ve been around for 3 years, but I’ve Seen Things) I’ve watched a lot of people stressing about their stats. How many is good? How fast should those little numbers be ticking up? There isn’t an objective number, because every fandom/ pairing/ trope has its own rhythm, which makes people inclined to obsess even more.
Imho, though, the basic principle of using your AO3 stats is this:
Don’t compare your stats to those of other writers.
Simple, right? But that’s where so much unhappiness comes from — finding a bigger fish that we admire and measuring ourselves against their shadow. And of course we’ll always find ourselves wanting.
It’s hard to not give in to that temptation, but I swear it’s where so much misery comes from. Especially when there is a great way to use the stats, which is this:
Compare your own stories to each other.
Trying to identify your own voice as a writer is a pain in the ass. Other people can try to define it back to you, but having a fourth-wall-breaking sense of yourself is tremendously useful, not to mention a mega confidence boost. This is where the stats are great.
Writing a few one-shots is, in the opinion of your dear Auntie Els, a fantastic place to start finding your voice. It’s an efficient use of time invested vs. payoff, because if you already know the fandom and pairing that plucks your heartstrings, you can rotate in a few tropes to see what hits.
Try A/B/O. Billionaire. Sex Pollen. Professor/ student. Stepsibling. Seriously, whatever strikes your fancy, try it. And listen to the comments (I suggest only allowing comments from users with AO3 accounts of their own because there’s accountability); in time, listening to those supportive voices will teach you what your own sounds like.
Obviously, follow your heart. A story doesn’t have to have a certain number of hits if it’s meaningful to you, and thinking that story X “only” got so many hits discounts the people who did read your fic. I promise, there are tons of Hollywood screenwriters who’ve cut their teeth here (cough cough Chloé cough), and I’m sure they’ve all had a few of their beloved story bebes bellyflop. It happens — so if that’s where you’re at, you’re in the very best of company.
I also heartily recommend finding a beta reader to give you front-line feedback, sharpening your work even before you hit publish. If you’re already rolling and don’t know where to look, try the beginning notes of your own fic! Someone who’s already invested in you/ your story but isn’t your bestie is well-placed to give you meaningful notes.
But bringing it back to stats… If you’re going to use them to punch up your writing, use them to find the overlap of interest between you and readers. That realm does exist, and while the journey to find it can be challenging, I guarantee you it’s rewarding. Comments and subscriptions on your fics can show you where engagement lies, and that’s what’s so fun about AO3. Finding the excitement of sharing our ideas, not using the social media approach to reduce ourselves to hits or kudos.
You, your writing, and your readers are worth more than numbers.
So don’t stat-shop, bbys — what you consider trash is what someone else is yearning for. If you find yourself itching to study someone else’s stats, wave off. Trust me, there’s way more internet out there to explore that won’t leave you down in the dumps.
Like this dog. Blanket Doggo wants you to be happy, drink your water, and value yourself. Blanket Doggo is wise.
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