I am amused to find that I am a small tumblr sensation. Specifically, one of my first real posts, ‘The Badger Rampant’, has twice now gone on day-long sprees of reblogging among Harry Potter fans, leading my normally-trickling site stats to suddenly spike well over a hundred. To celebrate, I am currently listening to ‘Popular’ from Wicked, which will probably then result in me listening to ‘Defying Gravity’ for the rest of the day, because daaaamn that’s a voice. But this is not about that. This is about other things.
First thing: it feels really cool to see that something I wrote can be meaningful to that many people. I haven’t got a lot of responses to my writing since I stopped posting stuff to fanfiction.net. This reminds me of how good it feels to win at writing, so to speak.
Second thing: it’s been that post, twice now, that’s brought in so much attention. That post represents 13% of the total views of my blog. Why so? I mean, I’m proud of it, I think I made a good point about the value system in Harry Potter and how it reflects on valuing of traits in our culture, but I think I’ve had some good points to make in other posts as well and they definitely haven’t taken off like that at all. Is it the ready-made fandom audience? As a subsection of that, is it because Hufflepuff just so rarely gets the glory and it’s nice to be advocated? Would regular features on things that are awesome about undervalued Harry Potter institutions get the same attention?
Third thing: having already confessed to posting on ff.net, I may as well note that I was unabashed in my shipping in every context. I mostly wrote in ‘verses based on video games that tried to do a lot with a little in terms of characterisation – which was quite intentional on my part, since I don’t usually see the point in writing fanfiction for characters that are already well-written. (Lord of the Rings fanfiction: I know lots of people write/wrote it, including some I know and respect, but I just can’t see the attraction.) And one of my favourite activities was deciding who should hook up with whom. I wrote canonical, I wrote deuterocanonical, and I made stuff up out of whole cloth. It was so from my first fic (which was a more-or-less canonical retelling plus romance between Protagonist Dude and Staff Chick) to my last (which was an utterly noncanonical ensemble romp with a complicated pseudorelationship between two minor characters with an understated near-random beta couple in the background).
And all throughout that time I was trying to understand popularity, because I got unbelievably positive feedback – multiple people, independently, compared me to Terry Pratchett how is this a thing that they say – but only in small quantities, while other writers there got teeming masses of fans. I was always trying to work out why. And one thing that I did notice, mid-career, was that regardless of the romantic content of the stories, I always got more attention if I clearly labelled my pairings. Pageviews for a Fire Emblem 8 fic that was, upon reading, all about two couples would nevertheless be ignored by many until I added [Eirika/Seth, Franz/Amelia]* tags in the summary. I didn’t have to change the content in order to get twice as many readers, but I did have to help people realise that this was a story they were looking for, if they were looking for warrior-princess/faithful-knight yearnings, or magically-empowered teenage soldier couples fistfighting three-score skeletons while hashing out their jealousy issues.
For all that marketing gets cynically dismissed as people trying to foist onto us stuff that we don’t need, there is a tricky and useful art to helping people identify the stuff that they want. And most things are wanted by someone, somewhere.
*Searching for art to illustrate those two, I noticed that the vast majority of the stuff for Eirika and Seth has her being all dainty and him being all bodyguardly. Now, granted, when we meet them, this is the case, because she’s untested in battle and he has just been assigned to escort her through an army and across a country. But by the end of the game, Eirika has grown enormously and tears up the battlefield better than he does (although he can still be a good and reliable comrade). I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that fans imprinted on the pretty-girl-protected-by-burly-man image, but one of the things that’s nice about the Fire Emblem mythos is that it’s not as terrible about gender equality as a lot of medieval fantasy, and I would prefer that not get downplayed. (Seth gets a lance in his gut for his trouble – being the Designated Bodyguard Gender sucks too.)