This is expanded from something I posted on Glass Onion today. The context is a discussion about "SV is mean and cliquey" but since I'm not a part of SV fandom, I can't speak to that.
But I've been thinking a lot lately about fandom in general and recognition. I may sound very cynical, but you'll have to take my word that I'm not bitter. In fact, I'm quite happy. :)
I've concluded that in fandom, like real life, who you know matters a lot. And so does what you do. Writing ability is definitely a big part of having your fic noticed. But it's not the only part.
If I have time to read 3 stories and 6 have just dropped on the [insert fandom here] list, of course I'm more likely to go with people I already know to be good writers. And if I have to choose between a good writer who's my friend and one who's not, I'll choose my friend. Of course the reputation of your peers and mentors affects your own reputation. In fandom, in life.
About a month ago, this essay about high school popularity was making the rounds. If you didn't read it then, you should read it now.
One of the main points of the article is that in order to be popular in high school, there are a lot of things you have to do. And some people just make the decision -- maybe unconsciously -- that they don't want to spend their time on that. And they don't. Or they don't figure out that there are things they have to do.
Fandom isn't high school, but it's close enough for government work. If you want to be popular in fandom, there are things you'll have to do. I don't mean this in a negative way -- this is just how groups work.
If you're looking to have your fic noticed and it's not, first get yourself an honest beta and find out if it's any good. Then, if it is, make yourself a marketing plan. If you're looking to be personally popular, make yourself a plan for that. If you think that quality will win no matter what, remember VHS and Beta.
When I set out in fall of 97 to write some X-Files slash, I had a plan to gain recognition.
- I chose my pseudonym. I wanted something that had a sci-fi flavour but was not fandom-specific. And I wanted something that stood out. So, I picked "Halrloprillalar", from Larry Niven's Ringworld. In retrospect, I would advise you to pick a name that's easier to spell, though.
- I found a beta reader. Someone posted to the list I was on about needing a beta so I responded and we did some for each other.
- I posted discussion to the list. I didn't post all the time, but I tried to make topical, interesting posts so people would begin to recognise my name. I don't think there was a FAQ, but I was always cautious about overstepping my bounds.
- I sent feedback to other authors. Of course, you're supposed to do that anyway, but I figured that they'd be more likely to read and feed me if I did the same for them.
- And then I posted my first story. It seemed to work pretty well.
Volume of work also affects people's perception of your skill. (Well, if you suck, of course posting a lot won't work for you.) I recently read The Borderlands of Science by Michael Shermer. (And would recommend it.) One of the chapters was on "the myth of the miracle of genius".
He quotes from Dean Keith Simonton's Origins of Genius:
In fact, empirical studies have repeatedly shown that the single most powerful predictor of eminence within any creative domain is the sheer number of influential products an individual has given the world.
Mozart is considered a greater musical genius than Tartini in part because the former accounts for 30 times as much music in the classical repertoire as does the latter.
So, write early, write often. *g*
Also illuminating to this topic is Clay Shirky's essay on Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality.
Prior to recent theoretical work on social networks, the usual explanations invoked individual behaviors: some members of the community had sold out, the spirit of the early days was being diluted by the newcomers, et cetera. We now know that these explanations are wrong, or at least beside the point. What matters is this: Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality.
Of course this relates a lot to LJ, but also, I think, to fandom in general -- the whole web of journals, mailing lists, rec sites, and word of mouth. The larger the community, the more people filter what and who they read. And how I choose to filter affects how other people choose to filter and vice versa.
Inequality is always going to exist. But there are things you can do about it, if you want to make the effort.