First of all, I think it is a good idea to have a header; they can be useful to you as well as other people. I find them so useful that I put them at the top of every fic file as soon as I start it and I have word templates to do it for me for most of my fandoms. Just in case they might be useful to someone, here are the templates I use:
or fandom free in html
For the record 101 people took the poll, thank you all so much :).
So the idea of a fic header it to convince people that clicking below the cut or into the story is a good idea. Therefore try and do two things all the way through it:
1) Spell things correctly (I know, I've made typos and spelling mistakes in the header before and it turns some people off)
2) Use full sentences and correct grammar in the fields that require them (e.g. summary).
Title (95% in the poll said it was a must have)
Okay, so I know some fics are so short that they don't seem to warrant a title, and titles can be a pain, but they are very important to some people. If you can, just take that couple of extra minutes to think one up, even if it's just one word. To me it makes the fic feel more complete and likely to entertain me when I see a title. I don't often remember them (things like that don't often sink in), but it is still part of what makes me read a fic.
Author's name (wasn't in the poll)
Now I didn't think of this one in my poll, but sydneyalexis made a very good point: people sometimes just copy and paste the fic to their drive as posted and don't add an author, and rec'ers sometimes take the header as is to do the rec. If your name is in there you will always get credit.
Pairing(s) (95% said it was a must have)
Now if you want to attract people to your fic this is an important one. Some people won't read if they don’t know the pairing because they don't like some pairings and they won't take the risk. If it's a rare pair you may get less readers, but at least you will get the ones who want to read the pairing.
Warnings (93% said it was a must have)
Now warnings are a touchy subject, some people think you should have more, some people less, but you can please both. If you use the blank out method, people who want to read them will and people who don't want to, don't have to. Now things like 'explicit sex', I'd warn for without the blank out, but things like 'death fic', the blank out method is a good one.
Here's how you do it:
<span style="background-color:#FFFFFF; color:#FFFFFF">WARNING goes here</span>
It looks like this:
WARNING goes here
And this is the code:
Disclaimer (25% said it was a must have, 13% said it was nice to have, 55% said it added no value and 14% said they'd rather not see it)
As you can see this one is not very clear cut. I put disclaimers in because I like to give credit where credit is due for fictional universes, and I put them in on RPS so that people are clear that the people are real, but I don't think the fic is. If there is a legal battle the disclaimer is unlikely to help you much, but it might do and I think it's polite :).
Summary (86% said it was a must have)
Personally I like to see a summary. I am much less likely to read a fic if there isn’t one. My attitude is that I have limited reading time and if I don't know what I'm getting into I am far less likely to bother looking.
The summary is not the place to tell the world how you feel about the fic, it is the place to tell them about it. It is your chance to wave a big red flag at the reader and go 'hey, this is a hint about my fic, come read it' metaphorically speaking. I do not know the best way to write a summary, other people have far better advice about that than me, but it's always good to try and put one in.
A few don'ts, that came out of the discussions yesterday:
- Do not use a random literary or lyric quote – please at least use one of your own from the fic. If you want to say what inspired the fic do it in the author's notes, not the summary. A quote from someone else tells the reader about that work, not yours.
- Don't use a random quote from the fic that tells the reader nothing about the fic. If you're not telling the reader about the fic, the summary is being wasted.
- Please don't add in things that should be in the author's notes or the warnings; it just confuses things.
Rating (72% said this was a must have and 21% said it was a nice to have)
On a personal front I won't read an unrated fic as quickly as I will read a rated one because I have to think where I am. At work I save many of the NC17 fic links to Google notepad to go back to later and if I don't know what the rating is I don't click as often and am more likely to forget I even saw the header at a later date. It only takes a couple of seconds to decide how to rate your fic :). If your characters are doing the horizontal mambo or are ripping/shooting each other to pieces its likely to be NC17 or R depending on how graphic it is, with just hints of these things its lower rated. You can even go with NSFW or SFW if you don't want to use the usual ratings.
Quote(43% thought this was a nice to have)
Clearly some people like a hint of how the story is written. I have seen quotes used to great effect as the actual link to the fic. You don't want your header to be too long, so what I would suggest with this is that if your summary and your author's notes aren't too long and the fic is meaty, a quote would be nice, but if it's not a long fic and/or the other parts of the header are big, leave it out.
Word Count (25% said it was a must have and 65% said it was a nice to have)
Some people don't see the point of the word count, but I like it so that I can find the length of fic I am in the mood to read. It's that simple. That's why I put it in, but it's not one of those fields that puts me off if it's missing.
Banner (1% said it was a must have, 38% said it was a nice to have, 53% said it added nothing and 59% said they didn't like them)
A contentious issue :).
Firstly, badly made banners seem to be a universal no, no. If you are going to have one it is supposed to make people want to read your fic, so a nice one is important. That doesn't necessarily mean fancy, but badly cut out band members or actors is not going to make anyone love you ::g::.
Secondly, there is a clear division on the subject, so, in such cases, I find it best to try to go for a happy medium :).
Banners are very pretty, but when posting to LJ your flist probably don't want to see the same one five or six times in a row. Consider posting your banner to your LJ and then linking back to the fic in comms without the banner. This means your flist will see if and know you have updated the fic (yes banners can help people remember the fic from post to post), but people on a slow connection don't have to click past it multiple times.
Reading the comments on the poll, banners actually put off some readers because they think it's all flash and no substance. :)
Also, if your banner is huge it's going to mess up flist layouts; that annoys people and you don't really want to be annoying when trying to entice them to read your fic.
Author's Notes (not on the poll)
Another contentious issue from the comments about it :)
- Don’t demand comments and hold the fic to ransom.
- Don't go over the top begging for feedback, mentioning it is okay, as isbegging in a short, concise funny way, but don't go mad. Your reader know you want feedback, demanding or whining is not going to make them any more likely to give it to you.
- Don’t give the reader your life history. What inspired you is okay, the whole story about the death of your cousin's pet hamster which made you go and listen to X by Y which led you to think about subject Z which made you write the fic, might be a little annoying :).
- Don't make the author's notes longer than the fic, in other words, be sensible about the length. Too many words will make people not bother.
- Don’t make excuses and tell the world it is terrible. If you think it is terrible the reader is likely to not bother reading.
- Thank your beta or anyone who helped you create the fic (preferable not those who reviewed it because your notes will become very long). A beta is a marvellous thing and so are the couple of people who cheered you on when the fic stalled; they are worth mentioning.
- If it is part of a fest or challenge, mention it so readers can find more fic (readers love fic and they will love you for helping them find it :))
- Try not to sound like an idiot. Some joking is fine, but try not to come across as a twelve yearold fangirl on speed ::g::
Links to other parts of the fic (not in the poll)
If you want people to be able to read the whole fic, linking from part to part is a wonderful idea. It's a royal pain in the arse when you have a very long fic and you're posting in stages, but it is worth the effort. I cannot count the times I have found a chapter of a fic and wailed because I cannot find the rest. This is especially important if you are only posting on a comm. and not your own LJ. At the very least if you are posting to your own LJ, add a tag for the fic to link all the parts together.
Chapter count (totally forgot this in the poll)
To me this is very important – if there is no chapter count and I get to the end of the fic and find a TBC or equivalent it makes me very unhappy. Even if you don't know how long it's going to be, 1/? works very nicely. One thing about that though; I don't read WiPs so if you want to entice people like me to read your fic once it's done, go back and change the questionmarks.
So this is my take on fic headers, once again it is only my opinion after talking to you all yesterday, so feel free to ignore it :)