Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#1
We are all quite aware that Royal Road's readership skews heavily towards men, and mostly to boys in the 13-25 category as well. That works when the site is still very small, but it will never be able to grow if it can't attract readers outside this specific group.

So it's a no-brainer that appealing to women (and others) should be a target for authors on the site, to bring in more readers who can discover and fall in love with the stories on here. 

But how can that happen? Obviously, the Boy Story/Girl Story segregation of Qidan and other Asian-focused sites is actively harmful to this, with the notion that women aren't "supposed" to like LitRPGs or big fantasy books, but what measures can the site and its authors take to grow the readerbase?

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#3
The Asian focused sites will hopefully and absolutely hopefully not be an example

I don't think the site itself can do much, unless they want to take a much more active approach towards the stories being written here than they are doing now. 

From the reading material of the women I know, you don't need women as the MC. You don't need stories focused more on romance or intrigue or whatever people think women should read. What you need is female characters in the novels rather than female stereotypes. Dredge up any of the generic stories on this site and aside from 90% being a self insert power fantasy, most of them will have a female character, or multiples, who are only defined by their relation to the mc. They have no depth, no will and no opinions on anything more important than food.

To be able to do that well you generally need to be either a woman or mature enough as a man to be able to write it. From here on it's a vicious circle. There are mostly young male authors here which causes mostly young male authors to publish here.

While I think I have a decent handle on the problem, I have no clue how to break out of it. With the hands-off approach I've seen here so far, I don't think the mods and admins will take an active stance on it.

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#4
Expanding tags is a good suggestion. I thought it odd that there was not one for Gothic as a more traditional compliment to the newer grimdark genre which is hyper-masculine IMO due to the Warhammer association (nothing wrong with that - I love Gaunt's Ghosts.)

Inside the Gothic genre you have:
Gothic Romance typified by the Brontë sisters, and Gothic Horror going back to Mary Shelly. Southern Gothic of Flannery O'Connor. 
Oxford's definition of the latter.

Quote:Southern Gothic is a mode or genre prevalent in literature from the early 19th century to this day. Characteristics of Southern Gothic include the presence of irrational, horrific, and transgressive thoughts, desires, and impulses; grotesque characters; dark humor, and an overall angst-ridden sense of alienation.

These are women dominated sub-genres that have had mass appeal over the centuries.

It occurs to me that Gothic may still be of greater interest to women as I remember reading a long time ago, D&D creators (pretty sure it was TSR, not as of yet WotC) drew more women players in with the Ravenloft series.

Speaking of WotC (Wizards of the Coast), they have had similar success attracting women players with D&D 5.0.
What are they doing differently, might be a worthwhile question to ask.

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#5
I think the first question is: what does this site have to offer prospective female readers?

In my case (as a male reader) I first heard about this site because someone on reddit recommended Mother of Learning. MoL is one of our most popular stories, and it’s written by a male author. It features a mostly male cast, has game-like mechanics, and features a general sense of power progression. 

Now, I love this story, but I wouldn’t recommend it to many of the female readers I know (my wife, mother, sisters, friends, beta-readers, etc.) From what I know about their tastes, they prefer stories that are focused on characters, their psychological/emotional growth, and their interpersonal relationships. Many stories on Royal Road are lacking in this area, focusing instead on the character’s skill progression and power level.

I’m not saying that female readers don’t enjoy the game mechanics and magic systems (and I certainly don’t want to perpetuate the existing stereotypes that men like games and women like romance.) This is just a personal observation of mine, and litRPG authors like Sarah Lin serve as living proof that it doesn’t apply to everyone. Still, those preferences do apply to some people and it might help to acknowledge that RR's usual fare doesn't fit everyone's preferences.

Mother of Learning is one example but the same can be said for many stories on the front page. There’s a strong focus on power progression and male-oriented wish-fulfillment around here. If there are female characters, they tend to be less fleshed out than their male counterparts. And that’s the best-case scenario. Worst case scenario, they're sexualized, fan-servicey, and stereotypical. Even when the book has a female protagonist, they still tend to sexualize themselves.

In short, we have a lot of stories on the front page that might be technically well-written, but they also share a lot of common flaws. While a male reader might be willing to overlook those flaws because of the story’s addicting nature, a female reader might be more inclined to see the entire work as shallow and move on.

I think Oskatat also hit the nail on the head: we’re caught in a cycle where certain male-oriented stories only attract more of the same.

Off the top of my head, one potential solution could be including different “Top Rated” and/or "Popular This Week" lists on the homepage. Instead of showing the top stories overall (which are the always the ones favored by the site’s current audience) why not show other top lists ? What if things like litRPG and Cultivation were in their own category, while General Fantasy, Romance, Historical Fiction, etc. were shown alongside them? I think we already have a lot of content here that would appeal to different types of readers beyond the 13–25 male audience. All we need to do is make it visible.

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#6
A website like this is founded on it's audience.  You don't just add in more diversity. The site was founded by a large group of people who loved action adventure novels similar to LMS.  This is about the ratio of men:woman who liked LMS, so that's how much diversity we have now.  If you want something more female centered, you have to find a large girl centric fandom to build a website off of.  

The problem simply is that a novel popular with woman is never going to rise to prominence on this site.  Not that it'll be downvoted, just that no one will follow it or recommend it.  The five that do might draw in a couple girls who will see the writing on the wall and only come for that one series.  

My only suggestion is to add back in tags like "homosexual" and so on.  It's homophobic that we don't have them.  We're basically telling people interested in those novels that they aren't welcome to even try making novels here.  

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#7
David Wrote: In my case (as a male reader) I first heard about this site because someone on reddit recommended Mother of Learning. MoL is one of our most popular stories, and it’s written by a male author. It features a mostly male cast, has game-like mechanics, and features a general sense of power progression. 

Now, I love this story, but I wouldn’t recommend it to many of the female readers I know (my wife, mother, sisters, friends, beta-readers, etc.) From what I know about their tastes, they prefer stories that are focused on characters, their psychological/emotional growth, and their interpersonal relationships. Many stories on Royal Road are lacking in this area, focusing instead on the character’s skill progression and power level.
This is also how I found this site. I would strongly argue that MOL is friendly to all genders because of the mature, competent and respectful way it portrays its female characters. The need for representation is important, and I bring it up often, but even more important is that when you do have women and girls (and non-binary) characters in stories, that they aren't relegated to tired stereotypes. And MOL is very good at treating its female characters as real people, not caricatures. It's an example I'd use to show how to do female characters well!

Deliberately avoiding recommending stories like MOL to female family and friends is, in fact, a direct contributing factor to the gender imbalance on Royal Road. After all, how are women supposed to find out about the site and its great stories if you don't tell people about them?

This is why making assumptions about what people enjoy based on demographics is a dangerous habit to get into.

David Wrote: I’m not saying that female readers don’t enjoy the game mechanics and magic systems (and I certainly don’t want to perpetuate the existing stereotypes that men like games and women like romance.) This is just a personal observation of mine, and litRPG authors like Sarah Lin serve as living proof that it doesn’t apply to everyone. Still, those preferences do apply to some people and it might help to acknowledge that RR's usual fare doesn't fit everyone's preferences.
Be very, very careful about applying these sorts of assumptions. I could easily offer the opposite observation based on my personal experience. Stereotyping doesn't do anyone any favours.

David Wrote: If there are female characters, they tend to be less fleshed out than their male counterparts. And that’s the best-case scenario. Worst case scenario, they're sexualized, fan-servicey, and stereotypical. Even when the book has a female protagonist, they still tend to sexualize themselves.
Now this I do agree with. We need more female and non-binary main characters and side characters in active roles (not just love interests or passive objects to be protected). We need more women who are portrayed as competent, diverse and powerful, and who are described in relation to their abilities and skills rather than appearance.

David Wrote: In short, we have a lot of stories on the front page that might be technically well-written, but they also share a lot of common flaws. While a male reader might be willing to overlook those flaws because of the story’s addicting nature, a female reader might be more inclined to see the entire work as shallow and move on.
I would guess more exclusionary, not shallow. If you took a power fantasy with a male lead and switched the genders of all the characters, they'd probably be more likely to appeal to women because suddenly they're the ones being represented and catered to. Representation matters, and so does respect.

David Wrote: Off the top of my head, one potential solution could be including different “Top Rated” and/or "Popular This Week" lists on the homepage. Instead of showing the top stories overall (which are the always the ones favored by the site’s current audience) why not show other top lists ? What if things like litRPG and Cultivation were in their own category, while General Fantasy, Romance, Historical Fiction, etc. were shown alongside them? I think we already have a lot of content here that would appeal to different types of readers beyond the 13–25 male audience. All we need to do is make it visible.
Again, be very careful about making assumptions about what genres men and women are interested in. Myself and my entire female friends group into gaming, fantasy, sci-fi and action might have some things to say about this, let me just put it that way.

To attract more women, the best thing authors can do is write better female characters. Have more female MCs. Give them agency and goals. Give them power. Make them the centre of focus. Don't sexualise them for the male gaze (of course, you can still write stories like this, but don't be surprised if they push women away). Don't fall back on tired gender stereotypes. Treat them how you would male characters, because, turns out, people are individuals shaped by hundreds of distinct different factors in their background, of which gender is only one.

Similarly, write more diverse male characters. Write men who can be vulnerable and emotional. Write more male love interests. (I've noticed RR has great lesbian representation, but I haven't seen much in the way of straight relationships with female leads to date.)

The second best thing we can do is - recommend Royal Road to women! Don't assume women won't like the stories here; let them make that decision for themselves. Offer a few examples of stories that do female characters well - again, MOL is a great example showcasing a world filled with competent female characters, even if they aren't the leads. If we aren't recommending Royal Road to women, of course they aren't going to find out about it.

Edit: And I received a 0.5 rating bomb on my story immediately after making this post. This is now the second time this has happened to me after speaking out in favour of diversity and better representation. This kind of backlash is indicative of hostility towards better representation and diversity, and another barrier to making the site more friendly to all genders. It's not exactly a welcoming environment for female authors, either. Which is all the more reason to highlight these issues and seek improvement.

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#8

Quote:Edit: And I received a 0.5 rating bomb on my story immediately after making this post. This is now the second time this has happened to me after speaking out in favour of diversity and better representation. This kind of backlash is indicative of hostility towards better representation and diversity, and another barrier to making the site more friendly to all genders. It's not exactly a welcoming environment for female authors, either. Which is all the more reason to highlight these issues and seek improvement.



I feel for you on that retaliation. It makes no rational sense. You make your arguments so reasonably no one, not even someone who disagrees with you, should have such a vehement reaction. 

The old phrase, 'what's your major damage?' comes to mind.

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#9

Csuite Wrote: Edit: And I received a 0.5 rating bomb on my story immediately after making this post. This is now the second time this has happened to me after speaking out in favour of diversity and better representation. This kind of backlash is indicative of hostility towards better representation and diversity, and another barrier to making the site more friendly to all genders. It's not exactly a welcoming environment for female authors, either. Which is all the more reason to highlight these issues and seek improvement.


Whatever coward did that should fess up and give some kind of justification for why they did that to Csuite, because in my eyes, that person is emblematic of the exact problem that Royal Road has, where this little mafia of 15 year old boys like to kneecap any author who spouts an opinion they don't like. 

I agree with Lilith and David that one of the most important solutions is to actively feature the stories that don't naturally appeal with rabid readerships. This requires active curation, either through admin features or user-generated lists, but the current website owners have all but said they aren't interested in doing that sort of thing. I can only hope that changes. The site has dozens of super great stories of all sorts of genres that fly under the radar somewhat thanks to being less appealing to power fantasy hungry teen boys, e.g. the AUU-16 series, Synth, or the many many non-fantasy Light Novel-inspired stories. Web fiction is getting very big and IMO this site is going to miss the boat if it sticks solely with its current niche, since the LitRPG genre isn't going to reign forever.

Also... Gosh there really are almost no straight female protagonists in any stories I have read on this whole dang site. Never really thought of that until now.

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#10
It would be interesting, in addition to the standard Trending we have now, to see some other highlight panels based on certain tags (perhaps which cycle/alternate weekly), to broaden what the audience is exposed to on the main page.

The site being so largely focused on wish fulfillment does introduce a major wall to extending what define's RR's primary audience. Part of it, though, may well be what the owner's of RR want the target audience to be.

I have the hope that I write characters well enough that female readers will enjoy my stories - if they ever come across them <-- and that is the issue I think the stories that don't end up on Trending have, and that another tag-based highlight panel could help address.

Some of my favorite authors are women. I'd love to see the site's community broaden and grow. While growing would introduce adversity along with diversity, "because people", I think we could benefit from a more active community. Just my two cents.

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#11
@Csuite:

Okay, that’s a good point about the secondary characters in Mother of Learning. I think I was tired when I wrote that post, and I was only thinking only about the handful of characters who participated in the final battle (Zorian, Zach, Xvim, Alanic) Now that I’ve slept on it, I do remember quite a few female characters who played prominent roles throughout the book. (Somehow, Spear of Resolve and Silverlake completely slipped my mind last night.)

That’s also a good point about how you could flip the genders and end up with a different version of the same problem. Certain “love triangle” books come to mind here.

To clarify, I’m sure there are thousands of female readers who enjoy litRPGs for the exact same reasons as male readers do. This was why I bought up Sarah Lin who is arguably one of the better known litRPG authors.

I'm not claiming to know any actual statistics though in regards to reader preferences. My post was directed at my own social circle which isn’t into video games (and, by extension, stories with game-like mechanics). My wife even had issues with Stormlight Archive because aspects of the magic system felt too much like a video game. It wouldn’t make sense for me to recommend Mother of Learning to her when I can recommend something more tailored to her specific interests. This doesn't even mean she wouldn't enjoy some of the stories on RR. She likes mystery, which Mother of Learning has plenty of. It just wouldn't be the first thing I would recommend when there are other books out there that are better fits. The same applies to most of my social circle.

In my original post, I chose to focus on potential readers who aren’t into video games because that was a problem that I had a potential solution for (front page exposure for other genres). Otherwise, a female litRPG reader can find stories on here just as well as a male reader can. Like you said, the biggest problem in that case is representation and treating every character like an actual person.

Thedude3445 Wrote: Also... Gosh there really are almost no straight female protagonists in any stories I have read on this whole dang site. Never really thought of that until now.

Hey, you've read my story and that has a straight female lead! :P 

I've noticed this too though. It seems like whatever the gender the protaganists are, they must have female love interests.

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#12
I think expanding tagging would be nice (and a simple fix).  A more complex one would be developing a 'reader' profile based upon someone's preferences.  Maybe have a 'suggested for you' or 'readers who liked X like this' tab.  That way someone who comes here for one or two emotion/characterization heavy novels can find other things closer to what they like.

I know I've avoided slowing down plots for foundation/characterization PRECISELY because I didn't think the readerbase here would like it.  As I was writing those sections, I acknowledged to myself that I wasn't writing the best book I could be writing because I was catering to the audience here.  I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing (I am writing another version with the characterization/foundation I wanted in the book right now) but it is a choice that I have made.

As an author, RR works for me because I like writing action adventure bildungsroman.  A lot.  I usually get some flack for starting my protags weak, but that's a part of the bildungsroman format.  That said, as a reader, I like a mix of things and it really is a shame how hard it is to find works with more emotional depth on this site.  Then, when I do find them, they're usually buried deep in the ratings with only a couple hundred followers.

In short, I think expanded tagging with some sort of mapping for 'how many people read 10+ chapters of book Y after they read book X' would be incredibly helpful.  I just don't know if its something that could be implemented in a reasonable time frame.

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#13
RR should really expand the number of tags available (or even let people make custom tags), and make sorting by tags much easier. If you want an example of this, just look at AO3. It's mostly for fanfiction, not original work (though there is some!), but their tag system is amazing and would greatly improve the site. It would allow for a greater variety of works to be posted and noticed by people who like them. It wouldn't happen overnight, but I believe that this would improve site functionality and demographics at the same time.

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#14
Thats not essentially how it works. Almost all reading sites focus on, or acquire a focus on, a particular genre and will preponderantly attract those most interested in it. For Wattpad, its prominently  Romance, fanfic and ya romance, and a community of LGBT writers. The members are predictably largely female and YA. Prarie home reader, if that site is still around, prominently self help, day to day, parable and Short comfort stories, with a large readership nearing retirement. Here you described the motif fairly well, I think.  However, there are always a community of others for each site,  No one checks  ID at the door. SF, Fantasy, attracts a lot of females here too. There are communities of older authors on Wattpad, And SF and LitRPG get writ there. Such determinations only describe the bulk. Its just people following their general interests that end piled up as such statistics. The internet, being international, is good for that sort of interest zooming, and there are plenty of interests to go around.

By the way, Tagging was tried and is in place on Wattpad and its terrible. Most there hate it . Tags proliferate like fleas, and as writers ''make up" their own, most point to nothing in particular, and some are misspelled - therefore unsearchable, or end duplicating the same categories in other, or often, so many words.  There is nothing basically amiss with Genre tagging, and RR goes beyond that for some special interests. Wattpad simply has too many works in their mountainous slushpile, so cutting it up into multiple million work sub-groups simply does not help organize anything, especially to the satisfaction of new writers. When a site reaches a certain size,  it should spawn an auxiliary site, not try to organize the world.  just does not work that way for people. May work for big data crunching, but the point of these sites is not crunching numbers, its serving members.

Assume you go to a restaurant that has 20,000 tables and one kitchen. You sit, in a few days, a harried water comes and takes your order. a few days after that, you meal is delvered to the table. Its too big. It cant serve its customers. It needs more kitchens, and more waiters, or just needs to open more restaurants.

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#15
Make it so less than presently 95% of fictions are on hiatus (which actually means dropped 99% of the time). Not that I suggest increasing time required to get hiatus status lol. Sorry, guess got frustrated today when I searched for a new book to read and 30 in row were on hiatus :/
Maybe expand on search engine? Get some good publicity elsewhere? I read somewhere that some people generally treat RR as that site with boring litrpgs, reincarnation trope and atrocious books with a grammar of 9 year old or an Indian customer service (no offence). 

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#17

David Wrote:
Thedude3445 Wrote: Also... Gosh there really are almost no straight female protagonists in any stories I have read on this whole dang site. Never really thought of that until now.

Hey, you've read my story and that has a straight female lead! :P 

I've noticed this too though. It seems like whatever the gender the protaganists are, they must have female love interests.


Oh yeah, you're right! Well, that's why I said "almost no" lol. Though as far as I read there wasn't a romance plot as far as I remember, so I guess she coulda been gay for all I know. It's weird to be a on a site where the assumption is that the female protagonist will be gay or bi just because the authors don't wanna write about kissing dudes (?), but that's RR I guess lol


So far, the ideas seem to boil down to:

A) Expand tagging on the site to allow for more search options. I like this one, and it is a very easy fix. But I also don't know how much it will help unless the tags get increasingly specific. After all, the Romance and Satire genres do exist on this site, but they are so underused that basically every story that uses them is misusing them on purpose to get extra visibility. I don't support custom tags, even if implemented as they are on AO3 or Tapas, but a much larger list would be nice.

B) Active curation that features more stories on the front page and elsewhere. The staff has allegedly cut back recently, so this seems unlikely even if there is an outcry of support.

C) Custom reader "taste profiles" and a recommendation algorithm. Great idea but unfeasible for the same reasons as B.

The other suggestions are mostly the general "better authors should be rewarded" thing, but I guess they are good to keep in mind. I do think there is ample place for ridiculous power fantasy action stories that also appeal to women (and non-binary) readers, but when will such a thing exist? Wandering Inn, despite starring female characters and being written by a woman, doesn't have a sizeable female readership as far as I'm aware. What's the secret sauce that's missing? Is it just lack of visibility in general?

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#18
I can't speak to authorship or writing, since my MC is a robot w/out any functional "male" parts but still identifies as male.  I do have several female characters, but there will be zero romance so who knows what their preferences are.

..but from a technical aspect, I think that implementing a filter system for the front page might solve a lot of issues in terms of surfacing X niche.  If on the homepage we had a short-list of maybe 4 popular tags at the top with a "+more" for the 5th that opened a modal with all the tags, then users could click away on the tags they like and the homepage would filter the Recent, Trending, and Popular This Week titles according to the tags selected.  The preference could be stored in a cookie/localStorage for returning visitors rather than as something in the settings.  Though this approach wouldn't help users to see new books that might not be in their interest group, but it would surface books that they might be interested in that wouldn't normally reach them when compared against the full catalog of titles.

Another idea might be to allow users to create and curate custom lists of titles, and allow other users to be able to Follow those lists and get a notification when they've been updated.  This would also give the reader-only folks something to link to in their forum sigs ^__^

Re: How do we bring in more female/other readers to RR?

#20
Hmm, I really don't have any good ideas really other than reaching out to reading groups, maybe posting reviews on Goodreads (or better, non amazon owned websites), maybe seeing if there are any webnovel booktubers and pointing them at a few works on this sight, recommending to friends? Idk but i would really like some more diversity on this sight :p and i hope we come up with some workable ideas!