On Book Publishers Day (Monday, January 16th), we asked our followers across all our platforms if they had any questions for us as book publishers, and we got one anonymous ask on Tumblr! This week’s blog feature is our response to that question.
What’s the difference between catering to fanfic writers and to other kinds of writers? Or is there not much of a difference? Happy Book Publishers Day BTW.
Ah, I’m so excited that you decided to send in a question for Book Publishers Day! I delayed answering for a few days so I could really think about the answer, and now here we are. 😀
Tentatively, I’d say that there’s not a huge difference between catering to fanfic writers and catering to other kinds of writers, but there are a few. I’d say the biggest differences aren’t specifically in “how we cater to authors” so much as “how we’ve envisioned and structured the whole Press differently because of our collective roots in fandom.” Here’s some of the biggest differences that strike us, starting with those that are more narrowly about catering to the different types of writers, then getting a bit more general.
Privacy/safety concerns. While of course everyone worries about their privacy and maintaining data security is critical when dealing with contractors, employees, etc., it’s something we especially emphasize when working with fanfic writers for two primary reasons. First, a lot of fanfic writers don’t want people who know them in meatspace to become aware that they write fanfic, given the stigma against it in some communities. Second, a lot of fanfic writers are queer and they aren’t necessarily out in all their circles. Thus, we put a lot of extra effort into ensuring that people who work with us can keep their “fandom self” separate from their “meatspace self,” if they want to. I’d estimate roughly half of our authors opt to keep their various “selves” completely separate, and we work to be very public about the steps we take to protect our authors and the guarantees we have in place that we won’t “out” anyone in anyway – that we’ll do everything in our power to protect them.
Publishing education. While plenty of the authors we’ve worked with have been interested in publishing for a while, and a noticeable minority have published their original work with other Presses, a lot of our authors have always seen publishing their original stories as more of a “someday” and aren’t familiar with the processes of what happens after the stories are written. So, we put a lot of effort into process-related transparency and answering questions to ensure that writers know what to expect. For example, we make blank versions of all our contracts public so that people who are considering working with us have plenty of time to read them, research standard contracts, and decide for themselves if they think our terms are favorable. We want people to know what they’re getting into and to feel comfortable before they commit, and to feel comfortable walking away if that’s better for them.
Unconventional publishing models. That said, we’re also rather outside the mold for publishers, because only a few of the folks in our upper echelons have a background in more traditional publishing and/or medium/small Press publishing. I, the owner, have flirted at the edges of the more mainstream publishing industry but while I know a lot of people in trad pub and indy pub, I haven’t worked in it myself nor have I been traditionally published. Thus, we definitely have had a learning curve ourselves, and it also a lot of our internal structure and approaches are specifically, explicitly designed around fandom models instead of around more standard Press models. For example, we wholesale adopted a zine approach to anthology production and publishing – we select creators and give them freedom to create within the parameters of the anthology theme, then help them with editing, instead of asking for completed stories that we sift through and pick our favorites. For another example, our approaches to tagging and cataloging stories and our interest in breaking out of industry-standard rigidly defined genres are also deeply rooted in our experiences as fans and fancreators in fandom spaces. Basically, in the same way that we approach writers who are fanwriters first, original writers second, we ourselves were all fandom people first, publishers second. and our methodologies grew out of our experiences as forum moderators, fandom event creators and runners, zine editors, etc.
Community spaces. Again, because we’re looking at more of a fandom-based model transplanted onto a publishing milieu, we’re very oriented on building a community and relationships. Our Discord is quite active, and we talk about our lives, about our projects, help each other out with research and betaing, etc. To be honest, I don’t know if that’s different from other Presses, but I at least strongly suspect it’s well outside what trad pub does.
Transparency. In the end, we view Duck Prints Press as a collaboration, as something we’re growing together with writers, editors, artists, graphic designers, etc., where all of us have been active in fandoms first. Toward that end, general transparency about our decision making, processes, and plans is important to us, and we work hard to make sure that people involved in the Press know what’s going on. We hold monthly meetings to which everyone involved in the Press is invited (our next one is this Tuesday!) where we talk candidly, openly, and honestly about our progress on current projects, any set backs we’ve encountered, and how we’re doing fiscally. In the same way that, if I’m involved in a zine, I’d expect the people running it to talk about the money earned, where profits are going, if there’s been an issue with production, if someone’s life going haywire has introduced delays, etc. That’s the level of openness we aim for.
Education. This is an area where we’re still expanding, but we’ve so far offered two classes to people involved in the Press on grammar and editing stuff. The idea is, a lot of people who write fanfic aren’t “trained” authors, and we often don’t know the rules, just “what sounds right.” And, that’s fine, that’s why we have editors! But if people want to learn more, we’re striving to provide more opportunities for that. Related, we’re extremely, and atypically, transparent about our selection processes for people who apply to anthologies. We are not and will never be a black box where submission stories come in and acceptance and rejection letters go out. Not only do we use a rating rubric that’s available publicly, we also share completed rubrics with authors upon request. We want people who are interested in learning and improving to see our notes and to have the chance to ask questions. We want to support people who are aiming to improve. And, flipside, we don’t automatically send those rubrics out to applicants because we wholeheartedly subscribe to the fandom-standard attitude that concrit is only helpful when it’s asked for. If someone doesn’t want more information, doesn’t want to improve (because improvement NEVER has to be one’s goal as a writer, especially for fanwriters doing fic for fun!), we don’t force that feedback on anyone! So, so many of our structures are based on fandom models, are grounded in fandom ethos.
Relaxed restrictions. All of the people who run the business are queer (I’m aroace genderfluid, myself), and most us are neurodivergent (my diagnoses are ADHD and clinical depression), and some of us are disabled (my wife, for example, is an ambulatory wheelchair user, though she’s not heavily involved in the management team…right now she’s anonymizing the submissions to Aether Beyond the Binary), and many of us are parents (I have two kids, aged almost 5 and almost 7). I’ve been active in online fandoms for more than 20 years, and the people in my fandom circles have overwhelming shared the above characteristics. Most are queer. Most are neurodivergent. Many struggle with health issues and disability. Many are parents, have multiple jobs, are caring for parents, are supporting their partners, are facing a multitude of meatspace challenges that make working in a traditional publication model difficult or impossible. In a lot of publishing, things like really struggling with deadlines, or having to navigate the potential for unexpected health flareups, or juggling multiple jobs, or working around a child’s schedule, would be dealbreakers – the deadline is the deadline, meet it or get out. That’s…so not us. We strive to create an environment with the flexibility to meet people where they are, where having life go sideways (cause let’s be real, life always goes sideways sooner or later) doesn’t disqualify someone from breaking into the industry. As long creators communicate with us about their hurdles, we are very free about giving extensions, making exceptions, tweaking schedules, etc. We don’t want anyone hurting themselves just for a story. Yes, it can make management more challenging at times, but we always look to grant the same grace that we hope to be given when our own lives get complicated. (2022 has been a huge example of this, as my health issues resulted in my needing surgery last February and it completely disrupted all our project timelines for the year – we’ve really only just caught up in the last month or so).
Setting expectations. We aim to set realistic expectations with authors who write with us. My own sense of other models is that most publishers promise success without necessarily delving into things like “but you’ll have to handle all your own marketing” or “this is how many copies you can honestly expect to sell.” Authors can often be in for a rude awakening once they’re in the door and contracted and would be hard-pressed to back out. We’re very small, and we operate on a shoe-string budget (I have been operating Duck Prints Press for just over two years and we’ve never yet earned enough for me to take a paycheck, and we’re in the red for both of our first two years, though our 2022 numbers are a significant improvement over 2021 and we have every reason to hope we’ll keep growing). We can’t afford a lot of advertising, can’t be the only source of marketing, can’t promise that people will sell lots of copies (full disclosure re: what that means, our average short story sells under 10 copies during the first week it’s released). We can’t promise anyone a livable paycheck. What we offer instead is community, support, creative freedom, understanding, and the chance to be part of a fan-run business that is slowly but surely growing, and growing amazingly. No editor will ever say “you have to change xyz so your story will sell.” No editor will ever say, “we just don’t want that story.” We want to publish what our writers want to publish, and we want to work all together to help grow all our audiences. And that means, for people involved right now while we’re this young, we can’t promise much, but we can promise one wonderful thing: that the future looks bright.
This went a bit beyond “working with fanfiction writers versus trad pub writers” and more into “ways we approach things differently than a more mainstream Press,” but I think that does tie into how the approach is different. We’re not viewing the Press as The Owner And Managers Who Are Always Above and the writers as The Content Creators And Cash Cows. All of us in the management team are also fandom people, fanwriters, fanartists, etc. It’s not two distinct groups, it’s one big group of more-or-less equals (yes, there’s still a hierarchy, there has to be some, but it’s not super top-down and there’s lots of opportunities for people to share their skills up the not-really-a-ladder) with the doors thrown wide open to welcome in more folks.
And that, I think, is the crux of the difference of how we cater to fanfic authors compared to what we might do differently if we were working with a more mainstream set of authors. While we do maintain certain editorial standards and we obviously don’t accept everyone who applies, we still try to cast a wide net, to opt for inclusion over exclusion, to try to make allowances, to make space for people at different levels, with different experiences, with different life challenges, etc. In the end, I’d love everyone who ever applies to work with us to end up as part of the Press, because if people want to work with us, we want to work with them! There’s no way to just bring in everyone at once, and some people need to hone their skills more before they’ll be ready to meet the writing standards we aim for, but it’s nothing that can’t be learned. And, if people want to learn it, we want to help them learn it.
We’re a publisher, yes, but we’re also a community of fanwriters who all dream of being published, helping each other to make that dream a reality.
This was probably a ton more answer than was really necessary, but here we are. 😀 Thanks for asking, anon, and I hope you found the answer informative!
(I’m @unforth, by the way, it occurs to me a lot of people may not realize that.)
A new year brings with it new resolutions—and for many of us, that includes reading resolutions. It’s a truism that resolutions tend to fail. A local radio announcer here said that 67% of Americans have never completed a resolution in their life, and if you can’t trust a random local radio announcer in the mountains of North Carolina, who can you trust?
I think part of the reason resolutions fail is they feel like work. And that’s especially a shame when it comes to reading resolutions. Reading is wonderful! Sitting down with a good book makes my heart sing, even when (especially when) the book makes me cry or rage at the injustice of the world or stare out the window wondering how I’ll ever be the same after reading it.
Thus, I’m afraid that resolutions to read more diversely don’t do justice to the wonder of diverse books. There are whole worlds out there that racism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, anti-semitism, and other forms of bigotry keep from us. It’s amazing that we live in a time where we can peel back that dusty film between us and the wonders of reality.
That’s all well and good to say, of course, but how do you put that principle into practice? How do you resolve to read diversely without turning all that wonder into just another box to be ticked?
I think we can start by acknowledging that, as Danika Ellis puts it, “books” and “reading” are two different hobbies.
Thinking about books, listening to reviews of books, browsing bookstores, talking about books…these are all, in some ways, the hobby of books. These funnel into the hobby of reading, but it’s not a one-to-one connection, as my piles of unread books can testify. (Both hobbies run into a third hobby of buying books, which is a topic for a different post.)
In the hobby of reading, you’ll run into limits, whether they be money, time, or the physical number of books you can carry from the library in one visit. The beauty of the hobby of books is its lack of limitations. You can dream big. This is the two-story library I would have in my home, were I rich as sin. This is the cozy window seat in which I would read this million-word fantasy series.
So, how do you diversifying your reading hobby in 2023? First, seek out diverse books in the infinite playground of books as a hobby. Search phrases like “Best fantasy by black authors,” “Best BIPOC-authored books of 2022,” “Most-anticipated queer fiction of 2023”… you get the idea. Browse them to find what sounds good to you. I keep a TBR list—have for almost 10 years—but you don’t need to keep a literal list (though you might find one helpful if you don’t already have it!). Make a wishlist on your preferred book-purchasing website. Remember the books that sing to you. You don’t need to have a responsible goal in mind, like a resolution or a book bingo, unless you want to give yourself that extra challenge. Pick books based on their covers, or because they have a cat in them, or whatever gets you interested.
When you incorporate diverse books into your book hobby, it transforms the reading hobby too. When you’re back in the real world with all its limits and you can only grab two books, you won’t think, “Oh, I really want the two books Brandon Sanderson has magicked into published existence this month, but I have to tick a checkbox.” That way lies stacks of unread books chosen nearly at random solely because of the representation they contain or appear to contain. Instead, you will face the much better and much worse problem of thinking, “Oh, I really want the two books Brandon Sanderson has magicked up, but also Rust in the Root by Justina Ireland, but also Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, but also Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi…”
(You think you know what it means to have too many books? You have not yet begun to comprehend too many books!)
Aside from the emotional turmoil of choosing between even more books when transitioning from your book hobby to your reading hobby, though, diversifying your book hobby has no downsides. It becomes part of your life. It lets you explore the world in full color.
And yes, it makes it easy and fun to read more diverse books.
Want some additional support in figuring out ways to diversify your reading? Here’s some other blog posts we’ve done that relate, at least tangentially, to this topic!
Who We Are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Love what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more.
Through the month of January, 2023, all new monthly backers on our Patreon andko-fi can claim a merchandise freebie in addition to all their backer rewards – which, depending on your backer level, could include a free copy of this story! Why not take a peek at what we have to offer?
A post by Duck Prints Press staff editor Lacey Hays.
In the publishing world, the word “pitch” conjures up a certain image. Perhaps you’ve been asked to write an “elevator speech” so you can quickly pitch your story to an interested party at a conference or meeting. Maybe you’ve participated in Twitter pitch-parties where you only have 255 characters to hook an agent. Every publisher and agent has their own expectations, and we are no different at Duck Prints Press. Since submissions are open again, we thought we’d take out some of the guesswork and tell you what we, as a press, are looking for.
For authors who have never worked with us before, the application asks for two submissions: a writing sample and a pitch. The requirements for the writing sample are listed as part of the rubric for each anthology. We’re often looking for something a little different with each project, so we highly encourage you to look over the rubric and follow it closely when selecting a piece of your writing to share. Otherwise, it’s pretty straightforward. We want to see the best of you—a polished selection of writing that sings to your abilities as an author.
What we’re looking for in a pitch is more subjective and a bit different from other presses. Many presses only accept fully written stories, so a pitch is used as a teaser to drum up interest. We choose authors for their storytelling ability, assessed by their writing samples, and then ask them to write us a new, never-before-seen story. While we don’t expect authors to submit completed stories, we do want to know you have a fully realized story you want to write that interests us and fits within the anthology’s themes and requirements. In essence, what we would like is a cross between a teaser and a summary—something interesting that tells us how the story will unfold and lets us see how it might fit in with the other stories in the anthology.
Here are our suggestions on how you can create dynamic and interesting pitches specifically for Duck Prints Press:
Spoil us! No, seriously. We want to know the beginning, the middle, and the end of your story. Or, if not the end, at least give us a clear view of story progression with an intriguing hook. We need to know there is a story in your heart and that you know where it’s going.
Fit the brief. Every anthology is unique. Each one has a list of requirements, and your pitch should make it clear how your proposed story fits those requirements. If the anthology asks for a certain genre, a certain type of character, or a certain type of relationship, call those things out. Don’t make us guess.
Give your pitch some character. Who are the main players and what are their relationships? How do you want these relationships to resolve? Found family? Tell us! Enemies to lovers? Same! The characters don’t need names yet, but they nonetheless need to live and breath on the page.
Plot is everything. What does the main character (MC) want, what is in their way, and how does their life change? What motivates your MC? Who, or what, is the antagonist, and why? How do you want to resolve the plot (even if you leave off on a question?) You won’t convince us you’re ready to tell this story without conveying these aspects of the story.
Make us feel. Is there longing in your story? Passion? Anger? Romance? We want to get a feel for the tone as we read your pitch. Please make sure it matches the tone we’ve asked for in the anthology, though. A grimdark horror story for a “happily ever after” anthology won’t make the cut.
Take all the space you need. Each pitch has a maximum number of words. We give plenty of room to make sure you can fit everything you need because we’re looking for so much more than an elevator speech. Be aware of the flow, though. You want to be concise and exciting.
Edit, edit, edit. Your pitch is as important as your writing sample and should be edited to the best of your ability. It should be formatted well, have good sentence variety, use excellent grammar, and have been spell checked. We don’t expect perfection, but editing is a major part of our process. We like to see that our authors turn in their best work every time. It can often help to have someone else look over your work before you turn it in. We strongly encourage the use of alpha and beta readers for all press work.
Tag it. We ask that, in addition to submitting your pitch, you also submit a list of preliminary tags. Think about how you would tag this story if you were to post it on Archive of Our Own. Will your story contain potentially upsetting content like sexual abuse (on screen or off screen?) Character death? Harm to children? Our staff has a variety of life experiences and while we strongly believe in your freedom to write what you want, we believe equally in harm reduction and giving people the tools they need to curate their own experiences. We request more general tags as well. Are you planning a story that you’d call fluffy? Is it angst with a happy ending, or hurt/comfort, or whump? We’d love to see tags similar to those that would go in each section of an AO3 post: major warnings/potential triggers, type of relationship (if any), and “additional tags.” You don’t have to have everything single thing in there, and they can potentially change, but tags help us assess what tone and specific content you’re planning to include in your story, once it’s fletched out from short pitch to full length. Tagging is not optional.
Most of all, have fun! If you are in love with your story, we will see that love. You are applying to write with us because you have a passion for writing that you want to share with the world. Don’t get lost in the details and forget. We have authors from around the world who have written for a huge variety of fandoms, people who are native speakers and grammarians, people who speak English as a second (or third) language, people who dabble in every genre. What do we all have in common? A passion for the craft. We love to write, and we want to work with people who also love to write. You—yes you!—can do this, and we can’t wait to see what you have to show.
Looking for more information? We’ve got you covered; this is not the first time we’ve written about pitches!
The last time we opened for submissions, we did an anthology-specific post about what we look for in pitches, including samples of pitches we liked from applicants to our first anthology, Add Magic to Taste.
Who We Are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Love what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more.
Through the month of January, 2023, all new monthly backers on our Patreon andko-fi can claim a merchandise freebie in addition to all their backer rewards – which, depending on your backer level, could include a free copy of this story! Why not take a peek at what we have to offer?
By a member of the Duck Prints Press staff who has chosen to be anonymous.
Note: Punk genres are diverse and always changing. Duck Prints Press is not trying to give a complete explanation of aetherpunk here but rather a bit of inspiration. Take what you want from it to create your own aetherpunk worlds!
On January 5th, Duck Prints Press will be launching recruitment for our next anthology: Aether Beyond the Binary, a collection of stories featuring main characters outside the gender binary living in modern or near-future aetherpunk Earth! This begs the question: what IS Aetherpunk? Well, read on and learn all about it…
Prologue: From the Aether
Scenes from the Aether #1: Bloomington, Indiana, 2013:
Lin steps into the café down the street from their apartment. The lights of the shop glow a pleasant green, reminiscent of the owner’s own magical aura. Soon, when Del opens the shop for customers, they’ll turn a more standard blue, but for now Del’s shop is cozy and quiet. Lin smiles, looking forward to seeing their friend.
A shower of blue sparks flies from the kitchen’s open door, and Del scrambles out, cursing. When he sees Lin, he breaks into a wry smile.
“Breakfast on the house?” he offers, his shorthand for pleading.
“That’s the third time this week,” Lin chides, barely holding back their smile. They roll up their sleeves to go tinker with Del’s new, “improved” baking oven. “Why not use your old one?”
“The aether this model uses is supposed to be more efficient!” Del exclaims. Then, with a sad smile: “Plus no one trusts my powers. They still think the color’s associated with… you know.”
“Yeah.” Lin knows. They think of Del’s infamous brother, the deadly alchemist. “I’ll help you, but this is the last time.”
“Mhm,” Del says, nudging Lin’s shoulder, and adds telepathically, You say that every time.
You could try not being so smug about it, Lin half scolds, half laughs.
“Why wouldn’t I be smug? My handsome, brilliant friend, the undisputed genius of the IU School of Aetheric Engineering, is fixing my pipes for free.”
Lin blushes but maintains their chiding tone as they say, their warm face hidden behind the stove where the power supply has once again leaked from its pipes, “Not for free. For breakfast.”
-anonymous Duck Prints Press staff member
Part One: What’s in a Punk (genre)?
There’s been an explosion of punk genres since Bruce Bethke’s 1983 story Cyberpunk launched the genre. Though Bethke’s story may have given a name to this phenomenon, in his Etymology of “Cyberpunk” Bethke credits William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) for really defining the core tenets of the genre (Bethke, 2000). He also marvels at how the cyberpunk character trope (“a young, technologically facile, ethically vacuous, computer-adept vandal or criminal”) has stayed remarkably stable over the years since his story was published. In 2022, when I’m writing this, it’s still very similar. The cyberpunks in the cyberpunk genre are the sorts of lone heroes who often arise in the isolating environments fostered by advanced computer technologies.
Why am I rambling on about cyberpunk? Because, dear readers, cyberpunk is the progenitor of all genrepunks. As the most widely explored and utilized punk setting, it has provided the blueprint on which other punk genres are built. In essence, every punk after cyberpunk is a reaction to cyberpunk, either embracing or pushing back against its ethos. After cyberpunk came steampunk: a retro, adventurous answer to cyberpunk’s gritty and dystopian futurism. Then came others: dieselpunk, sandalpunk, biopunk—even the very meta “mythpunk” to which Neil Gaiman’s work is often attributed. These days, even non-punk fantasy is often punk-adjacent.
So what makes punk stories… punk? For a story to be classified in a punk genre, it typically requires two key elements: a distinctive type of technology (whether social technology like myths and lore or physical technology like steam engines, diesel-powered airships, or nanobots) and a point of view about that technology.
The technological distinctions can seem fairly obvious: atompunk features tech powered by nuclear energy; nanopunk, tiny robot technology; biopunk, genetic engineering and biotech; dieselpunk, diesel-powered machines. But focusing on only the tech aspects can make people miss the point of having multiple different punk subgenres.
Take this paraphrased version of a forum conversation, circa 2015:
[User 1]: Hey, I’ve been hearing more and more about this genre called ‘aetherpunk,’ but I can’t figure out what it is. How is it different from just steampunk but with magic?
[User 2]: Sorry to tell you, friend, but it’s basically just “steampunk with magic.”
[User 1]: Ah. So, completely useless, then.
This view is common but misses the point. The tech alone does not make punk punk. The second necessary element is the cultural context of the technology: how does it affect the people who use it every day? How dissociated do those people feel from their environment? From their government? From the inevitable march of society, driven at least partially by technological advances using the genre-specific tech? Punk genres live and breathe for their exploration of the intersection between technology and culture.
Genreunk is a response to the world we live in. Cultural evolution happens when technologies—lore, steam engines, printing presses, atomic bombs—intersect with cultural habits and traditions and shake them loose. We don’t live in the only, or the best, possible world. When we write punk, in some ways, we’re rewriting cultural evolution. We’re asking for a new way of thinking about the past and how that carries forward into the future. How we would be different. How we would be the same.
Punk isn’t just a genre. It’s a tool for understanding humanity.
Part Two: Clear Air, a History of Aether
In the beginning, gods breathed their essence into the emptiness of space, and aether entered the universe as the material through which the stars and planets moved. Humans in ancient Greece, attuned to this invisible presence, named it “clear air” and declared it the fifth element, along with earth, water, air, and fire. Other cultures gave this energy different names or didn’t name it at all but nonetheless knew it was there. Over a thousand years later, medieval Europeans called it “quintessence” and hypothesized that this element, rare on Earth, could be distilled in order to cure mortal ailments. Aether was a substance that could make rocks burn and lights glow. It became a key ingredient in classic alchemical experiments in the West.
Aether has always been the bringer of light, the unchanging medium through which energy travels in waves from its source to the lenses of our eyes, to the leaves of hungry plants, to everywhere on the planet and throughout the universe. Indeed, it was so recently believed in and well-known that late 19th-century spiritualists took photos of ectoplasm and declared that ghosts could send messages through the aether.
Then, a mere hundred-odd years ago, we lost faith.
The idea of aether seems preposterous now, when we know about electron fields and the theory of relativity which states that nothing in the universe is stable or unchanging (and we certainly don’t need a special medium that exists to move light around)—but is it really so much harder to believe in aether than in electron fields? Or in dark matter?
Why shouldn’t we be swimming through aether like a fish swims through water?
Part Three: What is Aether/Punk?
Aetherpunk, the genre, explores what the world would be like if, rather than finding out aether was simply a confused explanation for how energy moves through space, we discovered that it was a real element, something we could both detect and harness. The nature of the aether isn’t what makes aetherpunk what it is. Rather, it’s the exploration of the development of society from the turning point when we discover that the aether is real—how that changes the world, the people, the past, and the future.
Aether, the invisible force, can be everything and nothing. It can be magic, or it can be material. In some disciplines, like alchemy, it’s both. Aether is made of faith. It’s ephemeral, often immaterial, and only visible once the viewer knows what they’re looking for. It can cause disaster or provide beautiful, clean energy for wondrous technologies. It can be a source of progress or of fear. But in the end, it’s still a thing that must be discovered and cultivated. It can’t be forced into existence.
Aetherpunk as a genre is more naturistic than earlier punk genres like steampunk or cyberpunk. Natural materials find their way into clothing and buildings and weapons and tools, and the shapes of these man-made elements are designed in ways that enhance their ability to harness aetheric power. There might be constructs of stone or finely-honed metal held together by aetheric energy, beautiful steel weapons that cut through stone using atom-thick edges of pure aether, skyships and buildings of gold, or of clear stone, or of glass and crystal. And the technology bathes its surroundings in a luminous glow of aetheric light.
Like solarpunk and lunarpunk, aetherpunk is a hopeful punk genre. When aether is discovered and harnessed, it brings about flourishing communities and can help to heal the world. Of course there are dark sides—the dangers of a volatile power source that not everyone can control, the frustrations of the people who are unable to use that power for themselves—and anyone is welcome to write a dark aetherpunk story. But aetherpunk doesn’t come with the same inherent baggage as steampunk or cyberpunk. Likewise, people can write utopian steampunk and cyberpunk, but that’s the opposite of the “standard” core of the genre. Aetherpunk wants to explore humanity in a universe where we don’t struggle simply to light our homes. Where the power that runs everything suffuses the universe, and therefore everyone can reap the benefits. A world where our source of power doesn’t send millions of people to an early grave. What sorts of stories would emerge in this sort of world?
Part Four: Steampunk but with Aether?
Now that we’ve described what aetherpunk is, let’s return to that dreadful forum post, and ask for ourselves: what makes aetherpunk more than just “steampunk but with aether”?
In short, everything.
First is the nature of the energy that powers the technology. Steampunk is a retrofuturistic genre that centers on the era when steam, fueled by wood and coal, was the main power source, around the turn of the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution. It harkens back to the aesthetics of the era, with wood and steel and glass materials, wooden ships that ply the air, clockworks and rivets and tangible, heavy things that work through sheer force. Steam is a thing with weight. It will melt your flesh from your bones, and it’s born not of faith, nor internal strength, nor the careful distillation of spirits down to their quintessence, but instead through fire. Another resource needs to burn to make it. Entire lives are spent feeding coal into the voracious maws of steam engines.
Aetherpunk, as we’ve described, is born of magic, and thus the technology to use it focuses on cultivation and focusing energy rather than on producing something by force. Even the most cursory look at the nature of the energy source shows us how every aspect of society linked with producing that energy is different between steampunk stories and aetherpunk stories.
There’s also a very important cultural distinction between aetheric stories and steam-powered stories. In steampunk, the adventures of sky pirates and nobility are built on the efforts of a vast lower class who are systematically shut out from steam’s benefits. It may not matter to the story at hand, but the underlying class tension is always there. Like cyberpunk, steampunk takes inequality as a given, and places singular heroes into that world.
Aetherpunk is more utopian and egalitarian. There’s no assumption built in that in order for a person to use their magical flying ship, someone else must suffer to create the energy needed to fuel it. This distinction makes all the difference in how aetherpunk and steampunk stories are told.
In either case, the power source can be wonderful or terrible, can fuel dystopian nightmares or hopeful solutions to the troubles that ail the world. But the fundamental nature of these technologies affects the way characters think and speak about the world they inhabit. Is it a place of smog or of shimmering lights? Is it a place where magic competes with technology, or is it a place where magic is the technology? The answers to these questions are different in every punk genre, and those differences should have a profound impact on the story’s narrative.
Where will your aetherpunk story take you?
Epilogue: From the Aether
Scenes from the Aether #2: San Francisco, 2043
Shining, multicolored bridges bend but do not break in the powerful earthquake that, in previous eras, would have shaken buildings from their foundations and dropped bridges into the bay. Drivers and pedestrians cling to whatever safety they can as the structures sag and sway and finally, after all is done, snap back to form as though the past minute was only a bad dream.
Trill breathes a ragged sigh before stepping back onto zir motorcycle and kicking the starter. A blue glow and a warm hum are the only signs that the bike is powering up before Trill finishes crossing the bridge, a little jumpy from the unexpected shaking but no worse for wear. Ze has a long way still to go before ze arrive at Heloise’s house. Ze can’t wait to see zir friend, who is finally home after her long trip to Lima where she was training magicians to harness their power.
Trill rides north into the mountains while the sun sets to zir west, out above the ocean, and the world glows orange and pink. By the time ze powers down zir bike, the sky is silky black and filled with stars. Trill climbs toward Heloise’s small house, which is built into the slope; the soft blue glow of natural aether in the rocks lights the way. Ze knocks on Heloise’s wooden door; Heloise answers with a hug around Trill’s waist, her face pressed into Trill’s chest. Trill laughs, something in zir heart finally relaxing.
It’s been a long eight months.
She pulls Trill inside, into this warm place she’s made in the lonely hills above the bay, and even though ze doesn’t deserve it, Trill revels in her welcome. It feels like coming home.
-anonymous Duck Prints Press staff member
Examples of Aetherpunk
As aetherpunk is a young genre, examples are sparse, and there are many opinions on what “counts” and what doesn’t. For example, some people consider Lord of the Rings to be aetherpunk, due to the way it brings magic and technology together (especially in Mordor and in Sarumon’s plot line) and the way the magic interacts withsociety. The below list should not be considered exhaustive, just as this post shouldn’t be treated as The Last Word on the nature of aetherpunk.
Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
Want to support the Press, read about us behind-the-scenes, learn about what’s coming down the pipeline, get exclusive teasers, and claim free stories? Back us on Patreon or ko-fi monthly and read your fill!
Part 2 of a 2-part series of guest posts by Alec J. Marsh.Part 1, “Why Query Letters are Good, Actually,”came out last week; you can read it here!
Alec is also the author of Duck Prints Press’s forthcoming novella To Drive the Hundred Miles, about a young man coming home for the holidays and finding more than he expected. It’s coming out December 21st, 2022. They know what they’re talking about, as an author and about a writer-writing-about-writing, so read on and learn!
Now that you’ve read the first post in this series, and had a week to reflect on it… are you convinced yet? Are you ready to acquire the most important marketing skill of your career? Great!
If you’re primarily interested in how to pitch to Duck Prints Press specifically, there will be a full post about that coming out in the near future. But I promise, these skills will help you whatever your writing aspirations are.
1. The Really Boring Part
Most queries open with a paragraph called “metadata.” This is all the marketing stuff that you need to get out of the way so your agent/editor knows what kind of book it is. This includes
Length: This is vitally important for traditional publishing. If you are a debut author and your story isn’t within the accepted range, you’ll get automatically rejected by most agents. There are very good industry reasons for that, but discussing that’s a different article. If you want to look at the averages, check out this link.
Genre and age range: This is practical for marketing and readership purposes, and it also puts the summary in context.
Comparative (or Comp) Titles: This is a tricky one, and a full discussion on selecting appropriate comparative titles could easily be its own separate blog post, but the short version is that you should pick titles that your book can be compared to. That can be descriptive—”Supernatural but set in Eastern Europe”—or genre—”For fans of Tamora Pierce”—or even trope based—”Sunshine/Grumpy romance set in a world of danger and magic.” There are a ton of options, but the main point is to position your story in the market and make it easy to pick up quickly.
Logline: This serves a similar purpose as the comp titles do and is meant to sum up one cool part of your story. It doesn’t have to sum up the entire story. For example, Gideon the Ninth sounds wild if you try to summarize the plot, but I’ve been able to convince all my friends to read it by saying simply, “it’s about lesbian necromancers in space.” That’s all you need! In casual conversation, this is often called your “elevator pitch.” Imagine you’re at a convention and you get into the elevator with your dream agent, and you have only the length of the elevator ride to sell them your novel. What do you say? That’s your logline.
***Both comp titles and logline are technically optional, and you don’t need both of them. It’s better to write something unique than to waste the space putting something in just because you think you need it.
2. The Biography
This usually goes at the end of the query. Don’t overthink it. If you have any credentials, put those in; relevant credentials can include past publications, editing jobs, or a creative writing degree. Then write one to two sentences that make you sound interesting. For example, I say that I like long walks in the fog (because I write moody fantasy) and have a history degree (because it inspires my fantasy world building).
3. The Body
I left this until the last because it’s the hardest and most important part. A killer summary will make up for dull metadata and a lackluster bio. But if the body of your query letter is weak, no MFA in the world will save you. This section should be 300 words maximum.
Your simplest formula for including what needs to be in this paragraph is four sentences: LEAD, OBJECTIVE, CONFLICT, TWIST. It’s simpler than you think to write the first draft. I promise. Let it be terrible, get it down, then edit it to a fine shine (much like you’ve already done with that novel!).
Lead: This is your main character. Name them and describe them by including their profession, skills, or other plot-relevant details.
Objective: What does your main character want? Try to make this as specific as possible. “Longs for acceptance” is vague and generic. “Wants to be accepted into the Book Guild” is specific and gives a reader clues about their personality and the setting. You can put in some information about motivation here too. Maybe her father was also a bookbinder and she needs to redeem the family name.
Conflict: Now we’re getting to the meat of it! Why can’t your main character get what they want? Again, try to be specific and don’t leave it to platitudes. If the bookbinders just don’t like her, that’s generic. If they don’t like her because they think she’s as corrupt as her father was and will bring ruin to them, that’s something a reader can really dig into. We have themes implied now! We understand this is a story about family ties, redemption, and preconceived notions, and you didn’t even need to spell that out.
Twist: This is the most nebulous part of the query. The twist can be a real plot twist, like her discovering that the bookbinding guild also sells occult books. It can be a cool thing about the setting, like the bookstore being on an airship. It can be the romantic subplot, if she falls in love with her rival apprentice. It can be the historical inspiration, if the book is set in a fantasy world reminiscent of Renaissance Italy. In short, what makes your book special? What’s going to prompt people to shove it in their friend’s faces? It’s similar to the logline in that way.
You can also put the twist at the beginning of the body paragraph, if it’s really cool. You can weave it throughout. You can put it at the end in a mic drop moment. Just make your book sound cool. That’s literally all this is!
And those three sections…are basically it! Doesn’t sound so scary now, right? Oh wait, it still does? Okay, then, here’s some more tips to help you!
Write down everything you need in a query in whatever order works for you. I do it like a sad, clunky mad libs just so it’s all on the page. It’s a lot of pressure to include all this important information AND make it pretty in one go.
Ask your beta readers to help! It’s hard to summarize your own stories when you’ve been living inside them for months. I’ve helped so many friends with their queries because they wrote something perfectly serviceable and technically correct that somehow still made their story sound frightfully boring. (This is not a condemnation of their skill as writers. The skills needed to write queries are completely different.)
Don’t use rhetorical questions. This is mostly personal taste, but I think they’re a waste of space. “Will she follow her heart?” is sort of useless when 99% of stories are about people following their heart. “She must choose between her ambition and the chance at true love” is so much more clear and includes more conflict.
The body of your query letter actually only needs to include the first 30-50% of the story in most cases—enough to leave the reader/agent/editor eager to know what happens next, and no more. This isn’t true if the twist is necessary to understanding why the story is exciting. Can you imagine trying to sell Gone Girl without including the twist that it was all a set up? That twist took the story from generic true crime to something truly original. So to some extent, you’ll need to use your judgment, but there’s rarely any need to try to fit the whole plot into that 300-word paragraph.
Above all, be specific.
Do not shy away from giving spoilers (again: BE SPECIFIC). “She finds information that may change everything,” are seven words that tell you nothing. If you say what the information is (“she finds a note from her father that makes it clear he was framed”), you’ll leave the reader desperate to know what the outcome will be, begging for the rest of the story.
Get the query competent and coherent, and then leave it for at least a week. This is good editing advice for any story, but it’s absolutely vital for a query. Because they’re so short and so much rides on them, every single word you write in the query has to be useful, and every sentence has to be clear, concise, and intriguing. Don’t rush this; it’s better to go slow and get it right then hurry along and face a pile of rejections.
Have a query beta reader who hasn’t read your story. Make sure it makes sense with no context. Revise it again. Leave it for another week. (I’m sorry. But I’m not really.)
I know this sounds like a lot. Query letters are hard, and the pressure makes it harder. Writing culture loves to hate on them, for good reason. But you learned to write a novel, something that takes years to master! You can learn to write a query letter too. I won’t pretend it’s easy, but it is a skill you can learn, and it’s worth it! With a single page, you can convince people to buy your book, and that’s magical!
You can learn more about Alec here; you can learn more about To Drive the Hundred Miles here, and read a teaser here. And, you can check out Alec’s two already-published erotica works Heart’s Scaffoldingand Study Hall.
Who we are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
Part One of a Two-part series of guest posts by Alec J. Marsh.
Hello, it’s me, Alec. I’m a new editor to Duck Prints Press and the resident corporate shill sellout. I love Duck Prints Press and their ethics (and will write an opinion piece soon on why they rock and you should submit to them). I also…. love traditional publishing.
I’m sorry! I know this makes me a trend-following sheep. I know it’s a hot take in the indie pub crowd. Traditional publishing absolutely has its flaws, and I could go on at length about them. I’m still aiming to get my novels traditionally published. I want to be able to find my book at a Barnes & Noble and be nominated for a Hugo. Sorry not sorry.
One of the worst parts of traditional publishing is the arcane hoops you have to jump through to participate. As anyone who has poked querying with a long, tentative stick knows, there are many requirements, and every agent’s website uses slightly different phrasing, and it’s a nightmare to navigate. It’s an extra nightmare if you’re neurodivergent and desperately seeking a clear, simple list of expectations. Unfortunately, the basic requirements are there for a reason. A GOOD reason. Learning the skills required to put together a good query package will serve you well, whether you want a ten-book deal with Tor, to sell hand-stapled zines at the local convention, or anything in between.
So let’s get into it!
The first thing you need in any submission process is a query letter. What is a query letter? In short, it’s a 3-5 paragraph essay about your book, yourself, and why a publisher should buy your work (and therefore why an agent should agree to represent you). You need to tell the agent the genre, the plot, and why this book is special. They are excruciating to write, because yes, you need to condense your book down to 300 words, maximum, and sell it at the same time.
But imagine, for a moment, that you’ve walked into Ye Olde Barnes & Noble. There, on the end cap, is a cool new fantasy book you’ve never heard of. The cover has a sword and a snake on it, and you like swords and snakes. But how is it different from the 20 other books with names like A Court of Swords and Snakes that have come out in the last five years? The first thing you do is pick the book up, turn to the back cover, and read.
You know what’s on the back cover?
Paragraph one: In a stunning tour de force, ACOSAS takes you through the glittering world of naga politics… (A teaser sentence)
Paragraph two: Princess Arya has always wanted to be a dancer. But when the evil northerners attack her kingdom… (A paragraph about the main character and the central conflict of the book)
Paragraph three: Alec J Marsh lives in the Pacific Northwest and has never seen a snake in the wild. (A biography of the author)
Guess what you just read? A query letter. In many cases, what’s in the blurb is actually pretty close to the exact query letter the author originally sent to their agent. Yes, really. Sometimes a query letter makes it from agent to editor to publicist to final copy.
They’re that important.
But Alec, I hear you say, I’m not planning to get trad published! Why do I need to do this? Well, indie and self-published people—you will need to write cover copy for your book. And you’ll almost certainly need to write it yourself. The good and the bad part of self-publishing is that you do everything yourself. Less meddling (good!), but less help (bad!). And here’s the hard truth: absolutely no one will spend a single one of their hard-earned dollars on “sex babes get pounded by space aliens” if the back cover says “lol I suck at summaries, I promise it’s good :)” It’s useless, and it’s disrespectful to the buyer’s time and money.
And that is why query letters are good, actually, for all writers, and are worth practicing how to create!
So go out there and sell your books, and you’ll accidentally write your query along the way.
In Installment Two…now that I’ve convinced you that you should write a query letter, I’ll go over how to actually, you know, do that. You can read part 2 here!
When we first released it, we got an ask about how to use it; below is a Trello tutorial for those unfamiliar with how to use it, focused specifically on our boards and how they’re organized!
While we’re still hammering out the details on how best to organize the Trello for utility both for us as we organize things and to the public – in particular, I’ll need to tweak how it’s set up if we’re going to effectively use the built-in calendar functionality – here’s how it’s set up now.
Note: all screen caps were taken on September 17th, 2022, and do not reflect the exact current organization or the currentproject status of the items shown in the captures.
The highest level of organization on a Trello Board is the lists. We’ve currently got a whole bunch of different lists.
At a Glance: this is the “overview” lists. It includes all of our current projects, and all of our regular/general management. Those are organized on Cards – more on that next.
Task Implementation Check Lists: we were having trouble sometimes remembering everything that needed to be done for certain “big” tasks we do regularly (such as publishing a story on our website) so we’ve begun to create guide lists to help us remember every process step that needs to be done. This also helps as we grow and more tasks are delegated.
Merchandise: lists all the merchandise we’ve currently got in production/in process, and what their current status is. (it does NOT include merch produced for past campaigns/activities)
After those two, we have a whole bunch of lists that all serve the same function: they indicate what stage of editing we’ve completed for each of a number of stories we’re currently working on.
Developmental – Writing in Progress: first draft isn’t done
Developmental – Draft Completed: first draft is done, waiting for an editor
Concept Editing – First Pass Completed: a concept-edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review
Concept Editing – Second Pass Completed: a second concept-edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
Copy – First Edits Completed: a SPAG edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
Copy – Second Pass Completed: a second SPAG edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
Copy – Final Edits Completed: a final/clean-up SPAG edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
Final Edits Approved, Contract Sent and Pending Signature: the author has approved the final edit run and has been sent their contract.
Story Completed, Contract Signed, Author Paid, Preliminary Formatting Done: what it says on the tin
Typesetting – First Pass: the typesetter has done the first run on formatting the story for print.
Typesetting Completed: what it says on the tin.
Not every story needs every one of these steps, and sometimes stories need more concept or SPAG runs than this, but we thought this division reflected the process stories go through most often. All task cards feature the author’s chosen pen name and the current working title of the story, if it has one.
Completed Project Lists: the next lists feature information on our completed projects, and can function as a (difficult to navigate and poorly organized but existent!) list of what’s available in our shop. It’s divided into four categories, reflecting the four places where our projects usually “end up” when they’re completed. (A fifth end point is “in an anthology,” and then that anthology, rather than the individual title, will be on this list when it’s completed).
Main Imprint: Available For Purchase on Our Website – stories published under the Duck Prints Press imprint that are currently listed in our webstore.
Erotica Imprint: Available For Purchase on Our Website – stories published under the Duxxx Prints Press imprint that are currently listed in our webstore.
Merchandise for Sale on Our Website – what it says on the tin. 😀
Monthly Backer Reward Stories – completed stories that have been posted for our Patreon and ko-fi backers.
Long-Term Ideas, Lists, Information We May Need Someday: the last of our lists is what it says on the tin. We keep track of ideas for future anthologies, potential merch, things we’ve thought of and gone “we can’t do that now but maybe someday…” etc., and we just toss it all there so that the ideas don’t get lost.
Every List is composed of Cards. Each Card reflects one category of “thing that needs to be done.” There are a lot of ways to actually set up lists and cards (and we may change ours in the future) but currently, we’ve chosen the following approach:
Cards for all our main projects/overarching “areas” in which we’re working. These are on the At a Glance List.
Cards for all currently in-progress Merchandise, on the Merchandise list.
Cards for all stories we have in-progress at the moment, on the appropriate Lists for their current status.
Cards for some over-arching categories of “things for not now,” on the Long-Term Ideas list.
All the Cards on At a Glance have the same basic structure. If you click on the Card, you’ll be able to see sub-tasks/checklists related to the items on that list. For example, here’s the Recurring Tasks Card:
This is one of the most complex of the Cards, as it includes all the activities we engage in daily, weekly, monthly, and annually to keep the business running smoothly. Other “management” related Cards on this list include two related to our weekly management meetings and monthly all-server meetings, and the General Task Card, which lists a whole slew of background activities that we’ve been working on and/or intend to do (divided into separate checklists for each category, cause there are just so many).
Then, below the the general Cards the cards for specific projects. Here’s the one for He Bears the Cape of Stars and She Wears the Midnight Crown.
This, and the other specific project Cards, list all the tasks we currently know of/have thought of that need to be done for the given project. The checklists give a quick idea of what the task is, and indicates the current status of that task. A few also have dates attached to them, though not most cause we don’t tend to treat deadlines as that “hard” internally – we prefer to maintain flexibility considering how many people are involved in these projects and how complex all our lives are and how the world just, ya know, is right now.
As we complete tasks, we move them into the Comments section at the bottom of the Card. Because we only recently implemented this public system (previously, we worked from a private Trello that looked a lot like this but was just a bit messier and not designed to be viewed by outsiders, like, we used a lot of shorthand, that kind of thing) it doesn’t include tasks completed before we implemented this system, but we’ve been doing our best to keep on top of it since we opened the public Trello. For example, here’s the completed tasks for our upcoming anthology that we expect to open recruitment for on October 1st:
So, I think that’s the basic?
If there’s something more specific that anyone trying to use the Trello is finding confusing, I’m happy to expand this tutorial – I tend to figure that if one person has a question and actually tells me they have a question, there are at least a half-dozen other people who had the same question and decided for whatever reason not to ask. We’re committed to transparency, and the Trello is one of the biggest facets of that, so ensuring it’s navigable for newcomers is really important to us. It’s hard to create a public-facing system that maintains a certain degree of confidentiality and still serves our needs for managing the business, and also just – we’ve got a lot going on basically all the time (and more and more as we grow), so there’s a lot that has to go on there, which means by necessity it’s complicated. I do worry that if it’s really complex, it’ll serve to create obscurity instead of transparency, but…well, we’re doing our best, and we’ll keep doing our best, and we hope that when questions/issues/concerns/delays/etc. do arise, people will continue to be as patient with us as they have been! <3
Want to know more?
You can see our up-to-date (and used daily!) Trello here.
You can learn more about the Press in general, where we started, and where we’re going, here.
Anyone who wants more information about “behind the scenes,” your best bet is to back us on Patreon or ko-fi – that’s where we post all the juicy details as we work every day to bring more amazing stories to y’all!
I frequently see people tag their works things along the lines of “sorry I don’t know how to tag,” and I also frequently see people tag badly while at least appearing to know what the they’re doing, so it’s been on my mind to write up a post like this for a while, and with the influx of Twit-ugees, now is as good a time as any I suppose.
Advance warning that I’m the most long-winded bitch up in this place and just neurodivergent enough to never know how much to cut/what details don’t matter so apologies that this just goes on and on, and I just hope that if you bear with me you’ll learn a thing or four.
Also note that any time I say “A thing will work this specific way” that is always subject to Tumblr’s spontaneous habit of breaking and I can never guarantee that things will actually work at any given moment.
I’m gonna start at absolutely baby, sorry. The first thing you need to know is where tags go. You don’t tag in the “type text here” box where you’re talking about whatever. Tumblr isn’t like twitter, where if I start going “hey everyone I’m writing a post about how to #tag things on #tumblr,” everyone will see it if they go to #tag and #tumblr. Nope, you gotta put your tags in the box thingy at the bottom if you want people to actually see them when they use tag-search-related options.
You can write #whatever in the body of your post til the cows come home and it won’t do anything unless you put it in that bottom #add tags box. So. Do that.
Once you know how to tag, the two most important things to know about tags are:
1. Anyone can see your tags. Everyone can see your tags. Not just your followers. Not just OP. Any random stranger who pokes around in a post can see them, AND they’ll appear in the OPs “new activity” notifications, AND they’ll be in the “view all reblogs with comments and tags” button that anyone can select, AND, if it’s an original post and you’re the OP, they’ll appear in the searchable tags on Tumblr. Like. Seriously. We can all see you. So always bear in mind that anything you say in a tag is subject to public scrutiny. (ETA: in the PAST this wasn’t always the case; Tumblr has greatly increased the visibility of tags over the years, and may do even more in the future)
2. If you use a tag on an original post, your post will appear in that tag search. Anyone can search by tag in Tumblr. You go to that bar up top to search. (Note that I’m using MDZS as my example for this post, but you can easily substitute your fandom of choice). (Reblogs that use a tag do NOT, EVER, appear in the tag searches.) So yeah, you’re searching for a tag…
…and you get three types of search results. The first, with the #, shows the tag-ified version of your search, and clicking that will take you directly to tag search (and therefore show you posts that have that tag, and specifically exactly that tag – if you go to #mdzs, you won’t see #mdzs fanart, because tag search is narrowly defined). The magnifying-glass marked searches are common and related searches, and will show you posts that have those words in their text AND in the tags, so a magnifying-glass search for MDZS will show you things tagged mdzs, and also #mdzs fanart, and any random-ass post that includes mdzs anywhere in the main text or tags. You’ll get a lot (and you’ll have the chance to narrow that search by top posts vs. latest posts, recent vs. ever, type of post – as in picture vs. text vs. video etc., etc., though note that these searches are always busted and always lean heavily toward recent stuff). If you know you want the tag, you can click #mdzs, but even if you go to search instead (for example, if you just hit “enter” it’ll take you to search, not the tag), you can still see related tags:
Now, see how that says 21k followers? On Tumblr, you can follow tags! Anyone can follow tags! Popular tags often have tens-of-thousands, and occasionally hundreds-of-thousands, of followers! What exactly following a tag means depends on how any given individual sets up their feed, but for many people it means that random posts from that tag will appear on their timeline. Which means that if you tag your original posts (NOT reblogs – this applies to posts for which you are the originator) with a given tag, anyone who visits that tags and/or follows that tag can see it and might even have your post appear on their feed even if neither of you knows or follows the other.
Anyone who visits a given tag will be able to see your post.
Or, well, almost anyone –
if you have them blocked or they have you blocked, they won’t see – though if you block a main blog/side blog, and they post from a different side blog, you CAN still see – if you really want to block someone you’ll need to block all their alts too, which is often a challenge since people tend not to be super public about their alts;
if the tag is in the last 5 allowed tags on a post – more on that later – it won’t show up, uh, basically anywhere, good luck with that;
if the tag search is broken, which it basically always is at least a little, welcome to our duct-taped hellsite enjoy your stay).
If you want people to see your post, this functionality is fantastic! It gives you a lot of ways to get your content out there. If you don’t want people to see your post…well. It is absolutely critical that you understand that there is absolutely nothing private about tags, and that even though we all frequently clown in tags, you need to be aware of the potential consequences of that clowning, namely that people will see you clowning, including complete strangers, and so you might not want to clown quite that hard.
Personal Blog Organization
But, I hear you say, I want to organize my own blog! If I don’t tag my mdzs posts #mdzs (because I’m trying to avoid everyone seeing them because I Don’t Want That), how will I find them when I want them later?
Well, first, don’t expect to ever be able to find things easily on Tumblr, lmao. We do have search and tag organization options (more later!) but in the end always assume things you post might become unfindable; if you really want to be sure you can find something again, find another way to store it (I personally keep “things I don’t want to lose” in drafts; some people use likes, or private side blogs).
That said, this is one of the main reasons a lot of people use personal tags to denote their own content. For example, if I want to post something but I don’t want it to spread too far, I will avoid using the fandom tags and stick to my personal blog organization tags. I personally use “unforth rambles” for my “whatever the fuck this is” kinds of posts, “whine whine whine” if I’m complaining, “unforth writes” for my fiction, etc. Lots of people have one or more personal tags, and not only do they make it easier for you to find your own stuff, they also make it easier for other people to find your stuff.
Want to post about mdzs, want to be able to find it again, but don’t want it in the tag? Try “yourname’s mdzsthoughts” or something similar.
Do you create a thing, and want people to be able to actually find it if they come to your blog, instead of it getting buried under a billion other reblogs and shitposts? Try “yourname art” or “my yourfandom fic” or whatever. Trust me, as someone who routinely tries to find art on people’s blogs? People who have specific tags make it much, much easier, and believe it or not I guarantee there is SOMEONE out there who’d like to be able to interact with your stuff more easily, and if you make it impossible you’ll never even know they wanted to.
Likewise, of course, a personal tagging system can make things utterly unfindable cause sometimes that’s Goals. Take this knowledge and use it as you will.
Aside to the above: queue tags. If you’re on Tumblr for more than 5 minutes you’ll see that a lot of posts have tags like “my queue” or, more often, ridiculous “queue”-related pun tags (when I used to use one, it was “#q hoo hoo”). Why do people do this? Well, there’s surely a lot of reasons, but as far as I know the main one (my own reason, at least), was pretty simple: Tumblr has a messaging system, and a lot of us use it, and if we post something, people will think we’re online and might message us and then get upset that we don’t answer. Using a queue tag makes it very clear “this posted when I wasn’t actually present.” Then, you can (like me) go back to ignoring your messages for days and pretend you haven’t been on Tumblr until you’ve actually got the whatever to answer them.
ETA: it’s been pointed out that, depending on what search settings someone is using, using “my thing tag” may still show up in searches, so if your goal is to keep your posts out of the main tags, you’d be better served to avoid using the same full text as the common tag(s).
It’s also important to know that you don’t have unlimited tags, and they can’t be of unlimited length. Tags have a character limit (…I never remember how much it is, though, maybe 200-something?) and you can’t have more than thirty tags on a post. Conventional wisdom is that if an important tag (such as a fandom tag or character tag that you WANT people to be able to find) isn’t in the first ten tags, it won’t appear in search, though I’ve definitely seen things in tag search that had the tag farther down than that. That said, if you put anything in between Tag 25 and Tag 30, don’t expect to ever be able to find it again. Trust me. I’ve tried. Tag 25 to Tag 30 are a tag black hole, and anything in that range might as well not exist because it won’t be findable. (Sometimes – but only sometimes – search will be able to find things in that hole, subject to all the bugs that normally make search nigh unusable). Note that on mobile, at least, Tumblr yells at you if you try to tag more than 30; on desktop I honestly don’t know if it does cause I always use XKit reblog features instead. (more on that later!)
A couple other tag limits include:
various punctuation breaks tags, though which has varied over time. For example, currently if you try to make a tag with quotes (#I told him “shut up”) you will NOT get a tag that says that, you’ll get two tags: #shut up and #i told him. And, they’ll be in that order – the tag in quotation marks will end up first, before anything else. For a long time, hyphens also just absolutely murdered tags; theoretically they fixed that recently though in practice I’ve noticed it being hit-and-miss, so if you want to be sure things work well don’t use a hyphen. Further, at least on desktop, a comma tells it “this is the end of the tag” so if you enter a comma it won’t put in a comma it’ll just end your tag and take you to the next one. Honestly, if you want to be sure that your tag doesn’t break your best bet is to stick to…not. Forget grammar. Surrender to the void. People will figure out what you mean…or they won’t. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ We never said this was a great site.
you can’t edit tags. They recently teased that they’d introduce tag editing, but at least as far as I’ve been able to tell it’s never actually been unrolled, or maybe it’s only been unrolled to some users (we often only get features for some folks, or only on mobile or only on desktop…). An addendum to this is the simple rule that no matter how careful you are you will inevitably make a typo in your last word, often the last letter, right before you hit enter. I’m sorry. It’s a law of nature. On the plus side everyone knows that tags can’t be edited so no one’s going to care if your spelling is janky. (ETA: just to be clear, since it was pointed out in the notes: you CAN delete a tag and retype it. so, it’s up to you if you feel like doing that. I meant you can’t go back and edit the text entered as a tag, you can only delete it and make a new tag.) (ETA 2: some people apparently do have the tag editing functionality on desktop. yay for them. I don’t. You might. Can’t hurt to check?)
Do not censor tags. ESPECIALLY trigger warnings. Sometimes people will censor letters intentionally so things won’t turn up in the tag search options (for example, if they’re saying something negative), and while I think that’s valid I also think there are better ways to handle it (like just use a different fucking tag). But if you censor tags, and especially if you censor warning tags, you make it MUCH HARDER for people to consistently blacklist. Just call things what they are (except n s f w – more later), and tag accurately (so if you want to post anti use “anti thing” tags instead of censoring), and make it possible for people to ACTUALLY avoid things and blacklist. Please. I’m begging you.
Finding the Tag for The Thing You Want
Often, finding a relevant tag can be super easy, especially if what you like is common. If you’ve been in online fandom at all, even on other platforms or forums or wherever, you likely already are familiar with common abbreviations for The Thing, and those are usually a great place to start (for example, #mdzs, #mcu for Marvel movies, #spn for Supernatural, #lotr for Lord of the Rings, etc.). However, since people do often use multiple tags (like, they may tag #mdzs AND #mo dao zu shi, AND #grandmaster of demonic cultivation, AND #gdc) you can always try putting in The Full Name For The Thing, and then seeing what tags are on the posts that pop up. Then, once you see that, you can click through a few and check them out. Every tag’s page will have a box like this:
…and it says right there how often the tag has been used “recently” (no, I have literally NEVER figured out how “recently” is…recently). If you want to find the most popular tags for a given fandom, the easiest way is to just poke around in the tags people are using and see which ones have the biggest number in that “XXX recent posts” box. Those are the ones people love and use, and emulating them will lead you in the right direction (assuming you want people to be able to find your stuff).
On the other hand, what if you like something rare, something obscure, something that doesn’t have a consistent naming structure, etc.?
That can get a little harder, but the challenges can be cut through fairly easily.
search for every variation of The Thing that you can think of and look through the results until you find The Thing You Actually Wanted.
see how that post is tagged.
check those tags for more of The Thing You Actually Wanted.
keep doing this until you find the tag where people who are into The Thing You Actually Wanted congregate.
Creating Tags and Space
…okay but what if that last step 5 ended with losing instead? Well, BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD.
A lot of people on Tumblr use personal tags for their own blog organization…but many also use tags and tag-tracking to create a personal tagmeant for public use. So, source blogs (blogs that act as “clearing houses” of stuff for a specific fandom, character, ship, etc.) will say “we track #thisisourhashtag, use it so we can see your post!”
You can do that! If you really love something narrow and specific, you can at least try to get the word out. It takes a lot of work though – because you’ll need to get the word out yourself. “Hey, I love This Obscure Thing! Do you also love This Obscure Thing? Come join me, use #thisisyourhashtag!” is a start. But just “building it” won’t be enough – you’ll also need to do the leg work to find more of The Thing, reblog it, interact with the people making it, etc. Often on Tumblr, the difference between a really vibrant small fandom community and a small fandom that’s absolutely dead silent is one person taking the initiative to say “I’m going to do whatever I have to, community-building-wise, to find other people to talk to about this.”
(The best example I know of for this is the Daomu Biji fandom. Like seriously, they’re a fucking case study on how to take a tiny group of people who are Really Into A Thing and turn it into a vibrant, supportive community that is, frankly, a joy to be a part of. If someone wants more info on kinda…how this works…I think it’s outside the purview of this post but I’m willing to babble about it some other time.)
Navigating Tumblr, Your Own Blog, and Other People’s Blogs Using Tags
One of the cool things about tags on Tumblr is that every tag has a static, usable link, which – if your own blog or a blog you’re trying to access has a consistent tagging format – can make it much, MUCH easier to find things. ESPECIALLY because static tag links are constant and consistently work about 80 bajillion times better than “search.” Posts that are unfindable using “search” WILL (usually) be findable using the tag’s link. (Exceptions include if the OP has blocked you or you’ve blocked them, and if the tag is in the 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, or 30th tag slot.) So, how do you do this?
For all of Tumblr: the link you want is https://www.tumblr.com/tagged/(THE TAG)?sort=recent (or ?sort=top for them in order by most popular. Note that this is one of the cases where what’s after the ? ISN’T A TRACKING LINK ffs it’s not ALWAYS tracking you can’t ALWAYS delete it without consequences sometimes the internet is exhausting).
For your own blog: https://yournamehere.tumblr.com/tagged/thetagyouwant
For someone else’s blog: https://theirnamehere.tumblr.com/tagged/thetagyouwant
A lot of people use this for personal blog organization, and it’s especially common for source blogs to have very structured tag lists to help with navigation. For example, in the art sideblogs I run, anyone can look up any tag using links like this, and it’ll enable them to find every post with that tag. See? https://www.tumblr.com/mdzsartreblogs/tagged/mod%20post
NOTE: Tumblr, in the last few weeks, changed how this feature is set up. As you can see, the link is now structured differently than what I typed, BUT the original link formatting still works, just how it appears has changed. That said, because Tumblr can never change a thing without breaking it, there’s now sometimes a problem where if you type the link in, it’ll replace a space ( ) with a plus (+) instead of with a fake-space (%20 is how browsers classically translate spaces into Internet Speak so that the urls don’t break). If your space gets made into a +, Tumblr will say there are no results, so you’ll have to manually go into the link and change it back to a space and THEN it will work. Yes, really. No, I don’t know why. Also, if you try to get rid of the plus in the search bar instead it will NOT work correctly, because if you remove the plus, put in a space, and then hit “enter” on text written in the search bar, it’ll switch you from “show all posts with this tag” to a standard search (which will have all the bugs that standard searches usually have in Tumblr).
But, basically, once you know the tag that someone uses for a thing, or have established what tag YOU want to use for a thing, navigating your own or other people’s blogs to find Every Post Tagged With The Thing is really easy, and can be a great way to find niche content, a user’s own creations, or That Thing You Posted Two Years Ago That You Need Again For Some Reason.
ETA: Someone mentioned in the tags that if you add /chrono to the end of these links, it’ll show you all the same info BUT it’ll show the OLDEST posts firsts instead of the newest and I did not know that and that is A.MAY.ZING and thank you to the person who told me and now y’all know too.
You’ll see me talk a lot in this post about the ways that Tumblr is broken and how that can make it harder to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to do. There is one notable exception to the brokenness. At least in my experience, and in the experience of basically everyone I’ve ever spoken to about it, Tumblr’s internal/built in blacklist works pretty darn well.
Don’t want to see a tag?
Go to Account Stuff -> Settings. Scroll down to “Content you see,” which is where Filtered Tags and Filtered Post Content are.
Filtered Tags will only filter The Thing if it’s literally #the exact tag you put in filtered tags.
Filtered Post Content will filter any post that mentions the thing.
Note that Tumblr blacklist is actually over assiduous. I personally ONLY use filtered tags, and I’ve found that it will often filter a post even if the current reblog of that post doesn’t HAVE the tag – like, if anyone has EVER tagged The Post with The Thing, it’ll get blacklisted. Also note that while theoretically, filtered posts will still show up as a box you have the option to show, in practice some will just. Not show. I’ve absolutely had blacklisted things just Not Even Appear. Which can be annoying, if it’s actually a post you want to see, but there’s no perfect system.
Also, never EVER let anyone tell you that “blacklisting is only for things you hate.” Look, you curate your own experience. If your bestie is posting about a fandom you’re not in, and it’s clogging up your dash, you’re not obligated to scroll through their 80 posts about that thing. Just blacklist it. It’ll make your experience using this website much happier. (if your bestie doesn’t tag the thing…you can try post content filtering. But yeah that’ll make it harder). I personally blacklist a fuckton of fandoms that I’ve got nothing against, I’m just not IN them, and seeing content for them is of zero interest for me, and if I blacklist them then I have more time to interact with the things I DO want to see.
And yeah I know I prefaced this section by saying blacklist actually works. Take this entire section as what my ten-years-on-this-site ass sees as “functional” on Tumblr.com.
Making Tumblr Actually Vaguely Usable
Do yourself a favor and download XKit. (It’s on Chrome too. Y’all Chrome users can go find the link yourself sorry not sorry). XKit includes a fuckton of REALLY DAMN USEFUL functionality for making tumblr (on desktop, not mobile!) function better…
…and especially, Quick Reblog, Quick Tags, and Tag Replacer can help with tagging and tag management. Quick Reblog gives you the ability to rapidly reblog things without having to click through to the reblog window, and it gives you a box to type in all your tags when you quick reblog. Quick Tags makes all existing posts on your blog and sideblogs have an extra little button that lets you add new tags to it without having to open the edit screen for the post. Tag Replacer lets you swap a tag you no longer want to use for a new tag. Get XKit. It’ll help you. I promise.
Okay, so now you know something about how tags work, time to learn some tag etiquette.
The most important thing to remember when trying to figure out how to tag an original post is that people follow tags because they want to see The Things About That Tag. This has some obvious consequences, namely:
They won’t want to see things that Aren’t About The Thing.
They won’t want to see someone Hating The Thing.
So that leads to…
Tagging for Fandoms
DO: tag fandoms that are relevant to your post. Feel free to tag variations on that fandom – you can tag #mdzs and #modao zushi and #mo dao zu shi, or #spn and #supernatural. No one will mind.
DON’T: tag fandoms that aren’t relevant to your post. Yes, even if it’s a fandom by the same author (looking at you, people who tag #mdzs, #tgcf, and #svsss on every mxtx post you make, I see you and I seethe). Yes, even if it’s a different version/adaptation of your work. If you create a sub-fandom-specific work (for example, to stick with MDZS for now, if you create a work for The Untamed that includes the Yin Iron, don’t tag it MDZS; there’s no Yin Iron in MDZS, and while yes some people who follow the MDZS tag will want to see it, there will also be plenty who don’t. This is especially true when there’s a popular adaptation that a lot of fans of the original don’t like. People who adore the BOOK of the Hobbit? May be pretty reticent about seeing things about the MOVIE if they didn’t enjoy it!) Try to maintain awareness of this; it’s courtesy not to just tag Every Vaguely Relevant Fandom. You won’t make people happy they’re seeing your stuff. You’ll make them annoyed that you spammed irrelevant tags.
Tagging for Ships and Characters
DO: tag the characters that feature in your work. Doing variations of their name is fine as long as those variations are relevant. So, if you make a piece of “wei wuxian” for example, you can absolutely tag that “wei wuxian” and “weiwuxian” and “wei ying” and “weiying” and “mdzs wei wuxian” etc. But.
DON’T: tag every single iteration of a character. If someone is following a tag for a specific variation of a character (to stick with MDZS, maybe they follow the “yiling laozu” tag) then they want to see that variation, not…NOT that variation. So don’t post your, idk, fluffy Lotus Pier Wei Ying pre-canon thing to the “yiling laozu” tag. And I know this sounds like gibberish to people not in this fandom, but like. Just extend it to your own fandom. Lots of characters have different fandom nicknames or self-presentations for themselves at different points in canon. People who specifically follow the “pre-serum steve” tag isn’t going to want to see “post-serum steve.” That’s the entire point of following a specific tag instead of an over-arching tag. So, when you tag your original stuff, stick to the ones that actually have something to do with your piece.
DO: tag the ship in your piece in multiple ways. Like, to use a non-MDZS example, does your piece have Destiel? Go ahead and tag Destiel and CasDean and DeanCas. It’s okay. WITH THE ADDENDUM THAT: in some fandoms and in some parts of the world, it is common that writing Character A x Character B is actually NOT the same as writing Character B x Character A. Especially for East Asian and Southeast Asian fans, people often list them in a power-dynamic related order. Whether you think that’s a good thing or not (I personally think it’s silly but whatever, they can do them, it doesn’t effect me) is irrelevant; you need to understand that if you tag every order of a ship, you might have people ??? you over it. (Yes, really. It’s happened to me.) And that doesn’t mean don’t do it! Just. You should know. Knowledge is power. Or something.
DON’T: tag ships that aren’t in your piece. I don’t care if Wangxian is the most popular ship in the fandom; if your piece doesn’t show Wangxian, people who like Wangxian don’t need to see it in the tags. You’re doing no one any favors. Often people will say “if your piece doesn’t feature a ship PROMINENTLY don’t include it,” but that one imo is a bit more flexible. It depends on what your work is “doing” with that ship. Which leads to…
Sharing Your Negative Opinions
Please. For the love of fucking god. Do NOT post hate in the main tags. Yes, it’s just your opinion. Yes, you are absolutely entitled to your opinion. But it’s fucking rude. People go to tags because they enjoy the thing being tagged. You’re just being a dick if you therefore use that tag to shit all over that thing.
Now, this is NOT to say “don’t post negative shit,” but rather more importantly: if you want to tag negative shit, find the tag that people use to tag that specific negative shit and use that tag instead. Like. if you hate Jiang Cheng from MDZS (you’re wrong and I will block you) you do you! But don’t tag your hate #jiang cheng. People follow #jiang cheng because they LOVE the angry grape. Instead, do a little tag research (see above on how to find tags for That Thing You Like, and yes it applies even if it’s “That Thing You Like to Hate”) and find out what tags people who Hate The Thing use. Often just “anti (thing)” is a good start, though commonly the biggest groups of haters/”popular” anti opinions will have a tag they favor that’s different (for example, “canon jiang cheng” and “grape hate” are the common anti-Jiang Cheng tags; “destiew” is a commonly used anti-Destiel tag, I’m sure there are loads more but those are the ones that spring to my mind after a decade on this hellsite).
Using an anti tag is a MUCH better way to handle your hate, anti-ness, negative opinions, etc. You can find other haters to wallow with, and everyone else (like me) who just want to enjoy our shit in peace can do so. And like, I’m personally very against antis, but I also absolutely respect the right of people to have negative opinions AND to share those negative opinions, which is why I’m explaining this. It really does help like-minded people come together, and also enables people who want to avoid the vitriol protect themselves. It’s a win-win.
Tagging Trigger Warnings and Other Warnings
Tagging triggers and other potentially challenging material (such as flashing images) is a courtesy. It’s not required, but it’s certainly polite. There are some standard rules (for example, don’t use “tw epilepsy” because it’ll show up on epilepsy-related searches which is the exact opposite of the point of tagging it; tag “tw flashing” or something similar) but there’s generally NOT a “one size fits all” tag system. Instead, most people just establish their own system and make it clear somewhere “this is the system I use” so people can blacklist. Alternatively, you can see what tags your mutuals are using, and use those. Alternatively, alternatively, people will sometimes put “please tag X tw” in their pinned posts or bios – though always remember that there are risks involved in publicly advertising what someone with bad intentions can do to hurt you!!!!
Standard trigger warning formats on Tumblr include: “tw thing,” “thing tw,” “thing,” “thing for ts,” “cw thing,” “thing cw.”
Note that tw – “trigger warning” – is usually used for things that are likely to be triggering (such as blood, gore, etc.) whereas cw – “content warning” – is often used more for things that some people may want to be aware of (such as flashing or depictions of food) but that isn’t necessarily a common “trigger” per se, especially in cases like food where even calling food a trigger can often itself be triggering for people who have are recovering from ED-related challenges.
Also as an aside, the “ts” is generally a sign that someone is a Tumblr Old, as it stands for “Tumblr Savior,” which is a blacklisting extension a lot of us used before Tumblr had built-in blacklisting features. So if you see “long post for ts” (which is when I see it most) it’s like seeing a fossil, a tag that’s become so standard for a type of post that a lot of people still use it even though the use of Tumblr Savior isn’t very common anymore (at least…I don’t think it is???)
When in doubt, if you want to respect people, listen to them – see how people are tagging The Thing you’re worried about, and follow those tagging conventions. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to – someone who triggers to something will already have the most commonly used tags for it blacklisted (and may not follow you if you aren’t willing to also tag for it) – so you make the site more usable for everyone if you use “tw eye trauma” instead of “this is my personal eye trauma tw tag”.
Also also as another aside, don’t use n s f w. Don’t even type it in your posts. They’ll get buried. They’ll go where tumblr posts go to die, and none of us even know where that is, because they’re that gone. They won’t appear in regular searches. They won’t be in tag searches. They won’t even be discoverable on your own blog. Yes it’s fucking annoying. Yes it makes it harder to avoid explicit material. But. Find another tag. “lemon” is a common one, as is “nsft” (not safe for tumblr).
Tagging Systems and Spoilers
For the most part, if anything has been out for a month or so, you should assume that no one will tag spoilers. Don’t get me wrong – a minority of people still will, definitely! – but if, for example, you’re in the first chapter of MDZS, and you don’t want MDZS spoilers…don’t go into the MDZS tags. Just don’t. You’ll see everything you don’t want to see. (Unless like me you WANT to see spoilers, in which case HAVE AT.)
For fandoms that still have new content being released, spoiler tags are often determined by community consensus, and a lot of people will put up posts saying “this blog isn’t spoiler-free for Thing. Blacklist #spoilersforthething to avoid spoilers.” It’s generally fairly standard to have a spoiler tag be “#thing spoilers” or “#episodenumber spoilers.” When in doubt, yet again, look at what everyone else is doing and emulate that.
There’s probably more, but I think I’ve said plenty. Feel free to drop questions in the comments!
Omegaverse, also known as Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics or a/b/o for short, is one of the most baffling paradigms that fandoms have ever invented. Even within fandom, most peoples’ reactions on discovering a/b/o range from bemusement to disgust to fascination. I’ve had some non-fandom friends ask if it’s related to the alpha male/beta male concepts that have become so popular in certain corners of Reddit; I’m very glad to say that no, it is not—that is an example of convergent language evolution. At best, they both call back to the same misunderstanding of wolf pack dynamics, but the typical “Alpha Male” would be cast as a villain character in most a/b/o stories, if he’s present at all.
At heart, a/b/o can best be categorized as a science fiction sub-genre. Yes, really. It’s speculative fiction that examines current societal assumptions, problems, and fears through a lens of alternate physiology. If you thought a/b/o was just an excuse for porn, well… being honest, most of my best and deepest stories start out as “an excuse for porn.” My thoughts on that are best saved for a future blog post.
The most common defining feature of a/b/o is right in the name—humans are biologically stratified into two or three sub-, or secondary, genders: alphas, sometimes betas, and omegas. Alphas are typically described as socially dominant, physically strong, and they have certain physiological traits that we’ll get into later. Omegas are generally assumed to be socially submissive and physically weak, though in most a/b/o stories there is some element of challenging those assumptions.
A/b/o has its roots in the “kink meme” days of the late 2000s and can more-or-less be traced back to tropes common among people writing werewolf erotica. Lots of early a/b/o has a significant focus on pack dynamics and more “wolfy” characteristics. This is still an element of a/b/o as it’s currently written, but it makes up a smaller percentage of the overall works produced than it once did. A reader can see these roots in genre tropes such as children being referred to as “pups” in most a/b/o stories. The first a/b/o fic—as far as anyone in my social circles has been able to determine—was a Supernatural RPF AU story, and, even in the genre’s inception, there is an element of challenging assigned gender roles. The assumed roles of an omega are present and accounted for: that they belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, that they should be relegated to caretaker roles, that they shouldn’t work, etc.—think every stereotype of a 50s housewife. Similarly for an alpha: that they are hyper-sexual and domineering, to be feared by most omegas, inherently predatory, etc. But the characters who are the focus of the story deliberately and obviously go against these trends, expressing their individuality and bucking what their society expects of them. In a very 2010 sort of way, they are “not like those other girls.” There are critiques to aim at that trope as well, but the point stands: subversion has been a part of a/b/o since moment zero. Not every author chooses to lean into this aspect of the genre but, in my opinion, subverting the genre tropes makes for the most interesting a/b/o stories.
It’s tempting to describe a/b/o as a setting, but that’s not accurate. It’s more like a toolbox from which an author can pick and choose elements to add to any setting they are writing their story in, then use those elements to help them tell their particular stories in a unique way. I’ve read historical a/b/o, fantasy a/b/o, modern-day a/b/o, canonverse a/b/o, science-fiction a/b/o, western a/b/o… you name it, it’s probably been combined with a/b/o. And not all authors will apply the same level of focus to any given aspect of a/b/o: just because you add some cinnamon to your chili doesn’t mean you’re suddenly making a dessert. Every author puts their own spin on the world—that’s part of the fun.
So, keeping in mind that hardly any a/b/o stories will use every single genre trope, here’s a list of some of the most common features that make a story recognizably a part of this genre.
Societal stratification: To varying degrees, societies in most a/b/o stories are divided by secondary gender. This can mean anything from “omegas experiencing easily recognizable misogyny or other discrimination,” to “cultures that have strict hierarchical structures in which omegas are segregated, barred from certain social opportunities, or kept as property.” How many people are born each designation (a term often used to refer to the types of sub-genders in the genre) varies widely depending on the story. Sometimes, all humans are either alpha or omega and there are no betas; sometimes, alphas and omegas make up only a small minority of the population. Sometimes only men are divided and women are all betas, if they’re incorporated in the sub-gender system at all. (If there is one major weakness to a/b/o, it’s the lack of focus on how women are affected by this social structure, but if I get into that, we’ll be here all day.) Depending on the author’s goals with the story, these social structures may be used to make commentary on our modern society, to create obstacles for our heroes to overcome, or it may be leaned into by people who enjoy the power dynamics and differentials that result from the a/b/o set up. Other works have egalitarian a/b/o societies in which the different genders are treated equally! Oppression and discrimination are not a requirement of the genre, it’s just an often-seen element.
Pheromones/Scents:One of the many physiological differences often present in a/b/o is that humans give off pheromones or some otherwise-defined personal scent. These scents serve a variety of purposes: they’re linked with attraction; they often indicate where an individual is in their mating cycle (see the next paragraph!); they aid identification since each person has their own individual scent; and more broadly one can usually tell who is an alpha, an omega, or a beta) by their scent. Often, someone’s scent gives clues to emotional state, especially extreme distress or sexual arousal. A compatible pair may know instantly that the person they are scenting is their “true mate,” or may be particularly attracted to this person’s scent. Betas may or may not be able to pick up on these scents and may have a “neutral” scent or no scent to speak of. Scent blockers may or may not be used in polite company, and even if scent blockers exist in a specific a/b/o ‘verse, they may fail at narratively appropriate moments. It’s a frequent genre element that scents emanate from a “scent point” on the characters’ necks, and that the spot in question is especially sensitive to touch/kissing/etc.
Mating cycles: Likely the most well-known aspect of a/b/o is the hormone- and/or pheromone-driven mating cycles. Omegas experience an estrus or “heat,” and sometimes alphas also experience “rut” though this is somewhat less common. A person’s secondary gender is often a mystery until they “present”—usually marked by going through their first heat or rut—sometime during puberty. Pheromones given off during these times can have a disproportionate effect on people of the “opposite” secondary gender who happen to be in the vicinity; in some stories they provoke such a powerful reaction that omegas cannot leave the house during heat for fear of sexual assault. This is where the genre starts to display some of its more non-consensual elements, which are not always present; sometimes heat just makes them horny. But sometimes they absolutely must, er, resolve their heat with an alpha, which leads to a “Fuck or Die” situation—a trope as old as slash fanfiction itself.
How frequently heats and ruts occur varies by story; the most common are monthly (mirroring human menstruation cycles) or every three months, six months, or year, mimicking various animal species (for example, dogs go into heat every six months, so stories that emphasize the wolfy aspects of a/b/o often have heat cycles on a six-month pattern). Trying to figure out how to navigate a life/job/family while working around mating cycles is a frequent feature of a/b/o stories.
Mpreg, which is genre-speak for “male pregnancy:” In most a/b/o stories, omegas of any primary gender have the ability to get pregnant and carry children. It’s a mainstay of the genre, but like any other trope in the a/b/o playbook, the level of focus on it varies from author to author. Sometimes, it’s glossed over entirely or deliberately omitted. Sometimes, it’s only suggested for the sake of—for lack of a better phrase—“breeding kink.” But some authors use this genre to tell stories about familial relationships and explore the emotional and physical journey of pregnancy through the eyes of their favorite (generally male) characters. Mpreg stories can also incorporate lactation and may follow the characters’ post-pregnancy lives to segue into the kidfic genre. The extent of the omega male character’s feminization often increases in proportion to the focus on mpreg in the story (though, as with all of these tropes, I am wary of making sweeping generalizations because a writer is absolutely free to write an mpreg story where the pregnant character remains thoroughly masculine throughout). Note that a story including mpreg doesn’t automatically mean the fic is a/b/o. There are other fandom tropes that can result in mpreg, but the most common trope that leads to mpreg in modern fandom is a/b/o.
Medicines: As part of mirroring regular society, it’s also common for a/b/o stories to incorporate elements of genre-appropriate birth control and other types of medication. For example, scent blockers have already been mentioned; scent blockers are often incorporated to enable an alpha, beta, or omega to navigate society without people judging them based solely on their scents, or to enable them to present themselves to the public as a sub-gender different than their birth sub-gender. Another common medication is “heat suppressant,” which is what it says on the tin—an omega on heat suppressants won’t go into heat (until they fail at a narratively appropriate moment, anyway…noticing the genre trends yet?). On the flip side, “heat inducers” are also absolutely a genre feature, with obvious results.
Related Genres: As said earlier, a/b/o can be combined with any other genre. But it does have some sibling tropes that are more often coupled with a/b/o for fiction-writing purposes. When I first started reading a/b/o, there was a heavy emphasis on the power dynamics inherent in the existence of “dominant” alphas and “submissive” omegas; that made it feel close to the biological Dom/sub genre (a sub-genre where being a Dom or being a sub is inborn and is essentially a sub-gender in a similar way to a/b/o). That seems to have been a feature of that particular fandom, though, which leads me to wonder how different a/b/o looks in different fandoms. (Full disclosure, most of my experience has been in the Supernatural fandom.) A/b/o stories set in modern/contemporary settings tend to be more common than other types (such as science fiction, fantasy, etc.), though that’s been changing as a/b/o continually ripples outwards into more fandoms. In stories where omegas are considered property, they heavily overlap tropes with slave fic; some more romantic a/b/o can read like a soulmates au, with people recognizing “the one” immediately by scent and a focus on true mates and/or the formation of a strong mating bond, usually for life.
Of course, coupling a/b/o with these tropes isn’t required. Nothing in a/b/o is required. These are all simply options; as I say, it’s better to look at the aspects of a/b/o as toys in the toybox—play with the ones that appeal to you, ignore the rest.
Other Anatomical Differences: This is where I cannot avoid getting sexually graphic, so for those who’d rather avoid an explicit rating, I’m putting this section at the end (under a Read More on platforms that include that functionality).
So, what’s the point of all this?
If you ask a hundred people why they like a/b/o, you will get two-hundred answers. Some people come to the genre for the primal, animalistic appeal of heats and ruts, pheromones, and the, uh, anatomical differences. A lot of people enjoy the “he couldn’t help himself” trope in fiction; non-con fantasies are extremely common, and the fantastical elements of a/b/o make it a great way to explore them at a safe remove from real-life situations. Or perhaps you’re drawn to the opportunity to explore pregnancy in a safe way with your favorite characters, or maybe you really enjoy the strict societal structures and the obstacles they create. Maybe you love that moment when the omega realizes that this handsome alpha is his true mate and they live happily ever after.
For me, as may already be clear, a/b/o is strongest when it’s used to shine a light on the oppression of marginalized classes and the ridiculousness of strict gender expectations. Over and over, a/b/o stories focus on omegas overcoming their oppression and empowering themselves. But my favorite corner of a/b/o that I’ve found, my weird little a/b/o niche, focuses not on alphas or omegas, but on betas.
There was a time when I wondered to myself, why would anybody focus on betas? Why would you write an a/b/o story and then focus on the people who don’t experience heats and ruts and mating cycles? Who don’t have a scent? In a world where all interpersonal relationships are defined by this rigid structure, why would you focus on the people who are outside of it?
And then I realized that I had to write a story about betas.
The result is the most personal story I have ever written, which gets deep into my experience of being nonbinary (or genderqueer, or gender fluid, I’ve used all those labels at different points of life) through the lens of somebody who is neither alpha nor omega, but is instead distinctly “other.” The joy of using a/b/o to tell this story, and what makes a/b/o such a strong vehicle for telling subversive stories of all stripes, is that it magnifies everything about gender and sexual attraction, making it all bigger, brighter, more obvious, which lets you dig into the nuance of an character’s experiences when they don’t fit the status quo.
The number of people who have read this story and said “I’m not genderqueer, but I relate to Dean’s struggle of feeling other” has been hugely rewarding. In the end, that’s the story I was telling, through my own experiences but with the personal “serial numbers” filed off, which allows it to be a story accessible to anybody. That’s the beauty of using a fantasy or sci-fi language to tell a real story: when it doesn’t directly reflect anybody’s exact experience, it’s easier to see yourself in the mirror.
Whether you decide to dive into this genre or not, I hope this has been useful in understanding the, er, ins and outs of this strange little world that we, as a community, are continually collectively creating. Happy reading!
Did you scroll down to read the naughty stuff? *cough* As it were. We’ve got you covered. Be forewarned, there’s NSFW text describing unusual genitalia ahead:
THE PORN PART:
Okay, so let’s talk about knotted dicks and self-lubricating asses.
…that’s it, really.
Alphas generally have a “knot” of extra erectile tissue at the base of their penises that inflates and becomes firm during orgasm with the intention of locking their penis inside the omega’s penetrated hole (which is usually, but not always, the anus). This is where the werewolf origins of a/b/o are the most obvious, because yes, this is modeled after canine genitalia. The knot inflates to a size that makes removal impossible or highly painful for the omega, although if left it where it is, being knotted is generally described as highly pleasurable. Most of the time, the alpha can enjoy multiple orgasms while he’s in there, and ejaculate tends to be, uh, copious. This lasts for as long as the author decides is narratively appropriate and provides a great opportunity for post-coital conversation, either awkward or heartfelt depending on the story. Because the knot means the penis grows quite large, a common a/b/o sexual trope is size kink; less common but still fairly frequent is “inflation” or “bulge” kink—which is a kink related to the feeling of being “full” of a partners ejaculate to the point of feeling swollen (in a good way), and also being able to feel or see the penis moving within the bottoming partner when looking at the bottom’s backside and/or belly.
Omegas, on the other hand…
There’s much more variety in omega biology. On one end of the spectrum, you have male omegas who are written as having both a penis (sometimes smaller than human average) and (usually) testicles and a vaginal opening located somewhere around the perineum. Sometimes, a male omega won’t have any penis at all. More commonly in the a/b/o that I, personally, have enjoyed, the omega has a fully functional penis and testicles (sans knot), but when aroused, he will produce personal lubrication in his anus, which is the intended orifice for sexual intercourse. This personal dampness is usually called “slick” and has a habit of popping up at the most inconvenient of times and staining one’s underwear and/or being noticeable by scent. When an omega is in heat, this slick becomes copious and uncontrollable, often to the point of requiring rubber sheets on whatever unfortunate bed the omega has confined himself to. Generally, slick is described as having a similar aroma to the omega’s scent, but more concentrated, and also as being delicious to the alpha. Rimming is thus quite a common sexual act in a/b/o fics, more common in a/b/o than in other mlm genres.
It’s also worth repeating, while discussing sexual kinks in a/b/o, that due to the “uncontrolled sexual need” aspect of omega heats, consent issues are common in a/b/o. Rape/non-con are mentioned above, as the omega-in-heat becomes irresistible to the alphas around them; however, even in a/b/o stories that don’t utilize that trope, omegas in heat will often desperately plead to be sated. Consent can be dubious at best for either or both partners; it’s common that the couple settles those consent issues after the act, when they’ve both calmed down enough to discuss what happened and offer up their mutual expressions of “no, you didn’t hurt me, I would have wanted you anyway.”
In spite of all the relatively high-minded ramblings above, there is a huge amount of totally valid a/b/o that is pure, unadulterated smut, and if you happen to enjoy these kinks, you have a plethora of options to pick from. (Trust me, they are much hotter in context than when laid out bare like this.) The beautiful thing about fanfiction is that we don’t have to choose between interesting, empowering, subversive stories and sizzlingly hot filth. They frequently go hand in hand, and in no genre is that more evident than in the wide, wild world of a/b/o.
A bit over a year ago, we posted our first Commonly Confused Words: Saucy Edition. Since then, we’ve spotted more very confused word usage, and we had some folks tell us some confusions they’d encountered, and now we’ve compiled those into Commonly Confused Saucy words TWO: Electric Boogaloo.
Often, which of these words an author uses marks the difference between a story being very sexy, and a story being very strange, so to all writers out there – it’s worth learning the differences, asking for help, or Googling if you’re not sure!
fellate vs. filet vs. fillet vs. flay
fellate (verb): to perform fellatio on a person (as in: to perform oral stimulation on a person’s penis). For example: “Parting her lips, she eagerly fellated her boyfriend.”
filet (noun): a piece of lace, usually with a geometric design; OR, a French word for a cut of meat. For example: “My hobby is filet crochet.” For example: “I’d like to order the filet mignon, please.”
fillet (noun): the English spelling of the French word “filet,” referring to a cut of meat. For example: “The advert from the grocery store said fillet of fish is on sale.”
flay (verb): to remove the skin from a creature. For example: “The person screamed as the torturer flayed their skin from their body.”
taut vs. taught
taut (adjective): pulled tight; alternatively, ship-shape. For example: “He pulled the rope taut and the sails unfurled.”
taught (verb): something an instructor presented to a learner in the past. For example: “She taught him how to pull the rope taut and unfurl the sales.”
baited vs. bated vs. batted
baited (verb): many meanings, such as: to persecute or exasperate (”He baited them into attack by mocking them.”), to harass or attack by biting and tearing (”The dog baited the cat.”), to place bait (”The fisherman baited his hook.”), to entice or lure (”Good deals baited hopeful house hunters.”
bated (verb): to reduce the force or intensity of something; to take something away. For example: “She waited with bated breath.”
batted (verb): the act of using a bat against someone or something. For example: “The shortstop batted third in the line-up.”
pore vs. poor vs. pour
pore (verb): to study or gaze at something intensely. For example: “He pored over the document.”
pore (noun): a small opening in the outer covering of an animal or plant. For example: “The close-up was so intense that you could see every pore on their nose.”
poor (adjective): to lack material resources. For example: “I can’t afford lunch because I’m too poor.”
pour (verb): to cause a liquid to flow in a stream, possibly from a container (”The juice pours from the pitcher.”), or can be used figuratively, for example “She poured out her feelings in a rush” or “The tycoon pours money into their investment.”)
wither vs. writh vs. writhe
wither (verb): to lose vitality or freshness. For example: “After the flowers were cut, they withered quickly.”
writh (???): writh is not a word.
writhe (verb): to twist into folds, to twist until something distorts, to twist (a part of the body) as though in pain, to suffer keenly. For example: “He tickled my foot, and I writhed in discomfort.”
Have any questions? You can still always drop us an ask…