So here’s a twitter thread I posted about fandom interactions with creators. While I’ve never had a problem with people yelling at me through tags and comments, a lot of other creators do get hurt by that.
Remember that your creators aren’t automatically your best friends (nor should you demand them to be). Polite enthusiasm is just as lovely as “fuck you” enthusiasm, and you can always evolve to the latter after you become close friends with a creator.
There’s a lot to be said for honest feedback and concrit. It helps us grow, helps us develop our skills, and helps us learn. Workshopping pieces and sitting through concrit sessions on my art and writing in college where I had my work absolutely shredded and dissected made me examine and improve on what I did, and made me intimately aware of what areas needed attention. And that was good for me.
If you’re reading fanfic, and the author has not specifically solicited concrit – if they aren’t asking for writing advice, and you aren’t their beta – odds are they are not deeply invested in a random fandom stranger’s thoughts on their craft. Unlike someone trying to get a novel published, if they’re writing on FFN or AO3? Odds are they are writing for fun, and posting their writing so fellow fans can share that fun.
If you’re not having fun? Close out the tab and move along! The fruit of their labor is free to enjoy, and if it isn’t what you want it to be, there’s a lot more fic/art/whatever out there for you to find. You’ve spent nothing, lost nothing.
If they ask for concrit, sure, give it! I’ve workshopped art in slack chats with other fan artists where everyone chimed in and gave suggestions and advice and it was great. People seeking honest feedback from a beta will let you know they’re looking for your opinion on a story’s weaknesses and suggestions for how to address them.
But if they don’t ask? There’s a good rule of thumb in life that holds true in fandom etiquette when commenting on works, and that is: If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
So I was spending the afternoon catching up on my fic commenting when @ischa-posts happened to comment on this post, pointing out how rarely fics are recognized by readers (and how demoralizing that can be to writers). Full disclosure: Although I do my best, I am definitely behind on leaving comments for many of the wonderful stories I’ve been lucky enough to read (for free!). Nonetheless, I became curious about the extent of the under-appreciation problem in Drarry fandom. (I’m a Ravenclaw; I can’t help it.)
This chart is based on the Top 20 Drarry fics on AO3 according to number of hits. I did not include collections or artwork. I did include the pub date to give a sense of how long stories have been posted.
The evidence is pretty damning. No fic has garnered even a 1% comment rate.
Since the AO3 comments include author responses, the actual number of reader comments is even fewer than what is shown here.
Kudos is slightly better, but the average kudos rate is still less that 5.5%.
These number are a stark reminder that I must be better about transcribing my fic notes into comments for authors. I hope it inspires other readers to do the same.
A Homestuck's Guide to Fanfic Commenting Etiquette
Leaving comments on things one likes is the most basic way to participate in a fandom. Kudos and Like buttons helpfully convey the most basic of thanks, but at times one wants to leave something with more substance. However, sometimes one may find oneself at a loss as to how to leave a good comment – perhaps one is feeling tongue-tied or particularly anxious about social interactions, and is worried about how to proceed without embarassing oneself or offending the person one intends to compliment.
Or, perhaps, one is already an enthusiastic commenter but has been gently guided here by a kind friend or stranger as a polite way of saying ‘Please step up your game’.
It saddens me to have to do this, but it seems like lately, an unsettling percentage of comments I receive is more upsetting than encouraging, and many of my writer friends are experiencing something similar.
If you have been linked to this post, it probably means you did one of these things, and the person who linked you here wants you to read this.
Three types of comments that writers HATE:
3. BITCHING ABOUT STYLE CHOICES. Responding to any character with “I don’t like that you didn’t make them <insert other sexuality here>” will make the writer upset. Do not tell me you are disappointed that my asexual characters are not interested in sex or that there will be no romance for my aromantic characters. Ace and aro people exist, and they have had enough erasure over the years. Same thing goes for bi characters, pan characters, trans characters, or even straight characters.
For that matter, that goes for characters with disabilities or mental health issues, too. And for gender-, race-, or culture-switched characters. And for threesomes that don’t end in the third character getting dumped and your OTP getting together. These are deliberate stylistic choices that the author made for a reason. It’s not constructive criticism to comment on these, it’s just whining because the fic is different from how you would have written it.
Of course, if the author made a mistake and represented a sexuality/disability/other characteristic poorly, AND you have experience with that characteristic, you might be doing them a favor by pointing it out. Gently. Berating someone never helps.
Also, I have seen writers receive comments that ignore the pairings in the story entirely and instead focus on the commenter’s OTP, even if that OTP does not interact in the story at all. For the love of God, do not do this. I can’t believe I even need to say that.
2. TOP VS. BOTTOM. Any kind of comment criticizing the writer’s choice of who tops or who bottoms is gross. This is particularly prevalent in KPop, which, since it is a real person fandom, makes it particularly gross. The assumption that a person can ONLY top or ONLY bottom because of how they look or act is harmful and wrong. The assumption that you can discern someone’s sexual preferences by watching them perform on a stage is harmful and wrong. You do not know these people in real life, so stop acting like it.
This is different from “I don’t generally like to write/read X person topping/bottoming because of personal preference.” Your personal preference is one thing. Berating or guilting an author because their story does not line up with your personal preference is a completely different thing. Acting like your personal preference is The Law Of The Land and not even recognizing that it is, in fact, your opinion, is ridiculous.
1. “MOAR PLZ!!” This can also manifest as “we want a sequel!” or “is this finished? Awww :( ” or “you know, there’s plenty of material here to make this oneshot into a chaptered fic!” or “when will you be updating this?”, especially when a fic is either a) several years old and clearly abandoned or b) clearly marked complete.
DO. NOT. DO. THIS. It’s demanding, entitled, and it makes the writer feel like shit. Writing is HARD WORK and while you might think a comment like this is complimentary, the writer reads this as your hard work isn’t good enough. Fanfiction is a hobby of which you reap the rewards for free. Writers are not your typing monkeys.
Instead of the above, try this!
Three types of comments that writers LOVE:
3. KEYBOARD SMASH. Written flailing, extended emoticons, and genuine enthusiasm will always make a writer smile. It doesn’t even need to be long, but a comment with genuine praise, even incoherent praise, will mean more than a kudo or an upvote or a pageview.
2. WHAT MAKES IT DIFFERENT. If something stood out to you, tell the author! What was your favorite line? Your favorite moment?
Even better is “I don’t normally read this pairing/kink/setting/genre BUT I really enjoyed this one BECAUSE <insert reasons>.”
1. BOOK REPORTS. My favorite, favorite, FAVORITE comments are the long, complicated, overanalytical, super in-depth ones. This type of comment is not for everyone, and of course you are not required to write a critical thesis, but if you really loved a fic, there’s no better way to show it. You might think you are annoying or freaking out the writer, but trust me, you are making their day.
90% of commenters are wonderful, and 90% of comments are encouraging and helpful to the writer, but it only takes one bad comment to ruin a writer’s day.Please take this as your gentle reminder to treat writers, and their works, with respect.
But my friendly neighborhood ficwriter says it's bad etiquette to comment on a person's oldest fic... makes it seem like they haven't written anything good since then. Is this true???
Well, of course everyone is different and one writer might be offended by something another would love, so I can’t speak for everybody…. but I’m gonna have to call bullshit on this one. People find fics randomly, and most people aren’t fans of specific writers, they’re casual browsers. If somebody stumbled upon an old fic of mine, read it, and let me know they enjoyed it, that would only ever make me happy – even if I am currently embarrassed about the quality of that work. It still touched someone enough for them to tell me so.
What people on both sides of fandom need to realize is that nobody here owes anything to anybody else. Just like writers don’t work for our readers or owe them updates, certain plot developments, or new fics, the readers don’t owe the writers loyalty or being completely up to date with everything they’re writing. If you’re regularly reading and enjoying the results of our hard work, that’s when it’s common decency to regularly let us know we are appreciated, yes. But it’s unfair to expect a reader to check exactly when a fic was written in relation to every other fic to see if it’s okay to comment, or to expect a casually browsing reader to cater to a writer who is behaving like a diva. If a writer hates their old fic so much that they’d be upset if it got attention, I don’t see why they wouldn’t just take it down. Imposing a bunch of rules on commenters aside from the obvious “don’t be rude and don’t take the writer’s work for granted” is only going to discourage people from commenting, and we’ll all die from lack of validation. Tl;dr most writers are very happy to get comments on any of their works, even the old embarrassing ones! :)
In light of recent comments left on some of the fics written for this challenge, I’d just like to remind everyone what should and shouldn’t be written in the comments to a fic that someone wrote, since it seems like some people still need an etiquette lesson.
A comment is a space to thank the author, express your feelings about their work, and a space to offer constructive criticism, if you feel that’s warranted. It’s not a space to treat the author with disrespect, tell them that their story would be ‘better with another ship’ or to disrespect other writers. I’m certain that most of you know this, and for everyone else, I suggest you learn, quickly.
Yesterday I saw a big post of people complaining, that nobody leaves comments and today I see here that there's apparently an etiquette to commenting. Maybe that's a reason why there are so few comments. Stuff like that is discouraging to readers. Like, I want to comment, but I'm not going to learn rules on what you can and can't say, thats not worth the effort. You know what I mean?
Or, I understand what you mean and find it completely unsympathetic.
Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people - the vast majority of commenters - have no problem whatsoever leaving nice comments on fic. Many, maybe most, do that without any exposure to discussions about comment etiquette. “Don’t give people unsolicited negative feedback” is not a complicated formal etiquette. It’s being basically nice and avoiding putting energy into unkindness.
Also: its not worth the effort to you to learn how to leave a comment??? Would you like to talk about how much effort it takes to write fic???? You’re reading something that someone has sunk massive amounts of time and energy into, and enjoying it at least enough to keep reading…and you can’t be arsed to take the time to think through leaving a good comment? That is…appalling, frankly, and it’s quite hard to feel like it’s worth the effort to write when people say that our fic isn’t worth the effort it takes to leave a comment.
So, I made a frustrated remark about how I don’t like “please update soon” comments, and it was brought to my attention that not everyone actually knows how writers receive those kinds of comments. Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking comment etiquette is widely known/accepted, which isn’t always the case, so I should have explained better. I will do that now!
I know it gets said all the time, but writing fic is hard. Many of us juggle multiple projects at once, sometimes across multiple fandoms. In addition to that, we have work and/or school and/or family obligations that take our time away. In spite of all that, every day that I don’t post an update for a WIP is a day that I am beating myself up. I feel guilty all the time for not putting out as much content as I want to. Even when people aren’t putting pressure on me, I’m putting pressure on myself.
When you say “update soon”, you are increasing the weight of guilt that a writer feels. Though you may just mean to be voicing your enthusiasm, what we hear is that you are going to be disappointed in us if we take a while to write the next part.
Not only that, but comments that only ask for updates without actually giving any feedback on the content of the chapter can leave writers dissatisfied and sometimes upset. It is like if you placed a gift in someone’s hands, and they immediately asked you for another one. It can make a writer feel like they are only worth something if they keep you supplied with a steady stream of things to read. Writers do like to know that people want to read more of their work, but what they want more than that is to know that you have enjoyed what they have already written.
So if you are looking to convey to a writer that you are really enjoying their fic and you would like to read more of it, here are my suggestions:
DON’T say “Please update soon!” DO say at least one nice thing about the chapter, even if it is a small or general thing (”I love the part where they kissed!” or “This made me smile!” or even just “This was great!”) and then, if you want to, you can add something along the lines of “I look forward to reading more!” or “I can’t wait for more!”. Writers want to know you actually enjoyed reading the part that they did post, and it’s not nice to ask for more without commenting on the work they have done already!
DON’T say “Finally an update!” DO say “This was a great chapter!” or “I really enjoyed reading this!”
Keep in mind that there is a vulnerable human on the other side of that computer screen who desperately wants people to like their work. In your desire to get more words out of them, remember to show appreciation for the words they have already given you! Appreciated writers are happy writers, and happy writers will write more, without you even having to ask, I guarantee it.
Dear Sam, I have a question about fanfiction-commenting etiquette. You reminded me of another Discfic that I really enjoyed, but have a petty nitpick with: The verb 'dating' is used to describe a couple's relationship, and it jerks me right out of the story because it seems far too modern and American to fit Terry's writing style. But I'm not their beta, so it feels rude to come in to a finished work and start criticising tiny things like that. Is that a thing writers want to hear from randos?
I have two answers for you, Anon, the short and the long.
The short answer is: No. Don’t do it. It is petty and nitpicky, as you yourself said, and the instinctive sense that it’s rude is a good one – listen to it.
The longer answer is that while it depends on the author – some do like fixit feedback and will ask for it – general fannish culture says that it’s rude, for a number of reasons. This was not always the case; when I came into fanfic, constructive criticism was encouraged, and writers knew what they were in for when they posted. However, fandom has become younger on average since then and fanfic has become much more accessible. Fandom has also become safer for many forms of expression, both self-expression and literary expression, in part because people started realizing that unasked-for advice wasn’t necessarily the best policy.
All of which led to a change in fannish culture, in my estimation for the better, though it took me a while to adjust to that. We now more fully recognize that the creator has the right to create the art they want, and if they aren’t selling it to you or forcing it on you, your right to dictate the content of their work pretty much drops to nil (though calling out *ism is a pretty widely accepted exception, because that is a material harm rather than an annoyance spurred by a difference of opinion). If a single word is enough to throw you out of the story, possibly you are reading with too little tolerance given that what you are reading is free and unvetted by authority. If you wouldn’t go up to a stranger and tell them that their hat doesn’t go with their outfit, don’t do it. And if you would do that, you’re a jerk.
You may see it as wanting to help them improve, but you have no evidence, unless they specifically request help improving, that they want any help at all, let alone yours, or that they have a desire to improve. Not everyone – indeed, I think, not most fan authors – writes with the aim of improving their prose. They write because they want to tell a story, or share a fantasy, or interpret a character in a way that gives them and perhaps their readers pleasure, but this isn’t high school, and if it were, you have not been hired as teacher.
Also, I would be dead sure Pterry never used the word dating before you correct it in someone else’s work, because it’s not that hard to text search his ebooks, and it would be very embarrassing for you to have spoken in authority and then be proven wrong. None of us are the be-all and end-all of knowledge when it comes to canon, and “the canon wouldn’t contain that” reeks, even more so than grammar and spelling corrections, of gatekeeping.
So in the end, treat fanfic as you would anything else: wait to be asked before you offer criticism, if for no other reason than that it’s the prevailing cultural norm and you like being friends with people instead of being labeled That Fan. And if you find it difficult to read a fanfic because of one word, perhaps you should mark that person’s name and simply not read their work.
when someone bookmarks ur fic with a passive aggressive comment and wants to be spoonfed information that was already implied by dialogue and circumstance
when someone suggests how a fic should have ended
when someone corrects ur spelling unprompted
we make all these posts about wanting comments but no one asks the people making comments to practice some etiquette and restraint, as if every single comment, even the backhanded ones, or the ones that say nothing good and only seem to exist to let you know ur garbage brain used the wrong “their/there/they’re” or repeated a word should be adored and appreciated.
pro tip: YOU DON’T HAVE TO. you don’t have to swallow every comment someone puts on your art or writing. you do not have to throw yourself onto the ground and thank someone for DEIGNING to read your work, or reblog your art. YOU. DO. NOT. HAVE. TO.
some TIPS, then:
1. BETA-ING WITHOUT BEING ASKED TO BETA SOMEONE’S WORK IS RUDE AS FUCK SO DON’T DO IT
2. stop commenting with “usually i hate this ship/trope/au”. just. stop.
3. stop suggesting different ways the story could have gone
just, please. i watched a person completely shut down a story, their first one, because the readers were critiquing the length of their chapters and how they were developing the plot.
i’m sorry i just don’t think the comments is the place where you tell a person how to be a better writer.
a writer or an artist is putting their work out there to be observed. honestly, if your comment can’t be nice or supportive, then keep it to yourself. and always ask yourself - if i got this comment, would it make me happy or frustrated? would it make me want to continue creating?
stop and think.
(except you SHOULD comment when u find works that are super gross and problematic. example: read a fic where a canonically gay character was written to be bi-sexual. this is ERASURE and HOMOPHOBIC and should be called out. you should call out a writer who writes a story with excessive triggers, but doesn’t tag for them. never stop doing that. keep people in check.)
and same for art like - don’t fucking comment on someone’s art with your own fucking opinion on it, okay? put that shit in the tags, make a post about it or something but don’t clutter up someone’s art post with some BS about how this reminds u of ur OC or something stupid like that
I AM SO SALTY AND BITTER TODAY GUYS BUT I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT JUST BECAUSE YOU WRITE AND ART DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO BE GRATEFUL FOR EVERY SINGLE COMMENT THAT COMES YOUR WAY ESPECIALLY IF THOSE COMMENTS HURT YOUR PROCESS OR DO NOT ADD ANYTHING TO WHAT IS HAPPENING. IN FACT, GET ANGRY WHEN THEY DETRACT AND HONESTLY, YOU CAN DELETE COMMENT SON AO3, SO IF A COMMENT IS HANGING AROUND AND IT MAKES YOU FEEL TERRIBLE, GET RID OF IT.
IF SOMEONE REBLOGS UR ART AND WRITES GARBAGE UNDER IT, CALL THEM OUT. (it’s really too bad you can’t turn off the caption element on an image post sometimes)
okay i’m done i’m sorry i know this is super rude but i just don’t care anymore. thank you to those who continue to comment kindly and supportively, and know that if you have done any of these things to me i am NOT MAD AT YOU because i get over stuff pretty quick, but know that some people can get deterred from creating very quickly so it is important to be kind and supportive as they grow into their artistic process.