Hi Mr. Badge! I don't know if this falls under Sam Advises but I was wondering if you could give me some advice on how to show people on tumblr how much I appreciate their work without ending up on the creepy side. for instance I've always wanted to send scifigrl a x-mas card back or other tumblr ppl a letter or card saying how much I love their fic/ art/ etc but I'm afraid of making them feel creeped out. As a famous tumblr dad do you have any advice on what to avoid? Thank you so much!
Okay so first, thanks for permission to post this publicly, because I think it’s a really interesting thing to talk about and I also think it’s something Fandom could do with hearing about.
Second, and not entirely relevant but not actually off-point, I happen to know that @scifigrl47 LOVES getting cards, especially holiday cards, so you should definitely send her one.
I was thinking about this after my initial “But Sci loves cards!” reaction, and I think in the vast majority of cases, the difference between “a lovely letter from a reader” and “a creepy missive from a stranger” boils down to entitlement. When it comes to this kind of communication, where you don’t really know the person but you’ve read their work or their blog so you kiiiinda do, and you want to tell them you like what they do or give them a little pick-me-up, the difference is often about the mindset of the sender.
Thinking about the kinds of letters I’ve had where I’ve gone “oh…whoa” and stepped back a bit, they have almost always included a sense of entitlement, an implication of ownership or debt – “I like you and I’ve read your fic, therefore I own a part of you” or “I like you…and now that I’ve told you, you owe me” and occasionally “I like you, so what I’m about to say to you isn’t sexually inappropriate to say to a stranger.”
It’s usually pretty easy to avoid doing, thankfully, especially if you’re writing from a good headspace. “I love your work, and I thought I’d tell you I love your work” or “I’m a longtime reader and you seemed sad the other day so here is something to entertain you!” are both great examples of simple but sincere. If you write without the assumption that the person owes you a response, just from the sheer joy of being able to say hello, then you’re pretty much guaranteed to put a smile on someone’s face. Or even if you write to say “Look, I was in a really bad place a while back but your work helped me out, I’m doing better now/I’m keeping on” that isn’t placing any kind of demand on the person you’re writing to.
Where it gets creepy is when you write with the expectation that the other person will be your therapist, or will provide you a service they didn’t freely offer, or will create something for you just because you wrote to them. Especially for people with a big readership, not only is that not how it works, it can’t be, because the demands on our time are too great. Because fandom is still predominantly a barter system, sometimes people forget that they aren’t owed for every thing they give, either – so even when I get a communication from someone that’s a little on the iffy side, I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. (This does not happen that often, FWIW.)
There are degrees, of course – you can write to say you love someone’s work and offer an opportunity to collaborate, or to show them something you’ve done based on their work. I’ve done that numerous times, especially when fanart inspires me to write. But generally people can tell when the compliment is really a bribe for their cooperation, versus when the compliment is to explain why they did something cool. And when I was doing Sam Advises, I specifically opened myself up to helping people who wrote to me. But unless someone is making that specific offer, they don’t owe you anything, even if you love them and are their biggest fan. Especially in fandom, where we’re not paid for this and have to work a day job. :D
So I think most of the time it’s that easy – if you’re speaking from the heart and not with an expectation of a specific response, you’re likely to be offering delight rather than dismay. A great way to do that if you’re still cautious is to send a postcard – it’s got a fun image on the front, and you don’t have to write much on the back. I get a reasonable amount of mail that is fun postcards with nothing more than “Thanks for what you do! – Longtime Reader (username)” or similar, and they never fail to make me smile. Sometimes I struggle with how to get that feeling across when I share photos from my PO Box, but I do my best to make sure people know I appreciate them taking the time out of their day to do that for me.
So, yes. Just in worrying about not creeping someone out, you’re starting out from a good place – your concern is appreciated. :) And I hope you have fun sending some letters!