Please R&R! … or the Practices and Perils of Leaving Feedback on Tolkien Fanfic

Tolkien fanfic community feedback practices infographic


 

One of the key areas of interest in the Tolkien Fanfic Survey has naturally been what it tells us about feedback: how and why people leave it and, maybe more importantly, why they don’t. And I have to admit a personal interest in this subject as well. After all, I am an author myself, as well as an archive owner. Posting a piece of writing is not an act without cost to the author in terms of time and energy. When I go whole-hog in cross-posting a story and promoting it on social media, I expect to spend at least two hours doing so, on top of the many hours I’ve already expended in writing the piece. Furthermore, as a website owner with an explicit interest in building an archive with a strong sense of community, I know that authors and readers must talk to each other for that to happen. I also know that, if authors don’t hear from readers on my site, they will often make the assumption that their work is not a good fit there … and I can’t blame them because I’ve made that same call on archives, when I was spending time regularly to share my work but hearing little or nothing in response.

Over the past few years, I feel like I’ve gotten annoying with my preaching about comments. I’ve seen people leave sites over a lack of comments but, even more importantly, I’ve seen people leave the Tolkien fandom over a lack of comments. So this has become my manifesto: Barring significant language or psychological barriers*, if you read a story and love it, you should tell the author. If you are regularly reading an author’s work, you need to tell the author. Not a kudo. Not a like. A comment. Something that takes you a minute or two, at least, to write. That seems the least a reader can do for an author whose unpaid labor has given them joy and, oftentimes, hours of free entertainment.

*Don’t even give me that horseshit about reading on a phone as a reason for not commenting. If you can text on your phone, you can comment on your phone.

But as annoying as I’ve become, I haven’t seen significant shifts in commenting behavior. I don’t see droves of new people leaving comments or other significant (i.e., requires more than a tap or click to effect) feedback. When I go on a rant, maybe one person messages me privately, guilted into admitting that they’ve been reading my work, sometimes for years, and never told me, but I wonder if they are doing that for the other authors they are reading and not telling too. Because my comment count is above average, and the purpose of my rants is not to enrich myself but to improve commenting as a whole in the fandom. 2.8% of clicks on my five most recent non-Silm40 stories resulted in a comment. I recognize that comment-to-click data is complex but that’s still a sad number to call “good.”

Since it’s become clear that my wheedling, whining, and ranting about comments is not doing much good, I was interested on the survey data about commenting too. I’ve been crunching it for the better part of a year to produce the infographic above. Some key takeaways:

  • Most participants (76%) claimed to leave feedback. However, most people leave feedback relatively rarely.
  • People who are fanfic authors leave feedback more often than those who are readers only: 87% compared to 59%.
  • (That’s still 13% of authors who are willing to admit that they don’t leave feedback ever. This group will be the subject of a future post.)
  •  The reasons people leave comments are largely altruistic: They hope to encourage writers (83%) and feel that commenting is a way to give back to authors (92%).
  • This data wasn’t in the infographic (I need to go back and add it …), but 72.9% agreed or strongly agreed that “it is appropriate to leave constructive criticism in public comments on stories.” 65% identified helping writers improve as a motive for commenting. (At the same time, 51.6% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that “[w]hen I comment publicly on fanfiction, I only say nice things about the story.” Hmm.)
  • Reasons that meet the needs of the reader (versus the author) were the least likely to motivate commenting: feeling part of a community (60%), making friends (48%), and developing a deeper understanding of the texts (36%).
  • And if you’re wondering, also not on the infographic (also should be added, right?), only 2.8% of participants admit that they’ve “flamed or harshly and publicly criticized a story I didn’t like.”
  • The Tolkien fanfic community values commenting: 78% think it’s important to comment and leave feedback. Perhaps coincidentally, 78% also wish they commented more often. (I haven’t analyzed the extent of the overlap between these two survey items … yet.)

These two groups of 78% are of interest to me. These seems to be group that is most likely to lead to improvement in the number of comments authors are receiving on their work. Or: these are the people who have been the audience for my whining and ranting and cajoling all these years.

But if they think commenting is the right thing to do and/or want to comment more, why aren’t they?

Interestingly, 78% (again!) say that “I sometimes want to leave a comment but am not sure what to say.” A smaller but still-too-large-for-my-liking 55% say that “I sometimes want to leave a comment but think that my comment might not mean much to the writer.” (To this last group: There is no fanfic writer who has ever said, “I wish this reader never told me they liked my work.” I had one author one time tell me they didn’t like comments … and then I later caught them celebrating on their journal how many comments a particular piece received, so I’m back to my original assertion that all fanfic writers like comments, even the short ones.)

All of this data is interesting, but it leads me full circle to again ponder what I see as a problem in the fandom: Readers need to speak up more often in appreciation of the authors who are producing their free entertainment. If ranting and whining doesn’t work, what will?

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the 78%–the third one, the one that admits they don’t always know what to say in a comment–are the key here. As most of you probably know by now, I am a teacher “in real life,” so I am used to taking actual achievement and figuring out ways to make it better. Unfortunately, in my career as in fandom, I have found that ranting and whining very rarely works aside from the temporary relief of venting steam. So what is the solution?

In my career in recent years, one thing I have increasingly worked to be more aware of is the bias created by the privilege of expertise. In my classroom, I am the expert in the room and am rarely, if ever, required to intellectually challenge myself the way I require my students to take that risk. So I frequently make myself go out and try something I expect I will be bad at, like rock-climbing or long-distance cycling over hilly dirt roads. Likewise, in fandom, I have become increasingly aware that, as an experienced writer, editor, and a teacher of the English language–someone who has steeped herself in thinking about literature and writing for most of her life now–I have skills that perhaps don’t come as effortlessly to others.

It’s easy for me to read a story and identify what the author does that is successful. I do this as a writer, editor, and beta; on a near-daily basis, I teach my students to pick apart a mentor text and apply what they’ve learned to their own writing. But I’ve come to realize that this is not a natural skill for most people. People are not born knowing how to discern much less communicate what makes a work of fiction tick for them. This is not only a learned skill but a unique and difficult form of writing, and readers are expected to produce it publicly. It’s hard to articulate what makes a piece of art succeed unless you’re used to breaking down that abstraction and possess the language needed to communicate those ideas. I feel it myself when asked to comment on visual art, which I often enjoy but for reasons I find difficult to articulate. I think the 55% that worry that their comment will be worthless to the author might capture some of the “stage fright” that surrounds producing this kind of writing and the worry that they are doing it badly.

And when it comes to the unique type of writing required by a comment, I’ve had a lot of practice. I once counted up the number of stories I’ve read in workshops, as an editor, and as a beta reader and estimated that I’d provided detailed feedback on more than 2,000 stories or chapters. That’s before I even consider how much student work I’ve read and commented on in the course of my teaching career. (Because, honestly, that number is scary!) So is it fair for me to hold everyone else to my standards? I’ve scoffed in the past that more than a small percentage of readers had a reason to feel actually anxious about commenting, but I’m increasingly realizing now that this was a bit like a professional dancer scoffing at people who don’t want to bust a move in front of a room full of professional dancers. I’m seeing that it’s quite reasonable to feel anxious about that.

That 78% slaps me in the face: people who want to comment, who would comment, but don’t know what to say. It casts the problem in a different light: not of pushing people to comment but providing them with what they need so that, when they want to comment, they can comment.

I’ve been thinking about what that would look like. This summer, I started a project called “101 Comment Starters”: single fill-in-the-blank sentences that state the myriad reasons that people like a piece of writing. I got about halfway done before becoming immersed in the Mereth Aderthad and never picking up the “101” project again. This concept builds on the idea of sentence and question starters, used to scaffold writers learning a new format. I’ve also considered what structural changes could be built into an archive (especially since I’m also thinking a lot these days about how best to rebuild the SWG’s aging infrastructure) that provides the satisfaction to authors of specific feedback on their work while alleviating some of the pressure on readers to perform publicly an unfamiliar and fairly complex form of writing. Would it help, for example, to be able to leave a comment visible only to the author? Or if authors could choose what they liked about a story from a checklist–a step above the one-click feedback that I refuse to have on the SWG but not quite as paralyzing as that blank comment form with nothing to go on?

I don’t have it all figured out, but this data really shifted my thinking. Now, a bit ironically–I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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101 Responses to “Please R&R! … or the Practices and Perils of Leaving Feedback on Tolkien Fanfic”

  1. Oshun says:

    People are not born knowing how to discern much less communicate what makes a work of fiction tick for them. This is not only a learned skill but a unique and difficult form of writing, and readers are expected to produce it publicly.

    It is not rocket science to say one appreciated a story. Knowing close to zero about painting or art, does not stop me from saying I loved your picture! How about:

    I read your story and enjoyed it!
    it made me laugh, or
    it made me cry, or
    I read it three times,
    I wanted to wring X character’s neck, or
    I am happy when I see a new story from you.

    They do not need a fill-in-the-blank list for a sincere expression of appreciation. This is not rocket science. I object to that concept!

    I get awesome comments from a few friends (writers) and yet I love every single expression of appreciation. I never forget one of those awesome comments. But I am happy thrilled silly for any comment at all. I am pleased as hell for a “kudo.”

    I am a slow and tortured writer, so it really matters to me if someone takes one minute to say something, because for a single short story I may have put anywhere from a five to 20 hours, usually way more. I can’t give accurate numbers, because I do a lot of reading to produce a story and my so-called research, and it takes me days more often than not–that doesn’t count the hours of thinking about it and plotting it that I do while trying to fall asleep at night, or riding the subway, or washing dishes. It takes me at least ten times as long to write a short story or a chapter as it does to produce one of my longer character bios.

    I know I occasionally read a story and get interrupted and don’t comment. I may notice a year later and comment then, often with an apology, e.g., “I thought I had commented on this story, but just noticed that I did not…”

    I’m a weirdo, aside from fanfiction, I write comments on big-name writers’ websites, Facebooks, and Tumblrs, people who sell plenty of books and have no lack of fans. Writers are people too and the ones I know work damned hard! And very few of those make as much as a corporate lawyer and are in general better educated and work harder. Writers are like actors, there are thousands upon thousands of them and very few get rich.

    For the determined non-commenter nothing is going to crack their lack of desire to comment. They don’t want to be bothered. They may tell themselves that writers do not care whether they comment. If that is ever true it might be in the case of the rare BNF in a huge fandom.

    Those who want to help writers improve probably were groomed initially on ff.net.

    • Dawn says:

      We are coming at this from totally different perspectives. From where I’m standing, yes, it is easy to use one of those simple responses to appreciate a work. I have ranted and raged for years now about that. It hasn’t done anything.

      I’ve learned the hard way that ranting and raging about behavior I don’t like won’t change it. I don’t see why this would be different. I’m willing to take those 78% of people who claim to not know what to say at their word. Sure, some may be making excuses … but 78%, in an anonymous survey? No.

      You’re welcome to not accept comments based on a hypothetical “101” list. For me … if it boosts me beyond that sad 2.8%–which I feel bad even lamenting since I know many writers would be glad to get that–then I’ll take it. And as with many things, I expect people will gain confidence at times. I’ll take their comments then, too, gladly.

      I don’t know that the “101” list will make a difference. But given my analysis, there’s a problem deeper than people just deciding not to comment. I suspect it’s more complicated than just not knowing how to approach a text (or an author) who has created something that produces complex thoughts and emotions, but that does seem to be a part of it, and I can hardly complain about a situation if I do nothing to actually solve it.

      I think community is part of it too … coming to see authors/creators as people on equal footing rather than someone at a slight remove above the reader. I expect that is cultural … even if writers (and other creators or entertainers) are not well paid, there is a certain status that comes with having something “published.” I see it even in how people treat writers who self-publish and don’t see why fanfic would be any different. But that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.

      Meaning no disrespect, I expect I understand the mindset that produces these thoughts better than you do. I have never communicated with a published author. I am one of those people who, in a situation where one can “meet the author” or “meet the band” or whatever would rather rip off one of my fingernails than speak to those people. Sometimes I hear radio stations giving away meet-and-greets or backstage passes as prizes and always think I’d rather not go to the show than have to do that. But you have more personal ties in those industries and would probably see those situations–and the people in them–differently than I do.

      I agree about ff.net … I won’t be able to know if they go their start there, but I can certainly see if people who agreed or strongly agreed with statements relating to concrit use ff.net more than participants as a whole.

    • Dawn says:

      I ran the numbers on FanFiction.net …

      Surprisingly, among authors anyway, there isn’t much difference between those who use ff.net and authors in general.

      Agree or Strongly Agree with “I think it is appropriate to leave constructive criticism in public comments on stories.”
      Authors: 71.6%
      FFN Authors: 73.6%

      Agree or Strongly Agree with “I hope the comments I leave on stories help the writers to improve.”
      Authors: 71.7%
      FFN Authors: 73.1%

      What I didn’t look at is whether readers differ on this. People who only read fanfic (i.e., who are not also authors) are much less likely to be motivated by helping authors improve.

      Agree or Strongly Agree with “I hope the comments I leave on stories help the writers to improve.”
      Authors: 71.7%
      Readers Only: 53.9%

      But readers-only are also slightly more likely to find it appropriate to leave concrit! (It’s probably not a significant difference, but this really surprised me. It suggests, to me anyway, that the experience of receiving public concrit can mitigate purely philosophical views on appropriateness of concrit, especially the misguided idea that concrit is always helpful.)

      Agree or Strongly Agree with “I think it is appropriate to leave constructive criticism in public comments on stories.”
      Authors: 71.6%
      Readers Only: 74.7%

      Given that, it would be interesting to see how people who read on FFN (but are not authors) differ from readers-only in general; I haven’t broken out archive data yet for readers. (It’ll probably take days or weeks to do this once I gird my loins to do so! I really do need to do this, though.)

  2. Oshun says:

    That 78% slaps me in the face: people who want to comment, who would comment, but don’t know what to say. It casts the problem in a different light: not of pushing people to comment but providing them with what they need so that, when they want to comment, they can comment.

    In case I was not explicit enough above: I do not believe this for a minute! When I don’t know what to say, I say, “I enjoyed your story. I thought it was well-written. I liked the setting (or characters, or concept).” Something like that. One doesn’t have to be a PhD in English to say that or even a particularly fluent writer.

    • Binka says:

      “One doesn’t have to be a PhD in English to say that or even a particularly fluent writer.”

      I’m giving you a super, super hug for what you said. I remember being barely literate in English back in the early days of my fandom life at OSA and I still kept telling people what I thought about their stuff, thanking them for creating it. One really doesn’t have to write a dissertation or a comparative essay in a review.

      • Dawn says:

        No, they don’t, but it seems pretty common to hear readers say that they didn’t think they could write a comment long enough or meaningful enough to be worth anything to the author. (More than half the people in the survey who worried about that …) And these worries aren’t groundless either … I’ve also seen people say things that have a silencing effect: someone who scoffed at the basic “thanks for posting/writing this!” comment, a person who complained about comments that ask questions, people who say “I’d take one lengthy, deep comment over five little ‘thank yous’ any day.” Probably these people meant no harm when they said these things, but they are out there (and am usually gritting my teeth and growling “STFU already!!” ;)) telling readers that their comments are being scrutinized and evaluated by some authors. Once that idea is planted, it’s going to be almost impossible to root out with reasoning alone because anything I say is going to ring false.

        I’ve learned that hard way that, for the vast majority of people, simply saying, “Don’t worry! This isn’t a big deal!” doesn’t make it not a big deal if they truly believe it is. So I wonder what alternate approaches might be more productive.

        • Binka says:

          The more I think about it, the more fandom seems a minefield.

          • Dawn says:

            It totally is! It is hard to encourage reviewing by proclaiming how much it matters when someone comments on that very post and says they don’t actually like reviews (and prefer kudos) or hate answering readers’ questions or don’t mind “thank yous” but cherish the PhD-dissertation-quality comments more.

            I wish those people would just shut off their comment notifications if they’re so bothered. (I’ve often thought that, on the non-eFiction SWG site, the ability for an author to shut off comments might not be a bad thing so readers know when/where their comments are wanted.)

        • Rhapsody says:

          No, they don’t, but it seems pretty common to hear readers say that they didn’t think they could write a comment long enough or meaningful enough to be worth anything to the author.

          This reminds me of the MEFA days when the debate went on on how some folks could easily write such long reviews (more points) to stories there. I, as an ESL, could easily write long reviews andif I may say so, of good quality too. You know me and my lengthy comments on AMC chapters. 😉 So whatever your native tongue is, it shouldn’t stop the reviewer. I am basing this because back in the day during the MEFA debates it were the native speakers who claimed that they could never write such long reviews! There always seems to be an excuse.

          Probably these people meant no harm when they said these things, but they are out there (and am usually gritting my teeth and growling “STFU already!!” ;)) telling readers that their comments are being scrutinized and evaluated by some authors.

          OMG yes. This also is a kind of elephant in the room because when I see an author complaining about a review they got I really have to sit on my hands and not shout to them: you got a review, wtf are you complaining about. Be happy that you at least got one. And that it is not phrased in beautiful language… I am happy with every kudo or review or like that I do actually get and that isn’t much. But I love them like Smaug loves his shineys.

          • Dawn says:

            I agree with you, Rhapsody–I don’t think being ESL or a native speaker has anything to do with the ability to write volume. Writing volume and being able to elaborate on an idea, like anything else, is a skill. (I’m teaching it to my kiddos right now, lol.) And certainly being able to analyze a story deeply isn’t contingent on one’s native language, although it may be easier for those with that skill to express abstract ideas in their native language.

            Be happy that you at least got one.

            I don’t even go so far as to say that authors have to be happy! But I do wish that those who are picky about comments would just shut off notifications and understand the harm their complaining does to the vast majority who aren’t picky and just want to hear that their worked reached someone, anyone of the dozens or hundreds clicking and reading and staying ominously silent.

    • Independence1776 says:

      I do believe it. People I think want to leave the longer comments, think that short comments are unwelcome or unhelpful, and thus don’t know what to say. It depends on comfort: if you’re not used to something, if you’re approaching a total stranger, that fear and inadequecy becomes central. And yes, it’s easier not saying anything– but not knowing what to say is a thing, even if it wasn’t for you.

    • Dawn says:

      Why don’t you believe it? Do you think 78% of participants on this anonymous survey were lying?

      • Oshun says:

        I wonder if they honestly won’t be bothered, or if they are truly that insecure? Many can rant and rave about other things online? Why does throwing an author a bone suddenly present a problem?

        • Dawn says:

          They’re completely different types of writing, though. The purpose and the audience are both different. A comment is much more intimate, being written directly to a creator versus flung out to the world at large. This demands a different skill set but also generates different emotions.

          I know that may seem counterintuitive but the best analogy I can draw is from my own experience. I have danced solo on stage in a bellydance costume; I–a mere middle school teacher with a degree from an online university!–have presented my work in front of audiences of my “betters” at conferences. Most people would be mortified at doing either one. I’m not; in fact, I love it. But ask me to approach a person I don’t know and speak one-on-one with them and I’d rather swallow a rusty nail.

    • Lyra says:

      I’ve got to admit that I am one of those who don’t comment as often as they should “because I don’t always know what to say”. (I’m also one of those people who ruin Dawn’s statistics by clicking the same story three times before finally coming up with a review, thus creating the impression that three people read and only one of them left a review, but that’s a different issue.)

      No, hear me out! Of course I could just say “I liked this” and “This was funny”.
      But, being a writer myself, I know what kind of comment I personally love to get. And while I appreciate every “I liked this” – it’s still way better than an anonymous like or kudo – the comments that really keep me going are the eloquent ones that explain exactly what they liked, what worked for them, what resonated with them. And these are a lot less easy to write, because boiling down the essence of my “liking” into a few sentences is hard work for me. It genuinely can take me a couple hours of mulling over the story before I can manage to come up with a comment I’m satisfied with. Sometimes I do not have the time for that kind of mulling. Sometimes it may slip my mind. Somehow, the great eloquent comment I never get around to writing still feels better than a simple “I liked this!”.

      (Just like, back in school, I never contributed answers to trivial questions, but often didn’t get to contribute appropriately complex answers to interesting questions either because the thinking took too long, which resulted in me getting poor grades for oral participation and a reputation for showing a lack of interest in the class. 13 years of the German school system haven’t been able to change this. Let’s hope fandom will be more lucky.)

      On the other hand, I recall that during the MEFAs, the first reviews I wrote were always a major pain, but towards the end of the season, the words flowed a lot more easily. So this year (after having taken that survey, incidentally) I resolved to write reviews more often. Some of my fandom friends (Himring and Oshun, looking at you) are really great at leaving comments that always make me feel encourages and happy, so I tried to steal some of their tricks. Has it worked? Not sure about the effect on the authors, obviously, but 30% of the comments I’ve written on SWG were written this year (and I’ve been there for 8 years! shameful!) so it’s certainly helped me to be more active.

      So, since stealing the tools of the masters ;), I think that Dawn’s kit of comment starters might actually be helpful to some people.
      What I wouldn’t want to see is a list of ticky boxes which people can just click and then you’ll get some kind of composite review:
      “READER XYZ liked your story!
      They liked your
      x characterisation in general
      x depiction of a rare character
      x depiction of a commonly misunderstood character
      x atmosphere
      x plot
      x social criticism
      x use of language
      x other
      Keep up the good work!”

      But offering readers a list of sentence starters along the lines of “I liked the way you shed light on XYZ”, “You made me sympathise with XYZ” or “This line in particular resonated with me: [quote from story]” might really make it easier for people to “know what to say”.

      At the same time, one might perhaps need some guidelines for things one shouldn’t say (typo correction/ corections about “canon” or popular fanons -> use the messaging function for that; saying that the author got this character completely wrong -> swallow it down or whine about it in private; no writing advice/ “constructive criticism” unless the author explicitly asks for it; NO SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE CHAPTERS, FOR ERU’S SAKE)…

      The thing is, comments are a complex issue because there are probably as many preferences as there are authors. I LOVE hearing “I don’t normally read XYZ, but I really enjoyed your story.” I don’t know why many people hate this kind of comment! How awesome is it that YOU got someone out of their comfort zone with their writing AND they liked it? There is nothing better! I genuinely don’t get why people feel upset by this. But I have read very often that they do. Sometimes, I LOVE comments that niggle over small details. Someone once asked in a review to TTS where the silly silk-weaver would be getting his materials because Northern Beleriand was surely not mulberry country? Which got me to think about trade relations and whether the Noldor would have taken saplings from Valinor to Middle-earth and what about Tussah silk and did the Noldor have greenhouses? So that was great, but other writers might perceive it as overly critical. On the other hand, I get super worked up when someone thinks I shouldn’t have used a turn of phrase (or even a single word) because it’s too modern or whatnot. Even if they’re not wrong! (But obviously, they usually are! >;)) While other authors have no problem ignoring that kind of thing or even manage a graceful response. I know a lot of people love writing (and receiving) “I liked this.” and I am grateful for it, too, but it still makes me feel kinda meh, is that all?

      TL;DR I only know what kind of comment I love to get (and what kind of comment is less lovely, although still better than silence), and I’m demanding, so I’m equally demanding of myself when I’m writing comments. And sadly, that often means I can’t easily meet my own standards!

      • Grundy says:

        Lyra brings up a good point – I’m another one who generally has contributed more than one hit to the read/hit count by the time I review. So the read/hit to review/kudo count is also somewhat skewed in that sense as well… (As an example, I read Oshun’s Ancalagon bio last night as my bedtime reading. I didn’t comment then, but I’ve told her if I don’t go back and comment sometime this morning she should scold me. So there will be two hits to my one review- and possibly three, as with SWG stories I generally open the story in another tab while composing the review so I can scroll through while keeping my review where I can see it.)

      • Oshun says:

        Thank you for liking my comments! I do write one liners too (“Lovely story! It really moved me,” etc.) rather than skipping the comment box entirely, but I try to give stories I truly love a comment appropriate to the obvious care that went into crafting the story itself. (OK so I am not very careful about typos in reviews–it least I don’t use Tumblr grammar!)

        I get super worked up when someone thinks I shouldn’t have used a turn of phrase (or even a single word) because it’s too modern or whatnot.

        I wish they would have a little trust! When I used a jarringly modern expression or a curse-word I’ve spent a long time considering the choice–putting the word in and taking it out again and finally deciding to leave it. My absolute favorite stage script ever (Shakespeare doesn’t count) is Lion in Winter by James Goldman about the Plantagenet brood–it is filled with anachronistic expressions (which feel right) and picks and chooses from history to suit its purpose, yet still is the most convincing historical fiction I have ever read of that family–one feels it captures the spirit of a family and an age. It has been maybe the single greatest influence on my Finweans, because it captures the how intersection of love, affection, family loyalty, and huge political differences can co-exist. So, to have some first-time reader correct my use of the f-word is not useful. Like Dawn has often said about her stories, when I post them I am finished–except for an obvious mistake or typo.

  3. Oshun says:

    I wrote a really long initial comment on this and it appears to have disappeared. All I can see now is my tiny postscript to that comment. Well, hell! I spent a lot of time on the earlier one.

    • Dawn says:

      The comment was marked as spam, but I’ve freed it, and it’s showing up now.

      If comments seem to just disappear, let me know, and I can dig them out of the spam box. Akismet is pretty good about sorting the legit stuff from the spam, but it does make mistakes.

  4. Independence1776 says:

    Frankly, I don’t think you’re becoming annoying. I see all the time on Tumblr people begging readers to leave comments and the posts are usually heavily reblogged. In the past month or so, I’ve started seeing people begging for reblogs because it’ll at least get their fanwork in front of more people. So the lack of feedback fandom-wide is… significant.

    Barring significant language or psychological barriers, if you read a story and love it, you should tell the author. If you are regularly reading an author’s work, you need to tell the author. Not a kudo. Not a like. A comment. Something that takes you a minute or two, at least, to write. That seems the least a reader can do for an author whose unpaid labor has given them joy and, oftentimes, hours of free entertainment.

    100% agreement. I’m trying to refrain from kudos-bashing here, but I hate the mindset that thinks kudos are equivalent to comments. When I spend hours, days, weeks, or longer on a fic, that the majority of what I’ll get for my work is a button click? That makes me feel like my effort isn’t valuable.

    I recognize that comment-to-click data is complex but that’s still a sad number to call “good.”

    I did this out of morbid curiosity, excluding any exchange or fest stories, which meant going back a year to find a fic: 1.4% on AO3; kudos is 12.7%. SWG is 2% comment. My other “recent” fic has percentages of 1.5 and 6.2; this is my most popular fic hit-count-wise on AO3. (It’s not Silmfic, so those are the only numbers I have.)

    That 78% slaps me in the face: people who want to comment, who would comment, but don’t know what to say. It casts the problem in a different light: not of pushing people to comment but providing them with what they need so that, when they want to comment, they can comment.

    There have been multiple posts on Tumblr about how to leave comments, though not as common as the “please comment.” I haven’t seen any boost from them. Not that they’re not valuable, but then again, they’re also not as widespread as the “please comment” posts.

    As to your two suggestions:

    1) Would it help, for example, to be able to leave a comment visible only to the author?

    This wouldn’t help anxious-commenter me; the whole point about why I’m anxious is that I’m talking directly to the creator. A comment being public doesn’t mean anything to me; I expect that given how archives, etc. are set up.

    2) Or if authors could choose what they liked about a story from a checklist–a step above the one-click feedback that I refuse to have on the SWG but not quite as paralyzing as that blank comment form with nothing to go on?

    As an author, if it’s a choice between receiving a list and nothing, I’ll take the list. I absolutely will take the list above one-click feedback that people think isn’t ambiguous and it really is. I’ll take comments above all three, of course. As a commenter, I’d probably go for the comment option first and the list second.

    Now that I’ve responded to your post, I’ll go into more about why I waver between commenting and not commenting.

    I used to comment a lot more before AO3 popped onto the scene. Not because of kudos (which I rarely use), but because that’s when I entered the MCU fandom. My tastes in MCU fandom were sometimes different enough from my usual reading that I didn’t want my name attached. So I lurked. And once lurking becomes a habit, it’s difficult to break.

    Another reason is that I am scared about what the author might think. Not about emotional gushing, but that I interpreted the story wrong or focused on a detail they didn’t care about or missed the point entirely or that I somehow prove that I’m less knowledgeable about canon. It’s, I guess, a completely self-centered fear of being inadequate.

    A third is just not knowing what to say. Sometimes I like a fic and can’t explain why; I try to leave an “I liked this” but sometimes (too often for my liking) I don’t. I used to be able to leave longer, more analytic reviews and I’ve lost the capability. Possibly because I lurked and thus got out of the habit. So for that, a quick 101 Comment Starters could be helpful— if I remembered it existed.

    But I don’t think there’s any simple answer for getting people to comment. When people don’t comment for a range of “I didn’t know authors liked X style of comment” to “scared” to “reading something I don’t want people knowing I’m reading” to “don’t know what to say”: I think there’s just as many reasons as there are lurkers. I really don’t know what to say beyond that.

    • Dawn says:

      Frankly, I don’t think you’re becoming annoying.

      Ha! Thanks! 😀 I started my fannish life with the mindset that it was somehow rude to ask for what I wanted if it required effort from another person. I have a much more “fuck it” attitude now; I see how perceived apathy from readers damages our community.

      I’ve started seeing people begging for reblogs

      I agree with this. A reblog, to me, is pretty powerful. It very nearly a rec … someone deciding that they like your work enough to want to encourage their friends to see it. It also expands my audience; I often gain new followers after a post that is reblogged with some frequency. Reblogs with comments–even in the tags!–are the gold standard for me on Tumblr. (Possibly because I reblog almost nothing myself!)

      I’m trying to refrain from kudos-bashing here, but I hate the mindset that thinks kudos are equivalent to comments.

      You’re a good person. I have no problem with people leaving kudos on my work, but they are the mildest expression of liking my work. They are the 15% tip when I waited tables in college. Okay, so I did my job but not with any sort of excellence.

      I have a major, major problem with people who think that they replace comments. I’m honestly surprised that no one from the crowd with a mile-long list of excuses about why commenting is impossible for them (usually surrounding the use of their stupid phone to read fanfic … which is bullshit because even I–who barely use my smartphone at all–have commented on the SWG using my phone) has come along yet, but the infographic and link to this post also hasn’t come out of the queue on Tumblr yet. But the idea that someone thinks that reading AMC, for example–a story that is as long as a normal fantasy trilogy–that would cost about $30 as a Kindle download of three books and takes days if not weeks to read is doing enough to express their appreciation by tapping a kudo on their phone because it might take a few minutes to tap out a coherent sentence … that honestly incenses me. I’m not sure why people think that saying this to authors makes their case at all. “Well, I spent two hours yesterday texting with my friend, but this story that took you a year to write and that I did enjoy, btw, which is why I spent three weeks reading it, wasn’t worth two minutes of my time to thank you using the same device that mysteriously becomes difficult to use when it’s not being used for my explicit personal gain.” Harrumph.

      This is why the SWG will have one-click feedback only over my dead body.

      As an author, if it’s a choice between receiving a list and nothing, I’ll take the list.

      What I was thinking was along the lines of HASA’s old recommendation system. You could recommend a story, independently of comments (which were rare, for me anyway, on HASA) on dozens of very specific criteria. (These have been converted to tags on AO3 so stories brought over by Open Doors, like AMC, often have them as tags to give an idea of what they looked like.) I did enjoy this system as a middle ground between one-click feedback (which I don’t like … if that’s not abundantly clear ;)), and it was enjoyable to see what people were recommending my story for. Also, iIrc, readers could click on a particular descriptor and see a list of stories recommended for that … this would be possible in Drupal anyway and another way to possibly expanding one’s audience, since I imagine most people search for stories using characters and genres they like.

      Nothing’s definite and anything like this would be discussed by the mods and then put before the membership, but it’s been on my mind.

      Another reason is that I am scared about what the author might think. Not about emotional gushing, but that I interpreted the story wrong or focused on a detail they didn’t care about or missed the point entirely or that I somehow prove that I’m less knowledgeable about canon. It’s, I guess, a completely self-centered fear of being inadequate.

      But I think this is totally legit … I remember having similar thoughts when I was a new Tolkien fan and still lurking. And I pick up on a lot of insecurity around being perceived as being “out of the loop” in terms of canon, like the hoopla surrounding the use of Quenya names. I’m looking at the list of 13 people who commented on those last five non-Silm40 stories that I wrote, and all of them have been Tolkien fans as long as me or longer, with the exception of two where I’m not sure. (But one of them has been around for several years at least.) Helping newcomers feel a welcome part of the community is something I think our fandom always has and always will struggle with; it’s rather inherent to a decades-old community with the deep and complicated canon that we have.

      Even as someone with a lot of experience reading both literature and commenting on writing, the thought sometimes crosses my mind that I’m interpreting something wrong … which is funny because when a reader comments on something I didn’t think of, I always perceive it as that person revealing a new layer of my work, not as “getting it wrong.” Those comments are particularly joyful to me.

      I agree that it’s complicated beyond possessing the skill and language to talk about writing in a way that feels meaningful and worth sharing to the reader. Commenting seems to be an emotionally loaded act for a lot of people, and figuring out how to overcome that … well, like I said to Binka, I don’t think we’ll ever achieve a review utopia, but surely we can do better than the single digit comment-to-click data that seems to be norm now.

      • Independence1776 says:

        I agree about reblogs, too! I was just stunned to see people are now begging for them because it seems that even reblogs are down. (I wouldn’t know; I’ve never had many. My most reblogged post isn’t fic and that only had seventy or so likes and reblogs.) And on Tumblr? It makes no sense given how easy it is to reblog things. Something is going on.

        A good person? Hah! That was me trying very hard to be polite and not complain about something people use. My not-polite feeling is: if I had a way to turn off kudos, I would. But my choice is to get notifications for them or not, so I do because if I can’t turn off kudos, I want to know who is using them– and it’s largely the only feedback I get.

        I have a major, major problem with people who think that they replace comments.

        I do, too. I very deliberately did not do the ratio math for RAFA because it would depress me. The lone comment I got on it on AO3– and I did not backdate the fic when I posted it there– was three and a half years after I posted it. I try to tell myself it’s because people already read it on SWG, ff.net, or SOA… but I don’t really believe it.

        So it likewise infuriates me when people act as if they can’t be bothered to type “I liked it” or “I enjoyed it.” I’m sorry. I write for myself– I have a ton of fic I’ve written just for me– but I post it in hopes others enjoy and to hear what they think. And lately, apart from people I’ve known for years, comments have largely vanished.

        It’s gotten to the point that I’ve considered putting “please comment” or the like on AO3 fics because apparently people need that invitation now despite the comment button being right there (though it runs against ALL my instincts on how to get comments). I have also considered posting on ff.net again simply because while the comment culture there can be rather horrid, I’m at least guaranteed something.

        What I was thinking was along the lines of HASA’s old recommendation system. You could recommend a story, independently of comments (which were rare, for me anyway, on HASA) on dozens of very specific criteria.

        Huh. That would be neat to see… but I could also see a bunch of people doing that and never commenting. (That happens to me all the time on AO3 bookmarks: people will leave comments there but never comment to me and sometimes not even kudos.) Even AO3 bookmarks function in a similar fashion; it’s possible to search through them for specific tags, characters, etc.

        But I think this is totally legit … I remember having similar thoughts when I was a new Tolkien fan and still lurking. And I pick up on a lot of insecurity around being perceived as being “out of the loop” in terms of canon,

        The sad thing is, I still feel this way. It doesn’t help that HoME seems to have taken on a “must use or else your fic is uncanon” tinge to me. I don’t know how accurate it is or if I’m just reading into things… but add in not wanting to walk into a minefield of “what’s popular and fanon and ‘right’ in fic” and it makes me nervous.

        Helping newcomers feel a welcome part of the community is something I think our fandom always has and always will struggle with; it’s rather inherent to a decades-old community with the deep and complicated canon that we have.

        Yeah. I’m not sure there’s a way to fix it. Between the difficult canon text and HoME’s very existence, it’s easy to be scared off. Especially when people are fighting about obscure bits of information as if everyone knows them and agrees on two black-and-white interpretations when that’s not the case for a multitude of reasons.

        I don’t think we’ll ever achieve a review utopia, but surely we can do better than the single digit comment-to-click data that seems to be norm now.

        We have to. It’s the only way fandom will survive. We-in-general have to realize that while fanfic may be free, the people producing it are people, not autonomous machines crashing out fiction day in and day out. And at the very least, people need to be acknowledged to feel like they’re part of a community. And they are. But it’s difficult to see when crickets chirp if they post something.

        • Dawn says:

          I’m so rarely on Tumblr that I can’t compare reblog rates. I get reblogged pretty frequently on my meta but rarely on SSPs of fiction … or even fiction itself, on the rare occasion when I post a piece there.

          I write for myself– I have a ton of fic I’ve written just for me– but I post it in hopes others enjoy and to hear what they think.

          Yes. The “Well, you should be writing for yourself” argument is so infuriating. I do write for myself but sho’ as shit don’t go through the hours it takes to post, crosspost, and SSP a new story for my own enjoyment!

          Huh. That would be neat to see… but I could also see a bunch of people doing that and never commenting. (That happens to me all the time on AO3 bookmarks: people will leave comments there but never comment to me and sometimes not even kudos.) Even AO3 bookmarks function in a similar fashion; it’s possible to search through them for specific tags, characters, etc.

          I suppose I feel like, on the SWG anyway, there’s very little commenting going on that’s not by a core group of users (to the best of my knowledge! I’m going with my own experience as an author here; the site is not so Orwellian that I can see every time someone writes a comment without bugging Russa to query the database for me ;)). On AO3, I get comments from people I don’t know, but various barriers seem to prevent this from being the case on the SWG. It’s rare to hear from people who aren’t friends or who haven’t been reading my work loyally for years.

          I don’t see those people changing their behavior. I suppose the question for me becomes: What about the people who are going through the trouble to sign up for an account and so clearly intend to use the site–presumably to read primarily–what do we need to do to get them communicating with authors? It’s not a question with easy solutions.

          The HASA system was different from AO3 tags in that there was a limited number of options to choose from. AO3 tags are honestly perplexing to me because I have no idea what appropriate/popular tags are for a story there, since they are user-generated, and tagging something that no one’s looking for seems fairly useless. The same would go for searching. I don’t use the site enough to be familiar with tagging behavior. (It’s honestly one of the things I find terribly frustrating about AO3.)

          It doesn’t help that HoME seems to have taken on a “must use or else your fic is uncanon” tinge to me. I don’t know how accurate it is or if I’m just reading into things…

          Well I remember chatting on YIM with my SWG comod Tarion Anarore probably ten years ago about how it’s Silmfic for a reason–not HoMefic–so I feel like this has always been an issue. But I’m so rarely on Tumblr that I can’t comment on what creates this impression now versus back in the day.

          We have to. It’s the only way fandom will survive. We-in-general have to realize that while fanfic may be free, the people producing it are people, not autonomous machines crashing out fiction day in and day out. And at the very least, people need to be acknowledged to feel like they’re part of a community. And they are. But it’s difficult to see when crickets chirp if they post something.

          I’m just quoting this whole paragraph because I love it.

          • Independence1776 says:

            I’m so rarely on Tumblr that I can’t compare reblog rates.

            The only reason I know is there’s a site that’ll give you your most popular post if you put in your username. Mine was the “be like Elrond and be kind” post from back when the first Hobbit movie came out. Beyond that, I’m a nobody there.

            I do write for myself but sho’ as shit don’t go through the hours it takes to post, crosspost, and SSP a new story for my own enjoyment!

            Exactly! I can and do wait to post things when I know I’ll have the time to not only crosspost, but doing the SSP round. More often than not, I don’t give the SSP the attention I used to because it feels pointless. Anyone who will want to read it will spot it. (That holds for my rare Young Wizards fics, too; the fandom is small and the first page of the tag still has fics from June. MCU sank without a trace and I expected nothing else.)

            I can corroborate your feelings on SWG versus AO3 commenters, but I can’t really confirm them. It’s rare someone I don’t know comments on SWG. I do know that up until about midway through Silm40, I was only six comments away from making the top ten reviewer list… and as I said before, I’m not near as prolific at commenting as I used to be. AO3 tends to be people I don’t know, which isn’t a surprise because I’m not really active in the fandom there. (Which I do intend to change, though I feel like I’m so far behind on reading, it’s pointless to try to catch up.) A good chunk of my AO3 reviewers are anonymous, too.

            What about the people who are going through the trouble to sign up for an account and so clearly intend to use the site–presumably to read primarily–what do we need to do to get them communicating with authors?

            I don’t have any answers for that save the ones we’ve been banding about already.

            The HASA system was different from AO3 tags in that there was a limited number of options to choose from.

            Okay! That makes me more positive about it, then. As much as the limited genre list on SWG frustrates me, I at least know what to put down. Not so on AO3; I generally list the genre and maybe a couple of other things if I can figure out the canonical tags.

            But I’m so rarely on Tumblr that I can’t comment on what creates this impression now versus back in the day.

            I don’t know, either! I’m not on Tumblr often and not a part of the Tolkien fandom there. It’s a lingering remnant from when I was and from a couple of dear author letters I saw from a recent exchange. So I don’t even know if it’s accurate. I just know I get frustrated when people assume that their view of HoME is everyone’s.

            Thanks!

          • Dawn says:

            I’m too much of a control freak to hang with user-generated tags! Drupal does allow them. My brain cannot. 😀 And honestly AO3 and Tumblr tags are a big reason why! I get that fandom culture has made comments in the tags a low-risk form of interaction, but I tend to favor usability of a site fairly high, and “tags” that don’t actually tag only make things confusing and cliquish, imo. (Likewise, there are currently no fewer than three places to provide notes on a story if one does not count the summary and the story itself, and there’s a field for actual comments, so I don’t feel bad reserving “recs” or “canned comments” or whatever we’d call it for just that.)

            I would definitely like to expand out Genre when we update the site; I’ve been playing with different taxonomies on the test site. Perhaps take suggestions, like we do for new characters? (All of this is still in the Dawn’s head stage so nothing official yet.)

          • Independence1776 says:

            I get that fandom culture has made comments in the tags a low-risk form of interaction, but I tend to favor usability of a site fairly high

            Tags on AO3 don’t bother me nearly as much as tags on Tumblr– and the reason for that is I want to read them if someone reblogs something of mine but half of the blog themes make that impossible. AO3, I think, is easier for me to ignore because I’ve learned tag paragraph = usually irrelevant information. What annoys me is when people use tags to replace summaries.

            I would definitely like to expand out Genre when we update the site

            THANK YOU! I admit to being partial to MPTT’s genre list, though that does need some tweaking to work for us. User-generated genres would be good, too, though I fear too fine a degradation would create niche genres that would be better served by larger categories.

          • bunn says:

            *presumably to read primarily*

            This seems an odd presumption to me. You can read on SWG without needing a login, so why would you go to the trouble of making one unless you wanted to do something you can’t do without logging in? But perhaps then you never get around to finishing your Great Work…

            I also think it may be worth examining the assumption that people who write should read other fanworks and leave feedback as payment. If the argument is that good writing should be rewarded, then it should be rewarded for being good writing, shouldn’t it?

            If the argument is actually that people will leave comments if you read and leave comments for them, then that is fair enough (and I think to some extent true for that is how humans often work), but that is not the same kind of transaction.

            One is payment for delight received, the other is a social swap (which may not actually involve delight on either side, I suppose.) Both valid, but not the same.

          • Dawn says:

            This seems an odd presumption to me.

            I can only assume it’s why most people register, whether it makes sense or not. The vast number of registrations result in neither stories nor comments posted. Perhaps people have intentions they never follow through on, or register because they want to be part of a Silmarillion community and then just never get involved.

            I also think it may be worth examining the assumption that people who write should read other fanworks and leave feedback as payment.

            I don’t know about “should” read, but the data from the survey shows that almost all Tolkienfic authors do read fan fiction. Of 642 authors who participated, only two did not also read Tolkienfic.

            I’m interested in the 13% who do not leave comments because I’m interested as to why. Maybe comments do not matter much to them. The general assumption seems to be that authors should understand how much feedback means to a writer, which is clearly not always the case–not everyone likes every type of feedback. Authors are also an interesting group because many of the claims made about why people do not comment do not apply to them: that they are not comfortable enough writing in English, that they are shy, that they do not have accounts on fanfic sites, and that they read fanfic only on their phones and find commenting difficult. So you have someone with the means and skill set to write a comment–why don’t they? That makes them a really interesting group for study.

            I agree that the “gift economy” theory and the theory of reciprocity are totally different things. (I don’t think I ever conflated them? But I’m not 100% sure who you are responding to since this thread has spooled out of control! :) And yes, I’m too lazy to reread everything!)

            Reciprocity as a driver of commenting was an argument I made for years, but I have come to think of it as much more complicated than that. I do think that reciprocity plays a part in commenting, and I have definitely seen, in my experiences as an admin for Tolkienfic sites, that reciprocity plays a role. Leaving comments on a site seems to signal that that person wants to be part of the community. I commented somewhere in here that I have occasionally had people contact me to cancel an account because they are not receiving feedback (or otherwise complain about a lack of feedback), and without fail, that person has left fewer comments than they’ve posted stories, often leaving no comments at all. But I don’t think it’s the full picture. Many of the top commenters on the SWG get nowhere near the number of comments on their own work that would be expected if reciprocity was the only explanation.

            I actually put less stock in the gift economy theory because I have definitely seen that simply posting a fanwork–even a really good one!–is not a guarantee of feedback.

            My theory now would be that people tend to comment where they feel socially comfortable, i.e., often with friends or at least acquaintances. This is admittedly based on my observations of the SWG; it may not hold true on a larger site like AO3. Almost all of my comments come from people I know fairly well–as in we communicate sometimes in non-fannish channels (like chat or email) or we have met in real life. This makes me wonder if the decline in commenting that many authors lament is tied to the fandom shift to Tumblr and away from journaling sites where one had the chance to get to know a person as a person, not just a content creator.

        • grey_gazania says:

          It doesn’t help that HoME seems to have taken on a “must use or else your fic is uncanon” tinge to me.

          Could you expand on that? I haven’t picked up that vibe myself, but I do the majority of my reading on SWG, not AO3 or Tumblr. Now I’m curious!

          • Independence1776 says:

            As I told Dawn in later in the thread: It’s a lingering remnant from when I was and from a couple of dear author letters I saw from a recent exchange. So I don’t even know if it’s accurate. I just know I get frustrated when people assume that their view of HoME is everyone’s.

            Largely, it’s based on a few posts here and there that cross my dash or I otherwise stumble upon where people seem to expect that their view of HoME is the only way to approach a specific detail, that anything that uses something from a different bit of HoME or even the Silm is uncanonical. Mostly, I’ve seen it revolving around LACE. Which… has honestly been the case for as long as I’ve been in fandom. But sometimes it’s other details. (Don’t ask me which ones; I try to avoid fandom debates and arguments.)

            But like you, I’m primarily an SWG person so I can be and possibly am completely off base.

          • Dawn says:

            @Indy:

            where people seem to expect that their view of HoME is the only way to approach a specific detail

            I feel like that is a Tolkien fandom tendency more so than just a tendency in the Silm fandom. It possibly occurs more in the Silm fandom because that fandom’s reliance on the HoMe (compared to the LotR fandom) is much higher, and we’re also working with texts that were not finished by the author, leaving many more points open to debate. But people have been selective about details and digging in their heels for as long as I’ve been around, in all corners of the Tolkien fandom.

            I wonder how much, too, is simple ignorance of the full breadth of the sources. It’s almost impossible to read–much less master–all of the myriad texts surrounding The Silmarillion. I’ve found that as I’ve read deeper and deeper into the HoMe–including understanding how exactly the various texts relate to each other and how they were used to make The Silmarillion–my tendency to be dogmatic over an issue of “canon” has decreased dramatically. When I first started working with the HoMe, it seemed a source of more facts about the Ardaverse, which is a dangerously simplistic approach.The L&C started as a rulebook for me, for instance, but as I grew to understand not only the in-universe context but it’s relationship to the texts as a whole, it became like a crooked, out-of-focus snapshot of a not-entirely-relevant moment in the history of Arda as a whole.

          • Independence1776 says:

            @Dawn

            But people have been selective about details and digging in their heels for as long as I’ve been around, in all corners of the Tolkien fandom.

            Yep. I think it’s a peril of the fandom. I’ve never not seen it.

            I don’t know if it’s ignorance or sheer stubborness or if they’ve decided that Tolkien’s final word as stated by Christopher is the final say in what’s truly canon. I mean, the Wikipedia page for Amrod and Amras used to say in rather firm terms that when Amrod’s name appeared in the Silm after Losgar, it should read as Amras alone. The language is milder now, though, and I don’t know when it was changed. And I have seen people become more dogmatic the more they read HoME! Rare, but it has happened. I’m also reminded of the people who tried to come up with a unified canon a few years ago… which if Christopher couldn’t do it, no one could.

            I don’t know where I’m going with this– we’re rather off topic now– so I’m going to stop and hope I made some sense.

  5. Binka says:

    “If ranting and whining doesn’t work, what will?”

    Nothing. I’m sorry to say so but I don’t think anything will work. I have been in this fandom for 13 years now. It’s always been like this.

    Well, my policy from my first day in fandom has been that if I read something I like I review. And it’s rarely that I don’t like the story because I choose carefully (that’s why I don’t like the optiions: Author chooses not to warn/rate because it makes it more difficult to navigate through the archive, but that’s another story). And hell, I don’t really know why people just sit there and read, but they DON’T review. I’ve stopped wondering why, for real, because it’s just more depressing. (I’ve become to think that I could walk on my hands and clap my ears around my head and I wouldn’t get any more reviews than my share is. Oh well.)

    And it’s even more clear that people don’t care to review during such events as the Silm40. A lot of new names posting stories or artwork, getting reviews, leaving none in return. There you go.

    I will shut up before I say something I will regret. But I will keep on reviewing 😉 Reviews can get you lifelong friendships, people!

    • Dawn says:

      I have a more positive outlook although I also don’t think we’ll reach a review utopia where everyone who likes a story leaves a comment. But I am taking people’s responses at face value and wondering what can be done to respond to those needs.

      I suppose it’s in my nature to try to fix things. And assume the best in people.

      Reciprocity is an issue as well. I have a few times, in my tenure at an archive mod on multiple sites, received an email asking me to close an account with the reason given that the person wasn’t getting reviewed on the site. Without fail, when I go to the account to close it, I see that the person has posted more stories than they’ve commented on. Most of the time, they’ve never commented at all.

      But I hesitate to lean too hard on that explanation because I also know people (not mentioning any names … ;)) who are extremely generous reviewers and do not get what they deserve with reciprocity alone as a consideration. I mean, even looking at myself … I’ve devoted a chunk of my life to this community, sometimes spending hours per day working on fandom stuff, and gotdamn, if 2.8% is the “reciprocity” I’ve earned with that?? That’s pretty sad. (And further sad stats, that 2.8% came from just thirteen commenters, so for my last five non-Silm40 stories, only thirteen people wanted to talk to me about that story or let me know they liked it. Looking closer at the comments themselves, the 2.8% is also inflated since the same person often left as many as three comments on the story, since the SWG doesn’t have threaded comments [yet] and this becomes the only way to talk back and forth. And only one of those commenters was a person I don’t talk to over email, chat, or even have met in RL. So really, I could post friend-locked on my journal and do just as well as I do posting on my own archive.)

      Anyway … despite all of this, I share your philosophy: If I read it and like it, I say something. And yes, when I think of the people I know–lifelong friends–where our relationship started with a comment on a story? It matters.

  6. Binka says:

    “And assume the best in people.”

    That’s probably one of the many reasons why you run a fanfic archive/community and I don’t 😉

  7. Himring says:

    I would appreciate the ability to comment non-publicly on a new version of SWG, if there were one. Then I could occasionally point out typos or similar unimportant hiccups to writers non-publicly with less risk of upsetting them and make the positive comments public. Of course, I can do this already, theoretically, if I contact them through their author’s profile, but it’s an extra complication / effort.

    I think something like the HASA-style recs could also be useful, yes (but not, for me at least, anything that approaches grades or ratings).

    Switching off comments as an option might be helpful, too. I have thought sometimes, it would be sort of helpful to know whether the writer has switched on review notifications. I suppose that would infringe on people’s privacy, though. With some writers who don’t answer comments, I have wondered whether I’m commenting into a void.

    Commenting can be a very anxious business, yes, depending on one’s background and personality type. Of course, not everyone who doesn’t comment is finding it so very difficult, but I don’t think one should underrate the issues some people have.

    I don’t think the phone excuse is entirely a lame one, either. I’ve seen people trying to comment over a phone, on AO3, and then apologizing in embarrassment for the predictive text errors. No big deal, you might think, but still something that not everyone is happy to happen in public or in conversation with a stranger.

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks for the feedback on archive changes. Anything major will go through the mods first and then be put before the members as well. Right now, these are things that are just swirling around in my mind. (It will depend, too, on what is and is not possible to do in Drupal without being a Drupal developer, but Drupal is much more flexible than eFiction, and if something doesn’t exist and we want it badly enough, hiring a developer is a possibility too.)

      One of the things that I don’t like about eFiction is that comment notifications are off by default. I often wonder how many people new to the site have comments they never know about.

      Rating stories would be another thing that would happen on the SWG only over my dead body. 😉 It is actually an option in eFiction to give a story stars, but it is turned off on the SWG and MPTT both. I really see nothing positive about it in a community like ours.

      I agree that commenting is a really complex issue. It’s becoming more so the more I talk/think about it! I don’t think there’s any easy answers, and I don’t think that anything will create a review utopia (rev-utopia?) where everyone who likes a fanwork is reaching out to the creator to say so. But I really do think we can do better than single-digit comment-to-click percentages or only ever hearing from the same people. Unfortunately, so much of it seems to depend on establishing enough change that it becomes momentum for a culture shift, where it becomes so normal to comment on fanworks that aren’t by one’s friends that some of the discomfort and uncertainty that comes with that goes away. I don’t know that anything I’m thinking of will do that.

      I do get that phones are particularly perilous for stupid mistakes, and that makes commenting thornier. I was doing a Spanish lesson on Duolingo last night and couldn’t figure out why I kept getting the same ridiculously easy question wrong–a question I could have answered at the end of the Spanish 1 class I had as a twelve-year-old! Then I realized that the stupid autocorrect changed “cat” to “car” every time I was trying to answer. Grr.

      I’m still not inclined to give these people a pass. If they aren’t comfortable commenting on their phone, use something else. I find it hard to believe that they are never on a computer or tablet. Besides, authors have to go old-school and use a computer (or tablet … I know one prolific Silmfic writer who writes on an iPad) to write the stories these people are reading. Or proofread first and fix the mistakes! I do it almost daily when checking my email on my phone at work. It’s not asking a lot.

    • Oshun says:

      I could not write a comment on my cell phone if my life depended upon it! Dawn, however, is perfectly comfortable reading 6 pt type!! I couldn’t read a fic on a cell phone either–I have trouble with a laptop–need my giant gamers’ monitor for reading and writing. Lots of people have poor vision. A significant number of the population at large.

      • Dawn says:

        If you’re not reading on your phone, then commenting on what you’re not reading on your phone isn’t an issue! :)

        My issue is with people who read whole stories on their phones and otherwise text and email and post gleefully to social media using what their phone has to offer but then claim to be unable or anxious about writing comments using those same tools.

        As my former boss used to say: I was born at night, but I was not born last night!

    • Grundy says:

      Seconding that private comments/reviews are a good thing. I know I kick myself when I find typos/spelling errors/whatever in my fic, and while I have a few reviewers who will point those out to me, I think the prevalent opinion is that it’s rude to do so publicly. I know as a reader, particularly with authors I don’t have an established ‘relationship’ with, I would prefer the private option if I notice something I think the author would want to correct – I want the author to be able to make the correction without feeling like they’re being called out/shamed/being targeted by someone who’s trying to show off what a clever clogs they are.

      • Dawn says:

        That’s a good point! I’m also not wild about pointing out typos in public (nor having them pointed out, in part because unless it’s egregious, like leaving the L out of “public,” I really don’t give a fuck! :D)

  8. Sinneahtes says:

    I’ve probably said most of my thoughts before, but I’ll spit some out now (new or not):

    –These days, if I were to start reading a fanfic, I would be reading it as someone who herself really is very happy with likes/kudos, even just happy with seeing the number of “hits” go up (unless I become aware of a bad reason, like a mocking community found it), and sees comments as an awesome extra bonus (though comments have higher potential to be scary/hurtful even if not intended to be/create more work). Obviously if there’s a comment like “please read and review!” I know a comment is preferred, but my own perspective is always coloring my views somehow.

    –I have a freaking creative writing degree, and can still feel anxious about commenting on peoples’ creative writing! I have a lot less anxiety editing serious medical reports with the hope of not hurting someone/staying employed than I do having to write my own thoughts in a comment in a far less urgent situation, even if they’re just short, simple opinions. Honestly, my knee jerk, illogical reaction to hearing anything like, “Writing a short comment isn’t a lot of work! It’s so simple and you have no excuse for not doing it!” is to feel frustrated, discouraged and want to avoid situations where comments are expected altogether. Of course it’s not as much work as writing a whole chapter or story. Of course it SHOULDN’T be a lot of work, and so I don’t blame people for thinking it isn’t a lot of work and wondering why people don’t do it. But having seen authors publicly hate on well intentioned comments, having intended to just leave a quick and simple comment and then inadvertently losing pretty much an entire day (seriously) to just staring at a blank comment box (or unfinished comment after my brain has hit a brick wall, and saving a comment in a Notepad document and coming back to it later just isn’t a great solution), having had the experience of angsting endlessly over my perceived foot-in-mouth disease and regretting comments years later (even knowing full well there’s no reason for the regret–anxiety isn’t always logical, of course), it sure has a way of turning into a lot of work, and there’s only so much telling oneself “Well, how do you think the author feels about posting their story?!” helps.

    I don’t read fanfiction anymore, but I could see myself liking comment prompts or fill-in-the-blank comments or something these days (unless I saw too many authors complaining about them or something). But I think if I did want to read fanfiction again and those tools weren’t available, I might try to solve the above problem with something I learned at work (to keep me from getting stuck spending too much time or brainpower on one thing): Get a timer or a clock you can keep an eye on, give yourself TWO MINUTES (or however long you feel like budgeting), just type the comment, and when time is up, finish that last sentence (or thought, if that won’t add too much more time), and just post (unless you’ve written something mean) and move on. (And don’t wander into the quicksand of thinking “This author put way more time and effort than two minutes! My comment is inadequate!”–probably easier said than done.) It’s the kind of trick that seems obvious to me now, but it took my own boss suggesting it to me before I actually used it. And sometimes boundaries or directions like that can help someone focus and just get something done.

    –Fandom has a lot of stuff a lot of people can be very embarrassed to admit liking or even reading. (Heck, some people might still be feeling embarrassed about liking fanfic in the first place for all I know.) Anonymity in comments might only provide so much of a sense of safety for some of those people.

    –I think I’ve mentioned my confusion in the past of the word “review” being used for giving feedback, with the word “review” suggesting the comment is for other potential readers or for super in-depth critiquing of the story rather than just quick comments expressing your enjoyment. I’m sure some places are better than that at letting readers know comments don’t need to be too heavy, but the word “review” really stuck with me over the years when I was newer to reading fanfiction on sites with feedback forms.

    –I feel really, really awful for even thinking this, but even when I was commenting most diligently and enthusiastically, feeling like comments like mine were basically what was keeping an author going felt empowering at first but got wearing before I knew it, at least in some circumstances. I mean, I understand a writer needing comments and deciding writing isn’t worth it without them. I understand they were doing the vast majority of the work, they probably felt the same wearing sense of responsibility about their stories and how other people responded to them (or worse), and I was lucky enough to benefit from their efforts. This is definitely not the writer’s fault. But I would find myself slipping into a place where I was associating something meant for enjoyment with feelings that were not enjoyable at all, and comments just became that much harder to write. I don’t know what can be done about this, but had to say that it has been a thing for at least one former fanfic reader (even if all it means is that fanfic you can access for free on the internet just stops being right for some readers and it takes a while for them to realize it).

    I don’t want this comment to read like, “Commenting is super hard work and writers need to coddle potential commenters and handle their emotional burdens!” or sound like I’m making excuses for non-commenters or anything like that. I do think some people just don’t want to comment and never will or just don’t truly realize there’s a person writing the stuff they’re enjoying. But I also think you’re right that commenting does take a lot of practice and some people could use some extra help.

    • Dawn says:

      I’m very glad that you shared so honestly your feelings and struggles around commenting. Please don’t worry that I’m rolling my eyes and thinking, “Great! Another thing writers must do in order to get the barest acknowledgement on their work!” To the contrary, I view anything I do to improve on comment counts as part of my role as a community leader and site owner, not something authors should be saddled with. I think this is a problem for archive owners to solve.

      as someone who herself really is very happy with likes/kudos

      For the record, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t mean to come off that authors should think one-click feedback is useless or bad. I’m happy when people are getting feedback that they find meaningful! :)

      Honestly, my knee jerk, illogical reaction to hearing anything like, “Writing a short comment isn’t a lot of work! It’s so simple and you have no excuse for not doing it!” is to feel frustrated, discouraged and want to avoid situations where comments are expected altogether.

      This is really what I was getting at with this post. I was definitely in the suck-up-and-deal camp where commenting was concerned until I really thought about this data and what it means. And I realized that maybe I needed to stop assuming that my experiences were somehow the default.

      It’s completely useless to tell someone who finds something difficult to not worry because it’s actually easy. And as you point out, it can be hurtful, frustrating, and patronizing too. I’m willing to take those 78% at their word that they sometimes find it difficult to know what to say! Telling them to just say it won’t solve that problem.

      there’s only so much telling oneself “Well, how do you think the author feels about posting their story?!” helps.

      Exactly. Reminding yourself that someone else has it more difficult does not make a task you find difficult any easier. If it did, my job as a teacher would be super simple! “Suck it up, kids! Writing essays is easy! Look at Frederick Douglass: He was born a slave and taught himself to read and write when it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write, and he wrote three autobiographies and was a major force in ending slavery with his writing! So surely the lot of you can crank out four paragraphs about freedom of the press.”

      (unless I saw too many authors complaining about them or something)

      That would be the rub. Your discouragement by seeing authors hate publicly on well-intentioned comments stings too. The basis of my encouragement to comment for several years now has been that authors love and even need comments on their work. This makes me sad because I know it only takes one person like this to undo one hundred authors saying, “Please leave us feedback!” I really wish authors who don’t like comments would shut off their notifications and STFU rather than ruining it for the rest of us, who really do love to hear from readers.

      I like the two-minute idea too. It reminds me of flash drafting: just write. Don’t worry about how great it is! Just write and celebrate that accomplishment without the pressure to be awesome.

      Fandom has a lot of stuff a lot of people can be very embarrassed to admit liking or even reading.

      That was mentioned by another commenter as well. I suppose my bias is showing here in not thinking of that (as a survey item or in discussing the results) since my fanfic is terribly vanilla! :) But this is an excellent point.

      I think I’ve mentioned my confusion in the past of the word “review” being used for giving feedback

      I dislike it too! I think it is also confusing. Unfortunately, it’s such a part of the fannish lexicon that I use it without thinking. I mean, it’s the language used on the SWG site (although that is very easy to change) because I didn’t think to question it when I set up the site and now there’s a certain “that’s how it’s always been!!” inertia in keeping it. But this is definitely something to consider changing, including trying to change my own language/behavior.

      Simaetha’s comment below yours mentioned including a comment guide on the site, which I think could be useful … readers could open it if they need inspiration or never click it if they don’t. Or even the ability to open a random comment prompt that the reader could answer in a sentence or two. (All of this becomes much more possible with Drupal!)

      I feel really, really awful for even thinking this

      I don’t think you should, and again, I really appreciate your honesty. I think few people would admit this but many probably feel this way! Reading is entertainment for most people, after all; the expectation of having to comment adds a dimension of intellectual challenge that people might not feel up to in the moment they’re vegging out with fanfic for pure enjoyment. Especially if you’re struggling to write comments, I can see how this could be difficult to the point of being off-putting and how too much pressure to comment could create the unintended consequence that people just stop reading altogether.

      I do think some people just don’t want to comment and never will or just don’t truly realize there’s a person writing the stuff they’re enjoying.

      I’m sure there are, but survey results suggest they’re a minority … of course, the likelihood that they’d take a fifteen-minute survey if that’s their attitude probably excludes them from the results. 😉

      I do think commenting is harder than it appears–or maybe more emotionally fraught. There’s an aspect of producing an unfamiliar form of writing, of potentially uncomfortable social interaction, and of public performance, all wrapped up in a sentence or two. There’s a complexity there that I wasn’t seeing before looking at this data and especially the discussion around it.

    • Oshun says:

      Fandom has a lot of stuff a lot of people can be very embarrassed to admit liking or even reading.

      Ha! That’s me! I have not commented on certain very kinky PWPs for that reason! TMI! I prefer to keep certain of my proclivities/kinks to myself. Not many. I am a fairly public person.

      • amyfortuna says:

        As someone who writes often quite kinky PWPs, I’m definitely aware of the fact that I get less feedback on those (even logged-in kudos) than I do on lower-rated things (but way more hits overall). I wish people would comment on those stories, because those are often the ones I’m most nervous to post!

        • Oshun says:

          I went and checked to see if I had replied to one I remember well (The Customs Of Cuiviénen). I did not! Shame on me. I need to rectify that!!

          • amyfortuna says:

            😀

            Commenting on the kinky fic of your preference is one of the best ways I know of getting similar content in future!

  9. simaetha says:

    Interesting stats, though in many ways more or less in line with what I’d expect. I’ve noticed that I get most of my comments from other writers – often the same people I talk to on tumblr. I suspect a lot of it may be that posting your own stories makes you realise just how easy it is to make someone happy with a comment – I’m very lucky and grateful about the level of feedback I get, but even brief comments are still always delightful, so I assume other people feel the same way :)

    I do tend to comment more on AO3 than elsewhere just because I find the interface easy and familiar (the more hoops you have to jump through the less likely it is to happen – I’ll be honest and say there were a couple of Silm40 fics I might have commented on if I hadn’t got to the “register to comment” screen and thought “oh, god, which password did I use again”). I don’t think the kudos mechanic is a substitute for comments, but equally, I’ll leave kudos on fics I wouldn’t have commented on as a casual “I read it and liked it” where my feelings are a little too mixed to leave either uncritical praise but not strong enough to spend the time it takes to give the sort of very careful and tactful criticism I’d leave for a stranger.

    (I do wonder if, not feedback forms per se, but more guidance around how to leave comments might help? I really like the tips the ao3 review box script includes – https://ravenel.tumblr.com/post/156555172141/i-saw-this-post-by-astropixie-about-how-itd-be )

    • Dawn says:

      None of the stats really surprised me either. My experience generally with the Tolkien Fanfic Survey has generally been, “Thank goodness, now I have some data to back up this thing I’ve believed all along!” :)

      My comments also come mostly from people I associate with regularly. When I looked at my five most recent non-Silm40 stories, only 13 people wrote all of them, and only one person was someone I didn’t know. And most of them were by people I talk to regularly or have even met in real life. Some of that is shared interests, of course, but it also suggests a level of comfort makes it more likely people will reach out … or maybe the desire to make a friend happy. (Or the fact that my friends know how much a struggle it often is for me to produce a story these days!)

      I’ll leave kudos on fics I wouldn’t have commented on as a casual “I read it and liked it”

      That’s where I see the usefulness of one-click feedback. I’ve heard it put that way by people–it’s an easier mechanism and communicates the same thing as typing “I liked this”–and I think it functions well in that sense. I’m bothered, though, when it becomes a replacement to commenting.

      (Seriously, if I were to die and come back undead and allow one-click feedback on the SWG, it would probably look something like ticking a box next to the statement “I liked this.” Because in talking about kudos there is always confusion from authors about how to interpret a kudo. Some people kudo everything they read; some people hang on to those suckers like they’re hundred dollar bills! So I have often heard from authors, “I don’t know how to interpret a lot of kudos and no comments, or how to interpret a relatively low percentage of kudos-to-clicks. Is this saying I’m a bad writer? Mediocre? That most people don’t like my work?” They seem to provoke a lot of uncertainty for authors.)

      When the SWG moves to a Drupal-based site, a review guide like that would be totally possible. (It would be possible on eFiction too if I had better coding skills.) I like the idea; it’s a shorter version of my “101 Comment Starters.”

      (Once we’re on Drupal, we’ll also have the ability to allow social media logins, which will hopefully remove some of the pain of remembering login information for users who only visit occasionally and encourage participation from people who don’t see themselves becoming active members. I don’t know that we will go that route–that’s a conversation for the mods to have as we work on the new site structure–but I’d like to and we’d have the capability with Drupal that we don’t have with eFiction.)

      • simaetha says:

        Yes, true. I’ll definitely go out of my way to leave feedback for friends. It’s striking how different people’s fandom experiences can be, though – I feel like I’ve settled pretty comfortably into Silm fandom over the last couple of years and know people well, but skimming the comments, we really don’t have much overlap :)

        • Dawn says:

          I get the SWG set here, lol. And several people here are not active in fandom on Tumblr/AO3 at all or, like me, not heavily.

          We’re the dinosaurs, in other words! 😀

          I also comment on friends but the next group I’m likely to go out of my way to comment on is newcomers. If I see someone posting regularly on the SWG and not getting a lot of feedback, I’ll often try to read something by that person and say something nice about it. (Unless it’s truly awful but, frankly, that doesn’t happen often in the Silm fandom.)

          Dang, now I feel like I need a Tolkien Fan Fiction Survey Part 2 that is just about commenting!

  10. Hrymfaxe says:

    I do believe there is truth to the statement “I sometimes want to leave a comment but am not sure what to say.” Especially if all the other comments on the story are long and eloquent and signal a longstanding relationship between commenter and writer. Then “I really enjoyed this!” feels like it falls flat. Intellectually I know this is not true, and I do my best to leave this comment anyway, but I can’t help but feel that the other comments are better or more meaningful?

    I also certainly agree with you that when a story has really moved me, I want the comment to show this, but it can be difficult to find the right words to express these feelings (and this is when I look at the other comments to the story, for inspiration, because others may have already written it before me, and I can piggy-back on their brilliant formulations :)). It is much easier for me with visual art, because I can guess at the tools and methods of the artists and I have the words to talk about it, but with writing I am not so experienced and the vocabluary to truly express my appreciation is not always at the tips of my fingers.

    This is a great discussion by the way! So interesting to see the many different point of views. :)

    • Dawn says:

      I know how I feel when trying to comment on art! 😀 I am not shy about writing to people in the fandom, I am a good writer, and I’m not even a terrible artist myself … but it’s hard for me to always understand, much less put into words, why a particular piece moves me. I enjoy reading the comments on dA sometimes because, among an audience of artists, it is interesting to see how artists comment on each other’s work. And I will make mental notes, like, “Yes, that aspect is something to think about when commenting on art!” I think I’ve become a better art commenter by sometimes reading art comments!

      Actually, chatting with you while you’re working on an artwork and showing me the drafts or WiP piece has been helpful too: You’re someone I trust, whose work I admire a lot, and talking about a piece over chat or email feels much lower pressure.

      I can’t assume that commenters don’t have similar skill deficiencies and anxieties surrounding comments on writing, even if they are authors themselves. But as is usually the point, writing a post and defending my theory has made me less certain that it is as simple as I thought it was a week ago LOL.

  11. amyfortuna says:

    I think I’m probably one of those people who never comments enough — especially because I read on my phone all the time but hardly ever use it to comment. It’s precisely because I have a computer that I wait to comment, because it’s so much easier and I type so much faster on it (and it’s much, much easier to copy/paste bits from the fic, etc). And then of course I hardly ever get around to commenting on as many stories as I’d like to.

    For me, writing comments feels like something I have to perform well at, when I do it. I have to give THE BEST comments. I think partly this is because I hang out at places like FFA and Coal where comments are analysed to ridiculous levels. Apparently “thank you for writing this” is a veiled way of telling someone you hated their fic, and anything, absolutely anything, can be evidence of someone not being sincere in their comments. People hate gushing, emotional comments. People hate terse, matter-of-fact comments. People hate “I liked this.” People hate comments where you copy/paste bits from the fic. People hate comments that are too short, or too long, or that ask questions, or contain any criticism whatsoever. It’s enough to put anyone off!

    So I obviously don’t want to offend people, and very few people are offended by kudos!

    • Dawn says:

      Oh my word. I have to admit that reading about those other fandoms’ commenting cultures made me anxious just to read! It’s hard for me to wrap my brain about that–around being critical or denigrating a reader’s sincere attempt to show appreciation and gratitude–but that’s my monofandom tendencies showing, I guess. 😉

      The idea of reading and intending to comment later (either on more friendly technology or when one has more time or once one has “digested” the story better) has come up a few times now and wasn’t something I would have thought of. I’m impetuous and forgetful–if I don’t do it now I ain’t ever doing it! (We had a publication party last week in all of my classes, and I told my students, when they handed in their stories, to make me put it in the folder for their class right away or it might never make it. I said, “Seriously, you have my permission to get in my face and insist, “DO IT NOW!!” and not accept my excuses until they saw me do it. It’s because of the constant stress and overwork that will hopefully be changing very soon, but I don’t dare walk away from a fanwork I loved without commenting!)

  12. Grundy says:

    I’m often guilty of not commenting. I’d like to, but I’d also like to see something more that just ‘liked/loved this!’ because that seems so trivial. But finding more than that is not as easy (I fully agree with Hrymfaxe!) and takes more time/thought on my part – and particularly if I’m reading on the go, on my phone, I will often think ‘oh, I’ll go back to it later’. But ‘later’ may or may not actually happen. With the Silm40, I’ve done one session where I did nothing but go through and comment on fics/art I’d looked at over the previous 10-12 days, and I know I need to do another similar session. But fic/art that’s posted on its own and not part of such an event may slip my mind by the time I have time to sit down to compose what I consider a decent comment.

    Does your data capture whether there is a time component to commenting/not commenting? I’ve noticed that most comments to my stories happen right after they are initially posted. (As do likes/kudos.) After that, the hit count will increase, but the feedback rate drops. Looking at just kudos on my stories on AO3, it seems that intially feedback is at a roughly ~20% rate, but over time degrades to around 4%. (Although, now that I think about it, feedback rate as measured by kudos is somewhat skewed – AO3 allows kudos only once per story from a given reader, regardless of how many chapters that story is or how many times the reader has read it.)

    • Oshun says:

      Kudos are one-click per story. I have several multi-chaptered stories going and a few people comment on multiple chapters.

      I have fandom friends who are almost annoyingly productive! Multiple stories per week it feels like. I review all the ones that I dearly love and try to read the one’s that cover parts of the canon that I am less passionate about and give those a kudo. Unless I hate them–and there are very few I hate, because I cull before I read.

      I bet I could match anyone commenting here on number of fan fics read over my fandom lifetime–fanfic is my crack!

      I’d like to see more rec lists–other fandoms have always done more of those and even have well-known rec-list creators that author’s brag about being noticed by. I periodically do those myself — they don’t even get reblogged on Tumblr within the Tolkien fandom.

    • Dawn says:

      The survey data does not capture that information but it should be something that could be queried from the SWG database (since timestamps are recorded on both new stories and comments). However, at least one other person (LadyBrooke, I think?) brought up the exact same point on a past post about commenting. It also reflects my experience, without numerical data to back it up.

      I think there are two things going on. The point has been made by others that rereading is fairly common in fandom, and some of those later clicks reflect rereads. In terms of kudos and other one-click feedback in particular, a reader cannot leave more than one, so the click count goes up and up and up without the feedback rising to match.

      I also find that my most loyal readers–who are largely people I’ve also become friends with over the years–will also pick up a fanwork of mine as soon as its posted and comment shortly after. In the course of this discussion, I’m coming to see that being comfortable talking to an author is really important too–maybe even more important than having the skill set to write what one thinks is an acceptable comment–and so the people who don’t know me but find my work later (in part because we are not connected through social media, so they are not getting SSPs from me) are less likely to comment.

  13. bunn says:

    I am definitely someone who is capable of spending five minutes staring vacantly at a comment box and eventually by a vast effort of will, akin to Frodo trying to throw the Ring into a fire, end up just closing the tab.

    Yes, I could write ‘I liked this’. But then, right now I *could* be getting on with my overdue work or reading about platypuses. The possibilities are endless, my capabilities are small. As a writer I love comments, as a reader, I’d like to be thin but also love icecream…

    I’m not sure that any conclusions based on hits are very accurate, unless you have a very clear idea of what a ‘hit’ is. There are so many ways for ‘hits’ to be created other than for an actual human to read through a whole page and like the contents.

    I agree with amyfortuna that many people are easily offended, and it does make me wary of commenting if I think the author is likely to get worried by an offhand remark. There are a lot of people who don’t share my background and might be offended by something I thought was helpful or find my language offensive. I have learned this over time. Years ago I was a more prolific and less careful commenter.

    This is my third attempt at commenting on this post because I saw Oshun share it again. The previous 2 times I wrote half a comment, decided I was talking crap, closed the tab and went away.

    • Oshun says:

      An honest woman! Kudos for that! (I’ll write a longer review later–need my breakfast!–just kidding!)

    • Dawn says:

      I’m not sure that any conclusions based on hits are very accurate

      I would agree in the sense of saying that “conclusions based on hits must take into account a lot of variables.” Or: data from clicks and feedback must be taken with a huge grain of salt … which doesn’t make them totally useless, imo, but complex. This is why, for example, I did not include my Silm40 stories when I looked at the data for my five most recent stories. I knew that the heightened attention on the Silm40 was inflating my comment counts.

      It would be enormously useful if fanfic readers were to be willing to let me “follow” their reading for a week or month or whatever so that I could resolve once and for all how often readers click on stories and don’t read them (and why), or click on a story multiple times before finishing it (and why), or reread a story multiple times–all reasons why click counts can rapidly outpace comment counts. But I don’t know that anyone would ever want to subject themselves to such intensive record-keeping LOL! 😀 Maybe I’ll try someday.

      My instinct is to say that many of these variables eventually even out across stories. For example, people who are inclined to click on a story, see it’s long, and click out (and maybe come back, or maybe not) wouldn’t be targeting a specific story, author, genre etc … at least not for reasons I can imagine. But I don’t have data to say whether or not that is actually true.

      Thank you for the honesty too. :) I have written my share of comments on posts–often long ones!–and then get cold feet and just close the post, so I know how that feels too and appreciate you coming back for a third try.

  14. Oshun says:

    I will be broken-hearted if a click-list replaces all the treasured handwritten comments, I’ve received over the years (few as they are). I fear it could become the thinking-woman’s replacement for the “kudo.” I’ll still be grateful fany feedback, looking at them (and, yes, counting them!). But who are we serving here? Apparently, not the hard-working writer, but the reluctant reader–who is happy and entertained without commenting.

    I think we have to agree to disagree on this click-list question. If my few personally composed comments dry-up through this I’ll be so sad.

    You wrote me a nice comment on my new bio and I showed it to Laura and told my sister-in-law about it when she called while I was reading the email. Can’t see myself bragging about a click on a list. I am very insecure and needy as a writer!!!!!

    • Dawn says:

      Where do you see anywhere that a “click list” is replacing comments?

      What I’ve thought about doing would look like the old HASA recommendation system, where one could recommend a story based on various criteria–let me know if you have no idea what I’m talking about, but you were far more active on HASA than me, so I assume you know of what I speak–but making it easier to find/use than it was on HASA. It would be separate from comments. It’d be possible to do one or do both.

      This has not been discussed with my comods, I should add, and would likely be something I’d solicit specific feedback on from members as well.

      I don’t think it would become “thinking woman’s kudos.” I find that the people who leave me comments are, frankly, my friends. Is this different for you on the SWG? I’m interested in knowing what people who read my work but are not friends think. I don’t see any loss of a current commenting audience so much as trying to think of ways to capture the feedback of those who currently are not inclined to comment–for a variety of reasons.

      Apparently, not the hard-working writer, but the reluctant reader–who is happy and entertained without commenting.

      What do you see as a way to increase commenting on the SWG?

      • Oshun says:

        I still don’t understand what you do mean. Carry on! Ignore me. As long as it does not reduce the number of comments I get. Kudos certainly did! Although a starving man will eat just about anything including kudos or canned comments.

  15. Scarlet says:

    What was interesting to me on this post, is your analysis about capabillities and skills.
    I never thought about it before, but reading it now, it fits with the “I don’t know what to say” or “I’m not sure how to say what it was that I liked so much about it”. that is often the reason why I don’t give feedback.

    I don’t comment as often as I read, but I definately feel that “I liked this” is not something I’ll post, because it doesn’t feel right.

    Hrymfaxe’s note on previous eloquent comments is definately something that I agree with.
    When I read other comments, especially of authors I know, on a piece, I get depressed, because I can’t express myself as well, and they already said “it” all…..

    I usually try not to read comments, especially on SWG before I comment, for that reason. I’ll say what I can / want / feel and dumb with the rest. I then read the other comments after I posted.
    Not always easy.

    Anyway, like Oshun said, I would not like a “check list” to select from, even if its multiple selection. It would feel no different then like, kudos, etc. Maybe I’m too old for these ways of expression, but I don’t see much value in these clicks.

    • Dawn says:

      Thank you, Scarlet! It seems in line with the data and what I know about how people learn to write. For someone like me, who has done all types of writing over my life, with very different purposes and audiences, it can be easy to forget that those things do make a difference. Writing a blog post reviewing a book is not the same as commenting directly to the author, for instance. Or commenting on an author’s personal journal entry is not the same as commenting to describe what worked for you in that same author’s story.

      I’ve since come to see the issue as much more complicated than this post reflects–I think there is a pretty hefty community/social component that this post didn’t capture–but no matter what, it seems a issue that might be at least somewhat fixable. Or so I have to believe, she who is always trying to fix things. 😉

  16. Rhapsody says:

    As it often is for me these days, finding time to read fannish things (this included) is so hard to come by. But I have read it (wow, go me!) and I have a few things to say. In general: if I don’t have time to review, I will not read the story. I cannot leave a story like that if I cannot express after reading it what I liked about it. Usually those comments are not oneliners too. I know, I am strange. Anyways, this year I am doing the good reads reading challenge again, it is a nice way to keep on reading books and get some shineys for it. My husband is doing it as well. Now the funny thing is that he hardly leaves a comment/review on a book that he has read. He simply rates it with stars, shares it on FB/Twitter and moves on. I , on the other hand, always leaves a note on how I experienced the book. Good reads always has the option to mark your review if it contains spoilers, but even when I am pressed for time, I will leave something to share with other readers how I experienced the work. I am not worried that I will upset the writer because the platform is not designed for writer/reader interactivity. A fannish archive however, the option for interaction is there and what you leave there can have a more direct impact on both the reviewer and writer. And this will make people feel that they have to thread on thin ice. A reader might think: oh my, I do not want to upset the writer, but the writer can also get upset when someone doesn’t say a word at all! Then again, as a writer: do be careful about complaining when you get a review. When I stumble upon these things I will be less inclined to leave a review the next time. A review/comment is what it is. A oneliner can hit the mark too. Or if you say ‘As Tiny Tim already said, this is so well done…’ even those reviews are of much value to a writer, even if you parrot another person. It is of much value because it will tell the writer that something works so well in a story to many people. It is so precious to learn (that is, if the writer wants to learn from comments).

    I, as a (for now former) writer, has moved beyond that. After more than 14 years I have come to accept that no matter what you have done or what role you have played it in a community isn’t a guarantee that people will leave a comment to your work. So I used to write for my own enjoyment, or in cases of fic exchanges: I wrote for that sole person only. If other folks liked it, hey great! If people read it and left a like/kudo or stars: really nice! Getting a notification of such a thing also makes my day. At AO3, I get more kudo’s then comments. Funnily enough I have one fic up there that gets a lot of kudo’s and it is not a Tolkien story. Perhaps I should write more stories set in the Tudor age… if there were more hours in a day…

    • Dawn says:

      I really don’t like to go down the rabbit hole of which kind of comment is “better” than another. I’ve seen those discussions before and they always make me uneasy. I appreciate whenever a reader takes the time–and sometimes the perceived risk!–of reaching out to me to let me know that they liked something I wrote. I’ve had people comment that they read a particular story over and over again, or comment that a story of mine gave them courage to write/post their own … those are one-line comments and immensely powerful! I’ve had comments that are “wrong” in the sense that the author interpreted the story differently than I did, but then I get the pleasure of seeing my own work through a new lens, sometimes discovering depths I never even intended, and this is joyful too.

      I also write for myself … but I go to the trouble to post so that others can read what I wrote, and if people enjoy the work that I post, then I don’t think it’s asking a lot that they let me know. That seems a minimum “payment” for spending time I don’t have doing HTML coding and wrangling with disparate archive software and SSPing so that people know the darned thing exists! 😀 But the problem of how to make it so that people feel empowered to comment or reach out in some way–that is the challenge. Unfortunately, I’m convinced that my years of ranting and trying to guilt people into commenting more has been for naught.

  17. Oshun says:

    I cannot figure out how to respond to this particular comment tonight (my screen is blown up to giant size tonight). I’m sorry this is out of order here.

    Dawn, you say: I don’t even go so far as to say that authors have to be happy! But I do wish that those who are picky about comments would just shut off notifications and understand the harm their complaining does to the vast majority who aren’t picky and just want to hear that their worked reached someone, anyone of the dozens or hundreds clicking and reading and staying ominously silent.

    I think picky about comments and “shaming” for a typo or canon error are two different things. And then there is harassment–trolling–which I did get at ff.net off and on for years–so I might be hyper sensitive, so that means I should turn off my comments? I probably missed your point.

    I do not want to turn off comments.

    • Dawn says:

      You did! But that’s okay ’cause there’s a ton being said here and I’m typing (and thinking!) in haste to try to answer everyone before the grind of a new schoolweek starts tomorrow, so I’m probably also not being as articulate as I could/should be.

      What I meant is people like Amy described who hate gushing in comments but manage to also be insulted if a comment is too brusque, who don’t want readers to ask questions, who think that a single sentence comment shouldn’t be bothered with, who hate being thanked, who twist and turn every word to find a reason to be hurt or insulted by a comment praising their work … those people are picky. I’m not saying that they need to force themselves to be happy when they’re not, but there is definitely a time when people should recognize that they’re being unreasonable and keep their mouths shut, and this seems like one of them. If they’re so bothered by people praising their work, then shut the fucking comment notifications off already! That’s what I was saying, in fewer words and with less profanity. :)

      I think there is no excuse for harassing or bullying of authors, like on FFN. That is a totally different animal, and complaining/despairing over those flames/bullying/harassment is very different, imo, from nitpicking the sincere attempts of readers to express gratitude and appreciation. I doubt anyone thinking of leaving one line saying that they liked a story has ever thought, “Oh, but I saw this author complain last week about the flamer targeting her stories, so maybe she won’t want to hear a short compliment from me!”

  18. bunn says:

    >> I also think it may be worth examining the assumption that people who write should read other fanworks and
    >> leave feedback as payment.

    I don’t know about “should” read, but the data from the survey shows that almost all Tolkienfic authors do read fan fiction. Of 642 authors who participated, only two did not also read Tolkienfic.

    I’m interested in the 13% who do not leave comments because I’m interested as to why. Maybe comments do not matter much to them. The general assumption seems to be that authors should understand how much feedback means to a writer, which is clearly not always the case–not everyone likes every type of feedback. Authors are also an interesting group because many of the claims made about why people do not comment do not apply to them: that they are not comfortable enough writing in English, that they are shy, that they do not have accounts on fanfic sites, and that they read fanfic only on their phones and find commenting difficult. So you have someone with the means and skill set to write a comment–why don’t they? That makes them a really interesting group for study.

    I can’t reply above, so I just wanted to clarify my previous comment. I didn’t mean to challenge the statement that most fanfic writers are also readers : clearly that is true.

    I meant that reading fic is not necessarily the same as reading fic *by authors who read and comment on your own work* – ie, might not be reading it as a social transaction. So a comment might not feel like an exchange, as described.

    I know there are authors who read my fic and only leave kudos (which is fine by me, I can’t always think of a comment either.) The vast majority of comments on my work are on Ao3, and come from delightful internet strangers who I only know as subscribers to my fic. Most of them either have no profiles, or have only written a few short fics.

    (My impression is that SWG compared with Ao3 is much more of a social transaction thing, though I admit I haven’t explored SWG very deeply, I only discovered it via Oshun’s handy & inspirational bios)

    • Dawn says:

      I’m not sure how we’re missing each other! I’m sorry if I’m still misunderstanding. I absolutely agree that commenting is not necessarily a social transaction or reciprocity. The latter, especially, I have become skeptical of. I also agree that there is much more of a social component on the SWG, at least in my experience, than AO3, but I expect that is because it is a much smaller community.

      I suppose I could keep it simple and just say: I know people I’m friends with will usually comment on my work if they read it. The question then becomes: how to encourage those delightful internet strangers to feel comfortable enough doing the same? 😀

  19. Angelica says:

    When I first read your idea of the “101 Comment Starters” it reminded me of the tools used to teach second language learners, generally adults with technical background, to write something legible in – in our case – English. They provide some kind of framework or scaffold that then will be used as loosely or faithfully as the personality, command of the language, complexity of ideas or whatever demands. It’s definitely not a checklist but a reminder of what how to express ideas more confidently. Something along those lines might help

    • Dawn says:

      Leave it to another teacher to know exactly what I meant! 😀

      I use similar tools to teach students (not English language learners) to question and discuss texts. Even when teaching students how to have a civil discussion with each other, we use those kinds of tools: question or sentence starters. They are indeed a scaffold to be able to question, write, think, or discuss abstract, difficult ideas independently.

  20. Firstly, thank you for doing the survey.

    My reply here is simple. I will excitedly accept any comments on my fanfic. Anything from a ‘kudos click’ to a ‘Lol’ to a ten page comment. Just let me know that you at least liked it! I’m not writing the great English novel so why do people think they need to write an essay in the comments? When I post a new chapter it can be destroying when I see the number of readers (80+) and get just one comment. On some sites watching the hits is the only way I can tell if ANYONE is reading my fic.

    As for the, ‘I’m not a native English speaker’ thing … they have enough English to read it. How can they not have enough English to say, “Thank you”.

    As for concrit . . . like I said . . . not the great English novel so I’m not overly bothered about that. I do my best but I’m not particularly interested in making vast improvements. I just want to share my love of the subject. But most of the time it doesn’t feel like sharing, but rather a one-way relationship.

    • Dawn says:

      so why do people think they need to write an essay in the comments?

      I think that’s a complicated question to answer. Some readers here have said that they sometimes look at the comments on a story and see some that are long and in-depth and feel that they have to write something similar. Others see authors complaining about comments that are too short (or any number of things … see amyfortuna’s comment above for a more in-depth discussion of this) and become anxious about offending an author. I think some of it too has to do with wanting to feel that one is saying something worthwhile to a creator one admires. In any case, that impression exists and not only because of author anxiety … there are authors out there encouraging it, and I’d imagine it only takes bumping into one of these authors to ratchet up a reader’s anxiety on all comments ever after.

      As for the, ‘I’m not a native English speaker’ thing … they have enough English to read it. How can they not have enough English to say, “Thank you”.

      Eh … I see your point if one is only saying “thank you,” but as noted above and throughout the conversation here, there are various pressures–both implicit and overt–that make readers feel they have to say something of significance. Then language, yes, becomes a barrier. I can read in Spanish but would feel extremely anxious to write a comment in Spanish. Heck, I can read passably well in French but don’t speak a lick! I really don’t think ELL readers are the people who should be bearing the brunt of commenting. That doesn’t seem fair to me when native speakers are gleefully reading dozens of stories and saying nothing.

      I do my best but I’m not particularly interested in making vast improvements.

      That’s how I feel too. My feelings on concrit have changed a lot over the years. I used to be okay with it; I now think it’s appropriate to ask first and more than a little presumptuous to assume that an author is still working on or revising a story. I have FFN readers–the worst offenders in thinking that a comment is incomplete without concrit!–leave criticism on a twelve-year-old novel. To which I want to say, “Honey, I don’t ever want to read that story again much less revise it in its 350k-word glory!” :) Unnecessary concrit is annoying, like saying, “Well, you don’t need a flu shot but I think I’ll stick you with a needle anyway just because I want to.”

      But most of the time it doesn’t feel like sharing, but rather a one-way relationship.

      That’s a good way to put it.

  21. Rina Blackcat says:

    As we Russians say: “prepare your slippers!” (to throw them at a person whose words you’re not gonna like).
    I’m saddened at all this firestorm about lacking comments. Not of the fact that people are talking and even complaining about it, but the degree of emotions, all the flame that goes with it. You know, I have read a fanfic recently. I didn’t like everything in it, but it got me captured (it was loooong), and I thought “hell, maybe I should write something, at least that it kept me reading for the two weeks at a row” – and then in the last chapter there goes “I was posting here for so long, and there are thousand of views and only 28 comments! I don’t really want to post anymore.” And then suddenly I somehow lost any wish to comment.
    Maybe it’s just russian mentality. Or even soviet (don’t worry, young Russians now reject such stupid things, having buried any altruism with other communistic stuff). But I somehow grew up with this feeling of doing something for people without demanding anything in return. For me writing is a joy in itself. I’m glad of feedback, of course, but demanding them? Thinking that people own it to me as some sort of payment? Being angry at some of them who enjoy (or even despise) them silently? Such thought makes me very sad (to put it politely).
    If anything, all of this makes me ever keep in mind: “never ever demand, or even beg a feedback from my readers”.

    Now a little bit constructive: I believe I’ve lost your logic somewhere on the way. First you write “it takes only a minute or two”, and then you confess that you understand that for other people it may be not so easy to formulate even a simple feedback. “A minute or two” – I don’t even have any polite words to say. 20 minute at least for me to squeeze something coherent from my mind, even in my native language. So please, please, don’t say anymore about “two minutes”.

    “someone who scoffed at the basic “thanks for posting/writing this!” comment, a person who complained about comments that ask questions, people who say “I’d take one lengthy, deep comment over five little ‘thank yous’ any day.” ” – That’s exactly it! I’ve never heard such things, but I still suspected always that such people exist. What is more, I think they have the right to think in this way. And I’m sure lots of this “78 percent “Idontknowwhattosay” and “Idontthinkmycommentwouldbeappreciated ” think exactly this: “who would be interested in a simple “I like it”, who would need it?” Because, hey, authors! you are different people. Some of you would be glad even of “I like it, please continue”, and some of you would be not. How the hell would we, readers, know? (I’d suppose that “I like kudos” \ “I don’t like kudos” line to any fanfic would help, but the amount of angry shouting “how dare anyone to not appreciate any little comment when I appreciate it?!” somehow stops me.)

    Just in case: I do think the feedback is important, both as a reader and as a writer. I greatly appreciate you wish to help somehow this 78% (that include me :\ ). I wish you luck. I just think angry demands and flame are working exactly in the opposite way (I don’t mean you personally, just some people I’ve seen in the net).
    (If you don’t appreciate such comments, please tell me, and I’ll shut up.)

    • Dawn says:

      Rina, you can prepare your slippers here whenever you want; I can take it. 😉 I really don’t want my blog to become an echo-chamber and enjoy quite a bit hearing different perspectives.

      the degree of emotions

      I totally understand the degree of emotions people feel.

      Here is my perspective on it, as both an author and an admin. I routinely entertain people for free with my stories. One could spend hundreds of hours reading what I have written and offered for free. The same amount purchased in Kindle books would cost well over $100. I routinely ask people to let me know if they enjoy my work. I don’t think that’s a high bar to clear, and I make liberal concessions for people who aren’t comfortable writing in English or who have anxiety conditions that make reaching out to a stranger–even a friendly one!–a painful experience. But people comfortable with English and social interactions who routinely read and enjoy my work … I am not asking a lot to hear from you. That is a very small “payment” for what I have given.

      Yes, I write for myself. I most definitely do not post my work for myself. Posting a story is not an inconsequential act in terms of time and energy. If I’m truly writing for myself, I would not have to proofread; I would not have to format or markup the story with HTML; I would not have to wrangle with varying archive systems and rules; I would not have to write a summary or author’s notes. Posting even “just” a short story can easily take hours once all of those tasks have been done.

      I take that time because I want to share my work because I hope to hear from people if they like it. I hope to make friends and talk Tolkien and grow this community. Frankly, if the most I can hope for from readers is maybe a click for a kudo, then I will stop going to the trouble to post. I am not posting only to provide free entertainment; it is the discussion of the story, the canon, and the relationships that form in such discussions that matter to me. I have limited time as it is and no reason to waste it on an endeavor that provides me with nothing meaningful in return for my effort.

      As it is, I am relatively well treated as a Silmfic author so I’m not going anywhere. But if my comments were to dry up, then I would probably stop posting. Lord knows I don’t need one more thing to worry about in my already packed schedule.

      Now from the admin perspective: I have seen many people leave the fandom or stop writing because they received no feedback. I’m pretty tough; I’m published in both creative and academic journals and have a lot of confidence in myself as a writer. But I wasn’t always that way, and many–if not most–writers are not confident in themselves. Whether accurate or not, readers’ response to a story becomes a measure of the author’s worth as a writer to many authors. Authors are amazingly adept at turning story stats every which way to ponder what they mean. Those conclusions aren’t necessarily accurate, but that’s not what’s important: They are impacting what people post.

      As an admin, I want people to use my site and to feel comfortable and welcome. I want to grow a community where we can talk Tolkien and share fanworks. This cannot happen without readers doing their part, and taking what authors are offering without contributing to the community in any meaningful way is, in my experience, a reason why fandom communities flounder and eventually fail. And yes, I resent the hours I put into building a website and that authors put into writing stories to post on that site only to have the group with the lowest bar to clear in terms of maintaining that community and the most to gain from its existence decide to shrug and do nothing.

      Culturally, it may feel wrong for that author to have asked people to comment on her work. But you still spent hours reading something carefully crafted for free. Not liking the author’s honest emotional reaction to people take-take-taking and never even bothering to thank her–and her request would not have felt out of line in all cultures–and using that as an excuse not to thank her for her work is just that: an excuse, and a pretty shallow one at that. (There is my slipper-throwing. 😉 )

      First you write “it takes only a minute or two”, and then you confess that you understand that for other people it may be not so easy to formulate even a simple feedback.

      You’re misunderstanding … the “minute or two” paragraph reflects how I used to feel about commenting. My thinking on this has evolved a lot to understanding that there are other factors at work. I used to think commenting was easy for everyone because it was for me! But I came to realize that I am not the best judge of that, as someone who has written more analytical/critical comments on fiction than I care to recount.

      How the hell would we, readers, know? (I’d suppose that “I like kudos” \ “I don’t like kudos” line to any fanfic would help, but the amount of angry shouting “how dare anyone to not appreciate any little comment when I appreciate it?!” somehow stops me.

      I agree with you. I think it’s terrible for authors to complain about the kinds of comments they receive (unless, as I note above, those comments are harassing or bullying–“flames” in other words). I wish these authors would just shut off their comment notifications if readers expressing their appreciation and gratitude bothers them so much.

      Personally, I am grateful for any note from someone who enjoys my work. I have no problem with kudos either but not to replace comments–kudos to me mean that a story was okay but not good enough to be worth saying anything about. If a person regularly enjoys my stories, I don’t think I’m asking a lot to hear from that person–an essay isn’t necessary; a simple “thanks for keeping me entertained” or “I enjoy your stories” works for me.

      I just think angry demands and flame are working exactly in the opposite way

      I don’t see angry demands about commenting, although I’m admittedly not as present in fandom (read: Tumblr and AO3!) as many people. I think authors have a right to their honest emotions. If readers feel discomfort knowing that authors are people who are emotionally invested in their creative work and their readers’ response to it … well, maybe they need to examine their own role in making this community a place that supports fanworks. Asking the person who is producing your free entertainment to stfu because you don’t like that they feel sad or angry or resentful that hundreds or thousands of people are willing to enjoy their stories but can’t be arsed to even say thank you … that takes some nerve, and it’s probably worth remembering that the person on the “giving” end on the so-called gift economy right now is the author and the recipient of that gift–the reader–wouldn’t be out of line to show some appreciation. In any other context, I believe that someone taking something for free–even if offered in a no-strings-attached context–would feel compelled to thank that person if the means were available. As I said above, I understand the issue is more complicated than that, but I also understand perhaps too well the hurt and disappointment that comes with ringing silence on a fanwork.

    • bunn says:

      I’m incredibly grateful for the enormous amount of time, expertise and enthusiasm you gave to working on translating Finrod’s Song with me, Rina. When you’re prepared to put in that level of quiet unsung effort for something like that, where unlike me, you didn’t *need* an English translation to understand it, and didn’t even know who this mad English person demanding help was, that’s just beyond amazing. Noble, some might even say. The kind of thing Finrod would do. 😉

      I don’t think it’s just Russian, or even just European to give time freely without demanding anything in return like that? Or I hope not, anyway!

      …and probably this is embarrassing you now so I will stop gushing.

      • Dawn says:

        I don’t think it’s just Russian, or even just European to give time freely without demanding anything in return like that?

        I think it’s a FANDOM thing. All the websites, archives, events, fests, swaps … none of that would happen without thousands upon thousands of hours of free labor that go mostly unappreciated.

        But when given the chance to show appreciation, it is certainly polite and fitting to do so.

  22. LadyBrooke says:

    Showing up late as always, but I’d just like to say that as a writer, I love every comment, including the ones that are just “I LOVE THIS”. Long comments are nice and I appreciate every one, but short three word ones are also awesome – and also way more likely to be read and get a timely response from me, if that matters to a reader. 😛

    I do wonder, and this is obviously not in your data, but if there’s a difference in how important comments are to writers and what types they prefer depending on how much they see replying as work – for me, replying to comments is more taxing than writing the story a lot of the time, so while they’re rewarding, it’s probably not as rewarding to me as they are to someone who doesn’t view them that exact way.

  23. Lyra says:

    I’ve rambled a lot about my thoughts on (and shortcomings in) review-writing in reply to one of Oshun’s posts above, but I’ve just remembered a comment I got very recently on one of my Silm40 fics. Perhaps it helps with making sense of at least some of the accounts that people have created without leaving a single comment or story, too?

    Anyway, this commenter was absolutely enthusiastic about the fic and wrote some really flattering things, but that wasn’t what made the review stand out so much. What gave me pause was that the reviewer seemed to be familiar with my previous work (so they weren’t someone newly brought in from the Tumblr or LJ or DW alerts for Silm40), but I had never seen the name before. I mean, most names are familiar after a while, especially if they read your stuff regularly, right? But this one didn’t ring any bells. So on a whim, I clicked on the account name. It was not a new account (in fact, it had been in existence since 2012), but it had only 1 review to its name.

    Of course, that raised the value of that already wonderful review to almost stellar height, because how great does it feel to have written a story that makes a lurker break their silence? EXTREMELY AWESOMELY GREAT. But at the same time, it made me feel kind of sad, because clearly, someone had been around for five years and only now worked up the courage to write that single comment.

    In this particular case, the reason was fairly easy to figure out, because this person mentioned it both in her bio and in the precious singular review: English was not their native language, and they were feeling self-conscious about it. Which was, again, sad, because I would never have guessed from the comment they left me: It was idiomatic (to non-native speaker me, anyway) and eloquent.

    But this gets me thinking. How many accounts on SWG are by people who don’t speak English (or rather, think they don’t speak English well enough) but read it? And how many people are just crippled by anxiety and/or perfectionism? I wish there was a way of helping them find the courage to get in touch.
    Perhaps the list would actually help with that. I guess it might help to overcome the language barrier and the fear of saying the wrong thing. In that case, I retract my earlier statement about not wanting to get a composite list. Probably worth a test.

    • Grundy says:

      Another point I hadn’t considered but makes total sense now that you’ve said it- ESL readers. Having the courage to get out there and start talking/posting in your non-native language can take a while to work up to, no matter how proficient you may be – which is usually ‘better than you think’. (Or so I’ve found with others. It’s no help whatsoever when I try to apply it to myself.) And even once you do, there may be a tendency to second-guess. As an example, if I were writing this comment in German, I’d promptly double check all spelling/capitalization as soon as I finished and then fret about the grammar for a while before hitting post, because while I know I sound ok when I talk, writing is a different ball game. (I fuss like that even while writing/texting people I know well who aren’t going to judge my mistakes, so it would be much worse posting to a public/semi-public forum like this. And I don’t imagine I’m that unique in my approach to written communication in my non-native language.) If a list of comment starters would help these readers feel more confident about leaving reviews, I’m very much in favor.

      • LadyBrooke says:

        I’ve had one conversation with someone who read English as a second language, and said they felt bad because they didn’t leave my fic longer comments and tended to just leave one sentence feedback (which I was thrilled with! Hell, knowing somebody is learning English as a second/third/whatever language and struggles through my fic is as good as a three paragraph comment to me, because both of those are a lot of work. I wouldn’t read through all my fic in French or Latin, even though I know both).

        I am all for simple starter sentences, letting people know it doesn’t have to be perfect or long to be worth leaving, etc.

  24. Sinneahtes says:

    I don’t recall the survey covering this, and I don’t expect anyone to actually do any work to answer this, but now I’m curious: Are people who feel strongly about leaving comments for fanfic stories they read and/or enjoyed more likely to leave comments for things like YouTube videos or blog posts or free articles they consume, at least where it’s not obvious the creator made any real money from their creation, and especially ones that aren’t fandom related?

    • LadyBrooke says:

      I leave a lot of comments on art on DeviantArt when I’m on there, and on blogs I read when I read – I tend to just not read fanfic/blogs/etc, if I know I don’t have time to leave a comment, and that applies even more strongly to places where I know people prefer longer comments instead of just “I love this!”.

  25. Oshun says:

    I comment on a lot of that sort of thing, but not as often as I comment on fanfic I like. I tend to “favorite” a lot on Deviantart and comment less frequently.

  26. […] the discussion on my most recent post Please R&R! … or the Practices and Perils of Leaving Feedback on Tolkien Fanfic made this group a priority because I think they can shed some light on the questions raised in that […]

  27. Lotrfan says:

    Late to this conversation but I’ve found the original post and the responses fascinating. Many comments are ones I would echo or agree with completely.
    I’m relatively new to online fandom and fanfic (2015). I started by being a lurker but soon found that fics resonated with me or made me think of things on a different light and I soon found myself commenting. I started on ffnet and it sounds like my experience there was far more benign than others have experienced. I started to comment and was surprised to get replies in the PM function of ffnet. I found that sometimes those exchanges on the private message function were scintillating and thought provoking. My first fandom friends came from those private messages.
    I branched out to AO3 and eventually SWG. By that time I was trying to comment on almost every fic I read, if possible. Some short comments but much of the time I find myself leaving really long comments–I never know if they are too much but I use my own personal criteria of how much I appreciate comments like that to justify them! The back and forth of fandom comments/private messages is really one of the parts of fan fic that I love–that exchange of ideas, head canons, viewpoints, and generalized sobbing over Fëanorions.
    It’s the interaction between reader and author that I think can often be such a catalyst for creativity. I write the stories ultimately because the ideas pop up in my head and I want to write them for me–to express or bring out that idea. But sharing them, although initially daunting, has ultimately made me a better story teller in my opinion and a better writer (I hope!)
    I do like the idea exchange–forums for discussion are so energizing.
    I’m still not sure what to make of Tumblr. I like the message system but the randomness of reblogs and posts is still unclear to me. And it’s not as intimate a setting as SWG. I like the focus of a set fandom and all that is encompassed by that but in a close, intimate setting. SWG really does that so well.
    I do like the kudos function on AO3 as a quick positive feedback when I am pressed for time or on a device that makes typing frustrating. I wish you could kudos each chapter though.
    As an author I am beyond eternally grateful to those readers that comment on every chapter of my fics. It is galvanising to read and encouraging to say the least.
    Sorry I’ve rambled a bit. I guess my “in a nutshell” comment is that I appreciate the feedback so I feel it’s important for me to try and give feedback to authors I read whenever I can.
    Perhaps the most humbled I’ve ever been was when a reader/fellow author left me a gift fic on AO3–I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face all day and I positively gushed in the comments. It still leaves me gobsmacked that someone would do that. I’ve gifted a fic to an author once and I think I was more nervous about posting that than any other fic I’ve written (other than my very first one.)

  28. margo says:

    Here’s a thought. Some people – quite a large number of people I suspect – lurk, read,enjoy, and would be happy to comment: but there is a large intervening step that they won’t take, namely registering with the site, setting up an alias, committing their details to some foreign hosting site. Some places allow non-member comments: do they get any more?

    • LadyBrooke says:

      I suspect the number of people commenting if anonymous comments were allowed would not be as large as you think – I’ve allowed anonymous comments on my stories on Ao3 the entire time I’ve been on the site. The number of people who comment anonymously is negligible. I get frequent anon kudos, but not comments.

      • Lyra says:

        Yeah, I’d suspect that people who can’t be bothered to log in/register also can’t be bothered to leave comments.

        (Though some kind of OpenID comment option might be useful and get different results? That way, people don’t need to create an individual account and can use their FB/Tumblr/AO3/DW/Google/whatever account instead of feeling like an anonymous nobody or like someone who doesn’t want to stand by what they’re saying. If that’s a thing. I don’t know if it is, but I can imagine that there might be some stigma surrounding anon comments, even if they’re nice and not flamey.)
        I mean, people could just, like, sign their anon comments if that’s a concern. But considering that I’ve frequently read complaints along the lines of “pity I can’t LIKE a post twice” or “pity I can’t KUDO twice” (you can reblog or write a comments as many times as you like though…?!), that idea may not cross everyone’s mind…

    • Grundy says:

      Another person chiming in to say there aren’t that many anonymous comments on sites that allow it. I’ve posted fic in several spaces where anonymous commenting is possible (primarily LJ and AO3). I don’t see very many Anonymous, and I’d say off the top of my head that the majority of the ones I do see are someone who either has an account but didn’t realize they weren’t logged in, or does not have an account on that specific site but has one on another site where they usually comment on my fic but I haven’t yet posted the fic they’re commenting on there yet. (OpenID might help with the latter case, but then again LJ has OpenID and people still leave signed anonymous comments rather than use OpenID.)

    • Independence1776 says:

      I was curious, so I went looking for my hard numbers. I looked at my eleven most recent fics posted on AO3 and my seven most recent on ff.net (aka my non-juvenilia). There is no overlap in crossposting between them because I quit using ff.net in 2012, so all seven ff.net stories were posted between 2009 and 2012. The AO3 stories were all posted in the last fourteen months and I chose to use eleven because I wanted a second novel in the data.

      While StoriesOf Arda and my DW/LJs allow anon comments, there’s no way to tell them apart from logged-in users at the former and I could probably count on one hand the number of anon comments I’ve received on the latter.

      Out of the eighteen stories I looked at, six had anon comments. It’s not a majority by any means. What I did find interesting is that, with a single exception, the average percentage of anon commenters is 22% of all commenters. The exception is an AO3 fic with two comments, of which one was anon. I did not count the number of reviews, just the number of individual commenters.

      For comparison’s sake, because it’s the only novel that’s posted on ff.net, AO3, and SWG, here’s the review data for Rise Again From Ashes. Ff.net has 84 comments, 14 anonymous, but one of those was someone who hadn’t realized she wasn’t logged in. Several anons commented multiple times. About 16% of all comments were anon. AO3 has one comment total, but it is anon– and written four years after RAFA went up on AO3. (RAFA was posted on AO3 three years after it was posted elsewhere and was not backdated.) SWG has fifty comments.

      Some analysis:

      The two stories on ff.net that had anon comments were both MEFA-nominated. One’s a novel; the other appeals to a specific segment of the Tolkien fandom (a segment which I have serious moral issues with to the point I sometimes regret posting the story).

      The four stories on AO3 with anon comments: two were for exchanges. One fic is actually gen original fiction written for a multifandom exchange; the other was written for a Tolkien fandom exchange. One was for Silm40 (this is the one with 50% anon response). The last is a novel-length, tiny book fandom fusion-crossover with a popular movie fandom.

      I hesitate to draw more analysis from the data, but I do find it interesting that all six had exterior “helpers,” which break down into three mutually exclusive categories. Three were written for exchanges or fests; two were nominated in the MEFA fanfic awards after they were posted; and the last is both the longest fic in a tiny fandom and is a crossover. Furthermore, the other novel (MEFA-nommed) was written at a time when it was the only long story that explored what would happen after Maglor returned to Valinor rather than ending at his arrival.

      I guess my conclusion is that when anons want to comment, they make up up somewhere between a fifth and a fourth of all commenters. But they apparently don’t comment two-thirds of the time nor do they make up the bulk of the comments left. But this is based solely on my data, so I literally can’t speak to others’ experiences.

      The numbers, if you want them:

      FF.net:

      0 out of 1 commenters (Pity’s Sake)
      0 out of 3 commenters (Embers)
      10 out of 37 commenters (RAFA, novel) 27%– but they only left 16% of comments
      0 comments (Every Wish (OC-centric), fest)
      0 out of 2 commenters (Never Look Back, fest)
      0 out of 7 commenters (Judgement)
      3 out of 18 commenters (The Well) 17%

      AO3:

      2 anon out of 9 commenters (The Stars Danced, ofic, exchange) 22%
      1 out of 2 commenters (A Tyrant Spell, fest) 50%
      0 out of 2 commenters (Views, exchange)
      0 out of 2 commenters (Unwound Beneath the Skies, fest)
      0 out of 3 commenters (You Fanned the Flames Up Higher, sequel to below)
      0 out of 3 commenters (You Met Me in the Fire, exchange)
      0 comments (A Light Exists in Spring, B2MeM)
      0 comments (Journeys, exchange)
      0 out of 5 commenters (The Chain That Snaps)
      1 out of 5 commenters (Look Outward, exchange) 20%
      4 out of 17 commenters (In Deep or in Darkness, novel, non-Tolkien, crossover) 24% — but they only left 8% of the top-level comments

  29. Spiced Wine says:

    Late to this discussion, but I will just leave a comment 😉

    Of course I love comments, but I love leaving comments. I was always the sort of person who would want (if I ever saw an author I loved) blurt something about how much I enjoyed their work. It’s only happened once, and I did get a bit tongue tied, but the author was so charming and grinned hugely, so I am glad I got the courage up to say something.

    But with fanfic it’s much easier. I admit to nerves at the beginning, back in 07-08 when I first began posting and reading, because some of the tories were so good, and I thought: this person is just going to think I’m presumptuous, but when I realised authors loved comments, it became easier. If I like something, I have to say something, it’s like a kneejerk reaction and the equivalent of my physically flailing my arms and jumping up and down.

    I wouldn’t bother to post something if I didn’t like it, for one thing, that’s usually just ‘me’, something in the story or characterisation that does not appeal to me, but that does not mean it’s wrong or badly written, just not to my taste, and the author does not need to
    know that.

    I find knee-jerk comments much easier than for instance when the MEFA’s were running and I wanted to give the authors I liked a long review; that was harder for me as often I’d reviewed the stories before and it seemed I was just rehashing them ‘cold’.

    I think community does help, but it can also become a bit of a millstone around one’s neck, a ‘review for a review’ scenario, when you feel you ought to review someone who has reviewed you (if they post fanfic), but you just might not enjoy their work. I backed off from doing that, backed off from a great deal, and now review stories i genuinely enjoy. I enjoy that much more, because it’s spontaneous. But I never find reviewing something I like onerous. I just ‘spill over’ and can’t wait to leave them a comment.

  30. Oshun says:

    You happen to be one of the kindest and most supportive readers, not to mention an epic and terrific writer.

  31. Spiced Wine says:

    I haven’t been lately. I was in such a state from the beginning of the year til recently I was hardly online at all. It’s not so bad now, and I am getting more active again gradually.

    But I think I’ll never understand the ‘I don’t know what to say’ thing, or people who just don’t bother leaving a comment (I am assuming people who read something and like it, rather than people who want to say a story is rubbish). I always know what to say, even if it’s a bit unintelligible. If I like something, people know.

    I just saw you had posted a new story on AO3, so I shall go and read it after I’ve taken the dog out. :)

  32. Spiced Wine says:

    It’s been cold here today, well, for me. I can get cold in a volcano ?.

    Oh, I like that fic, Oshun :)

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