More on Tolkienfic Comments: Authors Who Don’t Comment

As I’ve analyzed the data on commenting in the Tolkien fanfic community, there has been one group that repeatedly caught my interest: authors who do not leave comments. 13.5% of authors who responded to the survey replied that they did not leave comments on Tolkienfic–not a huge number but nonetheless surprising to me, who assumed that nearly all authors would recognize the value of comments and would therefore comment on others’ work. (And, for the record, all of these authors replied that they did read Tolkienfic.) For some time now, I have wanted to look closer at this group, but other sets of data beckoned and seemed more important, so I kept setting this work to the side.

But 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 post and the detailed, thoughtful discussion that followed.

This is an interesting group because they negate many of the reasons people often give for why readers do not comment on the fanfic they read. These readers are comfortable enough with the craft of writing to compose fan fiction. Among those who publish their fanworks, they clearly have the self-confidence to share that writing. And they possess a device on which they can write and access fandom spaces, negating the claim of many non-commenters that they only access fanfic on their phones and cannot comment on their phones. Presumably, this would be the zero-excuse group that should be churning out comments left and right, no?

As “Please R&R” claimed, however, commenting is a unique writing skill that is perhaps more difficult and intimidating than some authors acknowledge. The comments on that post also emphasized the role that community plays in opening the floodgate of comments: When one feels like one is a part of a community, it is easier to reach out to authors than if one feels disengaged. Yet, on archives anyway, becoming a part of the community often involves, well, commenting, inciting a chicken-and-egg cycle where one doesn’t feel comfortable enough with the community to comment and yet needs to comment in order to become comfortable with the community. Authors who don’t comment would seem to be the closest we have to a perfect group for testing these ideas.

Experience and Confidence

Demographically, authors who don’t comment are very similar to authors as a whole. They are a median 23 years old; authors as a whole are a median age of 24 years. They have a median three years of experience writing Tolkien-based fanfic, compared to four years for authors as a whole.

However, authors who don’t leave comments show a lack of experience using other measures. After all, one can participate in the fandom in varying degrees: reading the occasional story and writing a few, or diving full in, reading constantly, and writing frequently.

The data suggests that authors who don’t comment do not write as many stories as authors who do. Non-commenting authors had written a median of five stories, compared to ten stories written by authors as a whole. Perhaps these fans are simply less involved in the Tolkienfic community, which also creates an apathy around engaging with other authors through comments.

But perhaps more intriguing–and important?–is that authors who don’t comment publish their fan fiction at far lower rates than authors as a whole.

  • Of non-commenting authors, 28.4% had written at least one Tolkienfic but had published none. This was true for only 11.8% of authors as a whole.
  • Among non-commenting authors, only 40.5% had published 81% or more of what they wrote, compared to 56.9% for authors as a whole.

Writing fewer stories suggests a reduced investment in the Tolkienfic community, but publishing less of what is written suggests a lack of confidence. It is impossible to speculate on the reasons for this lack of confidence–these authors could be beginning or ELL writers, they might feel more anxiety around sharing their writing (stories and comments) publicly, they might not feel like they belong to a community, or any number of reasons–but it is easy to see how this lack of confidence could extend to writing comments as well, no matter the reason.

The survey did ask about confidence as a writer. 91% of authors agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Writing fan fiction has helped me to become a more confident writer.” Only 84% of non-commenting authors responded similarly to the that statement. This is not a huge difference, but it does suggest that low confidence may influence these fans’ behavior. Furthermore, whereas participating in fandom causes gains in confidence that encourages further participation in fandom, it may be that these authors don’t latch into this cycle as strongly as some of their peers. They are reaping fewer rewards in terms of self-confidence from fandom participation, which can have implications for commenting behavior as well.

Comments, Interactions, and Encouragement

As I am writing this post, I am also chatting with my long-time fandom friend Hrymfaxe about our recent Tolkien projects. For both of us, we have created fanworks in the past few months that were inspired by the other’s work and through discussion of that work with each other. This is how fanworks communities often operate: far from the lone, artistic genius that commands the Western imagination, fanworks are often collaborative in nature. Even if the creator does not directly collaborate with another creator, they are often responding to discussions, comments, and fanworks produced by other creators: a constantly ongoing, evolving conversation where fanworks become artifacts of one’s canonical stance, values, or social affiliation at a single moment in the conversation.

85% of all authors agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “Comments from and interactions with other fans encourage me to write fan fiction.” Less than 5% disagreed/strongly disagreed. But for authors who do not leave comments, comments and interactions offer far less encouragement: Only 66% agreed/strongly agreed, and 12% disagreed. (None strongly disagreed.)

Again, it is hard to know the direction of causality here. An author who doesn’t comment–for whatever reason–is possibly not engaging as often in conversations with fandom peers. As many mentioned in the comments on “Please R&R,” there is also a norm of reciprocity in fanworks communities: showing interest in an author’s work by commenting often encourages that author to read and comment on the commenter’s stories. So it is possible that this data simply reflects the fact that these authors don’t comment and so miss out on important conversations and relationships.

It is also possible that these authors have received comments and simply don’t find them rewarding, encouraging, or inspiring. There was also much discussion on “Please R&R” about authors who complain about sincere, well-intentioned comments and the chilling effect that these complaints can have on the reader gathering their courage to comment. Some of these authors may live in this group. There was also discussion about flames and abusive/harassing comments. It is possible that these authors may have received negative or otherwise unpleasant feedback that soured them on interactions with readers, making a comment notification in one’s inbox a stressful experience.

Commenting Norms and the “Gift Economy”

Fanworks communities tend to place a high value on comments, feedback, and other forms of interaction between members. A few disgruntled authors notwithstanding, the data above shows that most authors value their readers’ feedback, and communities tend to encourage commenting in various ways. A common refrain whenever discussing commenting is that readers wish they could comment more and regret that they allow temporal barriers to commenting–like not having time in the moment or reading on a device where commenting is difficult–to prevent them from ever telling the author that they enjoyed the author’s work. Indeed, 78% of participants wanted to leave feedback more often on the stories they read.

Of authors who don’t comment, however, only 63% agreed or strongly agreed with that same statement (“I want to leave comments and other feedback more often on the stories I read.”) They also disagreed almost twice as often: 16% of authors who didn’t comment compared to 9% for participants as a whole.

Two statements addressed the positive value placed on comments in the fanworks community. 78% of participants agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I think it’s important for readers to leave comments and other feedback on the stories they read.” Only 60% of non-commenting authors agreed with this same statement, however, and again, twice as many (8%) disagreed with the statement as among participants as a whole (4%).

92% of participants recognized that commenting is a reader’s way of contributing to the so-called gift economy, agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement “Commenting on stories is a way to give something back to the authors.” A gift economy–often proposed as the economic basis of fannish exchanges–is not based in a market but in gifting one’s contributions and services to the community without asking directly for payment. Gift economies are nonetheless driven by social norms, including norms of reciprocity, and a major source of tension in the Tolkien fanworks community has always been–and especially lately seems to be–the obligation of a reader toward an author whose work the reader enjoys for free. However, I believe that most community members would say that readers should comment on stories they enjoy or by authors whom they read frequently (even if these same community members don’t always act on that belief).

Among non-commenting authors, however, the value that commenting “give[s] something back” to authors is less pronounced: only 79% agreed or strongly agreed, compared to the 92% for participants as a whole.

This data suggests that there is a pocket of authors within this group that do not ascribe to dominant values concerning commenting and feedback. They are not, however, the entirety of this group, and it’s important to point out that the majority of non-commenting authors want to comment more often, feel that commenting is important, and see “giving back” to authors as an important component of the gift economy.

Barriers to Commenting

The whole purpose of “Please R&R” was to acknowledge barriers to commenting that I’d downplayed for many years, namely the difficulty of writing to the unique purpose and audience demanded by a comment on a fanwork. The barriers for authors who don’t comment, for the reasons identified above, seem particularly salient in testing whether my ideas are correct or not.

Non-commenting authors and participants as a whole differed little in their agreeance with the statement “I sometimes want to leave a comment but am not sure what to say”: 76% and 78% respectively.

To the statement “I sometimes want to leave a comment but think that my comment might not mean much to the writer,” 55% of all participants agreed or strongly agreed. A higher number of non-commenting authors agreed or strongly agreed with the same statement: 65%, suggesting again a lack of confidence more so than a lack of skill.

I think this points to an idea that arose in the discussion on “Please R&R” rather than the post itself: Community, and feeling like one belongs and has the right to speak up in a community, is hugely important as well. This doesn’t mean that I have discounted the role that lack of skill in writing comments plays; I think that is important as well. Those 78% of participants who wanted to say something but didn’t know what shouldn’t be easily brushed aside. But I also think that feeling like one belongs to a community often provides the impetus to overcome those skill deficits, to reach out because one wants to support an acquaintance or brighten a friend’s day or simply contribute positively to a space one enjoys.

Community may even be the most important factor.

It certainly explains why authors have found their comments drying up in recent years as the Tolkien fanworks community has shifted away from Tolkien fandom-owned–and often small, highly specialized, close-knit–archives toward An Archive of Our Own (AO3). In addition, and perhaps more importantly, social media participation has shifted from Yahoo! Groups and LiveJournal to Tumblr. While the former two encourage interactions between people–including getting to know each other as people, not just authors or artists as seemingly distant as a professional one admires–Tumblr does not.

This suggests that a solution to the lack of comments is building stronger fandom communities. The challenge is how to do this. Fandom activity has shifted into vast, impersonal, multifandom spaces over the past several years. I understand the convenience of such sites–I really do–but I also lament the lack of human connection and the damage this has done to the Tolkien fanworks community. It makes me wonder what we can do on the SWG–as one of the few remaining small Tolkien archives that is active–and other small sites and groups still hanging in there to strengthen our own community and empower people to talk to each other again, even if just in our tiny corners of the fandom.

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59 Responses to “More on Tolkienfic Comments: Authors Who Don’t Comment”

  1. simaetha says:

    Hm. I do feel the need to make the point that I’ve made all my fandom friends on tumblr (and found this post itself because I follow your tumblr) – I really don’t see how it’s led to a loss of human connection! I was never really active in livejournal based fandoms, much less yahoo groups, so maybe I wouldn’t know – but then in part, that’s /because/ I find the barriers to entry much lower on tumblr. My experiences might be a total outlier, maybe I’ll have to eat my words in a month, idk, but I’m really happy with the comments and feedback I get on ao3 and tumblr; from my perspective, it might be a shift but it’s definitely not a loss. (Relevantly, the couple of stories I reposted to the SWG got something under a tenth of the attention/feedback they did on ao3 measured by hits/comments and ignoring ao3 kudos, but it’s tricky to judge that sort of thing with reposts.)

    Does SWG do more to encourage interactions between people than AO3? Genuine question, I’m not super familiar with the SWG site features! :)

    • bunn says:

      +1, I have conversations on Tumblr, have met interesting people there, & on Ao3. I also came here from there today.

      I am getting more people commenting & interacting with me fannishly now than I ever have before, probably because I’ve been very active in terms of creating content this year and have made an effort to move that activity into my Tumblr where there are lots of people.

      (I was in LJ fandom a bit, but not really Tolkien fandom much, as I fell out of that fandom, apart from keeping in touch with old friends, before the LOTR movies came out and only fell back in recently. )

      • Dawn says:

        Of course it’s possible to have conversations and make friends on Tumblr! I never said it wasn’t.

        Tumblr has it’s place, but most people who knew the Tolkien fanworks community before Tumblr and after Tumblr seem to feel like a lot of quality personal connections have been lost, at least based on the many conversations I’ve had on this topic over the years of researching Tolkien fan history/culture. You can read my reply to Simaetha for more on the quantity-versus-quality issue and why the structure of Tumblr impedes the kind of human (not fannish) interactions that were easier on journal platforms and email lists, if you’re interested. The fact that both you and Simaetha came to this post illustrate what I personally find Tumblr to be good for–reaching a broader audience than one ordinarily has access to–but I don’t feel like that encourages the kind of community-building that seems a major factor in encouraging people to talk to each other about their fanworks. I’d pose the question: Do you think that you and I share a community because you found a link to my work on Tumblr? Do you feel like our conversations here on the HL, facilitated by Tumblr, encourage us to support each other’s work in the fandom?

        I’ve had posts on Tumblr get close to a thousand notes, and while I’m thrilled to reach that broader audience, in most instances, I come away without a single connection formed or deepened as a result of that attention. Both have value, yes, but are very different things, imo.

    • Dawn says:

      To me, the difference is in the quality of the human connection.

      I like Tumblr because it lets my work reach a broad audience that it might not otherwise reach. I’ve had posts get hundreds of notes, meaning I’m reaching hundreds of people I might not have met otherwise. And of course it is possible to make friends there–I don’t mean to imply an all-or-nothing. I’ve had people reach out to me personally on Tumblr. So, yes, of course there is connection.

      But what I saw in the smaller communities from the days of yore were a quality versus quantity of connection. And you got to know people personally. Journals were just that; there was the person here and there who used their journal for only fandom stuff, but most people–empowered by the ability to control access to a very fine-grain level, which is not afaik available on Tumblr–posted about their lives too. So you followed an author you liked and, yes, you saw when she SSP’ed her work, but you also knew about her day at work and that she’d just lost her cat and that she’d be visiting her family for the first time in years for Thanksgiving. It added a human dimension where you often came to care about a person, not just the work a person produced that you found interesting or entertaining, and (to bring this back to the purpose of this post) it was harder to walk away from that person’s stories without acknowledging them. I have made lifelong friends through those journals, people whom I’d trust and confide in before many people in my “real life” and who probably know me better as well than many of my “IRL” friends. Email lists were not as personal but still tended to be more personal than Tumblr is; conversations would touch on the personal, and it was common to move a conversation “OL” when it became too off-topic for the list. I made a lot of friends through those too, though not as enduring as the people I interacted with primarily over LJ.

      I haven’t connected at that level with anyone on Tumblr, and I miss that. Part of it is that I just can’t dedicate the kind of time that site requires to wade through all the content I frankly don’t care about to find the small percentage of posts that interest me; part of it is that people are justifiably reticent about sharing their personal lives to the degree that we used to on a site where options to lock content are limited and reblogging makes it impossible to “take back” a post at a later date. I sometimes think I should post more personal stuff there–because I fear that I am “Dawn the SWG founder and Tolkien scholar” to most people who follow me there, not a person with a complicated life beyond my fannish identity/usefulness–but I also have to consider my professional life and the need to control access to personal information about myself at a much greater degree than allowed by Tumblr. So yes, you will find links to my work there and sometimes half-baked natterings about my academic work, but I can guarantee that no one there knows why this weekend was life-changing for my husband and me, whereas my friends on Dreamwidth? They know. And that makes a huge difference, I feel, in how I and my work are perceived.

      AO3 … there may be a genuine Silmarillion community there; I don’t know because I don’t have the time to dedicate to that site. I generally have a mistrust of any large institutions (and my DW friends could tell you why, although I doubt anyone on Tumblr would know a whit about this very important part of my identity 😉 ), even as I have supported and continue to support the OTW, including AO3, which provides a much better alternative to ff.net as far as a multifandom archive. As the owner of a small archive, though, I will always fight tooth and nail to prevent AO3 from absorbing all of the unique sites, groups, and cultures found within the Tolkien fandom. I am grateful that AO3 exists but also strongly believe that they need to be only a PART–and a small part–of Tolkien fanworks culture. We have a culture very unique and distinct from fan culture as a whole, and I strongly believe that needs to be preserved.

      Anyway … this was a long reply–thanks for indulging me if you reached the end–but long story short: I think there is a need and a place for all social media and archives but I lament the loss of quality personal connections that has happened as all the eggs have been moved to one basket (Tumblr) and passionately believe that we have to work to preserve our Tolkien fandom cultural institutions and resist the urge to allow a single multifandom archive to dominate.

      • simaetha says:

        I think we might be talking about different things! I’ve had a few posts circulate relatively widely on tumblr, but when I say I’ve made friends, I do mean it – I saw your reply to bunn saying you acknowledge people can make friends on tumblr, but in that case, what’s the “personal connection” that’s been lost? I do see that it has to be painful if a significant proportion of fandom moves to a site you’re not comfortable with, and god knows tumblr is an unusable trashheap of a website without third party extensions (and sometimes even with them), but I’m not seeing the lack of community there. I do wonder – sorry if this is blunt! – if this is just a matter of my being more active on the site than you are?

        (Ironically, one reason I never really interacted with fandom on LJ/DW is that I found the personal nature of individual journals made it feel far more intimidating! While I completely see how being able to friendslock content and make it more private has its upsides, it can equally come off as cliquey from the outside – though that’s something I have weird anxiety issues about, so I may be unusually easy to put off with that sort of thing. I did find tumblr far easier to get into, though.)

        How would you say Tolkien fanworks culture differs from that of fandom more widely? Genuinely curious! :)

        • Oshun says:

          I’d like a Tumblr consultant. I’ve really tried to figure out how to navigate there. My best friends there “heart” my entries–two or three maybe or even less–and even those people I know and who I believe I have a relationship with don’t even reblog entries–except for the silliest and most generic–like funny dog cartoon or rude political comment I almost instantly regretted making.

          I post there hoping to get a hearing. I’m open and I do spend a lot of time there and still smacking up against that brick wall. I have a fair number of followers also (maybe around 5-600 or a little more–I have carefully pruned all random spam porn blogs also and keep on top of that effort). I don’t know how to find the community aspect at all. Clearly if others are happy, they are doing something right that totally misses me. Any advice?

          • simaetha says:

            …I mean, idk, I just found people I liked and kept interacting with them until friendship happened? If you don’t have new-xkit-extension installed it will immeasurably improve your tumblr experience, though :)

        • Dawn says:

          I saw your reply to bunn saying you acknowledge people can make friends on tumblr, but in that case, what’s the “personal connection” that’s been lost?

          It’s a matter of degree. And I also fully acknowledge that your mileage may vary, and widely! :) Different sites work for different people. I appreciate you sharing your perspective, as a Tumblr user.

          When I say connections are lost, I don’t mean they went from a perfect 10 to 0 … but I have 554 Tumblr followers at the moment and have had genuine conversations with maybe a half-dozen of them. In contrast, I had just over 100 “friends” on LJ; some of them were lurkers, but many of them engaged with my work and my posts (and vice versa) to the degree that we became RL friends, interacted several times a week, met each other in real life, even went on vacation together. I am still friends with many of these people even today, even after they’ve left the fandom.

          You are correct in your assessment that I am not terribly active on Tumblr. And yes, I’d probably connect more with people if I tried. And honest-t’-goodness, I did try when I first got my tumblr some years ago. What I have found is that most of what people post–and I post 99% Tolkien stuff, so people who follow me are presumably interested in Tolkien stuff–is simply not interesting to me. So I spent 15 minutes, say, exercising the scroll wheel on my mouse and, at the end of that, I couldn’t remember a single thing I’d looked at. It just wasn’t rewarding enough to continue. I also have a time-intensive RL job at the moment, so time being at a premium, I just don’t have time to sift for things that interest me.

          LJ/DW, on the other hand, tended to be more curated. People posted once–maybe two or three times a day–with things that really mattered. There was no equivalent to reblog, so if you wanted to share something that someone else shared, you had to write a good old-fashioned HTML link to do so.

          I also miss the ability to converse on posts. LJ/DW, it was possible to comment on a post and, of course, comment on comments. It was easy to follow a discussion just by visiting the post and seeing what had been said. It felt like a group of friends meeting in someone’s living room and talking about a topic; if folks weren’t interested, they didn’t have to follow the post and they never saw it again. I’ve had Tumblr posts generate discussions in the form of reblogs and, months later, discovering by accident something that someone had said in that discussion that I didn’t catch at the time because reblogs branch quickly into separate conversations and you can’t see all of them in one place. I also tend to be sensitive about reblogging the same post multiple times in a discussion because I am cognizant that, to my followers, I am essentially spamming their dash with the same (often lengthy! brevity is not one of my virtues, lol) post several times, and they may not be interested at all in what is being discussed. (Not even bringing up the chilling effect that having someone pick up on a reblog and take it out of context and run away with it has!) Anyway, it very much reminds me of trying to have a conversation in the middle of a crowded stadium. It doesn’t foster one-on-one connection the way that commenting on a single post does.

          it can equally come off as cliquey from the outside

          I would answer, also without intending offense, that this just shows that you’re not really familiar with these sites and their culture. :) If you were reading the type of content being put behind those locks, it’d be easier to understand. (You’re also not aware of what is being posted f-locked unless that person has added you … which is not to say that drama around unfriending and filtered posts didn’t happen–it totally did! But not as often as you might think because you frankly didn’t know that what you couldn’t see existed. Linking or discussing f-locked content outside that post was taboo.) For example, I post about my teaching work … that is not something I would ever, in a million years, be comfortable sharing with the public at large. I could lose my job. I also post pictures of my family, vacation photos … the kind of things that can be seen as violating another person’s privacy or putting my own family’s security at risk (i.e., announcing publicly that I’m not in my home when my address is available via the Whois for my websites).

          How would you say Tolkien fanworks culture differs from that of fandom more widely?

          For one thing, it’s old and one of the few pre-Internet fandoms that remains highly active today. The first Tolkien fanworks were published in the late 1950s. There was a ‘zine culture for Tolkien fandom, not to the extent that there was for fandoms like Star Trek, but we definitely have that deep pre-Internet history.

          Internet Tolkien fandom rose with Web 2.0 in the late 90s/early aughts, pre-LotR films. (This Fanlore timeline is awesome!) There were initially mailing lists and relatively low-tech HTML-based homepages that evolved into social media (LiveJournal, primarily) and eventually automated archives. According to Fanlore’s archive lists, the only fandom with more independent archives was Harry Potter. Most fandoms do not have one much less dozens of independent archives. We had myriad other institutions: reference sites and newsletters and fests and challenges and awards and ficswaps and other events. Most of these were hosted on LJ or Yahoo! Groups. In other cases, people with specialized skills volunteered massive amounts of time to build sites or, like me, studied and learned specialized skills in order to volunteer massive amounts of time to build sites. :) Community participation was much more than writer, reader, and beta.

          Thus, when the LotR films came out, the Tolkien fandom already had a significant online presence. Each archive had its own culture (see this conference talk that Oshun and I did or this post summing it up … although crap, I’m seeing that the graphics are part of Photobucket’s bullshit. I’ll try to put them up on the SWG and re-link them in the next couple of days. Meh.) These cultures produced conflicts and cliquishness, often over how to interpret canon (slash in particular was a driving conflict). There was outright animosity between archives when I joined the fandom in 2005.

          The echoes of this history can be heard in fandom even today, partly because some of those sites are still around.

          Tolkien fanworks, unlike many other fanworks, have never been primarily about sex or ships. When Metafandom still existed, I’d routinely get annoyed with people speaking of Fandom-with-a-Capital-F who’d identify fanworks as mostly porn … that was not true of Tolkien fandom, and even as we’ve become more mainstream, still is not. Where other fandoms had “ship wars,” Tolkien fanwriters debated details and interpretations of the canon. Your interpretation of the canon often determined the archive where you posted or groups where you belonged. I was deeply involved for years as an author and site owner before I heard the term “ship” for the first time … and I had no idea what it meant! There were stories with sex in them but PWP was a relative rarity.

          There was also, until recently, very little social justice-oriented fanfic being produced. Other fandoms were responding to questions of gender, race, and sexuality while it was easy in Tolkien fandom to find currents–not even undercurrents!–of sexism and homophobia. The tide has shifted in recent years, but in general, the Tolkien fandom was always among the last to get on board Fandom trends, if they got on board at all.

          Oshun once drew the metaphor of many other fandoms with a flash fire; they are all you see on your Tumblr dash today and, in six months, they are gone, not a single thing being posted. My survey data showed that the average Tolkien fan had been writing for years–some had been writing for decades! making me with my mere 12-year tenure feel like a faunt at a meeting of esteemed Elf-lords!–and while there was some “flash fire” participation around the time of the Hobbit films, our canon is complex enough that I think it raises the bar of entry to where people who join the fandom tend to stick around.

          Then there is the canon–it is exceedingly complex. There is a high bar for entry–at the very least, you have to read a thick book in order to participate (filmverse-only writers are vanishingly rare–less than half a percent of survey participants, which was available right after the release of the third Hobbit film–as are Hobbit-book-only fans [also less than half a percent]). Most people start with LotR but most writers also use more than LotR; 78% of participants used the Silm, for example, in their fanworks, slightly more than half used HoMe, and slightly more than half used UT. As a result, the source texts take a more central place in our fan culture than in others (in addition to the fact that we have a closed canon, unlike many shows and film series, like Star Wars or MCU, while also having far from a clear “canon” thanks to most of our texts being posthumously published and multiple not-easily-datable versions in existence), which affects not only fanworks but also issues of inclusivity and defining canon that have had a major impact on Tolkien fandom over the years.

          Okay, wow–that was much longer than I intended! I hope you’re not sorry you asked. 😀

          • Oshun says:

            This is a really meaty comment, Dawn, a really good outline of what I mean about the depth of interaction within the Tolkien fandom over time, which feels not as strong in my interactions at the moment (and, in my case, they still are daily).

            My LJ blog was always heavy on side of writing/the Tolkien fandom, but it never prevented me from posting about my personal life. For years mine was basically unlocked, then I had a couple of unpleasant experience in fandom circles which caused me to friend-lock finally–harassment from trolls active on ff net and one sock puppet. I think the original concept of friends vs. followers was key to understanding the LJ experience as I knew it at its height. But rather than maintaining a filtered and/or cliquish circle there, it has always been like kicking in an open door for me to “friend” anyone who asked who shared any of my interests. They could be people who read my stories and did not hate all of them(!), we might have known one another through participation in one of many of the Tolkien-specific websites, or had mutual friends and/or acquaintances and had a desire to read or discuss fandom issues. “Ask and you will gain entry” was a basic requirement and the assumption. I was relatively certain I was admitting a live person and not a sock puppet or a saboteur and am not paranoid. Did not mean that every LJ friend I had was a close personal friend. Although I guesstimated at one point that I had met something between 25-30 of these people in person (I have the advantage of living in NYC and when one of those people was going to be in my area, they let me know).

            And I was also a late-comer to the Tolkien post-movie fandom (around late-2005 to early-2006).

            The advantage of the friends-lock was not to keep fandom acquaintances out, or to bar my blog to only those who agreed with me, but to encourage free discussion on fanfiction/fanart/Tolkien studies/media representations, etc. and did not exclude much of anything about my family, work, and personal issues knowing total strangers could not read them. The security was not tight, but real and based on shared trust. It believed it was unlikely that anyone would try to hurt or harass me via LJ and proven to be true overall.

            Tumblr is not more democratic because it is totally public, but simply riskier. One has to be more circumspect about what one reveals there.

            I really would like to clean-up and publish the stuff I wrote up for my presentation with you at the 2016 NYC Tolkien conference at which I was only able to share in the presentation about some 15% of my written up material. A lot of what I researched was a couple of dozen of the early Tolkien post-LotR-movie fanfic archives and a bunch of the early Fanzines and the authors and publishers. My first experiences with Tolkien fans was at UC Berkeley around 1968. I do not think that makes me irrelevant in these discussions, quite the contrary. I am still writing my self-indulgent fanfics and much of my Tolkien research came about through my online involvement in the Tolkien fandom since about 2009. Still here. Still struggling to be heard/read and still seeking to find new connections with whom to share a passion. The one unchanging thing about the Tolkien fandom is people drift in and out. But with a few notable exceptions, the friendships I have made have often survived that drift away from daily involvement in the fandom by many people. I follow people now on Facebook or Twitter who haven’t touched the Tolkien fandom in years, but we share that history and that passion–that deep connection will always be there, if only a fond memory for some. And some come back and reactivate their involvement in the fandom after taking a break to pursuit other interests or deal with other issues in their life.

            I guess after about three years for trying to crack the wall on Tumblr, I still feel like if I disappeared tomorrow the people who know only from Tumblr would not even notice.

          • simaetha says:

            What I have found is that most of what people post–and I post 99% Tolkien stuff, so people who follow me are presumably interested in Tolkien stuff–is simply not interesting to me. So I spent 15 minutes, say, exercising the scroll wheel on my mouse and, at the end of that, I couldn’t remember a single thing I’d looked at.

            Dawn, why on earth are you following people you find boring, though. :) (No offence taken, I certainly don’t claim to be to everyone’s taste!

            I also miss the ability to converse on posts. LJ/DW, it was possible to comment on a post and, of course, comment on comments. It was easy to follow a discussion just by visiting the post and seeing what had been said. It felt like a group of friends meeting in someone’s living room and talking about a topic; if folks weren’t interested, they didn’t have to follow the post and they never saw it again.

            That’s fair! The reblog format can be a pain to follow. I’ve had lengthy multi-reply discussions with people on tumblr, but it needs xkit and it’s kind of a hack around the actual site features. And I’ve certainly had that one post that took off for someone’s terrible, incorrect addition, I’m still getting reblogs of it and I hate it. :/ I’m not about to get so drawn into defending tumblr that I suggest it’s a /good/ website, I just don’t recognise this idea of it as impersonal and without community.

            (I actually kind of like the discussion-in-a-crowded-stadium effect, though? This is kind of what I mean by LJ/DW having a more exclusive vibe. I’m not about to invite myself into your living room to force my opinions on you – but on tumblr because it’s all very public by default, I’m far more comfortable interacting with strangers’ posts. And I love reblogs for being able to share the things I like and for taking off the pressure to be constantly interesting myself (which I am not).)

            If you were reading the type of content being put behind those locks, it’d be easier to understand.
            I mean, I do get the reasoning – the thought of anyone looking for my professional identity and stumbling across my fandom content brings me out in a cold sweat. I’m just talking about the effect as an outsider – and while some locked content is obviously private stuff that there’s no reason for a stranger to read, there were certainly enough people who locked their whole journals, or some or all of their fanworks. (Though I wasn’t hanging around Tolkien fandom specifically then, so maybe the culture was different, idk.)

            That’s a fascinating timeline! And it’s true that I do appreciate the amount of gen in the fandom (though I feel a little self-conscious saying that given all my own shipping – though I’ve certainly written enough gen, and very little of my fic is conventionally romantic). I do appreciate that when I get excited about the etymology of Elros’ kids names or whatever people get where I’m coming from and it’s not an aspect of fandom I’d want to lose (they’re all star names, it’s super charming and kind of sad). I think the barriers to entry, as you say, do rather filter for certain types of fan :)
            (Were you around for the Quenya-names-in-fanfic debate? Pretty much exactly the sort of issue you mean, I think.)

          • Dawn says:

            @Oshun: Thanks for saying “meaty” rather than “overlong,” which was my word for it! Tolkien fandom history/culture will get me going every time. Like arguing that Feanor isn’t evil used to! 😀

            My experience with LJ/DW was very similar. I started my LJ in my mid-20s when I had very little concern with being public about my life. I locked almost nothing. Posting photos wasn’t common then, so I didn’t have to worry about other people’s privacy. A significant component of my job at the time was covering up for the technological deficits of my boss and coworkers, so I didn’t have to worry that any of them would be trawling the Internet and connect the dots with my fannish identity … which were also really hard to connect. (Now they’re not thanks to the academic side of my work.)

            When I became a teacher, of course, that changed. Most of my YouTube followers are my own students! (I always ask them why they want to watch videos of me doing what they get to see me doing live everyday.) They are savvy online and I have no doubt that they–or their parents–could find me online if they wanted to … some probably have (beyond YouTube). I am lucky to live in a very progressive state that highly values both art and personal freedom, but I also don’t need students and parents peering into my sometimes expletive-laden descriptions of my personal life. (Besides that I talk about my work more than almost anything! They don’t need to know if their or their kid’s class gave me a particularly keen headache on that day.)

            Anyway … I’m being meaty again, lol.

            My conditions for entry onto my LJ were much the same as yours. I did look first to see if a person shared interests with me (beyond “reading” and “writing”) because, for a while, there was a habit of some LJ users to “drive-by friend” everyone who posted an entry within the last hour. And my point for being there was to talk with people who shared my interests, not just random strangers. And a comment/message asking me to add you would get you in too–again, there is a demonstration of actual interest in such an act. Some people were more stringent, of course.

            Like you, I was harassed on ff.net, though I don’t think as badly, and probably by the same person/people. But … I was also harassed on Tumblr, just a few years ago! On ff.net, that person had relatively little power over me. So they could say mean things about me and my writing. Who cares! On Tumblr, with the ability to co-opt personal content? This person mocked my stories but I don’t give a fuck about that; people are welcome to whatever opinion of my work they want. But I don’t need my personal life being turned into fodder for mockery. No thank you–I’ll keep that stuff under lock and control the key, thank you. I could also delete my stories/account at any time on ff.net, whereas reblogs are forever.

            This:

            Tumblr is not more democratic because it is totally public, but simply riskier. One has to be more circumspect about what one reveals there.

            I agree with completely. I’m a pretty brave person, but I am highly cautious about what I post there. The sometimes toxic, hypersensitive culture–enabled by things like reblogs that do not reflect edits or deletions–does not encourage risk-taking in terms of art or ideas. I am fine with people challenging my work or ideas–and I can bite back when needed–but I also have a busy life outside of fandom social media and just don’t have the time or energy to crawl out from under pile-ons, which seem to happen on Tumblr more than any other fannish site/service I’ve used. And when I post there, the thought is always in the back of my mind that this could be the outcome. I know I am not the only person who holds back sometimes on Tumblr out of fear of that.

            I still feel like if I disappeared tomorrow the people who know only from Tumblr would not even notice.

            Considering how infrequently I post, that would definitely be the case for me.

          • Dawn says:

            @simaetha:

            Dawn, why on earth are you following people you find boring, though.

            I don’t know that I’d so readily lay my boredom at the feet of the people I’ve chosen to follow. 😉 Part of it is the microblogging concept itself. I want to read–read!–thoughtful and sometimes lengthy posts, which is not the norm on Tumblr, and then talk back and forth on those posts in excruciating length and detail. I often hear friends say they go there for the pretty pictures; I’m just not into spending my time surfing sunsets and kittens and moody, mist-shrouded forests. I enjoy some of the fan art I see. I enjoy some of the shorter, comedic stuff … but really, again, most of that stuff doesn’t stick in any way where I feel like it was worth my time to spend looking at it. It’s like eating candy corn for dinner: perhaps satisfying at the time but later you’re like, wtf, why did I do that? (I’ve never eaten candy corn for dinner, but I’m pretty hungry right now and staring at a bag of it, so it doesn’t seem a bad idea at the moment! :D) It doesn’t feel rewarding in the long run.

            Twitter is the same way, incidentally.

            I’m also monofandom, and most people there are not, which means the 90% Tolkien blog that looked so interesting when I clicked FOLLOW has been replaced in six months my 50-50 Tolkien and Thor, then the Tolkien is gone altogether three months after that. I really need to prune my follow list, but since I’m so rarely there, it doesn’t seem worth the effort it would take. (I also have enduring LJ-era anxiety around the idea that unfriending/unfollowing someone is generally only undertaken for extreme circumstances. I’ve unfollowed two people on LJ/DW in twelve years–and one of them asked me to!)

            It’s just not a good fit for me. The best use I have found, incidentally, is reading just under the #silmarillion tag, which I do tend to enjoy more than reading my dash.

            I actually kind of like the discussion-in-a-crowded-stadium effect, though?

            Sure! I think different social media fits for different people. I hope I’m not coming across that I’m trying to make anyone think they shouldn’t enjoy Tumblr if they do (I’m glad they do!) … only that many of us who participated in the fandom before Tumblr, when interactions were conducted mostly on fandom websites, LJ, and Yahoo! Groups, feel a lack of deep connection on that site. And I wonder if the changes in the kinds and quality of connections people are forming isn’t impacting whether or not they choose to reach out to an author whose work they enjoy. I want to see how we can rebuild some of that connection without turning back to another social media site and the whims of their policies, etc.

            (Were you around for the Quenya-names-in-fanfic debate? Pretty much exactly the sort of issue you mean, I think.)

            Yes! I was thinking of that as well.

            It actually reflects another potential change in the fandom over the years (I have no data/documentation for this, only my own sense as an observer): When I joined the fandom, no one would have dared suggest that people who had been in the fandom longer should accommodate newcomers. The newcomers understood that the onus was on them to catch up! It would have felt like asking a room of Nobel laureates to tone down their conversation. I don’t think this was a good thing–the SWG has always had at the core of its mission welcoming all Tolkien fans, including newcomers–but it was a different mindset then.

        • Oshun says:

          Help!

          …I mean, idk, I just found people I liked and kept interacting with them until friendship happened? If you don’t have new-xkit-extension installed it will immeasurably improve your tumblr experience, though :)

          I can’t find a “reply” link for the above comment! If you see this I want to thank you for responding. I do use Tumblr-savior to cut out things that bore me–nothing triggers me–but certain TV shows put me to sleep!! And people have told me I post too many personal pics–well, I get too many cute little furry animals on my feed. (I like furry creatures but Tumblr goes too far!) So I get to scroll past a lot of them. Not even all! I also Tumblr savior awful discussions which deal with people wanting to censor fanfiction–the type which says, “your fav genre/ship/kink is disgusting and should be banned.” Not new to Tumblr! It’s always been around, but still anathema to me!

          • Dawn says:

            Not new to Tumblr!

            Definitely not–I’d say it is a defining Tolkien fandom characteristic! Although, interestingly, the political bent of that censorship has swung a near 180 degrees in just a few years. The censorship people used to be all about slash and sex and icky gay stuff; now they’re from the left, wanting everything to look like a perfect, leftist utopia … and I’m pretty far left, as you know. But I agree with you that censorship is shameful in all its forms.

  2. Oshun says:

    Lack of engagement or lack of community is a big deal. Why I comment less (on a percentage basis) on AO3 than I do on the SWG. I think by anyone’s standards I comment a lot. I am also not the least bit shy online. I may be a skilled writer, but I am nearly blind so proofreading is a problem. I get my stories proofed usually, but not my comments. But I figure a writer wants feedback with typos more than no feedback at all! The bottom line for me is commenting on almost everything i read on a smaller, single-fandom site than on a huge multi-fandom site–who are all these people anyway. What do they like? What do they want? Do we have anything in common?

    I have learned to like Tumblr over time and made a half-dozen new friends there. By comparison in my early days in the Tolkien fandom on Tolkien-specific sites I probably had made 100 new fandom acquaintances in that same period. People who knew my writing, my taste, my interests, my preferences, and possibly more than they wanted to know about my personal life. Night and day!!

    I think the main thing about keeping the SWG the kind of place you want it to be is making people feel welcome there and somehow communicating that to possibly a wider group. It is never going to be huge short of a huge Silmarillion big-budget movie (much, much canon friendly than PJ’s Hobbit series!).

    OMG! Alex just got the latest video game which follows “Shadow of Mordor”–it’s a hoot! Called “Shadow of War.” I cannot believe I ever thought my fanwork might have made Tolkien roll in his grave! This one’s subhead should be “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” [Spoilers: virtually everyone becomes a ringwraith and everyone is corrupt.] I don’t know what that has to do with topic. Pretty much nothing. Except I did not hear about it within the fandom, but on a mainstream media site. Used to be anything relating to the canon or fanfic would be huge within the fandom. Now, one could hear a pin drop. Alex who had not even read LotR yet, was laughing at it.

    • Dawn says:

      Lack of engagement or lack of community is a big deal.

      The hard nut to crack … how to build that? I feel like Drupal will help. I’m talking to Marie as I write this comment about threaded comments–possible on Drupal–that will allow conversations on stories versus “reviews.” Perhaps that will remove some of the pressure as well that people seem to feel to write the perfect comment, conversations being more casual than “reviews” where one feels the need to say all that can be said in a single comment. Also, people will be able to talk to each other–not just the commenter and author–and so can build on existing comments or come back to expand/clarify/whatever. I wonder if that will help change things.

      I don’t know. But this is on my mind a lot these days. A friend recently remarked on how active the SWG is compared to most old-school small Tolkien archives and I think, dang, but the hours and hours of work it has taken to make it that way, and I still feel like we balance on the edge of a precipice, with everyone at any given moment giving a collective shrug and deciding that they prefer AO3 and fuck decades of history and culture.

      making people feel welcome there and somehow communicating that to possibly a wider group.

      That is such a challenge. I feel like there is a small group of us who have a strong community. I feel like we are friendly and welcoming to newcomers–for instance, someone who has become a great friend within the past year and came up for the Mereth Aderthad I did not know a year ago!–but there are always people who perceive “community” as a “clique” (whether justified or not) and will use that same close-knit community that I find an asset as a reason not to get involved.

      Anyway, I have lots of ideas but I always get myself into trouble whenever I start talking about them in public so I will resist saying anything more! 😀

      It is never going to be huge

      I don’t want it to be huge. Ever. When I think about Silm film/series, I understand the panic Tolkien sites felt when the LotR films came out. I do want it to be a place where Silm fans/creators can go to make friends with like-minded people, talk about the texts, and reliably get feedback on their work.

      Used to be anything relating to the canon or fanfic would be huge within the fandom.

      I wonder if it’s saturation and the ensuing numbness that comes with that, post-Hobbit movies and all the hype surrounding those. I feel like, post-LotR movies, a lot of fans were still enjoying the spotlight after decades of the fandom living mostly underground as a niche geeky interest that one did not confess in polite company. Now, it’s like *shrug*, another subpar pop culture interpretation of Tolkien. (For the record, I don’t think the LotR films were subpar but do feel like much that has followed of Tolkien-related pop culture–including the Hobbit films–were.) Also, it’s cooler to be a Tolkien fan now! And a fanfic writer! One doesn’t have to look to media mentions for validation anymore. Friends and acquaintances ask me about my Tolkien scholarly/fannish work now from legit interest and think it’s cool. They’re proud to have a friend who is a Tolkien scholar and owns a fanfic website! I feel like this was very different 12 years ago when I first actively entered the fandom.

      Bobby was telling me he’d heard about the Tolkien Estate being in conversation with some big media company about a Middle-earth-related TV series … don’t know the truth of that and frankly don’t care. Same with the Tolkien biopic. There’s the numbness! I care much more what people who I know have thought deeply about the canon want to say about it than some giant company that’s seeing nothing beyond the dollar signs.

      • Oshun says:

        I feel like Drupal will help. I’m talking to Marie as I write this comment about threaded comments–possible on Drupal–that will allow conversations on stories versus “reviews.”

        I’m really crazy! That gave me a momentary flash of sheer panic!

        • Dawn says:

          Think LJ comments where you can talk back and forth with a person (versus having to leave a new comment every time you want to continue the conversation; when I looked at my comment counts recently, I sometimes had three comments on a story from you because you had to do this lol!), or you can respond to someone else’s comment. It’s similar to AO3’s system (although I’m not sure if you can reply to other comments or just talk back and forth with the author in a single comment thread?)

          • Independence1776 says:

            Other people can reply to any comments. AO3’s comment system is pretty much identical to LJ/DW that way and I think it was on purpose given the fandom background of the original admin.

          • Dawn says:

            Thanks, Indy! Then let’s keep it simple and say Drupal will make a commenting system that is like AO3 possible for the SWG. (I wonder if and how it has influenced commenting there? I’m thinking also that Drupal would have a means to subscribe to all comments on a story, which Hrymfaxe and I were talking this afternoon often keeps action high on blogs … *ahem* Case in point on my last HL post!)

          • Oshun says:

            I do not know why I am blanking out. The discussions you and Marie have had clearly are not transparent for me. I’m sure I will eventually figure it out. One can have a joint discussion on AO3 comments–anyone can pop in at any point on a thread and I have done that a number times–in various fandoms.

          • Dawn says:

            Yes, AO3 comments are how Drupal comments work as well!

  3. Oshun says:

    I should have said what I like about Tumblr–pretty photos, great fanart, occasionally I catch a fic rec or a notification from AO3 of a newly posted story. And I am always trolling for a kindred soul. Terrific time-waster–it’s great for insomnia.

    • Dawn says:

      I love Tumblr for reaching a broad audience, although that is very hit-or-miss and posts that I think will take off usually don’t, whereas shit that I cobble together in five minutes gets 1,000 notes! Whatever. I’m embracing P.T. Barnum and his “no bad publicity” right now because maybe those eyeballs will land on something I actually took a lot of time and thought on.

      My main beef with Tumblr is the amount of time to sort through the 99% I’m not interested in to find the 1% that I am. I just don’t have that kind of time. It feels like a lot of work for very little payoff. I would sometimes surf Tumblr for 15 minutes and come away unable to remember a single thing that I looked at. I’m a border collie–I just can’t stand that kind of waste of time! I think of all I could have done with that 15 wasted minutes. If I have time to spend on social media, I’ll read my DW flist.

      • Oshun says:

        I post a regrettable foolish picture and I get multiple hearts and reblogs. I post a link to one of my character bios or a fanfic of mine or a ficrec and I am lucky to get a single re-blog and couple of hearts. Sexy Feanor fanart does fairly well, however–my fandom opinions do not. They pass into the darkest void unnoticed.

        • Dawn says:

          Likewise, I think one of my most popular posts is the Silmarillion Death Post that I wrote in about five minutes. (Okay … maybe ten!) I’ve crossposted a few HL entries there, throwing a bone to people who might be more comfortable participating there, but haven’t really seen a benefit for continuing to do so, so I don’t … though I link most of what I write here on Tumblr.

  4. Hrymfaxe says:

    It makes me wonder what we can do on the SWG

    The SWG for me is not really a place where people talk with each other – we do it around the SWG on the LJ or DW promotion posts for example, or for events like B2MEM, but not on the site proper. You and I have already talked about this, but if the commenting function on stories could be expanded to allow replies to replies, it could create a space for longer conversations about the fandom and stories that brought us to the same site in the first place.

    I know that is something I miss from the LJ days.

    (Though I do certainly appreciate the mutual inspiration society we have going over chat!!! <3 )

    • Dawn says:

      This is part of why I am champing at the bit about Drupal, aside from eFiction’s gracelessly aging software alarming me because I worry we’ll wake up one day and our webhost will not have a version of PHP old enough to function with it!

      We have long had our hands tied by eFiction. When archives were only a component of fandom communities, it was different: They were a place to post stories, and we talked on mailing list and journal communities. It didn’t matter as much then. But successive shenanigans by Yahoo! and LiveJournal (note to anyone above wondering why I don’t trust large institutions …) hamstrung us, and now I feel like the SWG site has to be much more of a contained community–a place where people share work and interact in more casual ways–and eFiction just can’t accommodate that.

      I would love for comments on fanworks to become conversations rather than “reviews” (with all that word implies) and to have other spaces to talk about canon and fandom and fanworks and, yes, non-fannish stuff that matters to us too. Now for the strength to make that uphill climb! 😀

      • Hrymfaxe says:

        I’m very excited for Drupal as well, from hearing you talking about it.

        It’s true that when the conversations dried up on LJ, it seems they had nowhere else to go really. It would be great if they could be resurrected on SWG in some form!

  5. Oshun says:

    The problem with commenting here is I cannot find my place or where the “reply” tag always is. I’m fairly sure it must be related to my screen being at something like 180% Damn! I’m disabled! What a drag!

    • Dawn says:

      After the thread reaches a certain length, one cannot reply. It sucks! It’s probably a setting I can change, but my sister set up threaded comments here for me in the first place … I’m pretty WordPress ignorant. Anyway, it is not you. It is the format of the blog.

      • Oshun says:

        Oh! OK! That makes me so much better. I thought it was me and my general ineptitude! I guess your sister was not expecting us to be so damned wordy! I always feel like something like about only 1/3 of my comments are worth being read. I thought it was some god of the internet trying to protect me from myself!

        • Dawn says:

          LMAO.

          I have a feeling it is a WordPress default, and WP was probably expecting a lot of “great post!” and “so cool!”, not the lot of you. 😉

  6. Independence1776 says:

    So a few random (late) thoughts:

    Here’s another reason I’ve seen a handful of times over the years: non-commentors may not care about the community aspect, that they’re so attached to their own versions they don’t want to read other people’s. (Maybe they think the other characterizations are Wrong or they only have the time to either read or write and they choose the latter or something else entirely.) Or maybe their Tolkien fic is just a one-off.

    I’m not getting deeply involved in the DW/LJ vs. Tumblr debate, but I do want to say that I would love some sort of forum on the Drupal SWG. DW/LJ doesn’t seem to be the place much anymore for long fannish discussion but Tumblr doesn’t really work for me fannishly, so I’m kind-of left going, “So… what’re my options?” It feels like I have none.

    On a somewhat-related note, there’s a thread about commenting buried in the “sorry, we still can’t turn the invite queue on” admin post on AO3, so I’m linking in case anyone’s interested in reading it: http://archiveofourown.org/comments/133874931

    • Oshun says:

      Thanks for the link. That is an extremely interesting discussion thread about authors wanting and needing feedback in order to keep writing. Fascinating that people would not expect a published writer to keep submitting works for publication if their last three novels and last 30 stories did not find more than a dozen purchasers!

      When I see clicks on a page and no comments, I figure someone clicked and thought, “Meh! I’d hope for something more or different. Not reading this one.” People seem in this discussion and the previous one and the AO3 one that people read and are just selfish. I assume the hate my style or content.

      • Independence1776 says:

        You’re welcome!

        For me, with the advent of kudos, my opinion has shifted. I’ve gone from hits-only are people who like my fic and don’t comment for whatever reason to hits-only dislike it because a kudos is a simple button click and they didn’t click, much less comment. So the wide gap between comments/kudos and hits is depressing. I intellectually know that it’s obviously not 100% true… but my emotions don’t believe it.

        Though I do have to say I’m not sure where you’re getting selfish from; that wasn’t my reading of the discussions at all.

        • Oshun says:

          By “People seem in this discussion and the previous one and the AO3 one that people read and are just selfish,” I mean they read and don’t bother to even click a kudo which means that hate it or they are selfish. Most people do interpret a page click to mean, more often than not, a read. So a read without a kudo click means what? I used the word “selfish”–other people have not, but imply it. A story with 5,000 clicks and 10 kudos means that 4,990 people clicked it by accident and/or immediately backed out? Unlikely. So then it must mean they cannot be bothered to even click a kudo and that is the opposite of caring or generous. A kudo does not mean “I adored your story!!!” It’s the bare minimum.

          • Dawn says:

            A story with 5,000 clicks and 10 kudos means that 4,990 people clicked it by accident and/or immediately backed out? Unlikely.

            Thank you for saying this. I have been told that click counts are useless … and I think they are exceedingly complex but not entirely useless! Yes, there are reasons that people click and don’t read or end up clicking multiple times for a single reading … but even if I assume a very generous three clicks to complete a single reading, that means that a 600-click story with 10 kudos is still only receiving the barest acknowledgment from 5% of readers. Not good! What is going through the minds of the other 95%?!

            Besides that droves of readers clicking out of a story isn’t a neutral statement either. If the word count and summary are there in the story listing–and I think I write decent summaries, none of the annoyingly vague “An Elf wanders in lament” where one expects Maglor and gets brooding!teenage!Legolas–then there should be few surprises when a person actually clicks. And if my writing can’t sustain a reader’s interest over a few thousand words that they knew would be on the page when they clicked, then that is not a shining recommendation on me as an author either.

    • Dawn says:

      All of these non-commenting authors are readers too, though … in the entire survey, only two authors did not also identify as readers. Interestingly, neither of them fell into the non-commenting author group. I also question whether someone who wrote one fic would respond to a survey of this length.

      I would love some sort of forum on the Drupal SWG.

      Me too! The question is always whether it will be used (although I think that email notifications would help).

      Drupal 8 does not seem to have ported over much of the cool forum modules from Drupal 7 … which isn’t terribly surprising since forums in general have largely fallen by the wayside. It makes sense that developers would put their efforts elsewhere. (And I haven’t checked in a while to see what has been ported to D8 since I was last actively playing with Drupal over the summer!) But I often look at the forum modules for D7 and just dream …

      The AO3 thread is interesting–thank you! The people there are so hopeful and encouraging. I felt all dour and pessimistic reading it after the discussions around this data of the past few weeks. (Not because of the discussions themselves but because the data are so discouraging! There is nothing to pep you up about the value of your work than slicing and dicing your own story stats and realizing that no one comments on your work but your friends.) I kept hearing the little voice in my mind: “NOTHING YOU SAY HERE WILL MAKE SOMEONE DETERMINED TO READ AND NOT COMMENT DECIDE TO BRIGHTEN YOUR DAY WITH A COMMENT.” Okay, that is an obnoxious, all-caps voice, but it is really how I’ve come to feel lately. I just have to keep thinking of it as a problem–with a potential solution–rather than an inevitable condition, lest I abandon all hope!

      • Independence1776 says:

        Huh. Well, then I have no explanation. Though I do think it’s possible that someone who only wrote one would take it; after all, you did have the people who hadn’t written or read Tolkienfic at all try.

        I would use the forums! I’m trying not to imagine how they could be organized because that’s a creek I don’t need to stick my oar in uninvited.

        You’re welcome! I do think optimism has its place, but then, they haven’t seen this data. (Apparently, the secret for getting a high comment count is to write a gen scifi ofic for a large fic exchange. Because it’s my fourth highest and only underneath my highest-clicked fics. Of course, that’s just a personal high and nowhere near actually high for the exchange.) I hope there’s a solution but I don’t know what it is. Community seems to play a role, but when people are looking for different things, I’m not sure what can be done to help heal the fragmentation a little.

  7. Oshun says:

    Another comment with too many responses!

    And if my writing can’t sustain a reader’s interest over a few thousand words that they knew would be on the page when they clicked, then that is not a shining recommendation on me as an author either.

    OMG! I am dying laughing! That takes me back to my earliest writing groups/betas in the Tolkien fandom! Being told I needed a hook! If i see a hint of an obvious “hook” in a book now I throw it across the room. By hook they meant that one could not start the story at the beginning in a reasonable manner without a lot of bombast but needed something to “grab the reader” (shock, upset, surprise, gross them out, etc.) I grab someone by the waist of their pants if they try to walk in front of a bus. But I hope to interest a reader without grabbing. Me and my neurosis about being told how to write!!

    All I need to pull into a story of yours is to see your name. But when I fell in love with the first story of yours that I began to read it was its subject matter–that was my hook! I am pretty terrible at summaries. I really need to up my game on those!

    • Lyra says:

      Yeah. A reader’s attention can be grabbed, but it can also be cajoled in a friendly manner. Heck, a story that invites me with a few words of greeting and a hug (i.e., by letting me know that this is exactly the story I came there to read) is just as likely (or possibly MORE likely!) to hold my attention as one that kicks me in the shins, shoves me to the ground and then yells at me!

      In short, the “hook” advice isn’t bad per se, but it always seems to be delivered in a limited way, by people with a limited imagination. But that’s the trouble with all writing advice. (The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever read was “1. If you want to write on a plane, bring a pencil; your pen may not work up there.” — “2. Bring a second pencil.” ~ Margaret Atwood) It all works… sometimes. But there are no rules that can or have to be observed at all times.

      Writing/ reading groups might actually be useful for creating/renewing the sense of community on the “new” SWG site, if a forum is possible there! I still remember the Silm re-read very fondly, although I wouldn’t necessarily want to run it again. XD

      • Dawn says:

        I would like to return to the SWG’s original purpose if nothing else–a workshop where people interested in working on their craft can do so in a close-knit and safe community. Especially since it doesn’t seem like Claudio will be returning anytime soon to resurrect the Lizard Council.

        Drupal 8’s forums allow limited access to approved members (or can be completely open to the public, or to all registered members), which makes these kinds of projects possible. There are some features that are missing–I think email notifications are a driving engine of conversation on these kinds of sites, and this was a major shortcoming when I took Drupal forums for a spin on the Mereth Aderthad site–but I’m hoping they’ll eventually be ported over from Drupal 7.

        • pandemonium_213 says:

          “I would like to return to the SWG’s original purpose if nothing else–a workshop where people interested in working on their craft can do so in a close-knit and safe community.”

          YES! I would welcome such a development!

          “Especially since it doesn’t seem like Claudio will be returning anytime soon to resurrect the Lizard Council.”

          The likelihood of the erstwhile Claudio’s return seems vanishingly small at this point. I certainly miss him. :^(

          • Dawn says:

            Likewise! I’ve always hoped to pursue that workshop aim that I originally defined as the SWG’s purpose (before listening to the membership who wanted an archive and assured me it would be easily accomplished! :D), but the LC seemed to serve that function perfectly well for many years, and there didn’t really need to be two overlapping Tolkien workshops. But now …

          • pandemonium_213 says:

            Yes, you’d have no competition! :^)

            Speaking of things that have fallen beside the wayside, when I looked at the Fanlore page and followed links, I was reminded of the highly dormant ToMe Awards. Heh. We were going great guns on that for a while, but got hung up on a) ratings; and b) software. We were tinkering around the notion of using Drupal. :^D

          • Dawn says:

            If there was ever interest in resurrecting the ToMes, I would recommend Drupal and would be happy to help with setting up a Drupal site. I know a lot more about it now than I did then! I wouldn’t be willing to run the ToMes–I’m determined to stop raising my hand so much in fandom and take good care of my poor neglected baby, the SWG!–but to consult again, as before. (Not that I suspect you’re in much a place to run them either!)

            Bobby and I were talking about you earlier tonight … how effing grateful we are for the recommendation of the “600 Curries” book! Bobby made a roasted pepper curry tonight with homemade paneer … omfg.

    • Dawn says:

      Hooks! Holy hand grenades. I teach my middle schoolers to write hooks for their essays … but never fiction! Gods no. We do look at the first paragraphs of good books and talk about how authors get into fiction stories … and it is not always with a lot of bombast, to borrow your word. The beginning of a story shouldn’t be boring, but it doesn’t need fireworks and car chases either.

      I guess different people read in different ways. I generally commit to a story before I even open it. I read the summary and look at other meta-data (genre, characters, etc). I check out the word count to see if I can commit to finishing the story in one sitting. (Also if it’s super short and covering a topic that I don’t think can be done justice in, say, 676 words, that can be a turn-off. I prefer longer, deeper fiction.) So once I’m in, I’m willing to stick around. I don’t need to be “hooked”; I’m genuinely curious about the author’s take on a character or topic, which is why I clicked in the first place.

  8. pandemonium_213 says:

    Because I am an asshole a cheeky monkey. On contrast to, uh, some, the number of comments I have made on the SWG exceeds the number of fics I have archived there:

    My comments on AO3 are orders of magnitude fewer, and although kudos are convenient, they are less satisfying to give or receive than a few words of appreciation.

    Tumblr. Huh. Lately, it has been very suitable for my taxed brain (just scroll past or reblog stuff), but as a fandom community goes, it is lacking for me, at least. That said, there is one person I met through tumblr (Wes a.k.a. misbehavingmaiar) w/ whom I have actually corresponded via email. Otherwise, nada.

    • pandemonium_213 says:

      Well, heck. So much for inserting a jpeg. At any rate, I was referring to the Top 10 “Most Prolific Reviewers” on the SWG where I am a solid number 5. Not that I am bragging or anything. Himring, Oshun, Binka, and whitewave have me well and truly beat. 😉

      • Oshun says:

        If I tend to comment on anything I read on the SWG and I am an addicted reader. If I read it on AO3 first, I do not always, but on occasion, cut and paste the comment. I am a firm believer in paying for the fics I read with comments. (I am terrible about returning library books, however. I am always in trouble there. I live for those amnesty days!)

    • Dawn says:

      the number of comments I have made on the SWG exceeds the number of fics I have archived there

      That seems like the right way of being to me. On a few occasions, I had members contact me because they were dissatisfied with the amount of feedback they were receiving. On every single occasion, the number of comments they’d left was lower than the number of stories they’d posted. Quite often, it was zero. I suppose by the gift economy, the mere act of posting a story is the gift … but I also feel like the community element requires people to show interest in the community by interacting with other people, and that’s most easily done through comments. Otherwise, when I see a person post a bunch and never comment, I assume they are using the site as a straight-up archive–just a place to store/back up their work–and not really interested in participating in the community.

      • pandemonium_213 says:

        “Otherwise, when I see a person post a bunch and never comment, I assume they are using the site as a straight-up archive–just a place to store/back up their work–and not really interested in participating in the community.”

        Exactly. And that’s fine if they want to use it as a straight-up archive. That’s pretty much what AO3 is for me although I have commented occasionally on fic there.

        Speaking of AO3, I read a comment, er, elsewhere on this site that the particular reviewer uses kudos for the purpose of “read it, liked it, but kudoing because I’m not interested/invested enough in this to comment on it.” Given that said reviewer has kudo’ed but not commented on at least one AO3 fic of mine, that kinda stung. I kudo when I genuinely *like* a fic and feel that it has a lot of merit, but don’t have the mental energy to comment as I would like. So when I give a kudo, it’s something of a placeholder for me.

        I shouldn’t whine one way or another, given that my fic reading is severely limited these days and my fic writing non-existent. For the time being anyway. Some day, some day…

        • Dawn says:

          Someday, someday indeed! I find myself saying that a lot too. (My own status on the Most Prolific Reviewer list on the SWG having slipped precipitously!)

          Having now discussed feedback a lot, I am convinced that kudos are much more fraught than comments. Any one of us can come up with reasons why a reader might read a story and not comment. But failing to execute that single click? That’s really impossible to justify except as something negative about the story/author.

          I always positioned my opposition to one-click feedback on the SWG as not wanting to see comment counts fall, but I’m increasingly seeing authors slice and dice those kudos stats in a way they don’t seem to do with comments, with results that are dispiriting. It’s interesting because a lack of comments almost always gets put back onto a certain measure of apathy or a lack of generosity on the part of readers; a lack of kudos (or other kudos-related analyses) are seen as a shortcoming of the author and end up having the opposite effect for which I expect they were intended when whomever at AO3 decided to put them in place.

          • Oshun says:

            I would love to know the discussion behind kudos originally. I know I use kudos to mean “I read and appreciated this story.” More than that it could indicate that I got interrupted, or I have to turn off the computer because it’s bedtime, I’m on my way out the door, it’s time for dinner, or I appreciate the effort, but I was not sent into absolute raptures of delight which would induce to spend 20 minutes writing up my specific responses! But I like to let people know it held my interest to the end and I thought it was a worthy piece of work. But the one thing all the kudos have in common for me is I liked it.

          • Dawn says:

            I would be curious to know as well. eFiction has something similar as an option for one-click feedback: a like/dislike option or a rating of one to five stars. So this idea was in the fandom culture before AO3, and I suspect they were trying to make a feel-good, entirely positive version of that. They probably didn’t anticipate how much people would read into those single clicks!

        • simaetha says:

          If by “elsewhere on this site” you mean me, given that I said something to that effect in a thread on this post, I should clarify that I also kudos for reasons which very much include “this was very enjoyable but it’s been a long day and I don’t have the energy”. Also, by “mixed feelings” I absolutely do not necessarily mean lack of investment, it’s just as likely to mean “I’m incredibly overinvested in my headcanons/feelings about a particular character or plot element and unsure if the author wants me going on about it in the comments”, etc.

          (I feel very strongly about not lying to people when it comes to whether I like their fanworks or not; it would certainly upset me badly if I had to analyse every comment/kudos for “does this person really like it or are they just pretending out of social obligation”.)

          • pandemonium_213 says:

            “If by “elsewhere on this site” you mean me…”

            Re-checking that thread and yes, I mean you.

            “I should clarify that I also kudos for reasons which very much include “this was very enjoyable but it’s been a long day and I don’t have the energy”.

            OMG…I empathize in a BIG way with that. That’s my reason behind leaving kudos 99.9% of the time. The writing that pays my mortgage sucks away pretty much any energy to use for writing a remotely coherent comment.

            “Also, by “mixed feelings” I absolutely do not necessarily mean lack of investment, it’s just as likely to mean “I’m incredibly overinvested in my headcanons/feelings about a particular character or plot element and unsure if the author wants me going on about it in the comments”, etc.”

            Heh. Well, I thoroughly enjoy hearing about/reading others’ interpretations. I’m very much invested in my own, but it’s very cool to read another take.

            At any rate, thanks for clarifying!

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