My dash has, in the past two years, become increasingly invested in this idea that fic comments are the fan creator’s “currency,” the means by which fan creators are “paid,” and therefore, it logically follows, a thing fan creators are owed.
I’m not a huge fan of this.
Do I like receiving comments? Yes. God yes. Love it. Enter into a black funk if I don’t get at least 25 within the first week of posting, at least 15 within the first day, at least 5 in the first hour, and at least one right away right in the very first second. I refresh obsessesively in those first seconds. I want all the attention on me and my work. I feel like I need it.
But it is not owed to me. Not the way my job owes me payment for my labor. Not the way I earn currency. I’m not contracting with fanfic readers for comments. I’m posting something and letting the internet have at it, which is a different thing entirely.
I think sometimes about how comments-as-currency interact with BNF culture. If you’re taking in the idea “this is a fic by a very important person whose opinion on the canon is sacrosanct and special” and also “by reading this free internet story, you now owe it to the creator to make them feel good about it and themselves,” that’s a particular magic elixir. And I guess a part of me is still scarred from the Cassie Clare days, and really does not agree with assigning special primacy to fandom creators because of the ways that can go drastically wrong.
Though, actually, never mind the Cassie Clare days. In the here and now, there are fic authors who feel they should get special praise from fellow fans for “originating” specific ship fandoms (why, because you showed up first?). In the here and now, there are BNFs with hundreds of bookmarks and thousands of comments who routinely threaten to flounce because the attention they get is just not enough for them.
the longer I am in fandom, the less I care for that shit. I think fandom is often made worse when we treat it like a transaction made for social approval, when we normalize this idea that participation in fandom is by its nature a contract by which you can demand the reactive energy of others.
I think a lot about two times I didn’t “comment.” One is Terry Pratchett. I love Terry Pratchett. Ever since I picked up a copy of Mort in Heathrow airport at age 12, I told myself, every year, that I would write him a letter telling him how funny he was and how much I loved his work. I told myself that when an essay on Mort won me a scholarship to high school. I told myself that when an essay on Death in Discworld won me a scholarship to college, and then helped send me to professional school. I told myself I would write Terry Pratchett a letter every year for over ten years, and then he died and I never sent him a letter and I regret never sending him a letter.
I also think about shinigami.org. Shinigami.org was a Gundam Wing fansite way back in the early 00s, run by a fan named Kumiko. Kumiko was the first fanfic writer I ever idolized. I don’t remember the quality of her work or the characterization or the writing style or the pairings, but I remember the way her work made me feel. I loved this one Hitchcock AU in particular. I checked shinigami.org every single day during computer time in 8th grade, desperate to see if she had posted a sequel to that fic. Then Kumiko announced she was shutting the site down. Agonized, I then checked every single day to see if she would reverse her decision. She never did, but before she took the site down she posted a note saying she was thankful for all the people who had messaged her with kind words and praise. And then I felt embarrassed and bad, because it hadn’t occurred to me to tell Kumiko how much I idolized her (and I did) and how great I found her Hitchcock AU (and I really, really did).
These are not the only times I haven’t commented. They happen to be the only times I have felt BAD about not commenting. Why? Not because I was stiffing Kumiko or PTerry — I wasn’t. I paid for my copy of Mort and every subsequent Discworld book I bought, so I wasn’t denying Terry Pratchett anything he was lawfully owed. And Kumiko had made the choice to establish a Gundam Wing website for free and post stories on it for free and (unlike some of her contemporaries, say, PL Nunn, who charged for a lot of her work) was not asking fans to enter into some kind of contractual arrangement where they owed her currency for stories rendered. So I wasn’t backing out on a deal with either her or Terry Pratchett, and I didn’t feel bad for that reason. I felt bad because I missed a chance to express what Terry Pratchett’s work meant to me and what Kumiko’s work meant to me. I felt bad because their brought me intense happiness and I had the words in me to reflect on that happiness and just why it had such a pull on me and made me rethink the way I looked at the world. But I did not use those words, which was a missed chance for me to know more about me.
Don’t comment because comments are fandom currency. Comment when you feel like you have something to say. Don’t feel bad about not commenting because you “owe” a comment. You don’t owe comments. But if you have a feeling you can capture, something a work brings out of you, and you don’t take the time to sit with yourself for a few minutes and capture that feeling, then sometimes that can be a shame.
That’s how I feel about comments. And no, I don’t comment on everything. And honestly, you shouldn’t have to either. If you feel like it helps to create a welcoming fandom space, if it makes you more the person you want to be, then comment away, but even that, I think, should be more about how commenting helps you create something you value than how commenting is something you owe. I don’t think that, because I have written fic for free, I am thus owed the reactions of every single person who stumbles on that fic and happens to have a positive reaction. I do think, because I read fic for fun, that sometimes there’s added joy in taking the time to express myself to the original creator. Those are two very different approaches.
And, it goes without saying, appreciate every comment you get. Because no, people don’t owe them to you.
All of this! <3