This is one of those things I’d never talk about on Tumblr and can’t get into much detail on Twitter, but I don’t particularly like comments on my fics.
This isn’t to say I hate all the comments I’ve received; that would be lying. I’ve had some amazing comments sent to me, asking me about the world of my fic, yelling me a favorite line, or (my most prized comment) that my fic was so entertaining it brightened their day. My one goal with anything I do is to entertain myself and then entertain others. But I think the idea of writing fic specifically for oneself as opposed to for recognition isn’t one that’s really given much weight in the fanfic community (on Tumblr specifically, which is what I’ll be referring to when saying the fanfic community).
I started reading and writing fic on FanFiction.net, way back in the day (but after the Great Purge). On FF.Net, there are five ways to say you enjoyed a fic: favorite the story, follow the story, favorite the author, follow the author, and, finally, comment. The most common reaction after reading fic there is to do one of the first four.
While following a one-shot may seem silly to the author with no inclination to continue, it says that the reader enjoys the fic enough that they want to see more.
Favoriting the author is a nice “Yes, I like your style or content and/or I want to save you for later” (though the latter not as much as favoriting a fic but we’ll get to that). It’s also a nod of acknowledgement, a “You did a good” without speaking.
Favoriting a story is much stronger than simply favoriting the author. Favorites are a treasured list, one you go to when you want to reread the fics you think of the most fondly. A favorite on a story means “Wow, yes, this is a very good thing and I’m happy to read it over and over.” It serves in a way like the bookmark function on AO3, saying to other readers, “Yes, I recommend this fic.”
Following an author is the most prized. Even if you’re no longer posting to FF.Net, it really says, “Hey, when you post the next thing, and/or when you’re back, I’m gonna read it.” It’s the notification that feels the best, because you know for sure you’ve entertained the reader and they’re eager for more (which is often a good incentive, I’ll admit).
The ultimate reader reaction is doing all four. There’s nothing like getting e-mail notifications that tell you several times that people liked your thing.
Comments, on the other hand, are fairly rare birds on FF.NET. Some of that has to do with the typical age of the audience. Writers and readers tend to skew on the young side, and it’s often the starting point for people new to fandom.
A good smattering of comments are the of the simple “I liked it/I lol’d/THAT WAS SOOOOOOO GOOD!!!!” variety. The vast majority of comments tend to be “Write more plz!/Omg you can’t just leave it there/I need more!!!”, which are fine on their own, but do become grating after the tenth one on an explicitly stated one-shot. Within those, there are also the deep comments, the comments that lay out exactly what they like, and…
the unasked-for critique.
It’s these comments that have turned me off exalting comments as the highest praise of a fic. But we’ll get back to them.
A simple favorite on FF.NET, a like on Tumblr, a kudos on AO3–those are genuinely all I need to know people are enjoying my fics. Not getting one of these on a story is more likely to disappoint me than not getting comments on one.
But there is a– I hesitate to say “trend” with the connotation that tends to imply– very big push around Tumblr for comments. This in itself isn’t a bad thing. I know I’m the tiny minority who’s generally ambivalent on comments. The thing that IS bad about this push is the level of guilt thrown around from it.
“You’ll reblog art, but you won’t reblog fic!” is a strong contestant for first place in the Maybe-If-I-Guilt-Trip-You-Enough-You’ll-Do-What-I-Say department for several reasons. The first being, that’s always been the nature of fandom.
It’s definitely not a good one, but let’s face it: fanart is generally easier to see and process quickly, and without much thought. That’s not to say people don’t wind up gushing over a mediocre effort (see the initial “His head is pastede on”) or put lots of thought into looking at a piece of art, but in general it’s much simpler and less time-consuming to take in a picture than read. (Not to mention that artists are still looking for reblogs, but that’s for someone else to write about; I’m a writer, not a visual artist.)
Second, there is no faster way to convince people to NOT reblog something than to imply or outright state that they’re a bad person for not doing so. It holds as true for “well-intentioned” PSAs as it does for holding fics to ransom until a certain number of comments are reached. People do not want to listen to you spout off about how unfair X thing is with heaps of guilt thrown in for flavor, especially when they might have already been considering doing the thing you want them to do.
The next big argument, and what I personally think is the real winner of the MIIGTYEYDWIS (that really needs a shorter acronym) competition, is “Without comments, I feel I should just stop writing.”
Now, on one hand, I know a lot of incredibly good writers who feel this way and I know it’s a very strong thing to feel (to these writers, btw, I give you all gentle pats and I’m always ready to cheer your fic on). On the other hand, this is very much an “I’ll just take my ball and go home” scenario.
Saying that you’ll quit with a low comment count can boost the amount of comments you get, for a short while. Mostly, though, your readers will think that they are now obligated to leave comments, even if they don’t have anything to say, and feel pressured to do so, as if you’ll wither away without their specific praise.
That’s a bad place to be as a reader. It sets up a bad relationship between the author and the reader, and can be especially stressful to those who already have difficulty commenting even when they really want to. It also hurts the author, as the comments received tend to become more rote than genuine, more “I like it very much” than “Wow, X thing had me going, omg I’m so hooked.”
It’s a lose-lose situation the whole way, with each party only giving part of what they could.
Now, I have no problems with writers talking about how much it hurts not to receive comments. It confuses me, sure, but that’s like me being asexual: I just don’t get the appeal, but it’s a personal thing. Not getting the feedback or response you had hoped for is always upsetting (believe me, I know the feeling, and if anyone says they don’t, they’re lying). But there are ways to get readers to comment without guilting them into it, just as there are ways for readers to start commenting more than just by rote.
The way NOT to do it is by writing and reblogging endless PSAs about how comments are the blessed words of angels and anyone not leaving them wants you to fail as a person. Not only does it get old, it gets irritating, and then it gets people mad.
Now, coming waaaay back around to the middle of my point, there is a kind of comment that I swear has been picking up speed since the “comment forever” posts really kicked in, and that is my loathed critique comment.
Folks, the only time you should leave a “helpful critique” comment is when the author specifically states that they want one. Otherwise, it’s not helpful, it’s annoying as fuck, especially when your critique is answered in the author’s note already.
Recently, I received a comment on an original fic snippet I posted for my Hallowrite challenge. At first, I was happy. Someone actually read it! I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (especially as a generally happytime Batfamily writer and original fic never gets as many responses as fanfic), so I was thrilled to see someone liked it enough to do something to it. I was hoping for a generic “Really interesting/Can’t wait to see more/Nice” comment, the kind that just tells me someone read it, like a longer kudos. But here’s what I got:
That was pretty short, but it seems like it’s off to a good start! If I may offer some advice? Don’t be afraid to flesh out the dialog a little more, as one of the most important aspects of horror stories is the buildup, and even if we can kind of predict what’s going to happen, the anticipation is what makes it all so worth it! I really like your premise though (especially since this seems to be set in a Mexican/Latin American locale), so I do hope you’ll continue with this story in the future!
Now, here’s a tip: When writing a “helpful” comment, lead with what you like about the story. Put your ideas for what you’d like for it after, then end on a brief reiteration that you like it. Do NOT lead with your critique, not even if you’re asked for one. The order I listed is the best way to get your critique heard to welcoming ears.
That said, I did not ask for any critique. I didn’t ask for any comment. I simply put my story up there because I wrote it for my challenge.
The main reason this comment bothers me to no end, however, is that it tells me this commenter didn’t actually read everything I wrote. Here in the author’s note, I specifically say why this is the way it is:
I’ve been wanting to write a vampire series with an all-girl gang of vampires being just as vicious as vampires were historically (as opposed to deeply misunderstood lovers or whatever’s going on now). This is just a bit of it; I had wanted to write more, but I figured a small bit now would be better for this prompt series. Hopefully I’ll get more of them up soon!
It is a small bit, not a finished work, just enough of a story to fill my prompt and hopefully get me in the mood to write some more of it. It’s a vignette of what I hope to make a longer story, but not the entire thing. Yes, I know it’s short; I wrote it. I’m not strictly writing a horror piece, I’m writing a character- and world-introduction snippet. I neither want nor need your advice, because I’m not planning on continuing in the near future; I have too many other projects going for that.
Here’s the thing: I don’t tend to ask for advice on stories and fics for anything. I’m an editor first and foremost, and once the initial writing is done, I can go over it and easily see what needs correcting, expanding, or cutting. That’s what I do.
When I post a fic, it is exactly how I want it to be read. I genuinely don’t care how you, the reader, think it should have gone. Write your own version; I genuinely love the idea of fanfic of fanfic. But don’t come into my inbox saying how you think X should have been done differently; or Y should have had a different reaction; or, most bizarrely, tell me my fic should use Z other trope (see my Ra’s/Dick story being read as an a/b/o fic when in no place had I ever claimed it to be).
Comments on the whole don’t mean that much to me. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy most of them when they’re there, but they hold no special meaning to me, no goal I need to obtain. They do what they do and they’re very good things for a lot of people. But don’t go around commenting with your unasked-for and unwanted advice on fics. Don’t send the endless repetitions of “More!” Don’t give me twelve paragraphs of questions that are clearly going to be answered in the rest of the story. (Yes, all of these are actual comments I have received and they’re not including the one above.)
But most of all, remember the title of this piece.