Letter of Comment
|See also:||Feedback, Concrit, Zines, Kudos|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
A Letter of Comment, or more commonly, a LoC or LOC, was originally a letter written by a fan and sent to a professional sf magazine or to a fanzine and published in a lettercol. Frequent contributers of locs were called letterhacks, and the act of writing the loc was called letterhacking. The term LOC was in use as early as 1961. See Science Fiction Citations.
The term was carried over to the Internet, with LOCs transitioning to mean the feedback email that an author, zine publisher, or archivist received. However, there is no evidence that the term ever caught on with fans who discovered fandom online in the 21st century; communities with a higher proportion of pre-internet fans see a few uses as of the 2010s, but Fanfiction.net has been online since 1998, yet search results on that site for loc return just a few results, all unrelated. Meanwhile, on the Archive of Our Own, which entered open beta in 2009, a search for loc produces only 26 results, many of which are non-English works or older Sentinel fanfics imported from the 852 Prospect archive.
Debate on Pronunciation
Fans often discussed the correct way to say "LoC."
From Jundland Wastes Roll Up:
The letters were called LoCs, letters of comment, and few have ever agreed on how to pronounce the term. Some say "loke," others, "lahk"; and some even speak out the letters, "el-oh- see". (A situation very similar to the current controversy over how to say ".gif". Is it gif as in "gift" or jif after the peanut butter? I've heard both sides claim that the inventor supports their interpretation.)
In a letter to Southern Enclave #2, a fan wrote about the name of a column: ""LoCs and Bagels"... At least it tells people how to say LoC correctly."
Letters of comment served as a reminder of the interconnectedness of fandom. They were also part of the unspoken agreement that LoCs were a form of payment for the work that went into producing fanworks. They were also used in a practical way to determine what sort of material fans really wanted.The public LoC was a form of payment. Sometimes personally providing private feedback wasn't enough. A fan explains in The K/S Press:
A long-time fan writes a letter with a focus of the purpose of LoCs and reviews:
A fan remembers a zine she wrote to:When you cast your zines upon fannish waters, you want to produce ripples, possibly even waves -- not to sink without a trace. That's where LoCs come in. LoC is an acronym for Letter of Comment but what it really stands for is ego-boo, compliments, feedback, and constructive criticism. Letters of Comment are not necessarily the 'just due' of the zine ed and contributors and the obligation of the readers. The privilege is not all on your side. LoCs are also the RIGHT of the zine readers, and it is YOUR obligation to be open to their comments. Zine readers write LoCs for many reasons. In a perfect universe, you would only receive letters full of glowing praise for your sparkling dialogue, original plots, imaginative layout and high production standards, or wizardry with cross-hatching and composition... However, favorable LoCs are not the only kind that will, can, or should be written... Which brings me to the rumblings that provoked this letter. Some zine eds have a tendency to reject out of hand letters of comment that are not favorable. They won't print them; they label them unnecessarily harsh. They say the letter letter is reacting out of proportion -- after all, 'it's only a hobby.' So what's wrong with this attitude, other than the obvious fact that the zine reader's right to express an opinion... is guaranteed by the Constitution? Well, it may be YOUR 'hobby,' but if you want readers to pay out THEIR hard-earned dollars for it, it entitles them to comment on any aspect of your zine from the staples to the copyright notice... A carefully throughout, constructive critique on your zine, detailing what the reader liked or didn't like and why,... is an invaluable learning tool for you as an editor, writer, or artist... From the reader's viewpoint, when the zine creators learn from their mistakes and produce a better zine, fandom benefits as well. There has been a definite lack of critical LoCs in the last several years, resulting, in my opinion, in declining zine quality in many fandoms. With the ever-increasing costs of purchasing zines, this factor becomes more and more important. For those of you who are just in it for the Vanity Press, who don't want to hear anything but ego-boo and the compliments, you'd be much better off to just hand your material away free to your family and friends. If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the fanzine. 
Two even inspired me to write my first-ever LOC to a zine; I'd sent comments to online writers before, but I'd learned that part of the deal with zines was that if you read one, you were supposed to send a LOC. So after I finished it, I wrote... the stupidest LOC ever. *g* I had no idea what I was doing!... [A number of years later, I] looking at the other letters, and having a jawdrop moment. See, some of the names in there I remember from back then... One right after the other, I saw letters from sakana17, sherrold, and movies_michelle -- all women I became friends with a few years later via other fandom means, and whom I'm still friends with. (*waves!*) And there we all were, sitting in the same LOC column together in 1997, in a zine printed in Australia and shipped halfway 'round the world. I really love seeing how far back fannish connections actually go. <3 
I too have written LOCs and seen them published, and at one point I mentioned wanting to read some story or other, and a complete stranger sent me the entire zine, all the way from the US, omg! (I do not remember the story, or who sent it me, alas, but I know that the zine had a gorgeous drawing of Spock pulling his shirt off on the cover...) It was a jawdropping moment of fannish kindness, and it wouldn't be the last. <3! 
Letters of Comment were also used as a tool for content.
One definition of a letter of comment from an 80s zine: "A letter sent to the editor to let her know what you did/didn't like about the zine. Very helpful in getting zines to be the way you want them. Also a great way to encourage writers you like." 
From Jacqueline Lichtenberg: "In ST fanzine fandom, the feedback was immediate and detailed because every fiction 'zine carried LoCs that made it very clear what readers were looking for -- and often spurred writers to writing the next story." 
From the editor of the zine In a Different Reality #2: "I would like to thank all of you who have sent us your comments and suggestions... Since we are not into market research, etc., you letters are the best guide to how well we are doing and to what you really want." And from the same zine, issue #11: "I fully expect anyone with comments on any story in this issue to send them along to me. I can't print what you want to read if you don't tell me what you like - and don't like."
Publishing Letters of Comment
Many zine editors published all of their letters of comments in a section of the zine called a lettercol.
The Starsky and Hutch letterzine S and H's editors were adamant in that they printed every one received, and without any editing. The Star Wars letterzine Southern Enclave printed most, but sometimes edited them for repetitious content. The Star Trek: TOS letterzine The K/S Press also printed all letters received, though in at least one editorial admitted it wished it hadn't, as it was felt the previous issue had included some needlessly hurtful ones.
Other letterzines did more editing. There was much discussion in Halkan Council on this subject after Connie Faddis wrote: "I note from having seen a copy of some of the complete, undiluted letters sent to HC, that there has been some editing." The editors responded: "Neither of us, until receiving Connie's letter, was aware that any contributors were dissatisfied with the quality of our editing...we retain the right to edit out statements which could be detrimental to ST fandom or revival."
It was common for LOCs to publish the letter writer's full address with the letter. Other editors published only the fan's name and city or state, and some just the fan's name. Many fans first found other fans by writing to a LOC writer near their area.
Letter columns in letterzines (or non-letterzines that ran many LOCs), could be contentious, providing the pre-internet version of flame wars. They also provided community -- giving information on deaths, on professionals sales by zine writers, on fannish and canon news. Many early media fen, such as Leslie Fish, were as well-known for their participation in letter columns as they were for their fiction.
Some editors made a point of not forwarding, or even mentioning, negative LOCs to their authors. If a zine didn't print its LOCs, then the editor forwarded any comments about specific stories onto the individual authors. From the editor of the zine, In a Different Reality: "I will faithfully forward any comment to any author, and if you don't want to discuss something or start an argument with him/her/them I'll also send the author your address, at your request. I will not become a clearinghouse for any lengthy correspondences, not because I'm not interested in eavesdropping but because I can't afford that much postage!"
Other editors printed and forwarded whatever came their way stating: ""Write and scream and write and say well done to the writers, please. All LoCs become property of ITTOI, and will be shared with the authors, printed in part or in whole in the next volume." 
Fans Comment on the Lack of LoCs
Much fannish time -- from the first Star Trek zine, Spockanalia, until most fanfic moved to the internet -- was spent by editors complaining that they didn't get more letters of comment.In 1980, Leslye Lilker comments on the decline of LoCs:
Another fan comments in 1980:(Once upon a time, in a world that seems far, far away, there were LoCs. For a few weeks after the zine's initial mailing, an editor had the joy (or heartbreak) of receiving reader comments... they were the feedback the editor (read 'author') required to judge the quality of his or her publication. Apparently, the LoCers are becoming a breed of readers who are threatened with extinction. The decline has been evident over the past five years. In 1975, I published my first issue of IDIC, sure that I would never sell at least half of the 60 copies, I, with great temerity, had dared to print. Fortunately, it was not so. The run sold out at the first con I attended. With with two weeks I had received approximately 25 LoCs... With their encouragement to continue, I dared to try another story, and a second issue, whole simultaneously reprinting the first. Again came the phenomenon of LoCs, all of which were encouraging... And mine was not an isolated case. Other zine editors and writers have also spoken to me of the positive effects LoCs have had on them. So, why have you, the readers, stopped writing them? ... There are several possible reasons for the slowdown: the post office ate your letter; you went pro and don't have time to write; the post office ate your letter; you have your own zine and don't have time to write; the post office ate your letter; you don't know what to say; the post office ate your letter.) 
A fan in 1981 writes that one reason there are fewer LoCs is that just as the art of the LoC has become a lost one, so has the response to the LoC, something that probably discourages feedback:PLEASE SEND LOC's!! The reward in zine publishing/writing/drawing is NOT in cash -- it's in the comments you send (both positive AND negative) about the zine, stories, poems/artwork. Your comments are our payment, so if you like something, tell us (and be specific about WHY). And if you hate something, the same rules apply -- tell us about it, and tell us WHY!! Believe me, apathy hurts more than criticism. So, please write!! 
A fan in 1984 has this opinion:I write far fewer LoCs now than I did a year or two ago... Probably some of the responses I've typically received may illustrate why I'm not so ready to dash off a LoC as I once was. I know it isn't for lack of things to say... In the old days, a fair number of writers I wrote LoCs to responded with intelligent letters of their own... The resulting exchange was stimulating and fun. Ideas were bounced back and forth, and friendships were born. 
From a letter in 1985:I have a couple of ideas about why LoC's are rarer these days than they used to be. 1) Many zines are so long (and I'm guilty here) that commenting adequately is a formidable task, especially when your time is limited. 2) Media fandom is more stratified than it used to be, and some fans may be intimidated by the thought of writing to a 'BNF', let alone criticizing her, and editors and writers tend to become de facto BNF's simply because of exposure. 3) There seems to be an increasing number of media fans who don't know of the origins of media fandom in SF fandom and aren't familiar with the traditions and expectations we took from SF—such as the important of LoCs. In sf fandom, a LoC will frequently get you a contributor's copy of the fanzine. 4) Less palatably, and perhaps related to (3), there may be a drift toward passivity in media fandom: that is, toward the general fan as a mere consumer of the creative products of others. And consumers don't usually comment on the products they consume. (Also, with the loss of the sense of importance of LoC's comes a loss of the SF fannish assumption that a LoC can be a creative work.) Perhaps this drift is a general one in fandom, not just in fanzines. For instance, I've seen filking change from a group endeavor ten or eleven years ago to a performance, in which one member of the group performs while the others passively listen; even if every member of the group performs, they do so individually. Letters of comment aren't supposed to elicit a response in return; they were supposed to be the reader's response to a fanzine—her participation in the zine, as it were—and the editor's response, if there is one, is in the form of interjected comments when the LoC's are printed. In a sense, the LoC is a letter to the editor, but unlike either that kind of letter or a personal letter, it's also a letter to all the other readers of the zine. Editors don't answer LoC's personally for practical . reasons. Assuming SKYWALKER is typical, a zine gets about 20 to 30 LoC's per issue, all but a few of them long and detailed. If the editor replied to all of them, she wouldn't have time to do anything else, especially if any of the replies turned into a correspondence. That's why letterzines are useful as [Sally S] pointed out: they provide a forum for discussion that genzine lettercols can't and never were intended to. 
In 1991, Maggie Nowakowska wrote:One subject I feel needs to be discussed in the letterzines is the future of fanzines. I found a letter of Pat Molitor in Shadowstar #18 upsetting. She has written a series of stories about the fall of Anakin Skywa1ker that have been published in several zines, but she is so demoralized by the lack of any kind of feedback, good or bad, that she isn't writing anymore. If this situation applies to other authors and artists. then something needs to be done. 
While shuffling through my filksong binder, I came upon an old (1983) filk on LoCs. I'm afraid the situation that it described back so long ago still exists today: Tune: I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter
- I'm gonna sit right down
- and write myself a letter;
- and make believe that it's a LoC.
- I'm gonna heap the praise so deep, I'm gonna sink up to my teeth.
- Exclamations on the bottom -- I'll be glad I got 'em!
- I'm gonna catch each subtle nuance and allusion;
- and hope there'll be a sequel soon.
- I'm gonna sit right down
- and write myself a letter,
- If I don't get some LoCs damn soon!"
In 2000, a fan got some insight into why fans don't write LoCs:
I don't like the fact that LOCs have become an endangered species, but I no longer think it is weird that people take time to discuss stories on line when they will never speak their mind to the writer. I don't think I really understood the reasons (and there are many) for the dearth of responses to authors until I started posting Total Eclipse of the Heart on the net. ADVICE TO AUTHORS: You want LOCs? Post partial stories. I'm not kidding. I got more LOCs on that incomplete novel than I did for *all* the other stuff I've written ever in my life put together. And because I got so many LOCs about it, I found this interesting trend in them: almost all LOC writers used certain phrases: "I know you get deluged with mail since your stories are so good, so I won't go on at length..." "I'm not very good at writing LOCs so I won't bother you with a lengthy note..." "I know you hear this all the time, but I just wanted to say briefly..." (Meanwhile, I'm banging my head on the desk moaning, no, no, I'm not deluged, tell me!!!!). But the one I found most disturbing which I got a lot: "I never write to authors because I'm afraid of saying something wrong," or its variant, "I hope I haven't said anything inappropriate or that offended you." So, even the people who got it together to write an LOC usually ended up apologizing for bothering the writer with it. And if they were unhappy about something in the story, the amount of dissembling before they'd admit it and the length of the apologies afterwards (almost always over minor issues) made me really sad. 
Too Many LoCs!
Not everyone felt a dearth of Letters of Comment.A writer, Dovya Blacque comments in 2001:
In 1976, Gerry Downes writes that she is overwhelmed with LoCs:I figured this might be the best way to thank the many, many of you who have written to me privately about Legends. I cannot believe the torrent of e-mails and letters I've received; the response has been extremely gratifying. I'm sorry I can't respond to each and every one of you privately, there are just too many, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you who ha ve written with detailed LOCs and to those who've just taken the time to say 'loved it.' I cannot tell you how much your time and effort means to me. 
In 1989, a zine ed, Kathy Cox, said:I still have a hundred letters from issue #1 and Alternative to answer. A thoughtful letter deserves an answer, and I have tried to respond... We all know that personal contact is the best part of trekfandom. But there is only one of me, and in trying to answer all your letters, I have not time to write stories. I may try using postcards to acknowledge LOC's with a letter only when necessary to answer questions... but I will probably still get bogged down. Forgive me. 
We welcome your comments. Tell us what you loved; this inspires and encourages (besides, it's great fun to read!). Tell us when you think we stubbed our toes; this is more helpful than you may realize, so don't hesitate. Tell us what you thought of our work, how you felt and why. We truly care. Unfortunately, we are unable to answer most letters personally, but time considerations make this all but impossible - please understand. 
Fannish Myths Regarding LoCs
There are plenty of urban zine myths about the amount of comments printed zines generated, many of them contradictory. Many blanket statements about the number of LoCs received by fans in the past were pushed through a very rosy filter, one that lauded the good old days.
Reporting amount of LoCs fans received can be a bit of a moving target. Some fans could be less-than-upfront about the number of LoCs they reported to have received. This was due to ego, how they defined a letter of comment, forgetfulness, and other factors.In 1998, this zine publisher told "newer" fans:
We get very few letters from folks. It used to be that every single person who bought a zine wrote a letter of comment on it, good or bad. That doesn't happen at all these days. 
In reality, LoCs were often thin on the ground, and almost everybody wanted more, regardless of the venue or decade.
For more on this topic, see Feedback.
Fewer LoCs as a Reason for the Decline of the Number of Zines Published?
Less LoCs, less zines? Less zines, less LoCs? And where does the Internet come into play?Jacqueline Lichtenberg blames the decline of the LoC as one reason fewer zines were being issued. She has a long letter in 1988 commenting on rejected fan fic, LoCs and the difference between letterzines, review zines and LoCs:
A 1991 comment:Lately, I've been hearing from established writers that Trekdom has lost the habit and art of the LoC... Faneds ceased publishing Locs because zine prices skyrocketed, so LoC writers ceased writing them because there was no free copy to be won by doing a good job on a LoC, so new writers no longer had incisive reader commentary about published stories to study and learn writing from, faneds no longer had a running commentary on their own editorial practices to keep them polite in their rejections, and as a result the quality of zine submissions has fallen and zine eds are baffled and offended by that fall in quality. Meanwhile, to make matters worse, the upfront investment in publishing a zine is going up and up, and the zine buyers are totally spoiled by the number of professional-level writers working in the zines... Zine eds are trying to revive the vitality that we used to have in zine fandom, but which we lost when we lost the LoC column and the free-issue for a published LoC policy. With our feedback look cut like that, faneds are getting ulcers, writers are depressed, and the readers are starving for good reading. Letterzines and review zines don't do the job because the letter writer has to consider that many of the readers haven't read the stories being discussed. Letterzines and review-zines consist of people expressing their own opinions, usually without reference to what anyone else in the issue is saying, or to what was said in the previous issue. Perceptive and in-depth discussion of a work which all the readers of the zine have also read, argument over various points in the work, so that the LoC column reader can see all sides of the issue, is just missing. 
One fan felt it was the Internet that killed feedback, and by default, print zines:Why are there fewer and fever stories around? One certain reason is because the writers can't believe fandom wants stories anymore, not really, not without the guaranteed proof in the hand that a LoC represents. It's not a coincidence that stories started to get sparse about the same time that LoCs began dwindling. In Gian Paolo's letter, he says he'd like to see stories on Mon Mothma. Okay, I published a story on MM, but whether it was good or bad or indifferent, I don't bloody well know because no one has told me. The artist liked it (thanks, Catherine), but not one LoC appeared. Zilch. Nada. Niente. 
Once the BBS's such as GEnie and CompuServe's started popping up, slowly and surely fans moved from the long wait between printed issues to the instant gratification (and conflagration) that the world wide web provides. Nowadays, a fan who writes a story can post it to his or her website (or someone else's) with instant gratification or disappointment from its readers. Clearly, the Internet has put an end to much of the printed fanzines. (Sadly, it also has put an end to much of the feedback we used to receive on our fan fiction, but that's another story...) 
For more on the decline of the print zine, see: History of Media Fanzines
- For example, Sandy Herrold's Big List of Fanfic Peeves (1999) contains the following end note: And if you're thinking..."who in the hell is she to say all this -- I bet her fiction ain't all that great," all I can say is, feel free to check it out and send me a LOC telling me what you think. (LOC is a mailto: hyperlink).
- A fan on dreamwidth who wrote a 2015 post reminiscing about discovering fannish mailing lists in the 1990s references the term loc, but then defines it for fans who are not "dinosaurs". Snowflake Challenge Day Five, , posted by turps on January 5, 2015.
- For example, a few uses turn up in a search of a Pros fandom livejournal community. See Early Pros Writer Sue S. aka The Android Removing Some Stories From Website In 2012, , posted in the_safehouse 14 June 2012.
- from The K/S Press #63
- from Comlink #44 (1990)
- from Arduinna, written 4.8.2010, accessed 5.16.2011
- from marycrawford, written 4.8.2010, accessed 5.16.2011
- source unknown
- from Alien Romance
- It Takes Time on Impulse #1.
- from Stylus #1
- from the zine Casa Cabrillo
- personal correspondence between two fans in 1981, accessed 2011
- from Southern Enclave #3
- from Southern Enclave #10 -- Note that the plea wasn't just about LoCs in general, but specifically that we might lose potential fiction and art -- similar to arguments about feedback in Live Journal decades later.
- comments by Flamingo, June 2000, at VenicePlace, quoted on Fanlore with permission
- from a 2001 issue of The K/S Press
- from Stardate: Unknown #2
- from Destiny #2
- from Randy Landers at alt.startrek.creative, posted October 21, 1998, accessed January 30, 2013
- from On the Double
- from Southern Enclave #29
- from Orion Press: Questions and Answers, accessed March 10, 2012