An Open Letter to Fanfic Readers

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Title: An Open Letter to Fanfic Readers
Creator: bettydays
Date(s): July 17, 2015
Topic: feedback
External Links: An Open Letter to Fanfic Readers, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

An Open Letter to Fanfic Readers is a July 17, 2015 list of rules by bettydays regarding feedback. It was posted to Tumblr and had 2,427 notes as of July 30.

Some fans found it helpful and liked the rules and absolutes. Other fans found it to be an over-generalization and disliked someone making a list of absolutes for what is a personal and fluid topic.

The post had 3,638 notes as of July 2017.

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The Essay

Do not leave criticism in fanfic comments. Even if it’s constructive. Even if you’re “just being honest.” This is not traditional publishing, and you should not treat fic in the same way you treat traditionally published works. AO3 comments are not Amazon reviews.

If you want to offer the author criticism, please follow the steps below:

1. Contact the author to see if they even want your criticism (their vision and intention might be different than yours; this isn’t for-profit publishing, so there’s a chance the author has no desire to make their fic anything than what THEY want it to be. Moreover, unless you’re some kind of literary genius, it’s possible that they might not give a fuck about your opinion) 2. If they do, provide it in a private forum so that they have the opportunity to accept or reject your criticism outside the public grounds of AO3 comments (what I mean is: CRITICISM IN COMMENTS IS FUCKING HUMILIATING) 3. Do not be offended if they don’t accept your criticism 4. Thank them for their time and for listening to you speak your peace

Some additional notes:

  • Do not leave negative criticism/hate/wank on a WIP (or, see above: ever). Some people are enjoying the story and negativity might (will) make the author fall out of love with what they’re writing such that they don’t want to finish it. Also, you owe it to the author, who is writing FOR FREE, to hear them out to the end of their story in case they end up fixing what you were criticising.
  • Do not leave a comment telling the author why you stopped reading the fic. The author isn’t going to fix it and it’s just going to make them sad and feel shitty. Seriously, these types of comments are everywhere and they help NO ONE.
  • If you read something in a fic you don’t like, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST STOP READING IT. Please don’t let yourself believe that the way you see fic is the way fic ought to be. Everyone likes different things. It’s okay to exit silently. It’s the polite thing to do.
  • Do not point out OOC. Ever. Period. End of story. Interpretation is the entire point of fanfic. If you don’t like someone’s interpretation, DO NOT READ IT. You’re not the IC Police.
  • Avoid backhanded compliments. Please don’t start a comment with, “To be honest I hated this at first, but…” or anything similar. If there is an insult in your comment that is turned positive somehow, it is still an insult, and it is still hurtful.

Please please please, I am begging you, readers of fanfic, to take into consideration that fanfic authors are not celebrities, even if you think they’re super popular and amazing writers and you get hearts in your eyes when they acknowledge you. If you cut them, they will bleed. If you talk to them, they will listen. If you tell them they suck, they will believe you.

Be kind to fanfic authors. They do what they do because they love to do it. Don’t take that away from them by leaving tactless or rude comments.

Comments at the Post

Agreed, I write and post because I want people’s honest (though, I hope, polite) reactions to it. If social convention dictates people can only say positive things, then I will find myself trusting and valuing positive comments less - I don’t know how many negative things they may be thinking and holding back. And, as much as it sometimes stings to receive, I’ve found reviewer criticism incredibly helpful in the past. To me living in an environment where I know everyone will only say positive things about my fic is anxiety inducing, because I could be doing something badly which everyone else can see but no one will mention. If my flies are undone or there is green stuff caught in my teeth I’d rather the first person I met pointed it out so I could fix it, then go through the whole day not realising. Same goes for fic. Sometimes I get criticism that I flat out disagree with but it never hurts to reconsider what you’ve written, and if you’re conclusion is ‘no, sorry, I think my story is fine as it is’ at least you’ve had the opportunity to think about your position and make it stronger, and in any case it means something that the fic made enough of an impact for people to want to share their opinions of it even if it isn’t an opinion I agree with. If anyone out there is ever reading a fic of mine please don’t hold back from criticism!
I think there’s a huge difference between criticising something about a story and leaving rude comments. I’m sure no one wants to receive whiny comments à la “I don’t like pairing X why didn’t you write pairing Y now I’m so upset” (on a fic clearly tagged as X) or “bottom!X is my trigger how could you do that to me don’t you know you need to consider all my personal likes and dislikes in your tags and warnings” or “but X does this and this in canon why doesn’t he do it in your fic” (on a story written years before said detail was introduced into canon). But if there’s something wrong with my characterisation, for example, especially if it’s obvious that it’s a story I’ve worked hard on (going through the beta process and all that) - I really want other people to point that out. I love that overall we have a very positive feedback culture in fandom and of course we should shower the people with love who spend so much time creating wonderful things and sharing with the rest of us, but some of us also want to improve our writing, and we can only do that if people tell us what we’re doing wrong. So to all the readers following me: When I ask for feedback, I really mean all kinds of feedback, and I’m grateful for whatever you have to say!
[punk rock and good books]:
I never post criticism, unless they ask for constructive criticism or they slander a certain group of people openly in their fic, so I don’t get how you could be rude to authors! Don’t like, don’t read, it is that simple! And the slander a group of certain people thing, I do that in real life to, and that’s just me. I don’t even get along very well with my grandfather anymore because he tried to tell me to be homophobic, even though I had family (on the other side of the family) and friends that are LGBT. Sorry I’m ranting but I have been thinking about this a lot lately.
Hate to be the one to butt in and be annoying, but as a fanfic writer I want CONSTRUCTIVE criticism on my fics and I prefer that to just 100% complimenting me…of course there are times when I won’t agree with them, but if it’s OOC especially I want to know. I take pride in making sure my fanfictions portray the characters in scenarios where the reader could almost picture it being part of the original work to the point where I obsess over the structure of sentences. I know this post is meant to be positive and uplift fic writers, but don’t act like every writer abhors constructive criticism or being told it’s OOC. If readers aren’t bothering to review my fics and leave constructive criticism I’m honestly going to feel like the story is so bad that nobody cares enough to try to help me improve it or is interested in the story. Please don’t tell people not to leave constructive criticism or point out OOCness on any fics.
Constructive criticism is not an attack. It’s meant to help good works become better, and really good works to become great. It’s stuff like this crap that does nothing but protect the fragile egos of those who only want to hear praise and nothing else. Which is fine, but when you put your work up for public consumption, you are opening yourself to criticism, and it’s the job of the WRITER to learn how to tell the difference between unreasonable, unhelpful bashing and true criticism that can drive you to be BETTER than you are now. Posts like this really do more harm than good in the long run and will not help a writer improve. But go ahead and fight to shield those fee fees.
Seriously, do this, be respectful and ask if they want the criticism. I wrote a story when I was 13 (repeat THIRTEEN) and I still remember this super long comment that was a shit review about how bad the story was, and I tried to message them to say that I wished they had been nicer in how they critiqued me, and it blew up into this huge thing, I could not get them to stop. Ten years later, it still sticks with me.
[a mourning hope]:
Blessed Be and Amen. I wholeheartedly agree with everything above. Nothing is worse than having every little idea scrutinized and criticized. This is especially true if the work isn’t finished, or when the author (as I have had to do numerous times) has to end a chapter before it conforms to the intended summary (which they copied and pasted from their rough). Sometimes, we authors try and get things out quickly but, for whatever reason, are unable to complete a bit. Be kind. Say nothing that you could not stomach having someone say to you.
oh my god some of the comments on this post. writing fanfic does not mean you’re signing up for a creative writing workshop. people create because they want to and share because they want to and it’s not an automatic invitation for critique and it doesn’t mean they have to be doing it to ‘improve themselves’ they can just be doing it for fun and if that seems ‘pointless’ to you you might be surprised to learn that not everybody does things for the same reasons you do or wants the same things you do. your opinion, shockingly, is not always wanted or needed on someone else’s work. if you want constructive - or hell, harsh, whatever - critique on your work, say so. put that in the author’s notes. but it’s rude as hell of people to just assume their criticism is always welcome. that’s what this post is saying. it doesn’t mean no one should offer critique ever, it means make sure the creator wants it first. why does asking people to be polite and considerate offend you, exactly?
[story spinner]:
I think you mean well, but i also think you’re doing just what you tell critiquers not to - overstepping. You don’t speak for me, for example, nor for quite a few of the other fanfiction writers I’ve seen comment on this piece. This should have been about what not to put on your own fanfiction, but not everyone’s. Generalizations are never cool, and not at all helpful.Writers, if you don’t want critiques, say so. If you do, say so. Don’t expect people to be mind readers and then get upset when they get it wrong. If you’re fragile in how you take criticism, say so! There’s nothing wrong with it…it’s how you are. If you’ve got skin five feet thick and can take anything, say so! I had a BRUTAL editor, and she was the best thing every to happen to my fic. I’d get PISSED but realized it was just my ego and she was right. A couple things i didn’t change because she may not have liked them but they were what I wanted. Everyone writes for different reasons and with different outcomes in mind. If you can write a 1000-20000+ word story you can come up with a couple sentences telling the readers what you need from them. If it matters to you, let them know. Otherwise, you get what you get. You control your story. So do so. There will always be haters and rude people. You have to work though it and move on. Their sole purpose is being rude and destructive. How you respond to them is up to you. Don’t give them power if you can help it. If you ever need to talk, I for one, will always listen to anyone. I guarantee I’m not the only one either. If you need us, find us. We will help you. If you need us, find us. We will help you!
I am really, *really* bothered by this open letter. I don’t like the idea that you should deliver nothing but praise in comments, because everything else is mean. It robs fic comments of their honesty to do that. I’m now doubting every single comment I’ve gotten on any of my fics, because there is an overwhelming “niceness culture” in fic writing. Because of this open letter, my inner editor can now assert that positive comments on my work don’t mean anything, that people were just being nice because they must be nice, and not because any of my work is of decent quality, and everyone who left negative comments were the only honest people. So…thanks, I guess. it’s not like my crippling self doubt needed any more ammunition in the cause against me ever getting good at writing, but I supposed a gift is a gift. And maybe this is weird, maybe I’m going against the culture of fanfic writing, maybe i’m violating some implicit normative belief that fan fiction is purely for enjoyment and should not be taken seriously, but I work hard to make sure every story I turn out is an improvement on the last. I work SO hard to write better stories on multiple levels. I strive to improve my plotting and structure, my characterization, my setting and atmosphere and mood, my symbolism and motif, my every individual sentence, word choice, and comma placement. I work my ASS off to do these things. My aim, every single time, is to exceed the last thing I wrote, to do better. To deliver better stories, each one better than the last. I write to the best of my ability. I study writing with daily dedication. I read other works of fiction with an eye toward getting better myself. Saying that commenters must be nice means that all this work that I do doesn’t matter, and I shouldn’t even bother, that I am wrong for wanting to do my best and for wanting people to honestly tell me that what I am doing is working for them. Because all a fanfic reader has for acceptable reaction is to be nice. That’s…so not cool. Look, I understand that many, many people who write fanfic are just doing it for fun and they don’t want to hear *anything* that isn’t praise. They don’t want feedback on how they could improve. That’s fine, you know, whatever. continue to have fun for fun’s sake. But if that’s the only mode we’re allowed to perform in when writing fanwork, then maybe I don’t belong here.
I was appalled by the original post for a wide variety of reasons. First, many of us hope to be published someday, and part of why we post fanfiction is to improve our writing skills. It’s very useful to hear what people are thinking as our story progresses, but they have to be honest for that to work. So, I’ll take a thoughtful, well-written critique over a short “loved it” any day! Second, constructive criticism helps us find good people to talk with as we write, and that can spur interesting ideas and can give us reviewers. As an example, I found both of my beta readers when they pointed out mistakes I missed in a story. If they hadn’t been honest, I would have lost that opportunity. Third, I hate the assumption that we’re all fragile butterflies who will stop writing if anyone sends something other than blind praise our way. We’re human, so, yes, be polite and realize that we won’t always agree with you or take your advice, but if we can’t handle feedback, why are we posting in a public forum? And for the record, my reviews are honest, so please don’t let the original post make you doubt anything I’ve told you! :-)" * [?]: "It sounds like all the OP and all of the people reblogging the OP’s post without the commentary basically want people to heap praise on their fanfiction and don’t want to hear any suggestions for improvement. They feel their stuff is there to get them attention, and that’s not how posting into a public environment works. That’s not how art or creative projects introduced to the world work. You want people to look at and read the things you produce? Those people are going to have opinions on it. Good and bad. And you’re going to have to learn to cope with that. Honestly, there’s a lot of special snowflaking going on in the reblogs, and it’s all just a bit sad.
Srsly. And maybe this is just me, but I feel like fanfic criticism is another way of training authors who eventually want to publish not just to be better writers but to recognize when a critique has merit and when someone just has different tastes and/or is a troll. It’s not like paid authors don’t get ridiculously over the top criticisms. So learning to take a bad comment from an anon on the Internet is like training wheels for that literary critic who just plain doesn’t like your genre but is going to make out like it’s because you can’t write. I can look back four years to when I first started posting and every bad comment made me obsess for days, no matter how short. Now I can get an essay of why some minor detail of the story makes the whole thing not work, asses what it’s actually saying and come to the conclusion “u mad?”
Actually, you know what’s fucking sad? The fact that some people think they’re entitled to “good” fanfiction. The fact that some of the latter comments on this post think they are entitled to a critical opinion on a work of fanfiction that was written with nothing but the best intentions and love of a source material is appalling and depressing. But that’s the nature of gross entitlement. I am a hobbiest. I enjoy writing fanfiction because it’s good writing exercize, good critical thinking exercize, and a way for me to try and flesh out real world relationships and how they’re mirrored in fiction. It’s a study in popular culture, psychology, sociology, and host of other -ologies. I AM ALSO AN ADULT. Did you know that a huge chunk of fanfiction writers are not? That they’re young and may not be as receptive to criticism in any form? That may not speak English as a first language? THAT MAY BE NEW TO WRITING ALTOGETHER? How would you feel if you realized that your “helpful” comment on a fic detailing every splash of behavior you consider OOC was fourteen? Or younger? Younger than you at least. Because I’m adult with super thick skin and a decent pair of Big Girl Panties I can take that shit. Every day of the week and twice on Sunday, I can take it. And have. Writing is a personal experience. There’s a piece of you that’s left behind with every sentence you bang out. To have a total fucking stranger rip it apart in a HOBBIEST forum can really be a soul crusher. There’s a huge difference between constructive criticism (WHICH YOU SHOULD ASK THE AUTHOR IF THEY EVEN WANT BEFORE GIVING) and outright dislike of an element “this makes me sick” (an actual review I got this week). If you want to use fanfiction as a way to “train yourself for publishing” you go ahead and do that. Protip though: fanfiction reviews are nothing like book reviews. Published authors are encouraged NOT to read reviews and interact with readership-base. See: Kathleen Hale. You’re not entitled to fanfiction that pleases you. Unless you write that shit yourself and ASK someone you TRUST to help you out with various bits… just stop. The fanfiction I write is meant to amuse ME. I write the stories I want to read. Because it’s MY fic and MY fantasy. If you don’t like it or don’t want to be here, then nothing is stopping you from moving on. Comments and reviews aren’t the same as a wrting community. They just aren’t. Especially public comments. If you have a long-winded opinion on something and wish to offer advice or criticism don’t fucking do that shit in public. It’s not helping the author (which is what some of y'all purport to want to do) and it makes you look like a pretentious asshole. Despite what people like E.L. James would have you think fanfiction is NOT publishing. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make friends and be helpful. Want to gear up for publishing? Find a concrit community. Meet people and find someone you trust who actually knows their shit and isn’t just concern trolling fanfic writers. Take a class. Read more. But do fucking not come into my space with your harsh opinions on something I do for a goddamn hobby. Fandom is a rough enough ride. Don’t be a dick.
Fucking all of this.
Okay, I got it and I agree. Though I think I haven’t encountered any criticism or comments saying OOC in AO3 (at least from the fandoms I know). But this criticism and telling the author that the characters are OOC was happened in a lot in the past (though I don’t know about these days I seldom read in recently). How about in Is it okay or not (does suggestion for commenting in AO3 applied for too)??
I think this topic is still so relevant. A lot of people have pointed out the difference between giving constructive critisizm and leaving rude comments, and some authors have said that they want constructive critisizm on their fics to help improve. So clearly the answer to this discussion is not just ‘never say anything but positivity’.

For all the discussion on this topic however, i think the solution is pretty fucking simple:

- Are you an author who wants feedback on your fic? Simply write “i would like to receive constructive critisizm on this story” at the end of your fic.

- Are you a reader who wants to give feedback but the author didn’t specify whether the’re open to it or not? Simply copy paste this sentence into a message/ask/comment to them: “Do you want constructive critisizm on this story?”

Now all you have to do is wait for their reply and there you have your answer!

If they say yes, go right ahead and leave that constructive critisizm knowing the author appreciates this and you are helping them improve!

If they say no I think it’s pretty clear the’re not feeling up to it (maybe they’re going through a rough patch, feeling insecure, or just have no interest in listening to some random person on the internets opinion on whats wrong with their fic when chances are pretty slim the commenter is actually some legit literary genius who knows what their talking about). There is no point in leaving critisizm when the writer isn’t open to it and you are really just wasting your time.

Now, if they author doesn’t reply, they either aren’t checking their comments (which means there’s no point in leaving critisizm), or – and this is the likelier option – they don’t want to/don’t know how to say it but they don’t want your critisizm.

In short, giving unwanted critisizm is shitty, and giving wanted critisizm is helpfull.

I’m honestly not sure why this is such a hard concept to get, because it actually works the exact same way in realy life. If I’m ouside wearing an outfit, that doesn’t mean I want some random person to start ‘constructively critisizing’ my fashion sense. Similarly, just because something is publically available for viewing on the internet, doesn’t make it an automatic unspoken invitation for you to start critisizing it.

Tl;dr: Only give critisizm if the author has explicitly stated they want it.
I think this is a very necessary post, and I’m glad it’s still possible to reblog. My thoughts are thus, with the new option to ‘moderate’ comments on your Ao3 work, you can easily weed out comments which serve as critique which you disagree with, or if there are multiple error comments, happens sometimes.

it’s not to say you’re filtering out ALL things negative mindlessly, but it’s your work, and you shouldn’t have to publish things you don’t want people seeing in the comments.

if that makes sense???
SERIOUSLY THESE PEOPLE ARE BEAUTIFUL AND DESERVE RESPECT FOR THE LOVELY PIECES OF WORK AND ART THAT THEY MAKE also they give precious important updates so whatever u do plz don’t upset the author

Comments Elsewhere

I spent too many hours today researching fandom’s present-day hangups about constructive criticism, or any comment/review that isn’t 100% completely positive. Not that I’m against glowing reviews, they feel good to get! But blanket-stating anything even a fraction of a percent less as mean and horrible and cruel is… well. I don’t like to lie (sugarcoating), or hurt people (putting people down/discouraging them). Other than that, I follow general etiquette. Usually I don’t review at all unless I really like a story. And I always try to fit in something nice—honest, non-backhanded niceness. Never forced. If I can’t include something nice, I find it’s best not to leave a review. So now I’ve come to learn that apparently, even after leaving my days of sporky hyperbole behind, I’m still the devil incarnate. I wondered if me not getting it was a failure of character that I needed to fix immediately, if I was secretly a toxic person or something. Finding An Open Letter to Fanfic Readers, with its insistent absolutes, cleared things up a bit. That, and a bunch of other forum posts, comments, and articles, established that Niceness Culture in fandom is very much a thing now.[1]


  1. comment by rat-insatiable, January 2016