Seven things I think everybody should know about fandom.

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Title: Seven things I think everybody should know about fandom. (subtitled: "Seven Things About Fandom, According To Me")
Creator: Liviapenn
Date(s): April 21, 2003
Medium: LiveJournal post
Fandom: mentions Joss Whedon, Smallville but applies to all fandoms
External Links: page 1; archive link page one; archive link page two; archive link page three; archive link page four
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Seven things I think everybody should know about fandom. is a 2003 essay by Liviapenn.

The author comments that "I'm planning to edit it a bit and submit it to cereta's Symposium" but this did not occur.

The essay has 74 comments.

Some Topics Discussed in the Essay and the Comments

From the Essay

(1) Fanfiction *is* real writing. Fanart *is* real art.

Most fanfiction is not as good as most published writing. This is just a given, and it will always be a given as long as one thing is free and one thing costs money. However, there is nothing *inherently* lesser about playing in someone else's sandbox. Writing about someone else's characters doesn't *automatically* mean that your story is not as good as something written with original characters. "Great Literature" is full of re-tellings and re-interpretations of previously told stories. Jean Rhys got huge critical acclaim for "Wide Sargasso Sea," the untold story of Rochester's first wife in Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre." So did "The Red Tent" by Anita Diamant, which retells the Biblical story of Dinah. Or "The Wind Done Gone" by Alice Randall, a biting critical satire of "Gone With The Wind" told from the point of view of Scarlett O'Hara's mixed-race half-sister, or "Lo's Diary" by Pia Pera, a re-write of Nabokov's "Lolita" from Lolita's POV. Even if you don't make up your own *plots,* that doesn't mean it's not "real literature--" if I get started on fairy tales retold, we'll be here all day, from Disney movies to "Snow, Glass, Apples" by Neil Gaiman, Robin McKinley's "Beauty," "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire, and "Briar Rose" by Jane Yolen. Or try Jane Smiley's "A Thousand Acres," which is a modern re-telling of 'King Lear,' which Shakespeare himself stitched together from other stories written before *he* was born.


Some people argue that fanfiction takes less skill than original fiction. Perhaps. I'd say it requires *different* skills to write excellent fanfiction than it does to write excellent original fiction, just as it takes different skills to write novels than it does to write short stories, plays or scripts. Fanfiction doesn't depend heavily on description, so a fanfic author might struggle with that when attempting to write original fic. On the other hand, a person who wants to write TV scripts doesn't necessarily need to be good at description at all-- they need to be good at things that that a good fanfic writer has lots of practice in already. Being able to capture multiple characters' "voices" accurately. Being able to extrapolate new character traits that are interesting, maybe even surprising, but at the same time believable and "true" to the character. Having a sense of what would be an interesting story for Character X, what kind of story *fits* in the world you're attempting to write in.

(2) You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.

When you join a fandom, unless it's a tiny fandom or you're just unbelievable hot shit like nothing that's ever been seen before, you are not going to get instant love. You are probably not even going to get noticed. I wasn't. In my first slash fandom, I remember looking at all the stories that I really, really loved, the people I considered the "good" authors. And I looked at their author's notes and I realized that they all beta'd each other! And sometimes they even collaborated, and how did they all get to know each other, and why couldn't *I* be part of the cool kids group? Yeah. I was jealous and sulky. So. I kept writing, and I worked *really hard* on my stories-- probably a lot harder than I work now, to be honest. And I answered all the feedback that I got, and I participated in onlist discussion, and wow. Made friends. What a concept.

What I *didn't* do was post to list or livejournal about how the fandom was cliquey and oppressive and unwelcoming, because I think I realized even at the time that (1) just because some people were already talking to each other by the time I got to the party doesn't mean they're purposely trying to shut me out, and (2) being whiny and calling people names is not exactly the kind of attractive behavior that wins friends and influences people.

(2a) I never promised you a rose garden.

Has there been enough discussion about fannish entitlement lately? I think not. Let's have more! *grins*

Fandom doesn't come with guarantees. Let me say that again. Fandom comes with NO GUARANTEES. It's an amazing place, and you can get a ton of stuff out of it-- personal growth, growth as a writer or artist, awesome friends, ego strokes-- but you are not *guaranteed* any of it. You do not have a right to complain if you don't get it, because nobody ever *promised* it to you. It's like complaining about not winning the lottery. Nobody ever promised you would, okay?

You are not guaranteed to make awesome friends. You do not have a right to be popular. Nobody promised you a free place to put your stuff. You are not automatically going to get feedback on your work, even if it's excellent and you deserve it. Nobody promised to rec you. You do not have a right to demand that your favorite writer should write faster, or should stop writing other pairings and write the pairing *you* like. Nobody promised that your favorite author would always stay in your fandom. Nobody promised you that your stories would always be safe from criticism. Nobody promised that your show would have a happy ending. Nobody promised your show would always be slashy. Nobody promised your show wouldn't slide into a pit of suck and never recover. Nobody promised your show wouldn't get cancelled.

(3) There are rules for a reason.

Remember when you were eight and your mom told you that you couldn't cut your own hair, or have an entire jar of marshmallow fluff for dinner? And you were like, "Heh, that's a stupid rule," and you went ahead and did it anyway, and then there was badness? And you were like, "Well, jeez, I didn't know *that* was going to happen," and your mom said, in effect, "I don't just make this shit up, you know! I tell you these things for an actual reason!" Well, it's the same in fandom.

Different fandoms have different customs, but every fandom you are ever going to be in will have guidelines delineating what's acceptable behavior and what's just not. These guidelines are not arbitrary; they have evolved over time because they're *necessary.* Usually they're based on concepts like "Don't draw the attention of The Man," and the reason they've evolved is because people get hurt if you break them. Because *whole fandoms* get hurt if you break them. There's a reason we don't out each other to our bosses. There's a reason you don't give vids to Joss. There's a reason you don't archive stories without permission. Trust me. There is.

(4) No, it's not "just" fandom.

"It's just a stupid TV show!" "It's just fanfiction, it's not *real* art!" "It's just gay porn!" Don't even start. Yes, there comes a time when we all need to back away and realize that it's not a matter of life and death if someone is a bitch to you on LJ, but you know what? If something is worth doing, it's worth getting passionate about.

(5) Disagreement is not a personal attack.

Criticism. It may hurt your feelings when people criticise your stories, or your OTP, or your favorite character. But they're just expressing an opinion, and they have every right to do that. What they're *not* doing is insulting you personally, and you'll be a lot happier in fandom if you learn the difference. 95% of the time, when someone criticises your story, they're not doing it because they personally dislike you. Yes, there are mean, crazy people in fandom who will criticise your work because they *do* hate you. Ignore these people. But most of the time, when people say "I felt this story was flawed because..." and then they explain why-- you can actually *learn* from that. They're not saying it to be cruel because they enjoy hurting feelings. If they wanted to be cruel, they'd probably say something mean about *you*, not your work. Most of the time, people criticize fiction because they enjoy it, and they think it promotes more awareness of what makes stories good, which theoretically leads to better fiction for everyone. And they expect you to be grown-up enough not to take it personally. So don't.

(6) People liking different things than the things you like is not oppression.

If you like a certain character or pairing or fandom, and someone else posts regularly about how that's a horrible character and an icky pairing and a stupid fandom, yes. That gets incredibly annoying, and depending on who it's coming from, sometimes it even hurts. But it's not a personal attack. I can dislike a story you write and say so publically, and still like you as a person. I can say "I think Chloe/Pete is unlikely and squicky" and not be insulting Chloe/Pete writers personally. I can say "I dislike Everwood, the show," and that is not an insult to Everwood, the fandom. It's just an opinion.

People being indifferent to the things you love is also not an attack. Conversely, people *liking* something a lot is also not a personal attack. Just because someone is a slasher, that doesn't automatically mean they hate het stories and actively work to suppress them by flaming and discouraging het writers. And vice versa. Just because someone recs a lot of angsty fic, that doesn't mean there's not a place for your domestic fic.

(7) Do it your own damn self.

The whole spirit of fanfiction, (of any creative work in media fandom, really) is "Do it your own damn self." You look at your source material and you say, "Okay, there's the premise, and that's very nice, now *I'm* going to do it *my* way, the way *I* like it, with the things *I* want to see." I like this attitude; it's active as opposed to passive, creative as opposed to receptive. Fandom is full of people who have what they want because they got off their ass (or, well, sat down on their ass) and did it their own damn self. Learn from these people.

So you want there to be a particular kind of story in your fandom? *Write some*. If you can't write, then do recs, or put out a challenge, or do covers, or just *talk about* the kind of thing you like and put some ideas in people's heads. Don't just sit there waiting, because that won't get it done.

Is there no recs page in fandom that recs the stories *you* think are good? Start one. Are you on a list that you think sucks hardcore? So I was I, which is why I started my own. Is there not an archive for the kind of stories you like? Make one. It's not that hard. If you don't like the way someone's doing something, *do it your own damn self.*

And of course this isn't always possible. Not everyone has time to run a list. Not everyone can write. Not everyone has the technical expertise to run an archive, or the equipment to do screencaps, or the space to host them. But you can *always* do *something,* and if you can't do it yourself, you can at least offer to *help*. Or bribe them. Bribery often works in fandom. Complaining because you feel entitled to get what you want, and have things done the way you like, without putting any effort into it at all? Usually doesn't.

Some Fan Comments at the Post


I have nothing to contribute but a very large WORD and to wish I had been privy to this a year ago when I was stumbling around trying to figure out what fandom was all about.



Thoughtful. Cogent. Well-written. Occasionally funny, in my favorite biting way.

You ought to see if cereta will take this for the Symposium, because it's practically an essay.


[raincitygirl]: Danke, danke, danke. It needed saying, and seldom has it been said so concisely and so well. Yay for Livia.

[swanswan]: Livia - this is a really good post. I have been slightly off-centre about the current wave of rule-making for fandom. As a newbie poster, long-time lurker, it seemed to carry with it an aura of laying-down-the-law. I KNOW this wasn't the intention, but you see things differently from the outside, I guess! Anyway, I didn't see anything like that here - you posted some uncommon sense, m'lady.


I have been slightly off-centre about the current wave of rule-making for fandom. As a newbie poster, long-time lurker, it seemed to carry with it an aura of laying-down-the-law. I KNOW this wasn't the intention, but you see things differently from the outside, I guess!

Well, people love fandom, and they feel very protective of it, so I can understand wanting to actually carve the laws in stone. ;) I don't envy the people whose task that actually *is*-- this is more just advice, the kind of thing people should know 'cause they'll just generally get along better if they know it ahead of time-- at least I think so, anyway.


This is just a given, and it will always be a given as long as one thing is free and one thing costs money.

Well, I think there are instances where the free things are better, like free software for example. Sure, free software does not mean 'cost free', companies sell free software (with the offer of support, for example) or add non-free programs into their package, like some of the Linux installation tools, but the majority is licensed under the GPL, that guarantees the right to copy programs, so I don't need to get my copy from someone who charges me for it. So obviously many people make money with free software, because it does not equal 'non-commercial,' but I didn't have to pay for the software on my computer, and I like working on Linux much better than any windows experiences I had. And the initial reason to change was not least that I just can't afford to buy programs at the prices of windows, office or photoshop, but didn't want the hassle and risk of getting and maintaining illegal copies.

Practically *every comic book story and graphic novel ever written,* and every picture ever drawn of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etcetera.

Well, a large percentage of (continental) European comics (and of American non-mainstream comics as well) is with original characters that won't reappear drawn or witten by others. So while the point is very valid, I don't think the statement is true if put this way.


Well, I think there are instances where the free things are better, like free software for example.

Well, that's kind of my point, actually. Things that are free don't necessarily *have to be* inferior to things that cost money. But in most cases, it's a matter of expectations. If I have to spend money for something, i expect it to be a quality product. When I get something for free, or when I give something away for free, those expectations are lower (if they're there at all.)

As a general rule, you get what you pay for, which is why a lot of fanfic sucks. But I still think that, for example, on her worst day, Rheanna's a better writer than Michael Romkey, and any of her Angel fanfiction is *much* than any of his vampire novels. He's published; that doesn't make him magically one step above all fanfic writers ever. She doesn't (and can't) get paid for her art; that doesn't make her *inherently* lesser. Quality is quality.


Part of everything you're saying is that actions (or inactions) have consequences - and that people should stop for a minute and think about what those consequences might be. There's nothing you listed above (and that's a mighty fine list, m'dear) that isn't equally true in world. And if anything, fandom's responses to "transgressions" are *less* painful and *less* catastrophic than similar responses 'out there' would be.

A negative response from fandom to one's bad or thoughtless or short-sighted or selfish or whiny behavior doesn't result in the loss of a job or being expelled from university or having one's house burnt down or being the victim of a drive-by shooting - except in the most metaphorical of ways, which is the sense in which fandom is most like junior high (yes, yes...there are occasionally real drive-by shootings in junior high, but that just reinforces my point above about the difference between consequences in fandom and in the real world).

Although - and I suppose this might come vaguely under the "I never promised you a rose garden" banner - there are times in fandom when things just aren't fair. You go in and you send feedback and you talk on lists (minding the list culture's rules) and you offer to do friendly things for people like make icons or beta *still* don't have friends and no one likes your stories or your vids and the fandom basically sucks and it's just not your fault. That *does* happen. Sometimes people *are* just mean to you for whatever reason. And that's when you just have to...I don't know...find another fandom, I suppose, or find another interest entirely. The thing is, despite rumors to the contrary, there really aren't secret rulers of fandom whose responsibility it is to make everyone feel welcome and happy. Fandom is just other people...just like the rest of the world.


The thing is, despite rumors to the contrary, there really aren't secret rulers of fandom whose responsibility it is to make everyone feel welcome and happy. Fandom is just other people...just like the rest of the world.

Heh. It's kinda like that story about the gatekeeper. The travellers ask him, "what kind of people live in this city?" and he asks them, "Well, what were the people like where you came from?" If they say "stupid and rude," he says, "Well, you'll find that this city is full of stupid, rude people too." If they say wonderful, brilliant people, then he says "You'll find this city is also full of wonderful, brilliant people."

I was actually in a discussion once with someone who thought Smallville fandom was a horrible, contentious place (not that she was part of it, which she admitted, but she had a good friend in the fandom who'd told her so) and of course it was that way because of the tiny cabal of evil people who were just mean and horrible and ruining it for everyone else. She then went on to say that *all fandoms* were ruled by evil cabals, because every fandom *she'd* ever been in had been like that, with a couple of horrible people out to ruin everyone else's fun.

I just felt like asking her, "Did you hear what you *just said?*" *shakes head* Of course there'll be nasty people and kerfuffles in every fandom, and there'll also be nasty people and kerfuffles in sports fandom and model horse fandom and the SCA and the ultimate frisbee league and, you know, anything else that's *made of people*. You can deal with it by saying that fandom's a great place with a few rotten apples, or you can claim those rotten apples ruin it for the whole bunch, but at a certain point you have to realize that *your attitude* is a big part of how you experience fandom, and if you believe that every fandom you're in is inevitably going to be disappointing and horrible, well, I won't be very surprised when you continue to be disappointed in fandom. *shrug*


Hi. You don't know me, but I think I may love you.

No, let me elaborate: I love what you've written here. Because all. of. it. is. fucking. true.

I'd be more coherent but I just woke up and I followed this from a link on my friends page and I just need to say thank you. Some things need to be said and sometimes I'm too much of a shit to say them.

I may have to quote you multiple times when I write my novel about geekdom, would you mind?

[ex niciasus652]:

Excellent article. It tells so much about fandom and its culture and how one should proceed, and therefore, could act accordingly. I think this should be given out as a prerequisite to new fans joining in on various lists and communities like Live Journal. At least they would learn the aspects of how fandom operates much sooner instead of pondering as to why fandom culture is the way it is.

Of course, it won't help those who thrive on being the ultimate ass.

[meri oddities]: I suspect you're preaching to the choir, but well said! Thank you for saying it.

[iamrosalita]: Word. So very, very word. Not only should newbies be required to read this, they should have to take a test on it.