Looking for Fan Writers 1

As people who remember the original version of the 2018 Hugo Ceremony before I used a time machine to erase those events and replace them with an alternate version where I didn’t attend, I’m not seeking nominations this year just in case the compulsion to run around the auditorium shouting conspiracy theories and throwing purple paint at people in the hope of revealing the invisible “supporting members” overcomes me again. Apologies to everybody had that particular timeline erased — honestly it was no worse than this one.

Instead, I’m clutching the ‘fan writer’ category to my heart and talking about the who-and-what of it. As always, this is really personal research dressed up as a fake expertise. I’m trying to describe a space of fan writing that makes talking about the field possible.

First thing: what do fan writers do? (My opinion obviously and your view may vary)

  • Write reviews of books, movies, TV shows etc. ‘Review’ here meaning an assessment of a particular output to help others judge its quality or to touch off discussion.
  • Write criticism about genre properties or a genre in general. Criticism is different from a review in that it is looking in depth at how a text functions.
  • Write advice about writing within SFF genres or of relevance to people who want to write in SFF genres
  • Write and collate news about popular culture/SFF genres
  • Write and collate news about fandom and fan culture
  • Write opinions and provoke discussion about popular culture/SFF genres
  • Write opinions and provoke discussion about fandom and fan culture
  • Collate and survey aspects of popular culture
  • Write ANY KIND OF THING that is intended to amuse or interest fans/fandom including non-fiction about adjacent things (e.g. technology, or social issue within popular culture etc) as well as fiction (in particular fiction that doesn’t fit into standard publishing categories by length or medium)

Put another way, fan writing is writing for fans/fandom that does not fit into conventional mediums of published works.

Fan writers will often be doing other things that are part of their general activity in this space but which I’d see as being seperate from the fan writing.

  • Writing about current events/politics etc in general (e.g. the overt political writing I do here is all part of the unitary thing-that-I-do but for the purposes of judging me as a ‘fan writer’ it’s seperate).
  • Actual day-job stuff. For me there zero overlap and a wall of personal identity between the two but for many there’s a less clear distinction, which is fine. I’d count John Scalzi’s blog & Twitter account as places where he does fan writing. Sam Syke’s weird Twitter threads count in my book (not suggesting anybody nominates either of them – the examples are purely illustrative)
  • Official position stuff. The SWFA President writes stuff in their role that fits some of the list above but which I wouldn’t count as fan writing.

As I’ve discussed before, trying to make an not-for-pay/for-pay distinction isn’t a viable one: Patreon and other crowd funding models help keep people writing who otherwise couldn’t afford to.

A more complex question is where fan writing happens. Spending time recently diving back into the last eight years of Hugo nominations for Fan Writer made me pay attention to how significant LiveJournal communities (and similar blogging platforms) where in the fan writing space prior to the disrupted years of Sad Puppy activity. For lots of reasons, in the intervening years, that changed. Not just LiveJournal but blogging in general declined. Although the demise of Twitter has also been predicted, it is still a focus of fannish exchange. Goodreads as a hub and community of reviewers has grown in strength. Facebook is not a platform I use much or have much affinity for but is also a place that maintains fannish communities. Patreon and Medium each provide models by which people can write in a space that allows for some degree of compensation.

One net effect of these changes is that some fan writing is not as casually accessible as it was. A second effect is difference in platform encourage different kinds of writing: Facebook leads to shortish, community focused posts, Patreon & Medium long form writing, and Twitter’s character count leads to more novel experimentation.

Of course online fanzines and fan sites continue and remain places central to fan writing.

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34 thoughts on “Looking for Fan Writers 1

  1. Well, and I’d add — don’t forget some of the old skewl folks that do PDF fanzines over on efanzines.com. That’s fan writing too, even if nobody really ever pays attention to it anymore. (That said, once I finish up this generalist zine I’m working on now, I’m going to try to do something a bit audacious and over the top with the next issue. We’ll see how it works out.)

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  2. With regard to your third item, I disagree that that is Fan Writing. Advice for writers is directed at people who are, or want to be, professional writers, and while it’s great stuff, I won’t be nominating it for Fan Writing or its authors for Fan Writer.

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    1. There are overlaps, but I wouldn’t nominate e.g. Kristine Kathryn Rusch or Janice Hardy or Dean Wesley Smith for best fan writer based on their blogging about writing.

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      1. Nor what Jason Sanford’s been doing on his Patreon. It’s hugely helpful to writers / aspiring writers, but it’s not Fan Writing.

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  3. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the “Fan Writing” venue issue. I love Liz Bourke’s reviews at Tor.com, but don’t feel as though I can nominate her for Fan Writer any more, because she produces almost nothing SFF-related on her blog or Patreon. That’s why I was so glad her book of reviews made the ballot for Best Related Work (I nominated and voted for it).

    Likewise, look at this list of eligible “Fan Writing” works. With the exception of the Book Smugglers piece, I would call all of this, Tor.com and the Barnes & Noble Blog, professional writing — and there’s not much of it, anyway. Given the rules about Fan Writing:
    Any person whose writing has appeared in semiprozines or fanzines or in generally available electronic media during the previous calendar year.
    Yes, it’s “generally-available”, but it’s certainly not in a semiprozine or fanzine-type venue, and I would expect it to not be considered as qualifying work by the Hugo Admin if this person made the ballot. And I generally expect a significant amount of Fan Writing from someone during the year before I will be willing to consider putting them on my ballot. A handful of posts does not constitute a sufficient body of work for me, unless they are very lengthy and content-heavy.

    Also, the deluge of posts by everyone who written a blog post or essay over the last year saying “Nominate my essay for Best Related Work!” really has me rolling me eyes. That’s just one more egregious offense for which I blame the Puppies — that people now think of individual blog posts and essays as being “Best Related Work” quality. I will pretty much only nominate and vote for a significant work or body of work in that category, and a blog post or essay is just too insubstantive for that, in my opinion.

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    1. I don’t want to start proposing new award categories but I there are gaps that create issues. There’s not a pro-mag category so the question of what Tor.com has not been tested in a positive sense. BRW is the only category for non-fiction (& it’s not exclusive to that) leaving fan writer the only category for short non-fiction. Not suggesting there should be a Hugo for essays specifically though

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      1. camestrosfelapton: There’s not a pro-mag category so the question of what Tor.com has not been tested in a positive sense.

        Ah, but it has. Artwork published on Tor.com is eligible for Professional Artist, and is not eligible for Fan Artist. Surely the same would apply to the writing published there.

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    2. I agree that it’s a problem that the work of reviewers and critics like Liz Bourke, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, Emily Asher-Perrin, Leah Schnelbach, Paul Di Filippo, Sarah Gailey and others has appeared mainly in pro-venues like Tor.com, Daily Dot, B&N, etc… that I can’t really nominate them for best fan writer based solely on things published in pro venues. Though I see that Gavia Baker-Whitelaw has a fan site listed at the spreadsheet of doom as well.

      I don’t like the trend of nominating single essays for best related work either, though for once the puppies aren’t to blame for that (though they pushed it to the max) but Kameron Hurley’s essay “We have always fought” getting nominated and winning in 2014. But the problem is that the best related workj category has become a sort of catch-all for anything from academic non-fiction books via popular non-fiction books and art books (though those have their own categories this year) to single essays/articles and even podcasts like Writing Excuses or a Seanan McGuire filk CD. Splitting best related into non-fiction long and non-fiction short might help (plus art book, if it proves viable, otherwise it goes back into non-fiction long), though that leaves the offbeat candidates out. The filk CD should have gone into dramatic presentation anyway, since that’s the category for music as well as film, TV, theatre and audio drama. Writing Excuses is the only one that doesn’t really fit, because it doesn’t fit into fancast due to professional production values.I also have to admit that I no-awarded Writing Excuses when it was nominated in best related work, because for me it didn’t belong in that category. Just as I no-awarded a Campbell finalist, because their qualifying work had been self-published four years before and only fell into the Campbell time frame due to a publisher picking it up.

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      1. I think the extent to which BRW has become a ragbag is often exaggerated. The great majority of finalists are still books, especially if we ignore the Puppy years. (All last year, all but one the previous year.) Whether they are the right sort of book is another matter, but there’s no way the rules can deal with that.

        Since the rule change in 2010, there have been the following non-Puppy non-book finalists
        Writing Excuses (three times)
        Wicked Girls
        ‘We Have Always Fought’.
        ‘The Women of Harry Potter’.

        Writing Excuses looks fair to me – it’s the sort of material that would historically have appeared in a book, and is the kind of thing the rule change was presumably meant to capture. I also think a series at Tor.com is the sort of thing that makes sense as a nominee, though ‘The Women of Harry Potter’ was a bit short for something that’s meant to compete with whole books

        I agree that ‘We Have Always Fought’ was an odd nominee, and would have been better treated as qualifying its author for Fan Writer (and even if you don’t think that’s the right way to decide Fan Writer, she did in fact win Fan Writer on the basis of it, which makes it rather pointless that she should win BRW as well).

        i>Wicked Girls would have gone better in Dramatic Presentation, like ‘F*** Me, Ray Bradbury’ or the Clipping material – the Clipping nominations actually suggest that people have now realised this.

        I don’t think this is enough to imply there is a serious problem.

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  4. That blog posts and essays were eligible for Best Related Work was established before the main Puppy onslaught, with ‘We Have Always Fought’. I didn’t like it either, but it’s a settled thing. (In fact it doesn’t seem to have flooded the category, though at one moment it looked like doing so: most of the finalists are still books.)

    One could have a BRW Short Form award, which would allow BRW Long Form to continue to be about books, while Fan Writer continued to be for consistent bodies of work. It would not be as disruptive as some new Hugos, since the finalists would all be quite short. If BRW had in fact been flooded with essays this might have been the way to deal with it, but as it hasn’t been, there’s little point.

    As for Tor.com::
    a. It undoubtedly fits the letter of the rule, being generally available (and that being so I think the administrator would have great difficulty throwing stuff published there out)
    b. It probably doesn’t fit the intention of the rule, not being the kind of kind of generally available electronic medium which existed in 1990 or whenever it was: and the rule in its classic form was clearly meant to cover only non-professional publications, while Tor.com is pro by the ‘quarter of someone’s income’ principle.
    c. But on the other hand, as I keep saying, the pro/non-pro distinction gets harder and harder to make sense of, and I think it may be more sensible to treat the categories as basically just divided up by the kind of work they contain. A lot of what we see at Tor.com is the kind of work that would classically have appeared in fanzines, it’s written by fans and for fans – it often isn’t their profession – so it makes sense to call it fan writing.

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    1. Andrew M: That blog posts and essays were eligible for Best Related Work was established before the main Puppy onslaught, with ‘We Have Always Fought’. I didn’t like it either, but it’s a settled thing.

      That one essay (which, incidentallly, kept a really substantive work about Afrofuturism off the ballot) didn’t settle it. It was 2016, with all of the Puppy essays, which settled it.

      Andrew M.: If BRW had in fact been flooded with essays this might have been the way to deal with it, but as it hasn’t been, there’s little point.

      Oh but dear gods, if you eliminated all of the social media posts by people trying to get their essay nominated for Best Related Work, it would cut down on the noise by half. 🙄

      And in 2017, the 6th-place nominee and the 7th place were very insubstantive essay works which kept an art book and two very substantial non-fiction books off the ballot. I really resent that.

      As far as Tor.com, if the artwork there is not Hugo-Fan-Category-eligible, I don’t see how the writing there can be Hugo-Fan-Category-eligible.

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      1. My preference in best related work is for serious and substantial non-fiction, too, but that doesn’t seem to match the preferences of the majority of the electorate. Also see John Scalzi’s collected blogposts beating Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy and Paul Kincaid’s What Is It We Do When We Read Science Fiction in 2008, even though the latter two were exactly what best related work should honour and Scalzi already won a (deserved) best fanwriter Hugo for his blogging. Or Writing Excuses beating The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn in 2013.

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      2. Your distinction makes sense and I note that the Hugo Award FAQ explicitly says professional writing shouldn’t be nominated. However, the rules for Fan Artist overtly say “non-professional” and the rules for Fan Writer don’t:

        3.3.17: Best Fan Artist. An artist or cartoonist whose work has appeared through publication in semiprozines or fanzines or through other public, non-professional, display (including at a convention or conventions), during the previous calendar year.

        3.3.16: Best Fan Writer. Any person whose writing has appeared in semiprozines or fanzines or in generally available electronic media during the previous calendar year.

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      3. That’s a relic of when the Old Guard tried to shut out internet Fanzines, Fan Writers, and Fancasts, and inadvertently ended up getting more, rather than less, included into the re-written rules.

        The whole point of the Fan categories, and what the rules are trying (albeit imperfectly) to enforce, is that the works and creators eligible for Fanzine, Fan Writer, Fan Artist, and Fancast are those which are producing things free of compensation — donated freely for the enjoyment of fandom.

        Tor.com and B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog are prozines, and the people writing and producing art for them are compensated with money (however paltry that payment might be). That’s why the art is ineligible for Fan Artist work but eligible for Professional Artist work, and why the writing is ineligible for Fan Writer.

        No one is disputing that those writers are fans who are producing their work for a fan audience. They are not, however, under the Hugo rules, eligible as Fan Writers for the paid work they do for prozines.

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      4. The whole point of the Fan categories, and what the rules are trying (albeit imperfectly) to enforce, is that the works and creators eligible for Fanzine, Fan Writer, Fan Artist, and Fancast are those which are producing things free of compensation — donated freely for the enjoyment of fandom.

        The definitions of fan writer and fan artist explicitly say that work in semiprozines, which is compensated, is eligible.

        The definition of professional publication, which could have been so phrased as to make everything which pays its contributors professional, which would have been clear, unambiguous and easy to administer, instead goes for the weird ‘quarter of someone’s income’ criterion, clearly with the intention that paying someone sixpence should not automatically make you professional.

        Historically the system made perfect sense. Pro work was divided from non-pro work purely by circulation. Within the non-pro category, fanzines were divided from semiprozines by payment. But work in both fanzines and semiprozines counted for Fan Artist and Fan Writer (explicitly and deliberately). The effect was to divided stuff published for the wider world from stuff published for the fannish community, which was a perfectly reasonable aim. It was a bit weird that ‘fan’ meant one thing in ‘fanzine’ and another in ‘fan artist’ and ‘fan writer’, but the rules were perfectly clear on this, and there was a reason for it.

        However, the internet made the definition in terms of circulation unworkable, so we got the ‘quarter of someone’s income’ criterion. This poses all sorts of problems, but is presumably meant to capture the idea of ‘not their actual profession’ (though it doesn’t really do that, since whether the publication provides a quarter of someone’s income is irrelevant to the particular artist or writer in question). In any case, ‘non-professional’ still doesn’t mean ‘unpaid’.

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  5. All’s I know at this point is that I’m nominating O. Westin for @MicroSFF. That fits the letter AND the spirit, and I’m so often moved, and always impressed by how much s/he packs into such a small space, so often.

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  6. Someone once mentioned nominating Jo Walton’s writing on Tor.com for Fan Writing, and she replied that she was ineligible because she got paid for them. Just a data point.

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  7. Andrew M: The definitions of fan writer and fan artist explicitly say that work in semiprozines, which is compensated, is eligible. The definition of professional publication, which could have been so phrased as to make everything which pays its contributors professional, which would have been clear, unambiguous and easy to administer, instead goes for the weird ‘quarter of someone’s income’ criterion, clearly with the intention that paying someone sixpence should not automatically make you professional.

    But the Tor.com blog and the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog are very explicitly prozines. You can’t tell me that the owners and managers of Tor.com and Barnes and Noble don’t get at least one-quarter of their income from those enterprises; of course they do. And artwork in those prozines is not considered eligible for Fan Artist, so the writing surely can’t be considered eligible for Fan Writer, either.

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    1. Actually, I’m pretty sure that Tor.com and all of Tor isn’t even a blip on the balance sheet of Verlagsgruppe Holtzbrinck, one of the biggest publishing conglomerates in the world. As for B&N, they’re perpetually dying, but I don’t think they’re that far gone that one of their reader blogs makes up a quarter of their income.

      That said, I agree with JJ that Tor.com, the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy blog, io9, Den of Geek, SyFy Fangrrls, etc… are pro-venues, the online equivalent of professional print magazines. .

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      1. The “one-quarter of the income” applies to the people who manage the blog sites, not to the entire company. I’m sure that managing those blogs is a full-time, paid positon for the people who have that job — they are responsible for hiring and firing, and approving content, or at least for overseeing the content approvers.

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      2. Irene Gallo is still Topr’s art director as well as responible for Tor.com, but for whoever is responsible for the B&N blog (Jeff Somers, Joel Cunningham, Sam Reader?) and io9 (Beth Elderkin, Cheryl Eddy, James Whitbrook, Germain Lussier, Charles Pulliam-Moore?) it probably is a full-time job.

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      3. Yes, and you can be sure that Asimov’s does not provide one-quarter of the income for Dell Magazines, but it certainly does for Sheila Williams, for whom it is a full-time job, which is why it is also considered a prozine. Just as the Tor.com blog and the B&N blog are prozines.

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      4. The rule also includes ‘published by an organisation which provides more than a quarter of anyone’s income’, which Tor as a whole clearly does.

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    2. But the Tor.com blog and the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog are very explicitly prozines

      That is certainly true. There is more than one point here.

      a. The reference to semiprozines shows, I think fairly clearly, that the intent is not to recognise only uncompensated work It is to recognise non-professional work, where that is defined more broadly.

      b. On the other hand Tor.com, as you say, is a professional venue, and so the intent of the rule does not cover it. if it were a print publication, the letter of the rule would clearly rule it out. In fact, the letter of the rule does not, but that is a historical accident. It would therefore be better not to nominate people who write only at Tor.com (if there is anyone who writes only there)..

      I think, however, that if the rules were amended so as to explicitly allow writing at things like Tor.com (by non-staff writers, at least), this would not be a subversion of their purpose; the work is created by fans for fans, and not as part of their profession, and that’s the nearest I can get to an underlying idea of ‘fan writer’. It’s weird that work published at Strange Horizons would count but work published at Tor.com wouldn’t. (Or has SH upgraded to pro now? If so, substitute whichever leading semiprozine hasn’t. But the fact that they keep upgrading shows how weird the distinction is.)

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