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.