Posted in Nitpicks

Professional Fanfiction: Response to critics

An author’s response to critics is most telling to me. A certain amount of hurt is to be expected. I, as a writer, understand that disparaging remarks about your work are hard to hear. After putting so much time, energy and thought into your work it can be hard not to take criticism personally.

Now this is a trait that is not confined merely to the authors of “professional fan fiction” there are plenty of legitimately good authors who still can’t take criticism. (At least not well.) But I write this into my theory because I see many “professional fan fiction” authors who not only refuse to admit faults in their work, they also become nasty when it is pointed out to them. Not all but a lot of them.

Some common responses than an author (and sometimes the fandom) will be some variation of the following.

1. I didn’t write it for you.

2. Don’t like, don’t read.

3. If you read it, you’re obviously a fan.

4. Like you could do any better.

5. You just don’t get it. 

All of these rebuttals are problematic in ways that I’m not sure if the authors realize. I’ll try to elaborate on each.

I didn’t write it for you

Oh? Who did you write if for then? True,  the story may have started off as a personal project, written just for fun, but it ceased to be that when you submitted it for publication.

When a work becomes available for public consumption, it also becomes the subject of public opinion.If it becomes popular enough to receive critical attention, then it will probably have a fanbase that staunchly defends it. Why not pay attention to those people, than to the book snobs like me who pick things apart? Why go looking for affirmation in a place you know you won’t find it?

I don’t think I’m alone in the opinion that published works should be held to a higher standard than say self-published works or fanfiction. Those mediums are expected to be bad. There is a lot of garbage literature pumped through those channels. Publishing companies have been trusted to be the gatekeepers that ensure quality in their products.

So yes, if you put it out there, I am entitled to have an opinion on it, whether you like that opinion or not.

 Don’t like, Don’t read

Authors (and fans) who say this are trying to shut down discussion, passive aggressively putting the blame on the reader. This line of reasoning blames the reader for being dissatisfied, instead of questioning where the book may have failed or offended in some way.

This line of reasoning often goes in tandem with If you read it, you’re a fan. I have read all four Twilight books and the novella. I groan every time I read them. I am allowed to read a book that I may not like, and to continue in the same series. I don’t have to like to read. True, I agree that for most people life is too short to read books you dislike. But there are people like me who read to be challenged. I do not always read for pleasure. Many times I read to test my critical thinking skills and to challenge my own sensibilities as a writer.

These are perfectly valid reasons to read a book, even a book you don’t necessarily like. By reading where other books fail, they can enrich their own experiences by being able to identify what makes other books great.

If you read it, you’re a fan

I personally find this the most ludicrous out of all the excuses I’ve seen. I absolutely do not need to be a fan to read something, or to decide to continue the series. I’ll use Anita Blake as an example. I do not like Anita’s character, I don’t personally care for Hamilton’s writing style, and I find the sheer amount of lovers Anita Blake has on standby absurd. (Seriously, they’re somehow all okay with this??)

Then why do I read it? At first the premise was interesting to me (and some of the world building was pretty good). I can acknowledge a book’s successes without being a fan. For the most part I read Anita Blake because a) I am a masochist. I can’t help but read books I know will hurt me. B) A tiny optimistic part of me hopes the books will improve with time. All indications lead me to believe hell will freeze over before that happens, unfortunately. And C) I am a critic that has an unhealthy obsession with cringe.

When an author insists that if you read their series you must be a fan, they are asserting that just the act of reading or continuing to read something means you must enjoy it. That isn’t necessarily true. It’s a defense that makes the author feel better.

Like you could do any better

Fans of a series are the first to come to an author’s defense with this excuse. this implies that because a person does not have the experience of writing a book, writing within the same genre, or writing period, that they are not allowed to have an opinion.

Just because I do not act, it doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion on a movie. Just because I don’t play sports does not mean I can’t have an opinion on a player’s performance. Those who use this as an excuse seek to delegitimatize any criticism lodged against a work.

Should writers and fans take criticism with a grain of salt? Of course. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and most of them stink. But when someone has a well thought out criticism that has some support or credence, authors and fans should acknowledge that, maybe even thank them. They put time and thought into their rebuttal, and that does deserve some respect. And if a subject consistently appears in criticisms, that might be something to consider for future projects.

You just don’t get it

Yeah, and so what if I don’t? Sometimes you’ll have people who completely miss the point.  Just because a reader doesn’t get the point you are trying to make, or take away something you wanted from the work, it doesn’t make them dumb.

We are all individuals and we’ll take different things away from a work. I don’t really get why so many people still defend Twilight and herald it as a great love story. I don’t see it. You could even say I just don’t get it. I don’t have to share the same opinion as the author or fandom to read or talk about a work. Like I said above, I don’t always read to enjoy myself. Sometimes I read to challenge myself.

And sometimes I hate books that most people like. Why? Because I can’t turn my brain off.

And that leads me to my conclusion. What I want most is a discussion. We don’t have to agree.I think Anita Blake is a despicable character who should really be the villain of the series, not the protagonist. But maybe someone else thinks she’s a progressive, sex-positive feminist icon, who kicks ass and takes names. We don’t have to agree, but we certainly can talk.

Debate me. Convince me you’re right.

Denouncing any critics as stupid, uninspired closet fans, or telling them they have no right to an opinion is petty. I believe any writer worth their salt can at least admit to making mistakes. Usually that is all it takes to mollify critics and/or disgruntled fans. Telling people they have no right to an opinion is petty, and frankly not the way to convince anyone you’re a good writer.

Take criticism. Learn from it, grow from it. Create something better next time.



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