As we approach another NaNoWriMo and people set up their projects on Rough Trade, it is inevitable that new readers will stumble upon the site and join. Most often, they’ve strolled into RT from fandom. They’ve followed a favorite writer, or they saw the sign-up, or they saw a recommendation on some site regarding a previous story, and they’re looking for it. We’ve had about 500 people join RT since October 1, 2016.
Once they get into RT though they are faced with a very unusual situation in fandom–Rough Trade is a writer’s site. Readers react a variety of ways to the structure of RT, and most of the time it is positive, if not hesitant. There are nearly 7k members on the RT site, and the vast majority of them are readers. This might make you think that RT is really a site for readers. After all, 99% of fandom is for readers.
Fandom is built by writers and artists, but it’s really for readers, right? It’s for the reader’s enjoyment.
If you look at the majority of fandom-centric sites, they are designed to be more reader friendly than writer friendly. Ask a single writer about fanfiction.net, and they’ll tell you that posting on that site is a nightmare because of the back end. The site owners don’t really care, either. Writers are a second class citizen on FF.net — readers are free to abuse them in the comment section with very little fear of being thrown off the site for it. They can troll writers, insult them, threaten them, etc and TPTB doesn’t often do a damn thing about it. After all, a place like FF.net makes their money from advertising, and reader activity drives that. So FF.net makes the money, the readers get to do what they want, and writers either suck it up and do their thing or they retreat to another site.
Then you have an inclusive place like Ao3 who has done a lot for fandom even if their stand against censorship has created some situations that put people off. No matter how you feel about their TOS, you can’t say that AO3 doesn’t stand by their principles. They wanted to create a site where writers could feel free to post without the fear of being censored due to politics, homophobia, etc, etc. They’ve succeeded — for good and bad. I don’t post there; that is my personal choice, but I don’t fault anyone who does, and I even allow the writer translating Tangled Destinies into Russian to post there because it’s easier for us both. We also have several RT collections on A03 for different challenges because contrary to what some have told me in email, I don’t actually “hate” A03 or anyone involved with its creation/maintenance. I think they’ve done some amazing work for fandom.
With an archive A03’s size, no one could realistically expect the maintainers to be hands-on regarding reader activity and feedback. So, it’s not a surprise to see abuse in the comment sections of various stories and it was a relief to see the team respond to that with comment moderation in 2015. Still, you only need to look at A03 to recognize that it is a site designed for readers in mind–they had subscriptions and ebook downloads before comment moderation hit the table. It’s about priorities, and I’m not faulting the staff at A03 in any single way for this — readers have been coming first in fandom since the dawn of fandom.
When I started my site — my first thought was readability and organization so it would be easier for my readers to read my stuff and to find my stuff. I didn’t turn on comment moderation until about two months in because I got tired of assholes complaining about me leaving FF.net. I made ebooks, I answered questions, I built a comment form for those readers too shy to respond in public. I made my email address public. I did all of this for readers. I made announcements in groups, I had a mailing list at one time, I set up subscriptions on my site. I flitted through the SGA fandom like the Pied Piper, shaking my OTP enticingly at readers. Come read my stuff! They did. It was nice. I had readers!
Readers wanted Facebook notifications–I joined Facebook.
Readers wanted Twitter notifications–I joined Twitter.
Readers wanted Tumblr notifications–I fucking joined Tumblr.
Even now, I spend a great deal of time on my personal site doing maintenance and organization and checking posts, and correcting issues, and settling account problems (since I went members only) because readers come first, right?
Except there came a point in Rough Trade’s evolution when I realized that on that site, writers had to come first. The very nature of our challenge environment demanded it. It’s difficult enough to write and post in a rough form–the startling intimacy of it is hard to explain–without having to worry about some entitled reader coming along and pointing out a plot hole or a fucking typo.
You’d have thought I’d punched all these readers in the dick (theoretical or otherwise) when I told them they couldn’t ask questions. How dare I not allow them to ask questions of a writer in the middle of a time-sensitive challenge! What did I mean when I said that their plot advice wasn’t welcome? Why can’t they tell the writer what pairings they prefer?
It must have been so startling, honestly, to come into an environment where the writer wasn’t the second class citizen.
For the readers on RT, I would say–you’re not in Kansas anymore, darlings, and the rules for Oz are a bit different so watch your step and look out for flying monkeys.