“When you help others, you can’t help helping yourself…”
~ The Money Song, Avenue Q
Wanderers, we were all new to fandom once. Perhaps some of you still are (in which case, welcome!), perhaps some of you can hardly remember not being involved in at least one fandom, even if it wasn’t one you’re in now. But no matter how long you’ve been involved in fandom or at what level, the chances are you’ve needed help or advice at some point. No, this isn’t just a lengthly plug for our very own FW Tips – sometimes, after all, the one-to-one approach is the only way to go. So where do you find that support?
If you’ve been in your fandom for any substantial length of time, chances are you’ve already made a few friends and got to know some names. Those friends are probably going to be your first port of call for most minor things. “What do you think of this chapter?”, for example, or “do you think this sounds too angry?” are probably the sort of thing you can run by any of your fandom friends. But what if you’re new, or your friends in the fandom are all vidmakers and you desperately want an artist’s opinion on your latest drawing?
Well, one way around it is to simply post whatever it is you want an opinion on, and see what people say. Reviewers and commenters are a pretty effective gauge of popular feeling – besides which, by the time you’ve posted it, you’ve posted it, so you can’t be talked out of doing so by the first person who comes along with constructive criticism (you can, of course, take it down, but shh, I’m on a roll here). The downside to this is… well, once you’ve posted it, you’ve posted it, so the potential for mass feedback, good or bad, can be a little daunting. Do we have any alternatives?
Of course we do, because if I’d written an article that short the Editor would be very grumpy. If you’re worried about continuity or grammatical errors in a fanfic, for example, you might look into finding yourself a beta reader (just as a gamemaker uses beta testers) – they can be involved as little or as much as you like, from basically proofreading your final draft before it goes online to helping you hammer out the finer details of the plot at 3am. You can also get someone to beta-read your meta, if you’re worried about spelling or just the sheer poking-the-hornet’s-nest factor of what you’ve written. I’m sure there’s an equivalent in other fan disciplines – basically, it’s an arrangement whereby one person agrees to look over another person’s creation(s), whether that’s everything produced in this medium for this fandom ever, or just a single piece of work. It’s especially helpful for people working in a language other than their first language, or setting something in a place they aren’t familiar with. You can either ask someone you already know to beta your work, or find one through any of a number of forums.
If you’re new to a fandom, or even fandom as a whole, of course, you might want a little more support in your first fan-created endeavours. What’s a fan to do? Well, some new fans find that they feel more comfortable muddling through on their own, but some choose to contact some of their favourite fan-creators to ask for advice. Now, fair warning, if the fan-creator you’re planning to contact is a really Big Name Fan in a large fandom (or in many fandoms), you may be out of luck, or they may only have time to answer one quick question or refer you to their FAQ (if someone has a visible FAQ, by the way, it’s always wise to check that before asking them anything – that’s what it’s there for, after all). If the person whose fandom tattoo designs you’ve been idolising or whose prose makes you cry happy little tears of perfection is a little less famous, though, they may have time to exchange long strings of messages with you to make sure you know exactly what you’re doing, how to do it, and what their experience has shown them about the likely reception of it. This can give a sort of mentor-like effect, or may even lead to the best friendship you’ve ever had. Who knows?
And if you are one of those not-quite-BNFs and somebody contacts you to ask for advice, be flattered. Nobody turns to someone whose work they hate and asks for help (though if nobody’s asking you for help, it doesn’t mean they all hate your work), so consider this a great honour and respond accordingly, even if you don’t have time to help them out. If you do have time and you want to devote it to getting someone else started, try to be kind if criticism is needed, and answer their questions as thoroughly and honestly as you can. Admit when you don’t know things, recommend people who may better be able to help with specific problems, and take this new fan under your wing. Helping other fans grow more confident can be a really rewarding experience, and they may go on to create beautiful things you can claim a tiny bit of credit for. Why not give it a go?
So what am I saying here? I think I’m saying this: we’re here to help each other grow. Beta readers and creators and viewers and mentors and whatever-it-is-you-call-people-being-mentored all learn from each other – it’s a cycle. The gazelle eat the grass, and all that. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be afraid to give it when you’re asked. Help each other, Wanderers. Why not?
Eleanor Musgrove (has that song stuck in her head now)