When I say “Fanfiction is free” part of what I’m saying is yes, you did not pay for the thing.
But I saw a comment from someone that made me realize the rest of the intention behind these words is being lost.
Fanfiction is provided for free, but it is not produced for free.
Authors pay their effort, including physical and emotional and mental. Authors pay their time, in planning the story (mental time) and writing the story (physical time). Sometimes it’s less than an hour for something quick and dirty, like askbox prompts. Sometimes it’s years of their lives in epic fic hundreds of thousands of words long. Authors pay additional time to alpha read their own stories, trying to make sure that they’re free of SPAG errors and make sense and sound good. Beta readers pay their time and effort alongside the authors for editing the stories. Authors pay for posting their stories with all of the anxieties that come from allowing their work - which to this point they have invested all of the above - into the public eye because while it has certainly cost them a good amount to produce the story, fandom history has proved that many other people out there enjoy fanfiction, and authors believe that at least someone else will enjoy their story, too.
What I am saying when I say “fanfiction is free” is that it costs the writers a lot of something in order to produce it. A lot has already been paid into a piece of fanfiction by the time it is available for readers to read. The expense of fanfiction creation is, by and large, resting squarely atop the shoulders of writers.
What I am saying when I say “fanfiction is free” is that readers don’t have to pay the cost of creating fanfiction.
What I am saying when I say “fanfiction is free” is that readers don’t have to pay in anything - not time, not money, not effort, not anything - in order for fanfiction to be created. It’s a donation. It’s a gift. It’s available for you to take or leave, at the expense of someone else.
Writers have, for a very long time, requested donations of one thing as remuneration for everything they put into making fanfiction: comments. Authors have asked, in so many different iterations: “If you have consumed what I have labored and invested in to create and if you have found any enjoyment in it, please tell me, so that I can recharge enough to do this again.” Some of them may recharge on critical comments, but most of us don’t because we’ve already paid everything we want to pay to create the story.
What I am saying when I say “fanfiction is free” isn’t just that it doesn’t cost you any money. I am saying “Please respect the time and effort you didn’t have to pay into creating this thing you enjoyed, by respecting the individual creator’s requests.”
What I am saying when I say “fanfiction is free” is “be kind to authors, they have paid a lot for this gift they’re sharing with all of us, and they deserve to feel like it was worth it.”
What I am saying when I say “fanfiction is free” is “please don’t charge authors more time and emotional effort than what they’ve already provided you at no absolute cost.”
I’m not saying any of this to argue. It’s a fact that authors pay into providing fanfiction. They do it for fun. They do it out of love. They do it because they enjoy writing. No one is making them do it. No one is paying them to start or finish the story. That doesn’t mean it’s not WORK. And the only return they get on what they put into the story is the kindness of strangers that invest a little bit back by leaving a nice comment. That is why they stay, that is why they do it again, that is why we have fanfiction.
What I am saying when I say “fanfiction is free” is “please don’t be the one charging authors so much more that they leave.”
What I am saying when I say “fanfiction is free” is “please keep it that way.”
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