August 2017

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Over on the post about my paper presentation this weekend, the issue of genre was brought up because I didn't address it in the paper but I definitely asked about it in the survey. I decided not to include it in the paper because it involved defining and explaining terminology (genfic, het, slash) that I just didn't have time for, and I wasn't sure I could introduce the topic in so short a time in such a way that I could impress upon a non-fanfic audience all of the significance and sometimes emotion that accompanies these genres. However, it certainly interests us, so I'm going to share some data here. (I did post some data in the conversation on the earlier post, but the comments are becoming convoluted enough that I worry that it's going to become difficult to find and discuss it, and it is worth breaking out into a place where it is easier to find and talk about.)

I am going to share the data sets for the four genres for readers and writers from my survey and also from Centrum Lumina's AO3 Census. It is important to note that the questions I asked and she asked are not identical and, in fact, measure slightly different things, but I think they are similar enough that we can at least look at them side-by-side to see if there are any trends between the Tolkien fandom and fandom as a whole, at least as it exists on AO3.

My questions were phrased as "I identify myself as a [genre] writer" and "I enjoy reading [genre] stories," where the genres are genfic, slash, het, and femslash. The question for writers was meant to determine how many people identified their activities as strongly focused upon (or antithetical to) a particular genre. This isn't quite the same as "I write [genre]" (and yes, this was intentional). The readers' questions were a more straightforward measurement of reader preferences.

Centrum Lumina more straightforwardly asked, "What category(s) of work do you prefer to read?" and "What category(s) of work do you typically write?"

So here you go.

Tolkien Fanfic Writers Tolkien Fanfic Readers AO3 Writers AO3 Readers
Genfic Strongly Agree: 12%
Agree: 28%
Disagree: 20%
Strongly disagree: 5%
No opinion/Not sure: 34%

Strongly Agree: 30%
Agree: 43%
Disagree: 5%
Strongly disagree: 2%
No opinion/Not sure: 21%

23% 17%
Slash Strongly Agree: 22%
Agree: 26%
Disagree: 20%
Strongly disagree: 14%
No opinion/Not sure: 18%

Strongly Agree: 41%
Agree: 32%
Disagree: 8%
Strongly disagree: 7%
No opinion/Not sure: 12%

37% 31%
Het Strongly Agree: 4%
Agree: 24%
Disagree: 26%
Strongly disagree: 14%
No opinion/Not sure: 32%

Strongly Agree: 12%
Agree: 53%
Disagree: 10%
Strongly disagree: 4%
No opinion/Not sure: 21%

18% 17%
Femslash Strongly Agree: 3%
Agree: 14%
Disagree: 36%
Strongly disagree: 25%
No opinion/Not sure: 21%

Strongly Agree: 16%
Agree: 34%
Disagree: 18%
Strongly disagree: 12%
No opinion/Not sure: 21%

10% 15%


Femslash. When I first crunched the data for writers, the femslash data jumped out at me immediately and honestly made me wince a bit. Very few authors (17%) identified as femslash writers. I noted in the other post that I wondered if the number of femslash readers would be higher--knowing this to be the case for Centrum Lumina's census--and I was correct: They were. By quite a bit. Only 75 respondents identified as femslash writers in my survey. However, 344 readers indicated that they enjoyed reading femslash stories. This means that there are more than 4.5 times the number of femslash readers than writers, which is even higher than the 4 times as many readers to writers in Centrum Lumina's census. (This honestly surprised me. I expected a disparity but not this much of a disparity.)

But the more I think about it, perhaps the less I should be surprised. Tolkien fanfic writers are generally an experienced bunch, writing on average for 6.1 years. Femslash is a relatively new genre in the fandom. I haven't looked at how the data for age and years writing varies (or doesn't) based on one's genre preferences, but I would not be surprised to find that veteran writers simply haven't started working with this genre yet. (Anecdotally, this doesn't seem to be the case, as I can think of five veteran Tolkienfic writers right off the top of my head who have done significant work with femslash stories.)

Then there is the "negative identity" side of the equation. 61% of writers disagreed or strongly disagreed that they identified as femslash writers. Compare this to ...

Het: 40%
Slash: 34%
Genfic: 25%

The "disagree" option, to me, seems fairly innocuous. It could mean that the author wouldn't touch a femslash story with the proverbial ten-foot pole. But it could also mean that the writer hasn't yet tackled such a story but is not necessarily opposed to doing so. Or it could mean that the writer just didn't see the femslash genre as part of her identity as an author, even if she did write or was open to writing femslash stories.

A full quarter of writers, though, strongly disagreed that they identified as femslash writers. (Compare to 14% for slash, 14% for het, and 5% for genfic.) This response suggests to me authors who avoid or would not consider writing a femslash story. That this is so high and that it is much higher than the same numbers for the other two genres that include erotica (het and slash) does suggest to me that a bias against femslash exists in the Tolkien fandom.

The numbers for readers are slightly less depressing, suggesting that half of readers do enjoy femslash stories. This is still the lowest number of the four genres, but it was in the AO3 Census too. The disagree/strongly disagree numbers are also the highest for femslash than the other genres (30% versus 15% for slash, 14% for het, and 7% for genfic).

It's hard to know exactly how to interpret these data because, of course, there could be multiple explanations. It could be that there is a bias against women or against same-sex relationships between women that there isn't for men. I kind of see that as the worst interpretation.

It could also be a reflection of the newness of femslash as a genre compared to the other three. The other three were commonly used to classify stories (and authors) when I started writing ten years ago. I recall only seeing a handful of f/f stories, and femslash wasn't a term I recall seeing used widely until a few years ago. On a positive note, the number of readers relative to writers suggests that there is something of an "untapped market" in femslash: a good number of readers at least willing to try a femslash story but relatively few writers producing them. Authors, take note. ;)

No Opinion/Not Sure. The number of respondents who answered "No Opinion/Not Sure" hovered around 20% except for three questions. I find these disparities to be interesting.

Among the writers, 34% and 32% answered "No Opinion/Not Sure" when asked if they identified respectively as genfic or het writers. I considered that this might reflect uncertainty about how to define those terms (whereas slash and femslash by extension seem more easily defined and widely used); however, the same uncertainty wasn't seen among readers. What I suspect is going on is that both of these genres are so common that authors write them but don't identify with them. It is certainly possible to write Tolkien fanfic that focuses only on same-sex relationships, but most people, at some point, write a story that doesn't have much of a relationship focus at all, and the number of opposite-sex canon couples means that most people probably write a story, at some point, with an opposite-sex couple in it, even if that couple is not the focus of the story. At what point does one stop simply writing about the texts and become a het writer?

Among readers, only 12% weren't sure if they enjoyed slash or not. I wonder if this might reflect the one-time (and somewhat ongoing) controversial nature of slash in the Tolkien fandom. It was an issue on which, it seemed, one could not avoid taking a stance once upon a time. The low number of respondents who essentially didn't take a stance seems to reflect that.

Genfic. Every now and then, I'll come across a genfic writer or two kvetching that they aren't popular or don't get read because they write genfic. It has always been my feeling that this was not true, but of course, I had no way of backing up that assertion with anything other than anecdote.

Now I can say: It's just not true. 73% of readers enjoy genfic. The same percentage enjoy slash and slightly fewer enjoy het (65%). Where it gets interesting, though, is that only 2% strongly disagreed that they enjoy genfic (the group that, as explained above in the femslash section, I think of as those who wouldn't read a genfic story even if they had the chance to do so). 5% disagreed and 21% didn't know, and I suspect that most of all of these "don't know" readers either have read genfic or would. This is the group that might not be perfectly clear on the terminology or have experienced a wide enough range of fanfic to have tried a variety of genres; again, more analysis based on the years of experience of respondents in each group will perhaps add clarity here.

So basically only 1 reader in 50 will encounter a genfic story, go "Eww, genfic!" and move on. The numbers for the other genres suggest that far more readers turn away from a story based on its genre alone, so my initial instincts here were correct: Genfic writers, you really don't have a lot of complain about. :)

I'm interested to hear others' thoughts on these numbers. This is just a very preliminary analysis and some thoughts off the top of my head. Also, keep in mind that the survey is ongoing, so I hope to have a larger and more representative data set when the survey concludes in December 2015.
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