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On unsung community heroes


Today, I struggled to come up with a blog topic. It’s not like me, and I would perhaps have been better spent going off and doing some writing instead of waiting for inspiration to strike, but I didn’t. Why not? Well, Friday is kind of the day I pop up blog posts (the additional ones are just when I need a rant.) It’s the day I aim for. And, since more than a few people seem to read the blogs, I vaguely feel it’s something I should keep up. That’s even before I begin to count the hours I’ve spent building the blog in the first place – and when you build something of your own, with your own time and energy, there is a personal onus to keep it going, somehow.

This week, Marc Aplin of Fantasy-Faction put up a heartfelt post about the time he spends on the community and the impact it has on his life-outside-Fantasy-Faction, as well as the stresses it brings. I think it’s a post any of us could relate to. Similarly we have seen Sffsignal close up shop for much the same reason. When you start something that’s a passion or hobby, that’s one thing – once it becomes a huge part of your life, an obligation if you like, that’s a different thing altogether. (It’s why I rarely open my work-in-progresses at the weekend anymore. They’re work now, not the fun hobby they were when I started writing. And it’s important to seek a balance.)

If you’re a sf fan somewhere, somehow, you most likely engage with your community. You might love Comiccons, and attend them dressed as in crazy mash-up cosplay. You might attend a bookclub, or read online. Goodreads communities tend to be popular with some. Still more of you might post, or lurk, on the many, many sites on the internet devoted to sff. We sort of take it for granted that the moment the new Guardians of the Galaxy trailer comes out we’ll be able to go off and chat geek about it.

As with all things sf community, most of these sites get run by one-man bands or, at best, a close-knit string quartet. (Not Comiccons – they make a good profit. If you want to put some money back into the community, why not add a local convention on to your Comiccon visits? It’ll be very different – but I enjoy them more, truth be told.)

I don’t run websites or forums, or facebook groups. I simply don’t have the time to upgrade servers and software, to deal with trolls and spammers, to sort out members’ grievances, to put up articles and links and thoughtful pieces. But other people do and are often on-call pretty much all the time in case internet shenanigans break out and need to be stamped out.

In time, if you hang around long enough, you’ll start to get to know the people who run the communities (and conventions, include the long-suffering convention runners who rarely make a profit and put in incredibly long hours for that privilege). You’ll start to realise that they’re community members, not some great and good, removed from the rest of us. You might follow them on facebook or twitter, or become friends with them (this is a tight-knit community – an awful lot of my Facebook friends are genre-mates). You’ll start to see pictures of their family, read posts about how they’re trying to fit things in, see them struggling to bring an income in when they put hours and hours of work into the activity we all use.

This blog, then, is first and foremost a call-out to some of those people. To the site-runners, the moderators, the volunteers, the helpers, the bloggers, the reviewers. The people who keep our community alive and vibrant.

But it’s also a consideration of how we can help. And by that, I don’t always mean financially (although that can be relevant, too). Believe me, the minute I sell a thousand books I’ll be hiving over to the Wertzone’s Patreon ( as quick as I can, and will be glad to help.

  1. Crowdfunding. Let’s get it out of the way, the money aspect. If you can give, give. I have to be honest, I’m more likely to dump a wayward twenty quid into a kickstarter than sign up to a monthly Patreon (self employed people tend to be wary of assuming what next month’s wage will be). Some sites look for small amounts to keep their servers up and running and maybe allow a little over to give the person running it some time to come up with material.

  1. Skills. So, maybe you don’t have the money. But do you have skills? In the past I’ve ran twitter-panels for the sffchronicles I’m looking into an author programme showcasing the site and the talent its bred – and hopefully bringing more people to it. Maybe you’re a whizz at computer graphics and can help out.

  1. Time. If you have time and there is a call out for content, or moderators, or whatever – give a little of it. (Fantasy-Faction are looking for people to write content on a monthly basis. If you’re into your fantasy and knowledgeable enough (I don’t feel I am, being more of a sf gal and promising the world and then not delivering when it’s expected and needed helps no one.)

  1. Content. Until you start to come up with something clever to say on a regular basis, you have no idea how hard it is to do so. I’m already at the stage, with this tiny blog, of being very glad when someone offers to do a guest post. A week off – or, more accurately, an extra week before I have to find a topic. Offer to do a guest post, or a review, or whatever best suits the site. You’ll get some promotion out of it, and you’ll always help out. Sites like Sffworld are always looking content for their fantastic frontpage.

  1. Think about your interactions. How you interact. Whether you’re going to end up costing a moderator time. Whether you’re helping a community or detracting from it. (Sadly I think the arseholes who seem to take pleasure from stirring things up in communities will smirk at this one and go off and find another way to cause chaos.) Post new threads and keep things fresh. Comment on articles you like. Share posts that are interesting. I know, I know, I know we all only have so much time. Do what you can. (And, really, sharing is so quick. Hit the icon at the bottom of the post, shove a few words in, and it’s done.)

  1. Don’t take the communities for granted. We’ve seen that over the last year – some of the biggest and best communities have vanished. Big doesn’t mean a community will last forever – quite the opposite. Big means someone, somewhere is doing a load of work for no pay, or, at best, a pittance. They’re stealing that time from other parts of their life. There may come a time when it’s not there to steal anymore. Be thankful for the communities you like, or the blogs you waste time on, and do what you can to support them. (Here is where I should insert the buy-my-fabulous books link. But heck. Go throw some money onto your favourite communities Patreon instead, if you can manage it.)