Paraka (paraka) wrote,

An Open Letter to bjewelled

Wednesday bjewelled made the post Daily Meta: Audioficcing from a Writerly Perspective. This post is an open letter to her in response to it. It originally started out as a comment, then grew to about 50 comments. If anyone other than bjewelled reads this, you might want to read her post first, although I do heavily quote her post in my response.

Ok, I totally get stumbling across a new (to you) idea and having thoughts on them. I totally get needing to talk about those thoughts to clarify them in your head. I get too, posting something to your flist, that's publicly open, but not really expecting strangers to show up and talk about it with you. I get how that can feel like dog piling, especially since people are taking offense to things that you didn't actually mean to cause offense with (or hey, I could totally be self-projecting here, since this was basically my introduction to [community profile] metafandom :P).

From the comments you've left, I gather that we're interpreting your words in ways you didn't intend us to and it probably seems like we're reacting rather harshly. Some of that is us, we're bringing in a history of past interactions with people who have said similar things, but part of that is definitely how you've put things and how you're reacting. I'm hoping to help clarify why we're reacting so strongly and also to answer some of the questions you've had (although many others have done so as well).

Let's start off with your issue with us.

there's a powerful opinion within the community that one shouldn't even require permission from the author to produce an audio version, as isn't creating fanfic in itself an activity which doesn't take permission?... Yes, the writers didn't ask for permission before writing their fic, but I can't help but feel, as a writer, that there's a difference between creating your own story and dialogue with pre-existing characters than translating the medium from one version to another with no changes in content.
As so many others have said in reply to this statement, that "powerful opinion" is not really that common and is almost never acted upon.

If you had actually taken the time to read most of the meta posted about this, you'd realize that many podficcers don't agree on the topic. And those that do support the idea that has you so offended, aren't really saying what you think they're saying.

There's big a difference between theory and practice. Theoretically, I'm of the opinion that you shouldn't have to have permission to podfic a story before you record and post it. In practice however, I've never knowingly posted a podfic without permission. And the one time I unknowingly posted without permission (long story; 3rd parties were involved) I took it down as soon as I found out.

I should also point out, there’s a big difference between "podficcing without permission" and "podficcing when the author has said no." There’s also a difference between "not having to ask permission" and "never asking permission." Many of us advocating for not requiring permission are doing so because we recognize (or have run into) situations where getting permission to record wasn't an option.

Fanfic has been around for a long time. Pretty much as long as there have been stories, other people have been transforming and interpreting them in their own ways. There's written fanfic that's centuries old. Which would fall into public domain, so legally, yes, we don’t need permission to podfic those. Just as I don't need permission to make my own audio book of Jane Austen or Chaucer. There are a lot of cases though, that don't have such clear public domain lines. What if I want to podfic a story I found in a zine from the 70s? It's unlikely that any form of contact information was given for the author and even smaller chances that it would still be active. What if the author is no longer even alive? Even if you’re talking more recently posted fic, actual death or fandom death are real possibilities (what if the person hasn't been online for a while or never answers the request?).

Many people advocating that permission isn't necessary aren't saying we should stop asking permission. We're trying to put down the idea that if you don't have permission you absolutely cannot podfic the story. We're trying to say that there are situations when you can podfic without permission, when permission can't be obtained.

I can't deny that some people (even myself sometimes) feel like it's silly or wrong to give fic authors control over what we can or cannot create. It seems rather hypocritical to me for an artist, whose work is based off of existing art, to deny others making art based on theirs (although I recognize that there can be other factors at work). And it's really frustrating to have a fan step in, who is free to express their fannish desires however they want in the format they’ve chosen, to prevent you from expressing your fannish desires in the format you've chosen.

It's frustrating but I don't know of anyone who's actually fought it. Maybe there are some gearing up to do so and are preparing arguments to support their actions but I highly doubt it'll happen anytime soon.

You make the case that it's different when fic authors write without permission, because podficcers don't change anything (which I'll address later) and because we're actually able to ask for permission.

Well, as I showed above, that's not always the case. There are a lot of situations where the author isn't accessible. And what about the situations where TPTB have spoke up about fanworks? There are lots of authors who have said they don't want fanfic done of their works. Hell, I was at a con once where Michael Shanks was appearing and he yelled at fans to stop writing slash fic of his character. It didn't make a dent in the amount of Jack/Daniel stories being written though.

But it's ok to ignore TPTB, right? They're not members of the same community. Podficcers need to be polite and respectful if authors are going to let us do our thing. Which, actually, podficcers recognize. As a podficcer, I've bent over backwards to be polite and respectful and aware of authors. I got into one uncomfortable situation where an author was doing something to my podfic that really bothered me. I almost didn't say anything because I didn't want to offend her, even though she was offending me. In the end, the only reason why I said anything is because she was doing the same thing to other podficcers and I thought they should know about it.

Because the thing is, respect and politeness is a two way street. And while I'm sure there have been situations of podficcers being rude and disrespectful to authors, I definitely have seen it go the other way more often. We deserve to be respected back, to be treated with politeness too. And unfortunately, that's not always the case.

So yeah, some of us talk about how "in theory!" it's a dumb double standard that is applied to us. And maybe we can bend the rules when there's no way for us to get permission. But we're all nice, polite people that recognize most fans are in it for the fun. If our podficcing something will hurt an author, for whatever reason, well, we understand and move on.

Now for a bit on how I, as a podficcer, am reacting to your post.

First off, ignoring the terminology a group of people use to describe themselves and their activities, is rude and demeaning to the group in question. Since podfic and audiofic are terms that can be used interchangeably, you simply could have stated that they meant the same thing and used your preferred term. You didn't have to insult the term podfic.

If you found the term "reader" too ambiguous, you could have clarified the term by adding "podfic" before "reader" (since you haven't done enough research to notice we also call ourselves podficcers). Or, hell, simply referring to us as people who create podfic would have worked without you making up your own terminology for us.

It's kind of like someone coming into fandom's writing community and declaring "I don't like these people using the term 'author' because it's a term I associate with published writers, so, for clarity's sake, I will call them 'amateur writing hobbyist.'"

Renaming us is insulting and implies that you know more about us than we do or that we don't fit the term we've chosen for ourselves. The term "vocalist" strips down what we do to a very basic level I'm not comfortable with. I am a podficcer. I am a reader. I am a creator and I am an artist. I am not just a voice.

I don't think you meant to be insulting by doing this, but intent and impact are two very different things.

Secondly, you approached podfic in this post from the stance of accessibility. Which is fine, I'm never going to discourage conversations about accessibility. But because you don't know much about podfic fandom, you didn't realize that accessibility as you described it can be a raw nerve for people. [personal profile] general_jinjur posted about this last June (see the last bit subtitled "podfic as a service, and as a format"). Many people view what we do as nothing more than adding accessibility. Which wouldn't be a bad thing, except it's often implied that we're nothing more than a screen reader. Or, we're better, but it's not really something to be acknowledged. I don't even know. It's a really disheartening stance to come across and be subjected to.

And the way you talked about what we do... it really heavily gives the impression that you're one of those people. Near the end of your post you acknowledge us as artists and talented, but it's almost an afterthought and it's too little too late. We're already hurt about it.

You make a lot of loaded statements in your post that make me feel like you don't respect us, or what we do. Specifically:

I can't help but feel, as a writer, that there's a difference between creating your own story and dialogue with pre-existing characters than translating the medium from one version to another with no changes in content.
You’re implying that podficcing doesn’t change the content of your story, which is debatable. We add our own thing to each fic we read; a layer of interpretation that isn’t there in the text version. That’s what makes us different from screen-readers. Hell, I run a comm, [community profile] multipodicity, whose entire purpose is to explore that difference, to see what different readers bring to the same fic.

Using an example I’m familiar with, there’s One AM by [personal profile] seperis, read by myself and [personal profile] revolutionaryjo. That story is from Adam Lamber’s POV and when I read it, he had a slightly hysterical edge to his thoughts. When [personal profile] revolutionaryjo read the story it was with a resigned air.

We both read the same words but we both produced podfics with very different feels to them. In some situations, how a podficcer reads the story can actually change the outcome of a story. One interpretation can be angry and come off as an attack, another could be sad and resigned. Tone matters.

Saying that the actor brings nothing to the performance is like saying every interpretation of Shakespeare is the same, or that your favourite TV show would be the same if a completely different set of actors had been cast.

If a writer doesn't trust the podficcing community, as it's easy to conclude that they don't respect the author's preferences
Your entire post is littered with references to the fact that podficcers show no respect to the author's they deal with and that we aren't trust worthy. As I said above, the conclusions you drew from the meta you skimmed that had you so offended aren't the norms for the fandom.

Those statements you've made are really powerful and a bit much to make, based on 10 minutes of research (and I must conclude that you didn't spend much longer than that since, as [personal profile] general_jinjur pointed out, the resources you linked to contradict those conclusions. And since I'm someone who has taken part in most of those conversations, I know that the conclusions you've drawn where not actually what we were talking about).

These are really careless thing to say and are hurtful to the very community you propose a closer collaborative relationship with.

Right now, podficcers are, in the most, sole artists. They read alone. There are very few multi-voiced podfics... If a writer wants to create an audiofic, but doesn't want to voice it themselves, their options are a little limited. Not the least of which is that a majority of audioficcers are female, which would make casting male voices difficult... A writer would have to become the content producer, auditioning, casting, editing, hosting... In a way, the journaling fandom is a bit behind the curve here.
All of these statements, all of them, imply that what podficcers are doing now, isn't good enough. That we're lacking. That we're doing it wrong.
That single voiced podfics aren't good. That female voices aren't enough. That we'd have to audition for a part, even though we're the ones with experience. That we're behind the times.

I get. *deep breath* I get, that the vision of podfic you have in your mind is a full on radio play, and that to achieve that, single voices aren't enough, male voices will likely be necessary, that you're going to have to take charge as a producer. But... god.

You give the impression that you think of radio play style podfics as some higher evolution of podfic. That what we're creating isn't as good. That is not true. They are very different styles. Neither one is better than the other. They both have perks and they both have detractors.

Combine this, with the other dismissive, incorrect and insulting statements you've made, it's really hard not to take this post as a giant slap in the face. Throw in the last line there about us being "behind the curve" and it feels like you're spitting on all our hard work. Nothing in this implies any respect for what we do. You say that we're talented, but at this point, you're talking the talk but not walking the walk. How can we take what you say at face value when you contradict yourself?

I've seen a few mentions of podfic that say that people listen to them because their eyes skim over large chunks of text, they like to listen to them in the car, or whilst working or cooking or something like that, but I have only ever seen one thread that mentions accessibility.
You freely admit that you know next to nothing about podfic fandom but you accuse us of not really talking about our craft? You act like you know more about it than we do. That's really patronizing.

Accessibility is a huge part of podfic. When making the actual recording and whether or not the listener is visually impaired or not doesn't really affect how we read. The default assumption is that the listener won't have the text in front of them so it's almost like assuming all of our audience is visually impaired. So yeah, we spend a lot of time working to make sure that our words alone are accessible.

One of the things that I found really distracting about your post is that you are championing making fic more accessible but the way you describe your vision of podfic, implying a radio play style, is, in fact, less accessible than podfic is in it's current, more prominent style.

From the anecdotal evidence I've gathered a large portion of the podficcing community consumes podfic when multitasking. Radio play style recordings require more concentration to follow, especially since a lot of them use audible cues to convey what is going on rather than verbalizing those cues. I know, personally, I'm more likely to skip a podfic done in that style, simply because I miss too much. Now, I'm not an impaired fan, so I could just listen to it later when I'm not multitasking. If you only care about being accessible to those with impairments, well, you're not taking into account fans with aural impairments.

If you have a bunch of different podficcers, using different equipment, in different locations, producing parts that will then be spliced together, there's going to be a lot of changing background noises and volume levels. All of these things make it much harder (if not impossible) for a fan with aural impairments to follow. And even if you can get the noise levels similar it's still a lot of work for an aurally impaired fan to follow the audible cues and different voices within the recording.

Which, I guess the point of your post was making textual fic more accessible for those with visual impairments, so if you're keeping that point I guess the rest of us don't matter (as applied to this meta). So this last point might be a moot but it's still frustrating to be ignored. It's as though you're appropriating the fandom and trying to mold it to fit a future set of fans, completely ignoring the current set of fans. And for all you know, the fans you want to help out, might already be part of the current audience of fans.

I have tried, and failed, to find any sort of place where producers recruit willing VAs within the journaling communities (I looked here because that appeared to be where the communities themselves were dwelling)
First of all, I know of at least one comm that exists for authors to find podficcers for their fics (if, that's what you mean by VAs). The comm is pretty dead. There are lots of really good reasons for this.

As others have mentioned, podfic is a labour of love. It's a fic rec with hours of effort put into it (there's 4-20 minutes of work for every finished minute of podfic, one hour of finished podfic per 10K of written fic, give or take, depending on the podficcer) and there are only so many hours in the day.

As you mentioned, podfic fandom is pretty small compared to fic writing fandom. As a podficcer, I have a list 11 months long (why yes, that is a link. I'm not actually being metaphorical here, there is, in fact, an actual list *headdesk*). And that list is just of the stories I conceivably have time for, the list of fics I'd love to podfic with enough time is about 20X longer.

This is not an uncommon state for podficcers (ok, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one dorky enough to have an actual schedule but long To-Podfic wish-lists aren't uncommon). We're in a position to be choosy. Why would we go seek out unknown fic (as in "new to us" - this has nothing to do with the popularity of the fic) to podfic just because the author wants it?

That's not to say that authors can't do things to increase the chances of their fic being podficced. They can give blanket permission. They can engage the podficcing fandom, make friends and put themselves out there.

If you had gone over to [community profile] amplificathon or [community profile] podfic_bingo and proposed the idea you had for creating a radio style podfic of your fic, if you offered to be the one spearheading the en devour and asked us for help, you probably would have gotten enough people to make it happen.

Podfic fandom is really open to experimentation (that's why I started [community profile] podfic_bingo, to give us a chance to get outside our comfort zones and play around). The interest is there. Hell, [info - personal] podfic_play was just opened this week (it's been made for a specific project but [personal profile] weimar27, the mod, mentioned opening it up in the future to anyone wanting a place to collaborate on radio play style podfics).

If a writer wants to create an audiofic, but doesn't want to voice it themselves, their options are a little limited... I wouldn't try to say that audioficcers should become subordinate to writers, producing content whenever the writer barks for it
But there is this idea that podficcers should be subservient to authors. And you're saying you don't feel that way but you're sounding an awful lot like those that do have that belief.

The fact that, after next to no research into our culture, you came in and told us what we're doing wrong? That fact that you think one of us isn't good enough for your fic and that you think there will be enough people wanting to podfic your stories that you'll have to audition us and turn people away? The fact that you think your fanwork is a more legitimate fanwork than ours is (writing fic without permission is ok, but suggesting that not always needing permission to podfic is just wrong)? That you think it's ok to take away our artistic control over our fanworks? The fact that you expect for there to be a comm where you can just ask, and we'll answer? That all implies that you don't think much of what we do. That you think we should be grateful for what you're allowing us to do. And hell, the way you responded in the comments, completely ignoring what people were saying to jump to the conclusions you wanted, shows that you aren't listening to us and that you don't hold our opinions very high.

it should be a greater collaborative process, that a writer shouldn't just give permission and the podficcer goes away and posts the final product in a few weeks time.
This point hits a nerve with many of us for 2 (somewhat contradictory) reasons.

1) Being a podficcer is scary. We pour all this time, energy and love into making something.

If it came down to a fight between podfic fandom and writing fandom, I don't have any doubts who would win (spoiler, it's not podficcers). We're out numbered and fic has to exist for us to do our art, while authors have no such limitations. To avoid that kind of thing, so many of us (YMMV) give up control over our podfic. We will destroy our art at the word of an author so that we, and others in our community, can continue making it with other authors.

We give authors control over whether or not we can make our fanwork. We give authors the power to destroy our fanwork (again, YMMV). It seems the only thing we truly have control over is how we create the podfic. How we choose to interpret and record it the story.

So, when you say that you want podfic to be more collaborative, when you say you want to have some control over how we create, you're taking away the last thing we actually have complete control over.

2) You're implying that the lack of collaborative efforts within podfic fandom is because of podficcers. While I can't deny that some of us wouldn't welcome further collaboration with the author, I don't actually think many of us would mind. In fact, many of us already have worked with the author on a podfic. I'm currently doing so and it's been an amazing experience so far.

But the thing is, many authors are busy people. I've had more than one author ask me what the heck podfic is when I ask permission to record. It would be really unreasonable for me to expect them to collaborate with me on something they don't have time for or have never heard of. I don't need their help and the author isn't actually my intended audience (my intended audience are podfic listeners, which may or may not include the author). But, honestly, I can't imagine saying no to an author if they asked to be part of the podficcing process (if we had artistic vision differences I might decide to back out of the project, or decide to never podfic a work by them again but I doubt it would stop me from trying.

You know what I would like to do someday? Put together a cd/digital pack of audiofic specifically created for audiofic, and use it to raise money for charity.
And maybe I'm getting petty now but that statement just... really crystallized for me how out of touch you are with podfic fandom. But that could be because I'm stressing out over the $200 worth of charity podfic I'm in the process of making right now.

[personal profile] bjewelled I'm not even sure if you're going to read this, total kudos to you for making it this far if you did. I know a lot of what I've said in here won't be easy for you to read. Maybe next time you meta, you can learn a bit more about whatever it is you're metaing about before you start jumping to conclusions on it. I'm not saying you have to read every piece of meta on something before you talk about it (lord knows I have trouble keeping up with podfic meta and podfic is my thing), hell if you don't want to do any research at all first, you can still post about it. But if that's the case, it's better to post questions and let people explain. Because jumping to conclusions just results in hurt feelings all around.
Tags: meta, podfic
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