Interview with Steve Drew (r/Fantasy)


My guest today is Steve Drew, the lead moderator for the reddit.com r/Fantasy community.

SCy-Fy: How would you describe r/Fantasy, Steve?

SD: reddit.com is one of the largest social networking and interest group sites on the web. It is made up of thousands of sub-groups (subreddits) that are all formed and moderated by individual volunteers. Each subreddit is managed with different goals and levels of quality. Some notoriously so. All of them roll up collectively to form reddit.com.

The r/Fantasy community was started over eight years ago as a place where fans, authors, artists, and industry people can discuss the overall speculative fiction genre. The community has grown over the years to 78,000 members and more than 8,000 speculative fiction fans passing through each day. We currently have a team of seven moderators who sort through posts and comments daily.

SCy-Fy: Tell me about a typical day within the r/Fantasy community.

SD: Most of the content on r/Fantasy is posted by community members themselves; authors and fans noting interesting blog posts and starting SFF-related discussions. The role of the moderating team is to be sure that content and comments stay true to the two r/Fantasy rules: Please Be Kind and stick with a SFF focus. 95% of posts do just that. Others are often removed for violating reddit spam policies or our Please Be Kind rules.

The r/Fantasy moderating team also works to add content to the community on a regular basis. These range from Ask Me Anything sessions (AMAs) with authors, artists, and industry people to community-generated ‘Best of’ lists to promoting SFF-related charity events and more. For example, we recently set up a Spanish SFF Week at r/Fantasy to help connect authors and artists from Spanish-speaking backgrounds to our English-focused community. It is a lot of work, but worth it when it helps to make our broader SFF family stronger.

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?

SD: The moderating team is also working on refreshing our 2015 lists that help members find new works. This includes the popular Best lists as well as lists for works found outside the mainstream publishing circles: female SFF authors, international authors, stand-alone novels, favorite lesser-known novels, SFF web resources, and more.

Our successful Spanish SFF week will lead to other featured weeks. Up next will be a SFF Artist and Illustrator week followed by others that match up with community interests.

r/Fantasy will have a fan booth at this year’s Sasquan WorldCon and will be helping to bring authors, artists and fans together during the experience. It is a chance to connect this large online community to real-life interaction and experiences. Here is an example of the r/Fantasy effort at the 2013 WorldCon in San Antonio.

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major future challenges for SFF communities?

SD: The challenge is to maintain quality within a community while managing growth. For example, r/Fantasy brings in 1,000 new members every two weeks. That means the same questions tend to be asked by the 10,000 new members every 2-3 months. Some get answered by the ongoing lists we update for recommendations, while others are picked up by the community itself.

Another challenge is how to deal with the issues and drama that can steamroll through social media. We try to maintain a neutral position at r/Fantasy – encouraging anyone from any background to enter into discussion about SFF. Just keep it focused on the broader fantasy genre and Please Be Kind. Polarizing issues can create a healthy discussion and, at the same time, can bring out the worst elements. The key is to recognize when someone might need a quick chat to remind them of our policies, or when they are not a good fit with the community.

SCy-Fy: Tips for bloggers? For reviewers? Writers?

SD: reddit.com is a free-to-use website and r/Fantasy is very author/reviewer/ blogger friendly. If used appropriately, it can be a great way to interact with a large group of speculative fiction fans. That said, there are strict spam policies and an anti-spam culture in place to stop exploitation of the site. The challenge is to contribute to the community without spamming up the place.

When in doubt, reach out to the r/Fantasy moderation team for guidance on how to get started. There is some art to this that a number of authors and bloggers have figured out, mostly starting with becoming an active member of the community first.

SCy-Fy: Just between us – your secret list of useful resources?

SD: Our greatest resource is the network of authors, artists, and industry people built up over the years. From self-published to international bestselling – all are treated with professionalism and appropriately snarky respect. Those who connect with this community come back and recommend that others do so as well.

For news, we rely on community-driven content, plus the mod team pays attention to Twitter feeds and blogs to help centralize anything of interest.

SCy-Fy: Traps in managing a community?

SD: Recognizing the difference between acting as a facilitator of information and as a content-creator. Those who build communities, review books, and gather information often slide over to the side of issuing opinions and developing their own content. In doing so, they tend to define the ideology and type of people they want in their online world.

We try to maintain a positive tone and neutral position in SFF fandom on r/Fantasy – one where differing opinions can exist and where we are part of a broader SFF family. Just be kind about it.

SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?

SD: Authors, artists, industry people and fans who reach out to let me and the team know that what we do matters. Those who create in our industry do not make enough money compared to the value of the books that line our shelves and the art on our walls. SFF readers do not have many places where they can directly interact with authors and become new fans. No question it helps when they letus know that what we do is on the right track or appreciated.

For me, this is my volunteer time. Knowing that it is for a good cause keeps me going.

SCy-Fy: Which feature you have introduced has had the most impact?

SD: Setting up Ask Me Anything sessions has had the greatest impact on the growth and well-being of r/Fantasy. I started this process by reaching out to Brandon Sanderson years ago for our wildly successful – for him and for us – first AMA. As a follow-up, I worked closely with Robin Hobb to get a greater understanding of what might work for bringing new-to-reddit authors on board. Both have been strong supporters of the community over the years and, since then, we have had more than 200 authors through. Many are regular contributors to the community, which makes this a more interesting community for fans.

SCy-Fy: What have been the best books you have read recently?

SD: I have an enormous Mount Readmore pile of books – bought after getting to know authors associated with r/Fantasy. Some are set aside for fun reading and some are set aside knowing that they will be wonderful, deep reads. I am horribly far behind.

The most memorable recently read were City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett, Miserere by Teresa Frohock, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay, and The Tao series by Wesley Chu.

SCy-Fy: Which upcoming releases are you most looking forward to?

SD: Mix of upcoming and in my pile, but unread: Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Time Salvager by Wesley Chu, The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence, Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb.

SCy-Fy: Thank you, Steve – and keep up the good work!

SD: Thanks for the chance to do an interview! Please feel free to check out the Reddit Fantasy community over at www.reddit.com/r/fantasy.

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