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If on a Yuletide morn, a reader

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You are about to begin reading your Yuletide story. Make sure you have some time in which you won't be interrupted; you can see at the top of the page that your story is over ten thousand words long and has several chapters, and you don't want to have to stop partway through. Tell visiting family you have something important to do and musn't be disturbed. Ask your partner to entertain the kid for a while, or wait for his nap.

Or maybe you are more eager than that. Maybe you have waited up for the archive to go live and are using precious hours of sleep to read your story right away. Maybe you got up in the dark of the morning, like a small child sneaking out to shake presents before the adults are awake, and are enjoying the rare quiet of your home in the cool glow of your screen.

Are you warm enough? Do you need slippers, a sweater, or an extra throw blanket? It's important to be comfortable while you read, and it's chilly outside; make sure you're cozy. Some tea or coffee, perhaps, or maybe some hot cocoa, could set you up for warmth inside and out. You could turn up the thermostat, even though you usually try to be conscientious about keeping it low. It's a holiday, after all.

How about light? It's not good for your eyes to read just by the light of the screen. Do you have some other light source? Not just the light of the tree (if you have a tree) or a nightlight. Incandescent or full-spectrum light is best, either overhead or from a lamp. If you're using daylight from a window, be sure there's no glare on your screen. Reading shouldn't give you a headache, after all. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Have you gone to the bathroom?

All right, all right. You know how best to make yourself comfortable. And maybe too much preparation isn't such a good idea. There's no guarantee that your story will be any good, after all, or that it will fit your requests. You know that you'll get a fandom you asked for, with characters you've specified, but beyond that you've cautioned yourself to have no expectations. Someone took the time and trouble to write a story for you, and that's a gift in itself, you tell yourself.

Which is not to say you didn't spend a lot of time daydreaming about what to ask for. It's not every day you can get a story written just for you, much less in a rare fandom, after all. You put a great deal of thought into your nominations, and then into your requests after that.

Part of the fun of Yuletide, for you, is the idle daydreaming, throughout the year, about fandoms to nominate. Books and movies you love that nobody seems to have written anything for. Characters you can't get enough of. You winnow down the list: first go the Fandoms In Which You Want A Very Specific Story and the Fandoms Which Really Need Epic Word Count — that's not fair to your author — then the Fandoms Which Are Rare But You Can Sometimes Find Stories For Them Elsewhere. You want a story that would never otherwise be written. You eliminate, reluctantly, the Fandoms Where You Would Be Too Disappointed By Bad Stories and the Fandoms You Used To Love But Are No Longer As Passionate About. It's a delicate line, how invested you want to be in this, since it's simultaneously a rare treat and an unknown quantity.

But in the end, the nominations process is less difficult than actually choosing your requests from the lists of final nominations. For one thing, the list must get even shorter. For another, you are suddenly faced with a host of possibilities that, left to your own devices, you might have forgotten to consider. Fandoms You Loved In Childhood and Fandoms You Loved In College have been nominated, as well as Fandoms That Would Inevitably Yield Cool Stories. Now it's not just your original nominations, but a list of thousands.

Luckily, Yuletide compulsiveness is widespread and you are able to get a spreadsheet to help yourself narrow down the possibilities. You eliminate the Fandoms You Don't Recognize Or Enjoy easily, but are left with a list that remains three times too large. Take out the Fandoms That Rely On Tone To Succeed; those are awful when they are not done perfectly, like a piano that is ever so slightly out of tune. The Fandoms Where You Only Care About One Minor Character are next to be axed; you want something that will at least offer your author a few options. The Fandoms That Are Really Pretty Complete Unto Themselves are the last to go; you love them, but there's not a lot a new story could add to the perfection of canon.

At last, you are down to the final few:

Fandoms You Have Loved, Seemingly Alone, For Years;

Fandoms You Had Forgotten About But Now Can't Get Out Of Your Head After Seeing Them On The List;

Fandoms You Suddenly Realized You'd Forgotten to Nominate But Really Want; and

Fandoms That Don't Have A Following But You Can't Figure Out Why Not Because They're Perfect.

You review your list one more time, and double-check to make sure you have actually selected the correct characters and that your prompts are as clear and as helpful as you can make them. And with a deep breath, you hit "Submit."

After that, you try very hard to let go of any expectations. No point in staying wound up for weeks, after all, and you have other things to worry about in the interim. Still, it's a little exciting to click on the link in your email. What fandom did your author choose to write in? What characters will you get to read about? Will it be the story you've always wanted? You click through, enjoying the cleaner interface of the new archive, and begin to read.

Within a paragraph, however, you're feeling very confused.

This story is not even in one of the fandoms you requested this year, but it has your name on it, and the correct date, so it must be for you. How does that even happen? It's in a fandom you nominated, anyway, so it's not a total unknown.

And it's not bad, though it's maybe not quite what you would have liked. At first, you're thrown by the strangeness of the fandom switch, but it doesn't take you long to get involved in the narrative.