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Rhetoretician -- Fiction etc.

Review Envy

Review Envy

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I'm disappointed with myself for caring so much whether people review my posted fan fiction or not. 

It seems to me that, given that there's no money in fan fiction, the only reasons to do it are (1) to have the creative experience itself, (2) to touch other people, and (3) to get to indulge yourself in the characters and the settings you love.  None of these are enhanced by reviews.  When I get even one review from somebody who thinks hard about the work and really was affected by it, or if I get a private e-mail, or (once I start posting these things on LJ) if I get an LJ response as the darling  [info]girlspell just wrote, it's worth the world to me and it makes me smile all day.  So why do I gnash my teeth waiting for a large number of reviews to show up on SIYE, even if they are brief, content-free blips like "Dude! Update soon!"?

Then there are the things like reward nominations and votes.  I find that it hurts my feelings when I don't get more votes for an award, even though I know the system is (accidentally) skewed towards different kinds of works than those I write.  Obviously I should be delighted that so many people did vote for my fic, shouldn't I?

It's sometimes so much harder to live by the aspirations you have.  The writing is an end in itself, and moving even one person is a blessing and an honor.  These external things simply impose more wear & tear on the soul
[Unknown LJ tag]
  • Oh, Ken. I think everyone who posts their writing feels this way.

    It's not a pretty feeling and and I think your very brave and honest to admit it. I shall raise my hand in solidarity and admit to feeling the same way.

    The sad fact is that for the most part there is simply no way for the payoff of reviews to equal the amount of work that went into the story. I mean, how many reviews are enough? That's like trying to quantify how much love you need on a daily basis.

    The breezy drabble - the scene that came quickly. It's nice to get reviews on them. It's fun, in fact. The effort and the reward seem matched.

    I wish I had that experience all of the time - but I don't.

    I think you have the right thinking about this and your feelings just need to catch up. It is a great thing to touch other people. It is a great thing to create something that wasn't there before. Don't forget to pat yourself on the back when you've posted - no matter how many reviews you get.

    I commented to the powers that be at SIYE that didn't think the Silver Trinket rewards were very conducive to improving writing. In fact, I think they're counter-productive because they pit one writer against another, they pit the writer against himself if he is writing a mulit-chapter fic., and sitting down and thinking about the Silver Trinket award is never going to help a writer have the confidence to try something new. In fact, thinking about the Silver Trinket awards isn't going to get anything written. Sigh. Deaf ears, I'm afraid.

    I'm not much help, am I? But I do understand. I'll try to read your story in the next few days and I'll leave a review. ;)
    • Dearest Mary, you are one of the reasons this is such a satisfying experience for me. The chance to talk at length with others about the writing, people like you and David and Dave and Matthew and Christine and Valerie and Stacey and Rachel and..., to talk about their work and to talk about mine, to get to praise each other and bask like a kitten who's found a sunny spot on the carpet, it's like really good coffee and really dark chocolate all at the same time.

      I think that your comment about "quantifying love" hits the nail on the head. Robert Heinlein (of all people!) said that all artists want to be loved, or else they wouldn't be trying so hard to reach other people through their art. What I'm discovering is how hungry I am for that sort of affection. I'm not lacking for love in my personal life -- I have a wonderful wife and we're crazy about each other after 19 years, and two beautiful children and a ridiculously affectionate cat. Yet -- When you write me a lengthy e-mail I just eat it up, and it gives me great pleasure to write back in kind. Somebody writes me a review about "On the Headmaster's Wall" and says, "I'm crying as I write this review," and I can't tell you what it does to me; it's transcendent.

      There's a mystery in this somewhere. I think that my writing, anyway -- at least the part that isn't deliberately silly -- bares a part of my soul to the world. It makes me feel vulnerable but hopeful, because I'm hoping someone will say, "Yes, I see that about you and I like it," or "Yes, that's me too." Do you know, I had very big reservations about writing "A Slow Boat to Shippers' Hell", and the main reason was that I was afraid someone like you or David would read what I wrote and say, "He doesn't know me at all."

      At some level this is all about intimacy. But you, of all people, already knew that.
    • See now, this is why we love you (well, this and the fact that you write wonderful, fluffy, mythopoetic fics): because you manage to make the whole sordid exercise be part of a positive, creative process.

      As you say, every fic author goes through these sorts of crises. One of the things that I've had to recognize is that, the more I take the kinds of thematic and (eek! I'm going to say it!) artistic risks that I want to take, the fewer hits and reviews I'm going to get. On good days, I'm able to shrug and deal with it. On bad days...

      On bad days I think, "I'm already in the publishing industry—why do I go looking for this kind of headache?"

      When I first came into the fandom almost three years ago (gulp!), the writer whose writing I first fell in love with told me, "The thing is, I can tell now what kind of fics are going to get fifty comments on my LJ, and what kind will get two. But I'd honestly rather just write the fics I want to write, because most of the extra comments aren't worth the effort to read."

      One of the best things that ever happened to me as a fic writer, I think, was Monster, a fic that I wrote for all of the wrong reasons at exactly the write time. It's not a bad fic, mind; there are some things that I really like about it. But I wrote the first chapter as a knee-jerk reaction to the closing chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and then was convinced to write the rest...

      What happened was that Monster was the first H/G fic to hit FictionAlley.org and SIYE after the pairing went canon. And it featured a somewhat... titillating closing. So I got hundreds of reviews, most of which were STUPID. Most of them either excoriated Ginny for being such a slut (most of those were on SIYE) on the one hand, or claiming the same as a virtue (most of those were on FA—"Dude! Ginny is TEH HO!!!!!11!"). It made me look up and think, Forget this! I mean, here was a bonefide hit (pardon the pun), and most of the reviews left me more annoyed than informed.

      So now I'm happy when I get feedback that actually makes me think.... Even when it only comes from time to time. :-)

      I agree about the whole Silver Trinket thing. It's sure to make too many people too unhappy with each other. (Also, to be entirely honest, it's a reminder to people like... say... me that what we write is a bit on the fringe.)

      • I think this is something like the question of whether you'd rather be popular or instead have a few, really good friends. My tendency has always been the latter, but I've always wondered what the former would feel like.

        I didn't know that about "Monster"; when I first read it, I loved it because (1) Harry needed to be told off for dumping Ginny, and (2) I thought that bit at the end iof Ch. 1 was pretty romantic. I can imagine how I'd feel if I wrote something that conveyed meaning I cared about, but 100 people replied saying, "loved the bran muffins in chapter two; they're really tasty, aren't they?"

        I guess what I'm working through is this: You and Mary and several others write really interesting, rich, gratifying replies to my work, and I love them. We have other interactions and I love them too. So I have a few good friends. My own issue, probably something to take up with my therapist, is, why do I still long to be more popular too? It's so tiresome, at 46, to be still dealing with stuff that I think dates from 32 years back!
  • I'm a reader not a writer. I like to read stories that provoke you into either a response or at least thinking about what you just read. I get that reaction after reading stories from Ken, Mary and Antosha, Viridian, and a few others. These authors are gems. What I don't care very much for is the Silver Trinket award. This is not supposed to be a popularity contest. Many times I find myself shaking my head and moving on to the next one. In the end, I'd much rather read the featured story list. All of you are doing something you love to do. It should just be that. I'm also a little jealous. It takes talent to write well. All of you have it.

    Oh, I did ask Ken if he had any original fiction. I would love to see that form all of you.
    • Well, I've already told Mary she should "get out of JKR's shadow and start working without a net." "Roger & Lisa" is essentially an original piece of fiction and could easily be redone outside the potterverse with no real damage. Antosha, I'm pretty sure, has other literary pursuits and I think he does this for fun. Viridian has written at least four original novels (they're pretty good, and if you ask him he'll send some of them to you) but can't find a publisher.

      I don't have any original fiction yet. (Well, that's not entirely true; I have some fragments I've written for stories that were never completed.) I have written journal articles on the constitutive rhetoric of legal texts (hence my user name), but almost nobody reads them. I've written classroom lectures (I'm a college teacher) and a lot of annual "light humor awards" that are pretty funny (if I do say so myself). Really, I'm hoping that the fanfic will give me the confidence and the experience to let me write some original fiction someday. Maybe I'll post some of my old stuff and my fragments here and see what you guys think.

      While you're flattering everyone, let me say that I like reading Antosha for his passion, his sense of humor and the sheer guts behind some of his narrative choices. I like reading St Maggie because of how deeply she understands human relationships and how she stirs my romantic heart. I like reading Viridian because of his character development and the primacy he gives to human intimacy.

      Rachel honey, I hope you'll forgive me for saying this, but I get really sad when someone says something like you've said about not having the talent to write and being envious of those who do. If you yearn to write I wish you would. I think you should write something and post it -- heck, just post it on your LJ if you're shy, and let us read it. I mean, in Mary alone you have one of the most supportive writing coaches I've ever run across, and while I get cranky sometimes, I'd be willing to put in my two cents too!

  • Hmm. I have some vague fear of being lynched for posting here, given the direction of the conversation. But I'm a brave soul who basks in relative anonymity, so I'll do it anyway.

    Ken, I feel just the way you do. When I posted the first three chapters of MoO, I treasured every single review I got. 10 reviews for 3 chapters was really wonderful. People had read my story, odd as it was, and at least taken the time to let me know that they'd done so. Because, really, that's what those "Dude! Update soon!" reviews are . . . "I wuz here" graffiti on your story. Unlike most graffiti, however, they have value by their very existence.

    You have to understand that I'm a little obsessive compulsive about numbers and analyses. I track, chart, and manipulate anything I can quantify, including reviews, views, favorites... all of that mess. So as I published more chapters, I watched more reviews arrive, and the craving grew. A review/chapter ratio of 3.33 was no longer acceptable. I wanted 5. Then 10. Every time a new chapter got a few more reviews than previous chapter, the craving grew. To this day, I can tell you that ratio to the third decimal place.

    Then, horror of horrors, I got nominated for a DSTA. The pattern started over. It was great to be nominated. It was great to get even one vote in any category. Anything else was just icing on the icing. The next month, I wanted more votes, and I felt a strange resentment towards the stories that had won so many times, even though I knew (and still know) that they are at least as good as my own.

    Then I won one. O frabjous day! I have achieved something and can now rest content! My worthiness has been validated.

    Then I won a couple more, and I had become one of the Them. A mutual friend of ours, who is disturbingly perceptive about many things, told me that anything I posted would get a certain amount of attention, just because my name was on it. I voted for her story, because it truly was better than mine, but it wasn't enough.

    And you know what? I still feel exactly as you describe. Chapter 14 got an insane 88 reviews, in spite of the fact that I was horribly nervous about posting it (for obvious reasons). When 15 came out, I wondered what I'd done wrong. Now, anytime a chapter gets less than 30.278 reviews, I wonder if I've lost my touch and everyone hates my story now. Today, my latest chapter got its 30th, and I literally sighed in relief.

    How insane is that? I write MoO because I like playing with the concepts I've based it on. I value feedback from no more than a dozen people, and 12 is a heck of a lot less than 30. I honestly don't consider reviews or awards when I'm writing, but when the time comes to post a chapter or vote for awards, I find myself obsessing about them again.

    As for the DSTAs... I now fear that I am denying wonderful authors their moment in the popular sun, simply because people recognize my name. And yet I have a spreadsheet of the voting results for the entire year, and I update it 2-3 times a day while the polls are open.

    So I don't know the answer, but you've found the right question. Why, when we know what's really important to us, do we still crave the frivolities?


    • I voted for her story too, even though I really liked yours. Your prominence doesn't keep anyone from anything, except for those readers who only read the things that get rewards or a lot of reviews.

      There's a quotation from Donald Kingsbury's novel Courtship Rite (a really fun, weird book, by the way) that I can't give you verbatim because all our books are packed away until this beknighted home renovation is over. Here's the gist of it: "There once was a girl who had beautiful dreams. She sang in the street, telling passers-by of her dreams and begging coins to help her realize them. As each listener gave her a coin, she sewed it into her dress. Years passed, and she became an old woman, her clothes in rags, still in the street, her dress held together only by the coins. A passer-by came and handed her a coin, saying, 'Sing to me of your dreams.' Her reply, as she snatched it from his hand, was, 'I dream of coins.' "

      Dave, you've caught the feeling exactly. Part of me thinks that this is the two different sides of my brain warring with each other -- the right brain wants truth & beauty, the left brain wants a measurable reward. Or maybe this is my Hufflepuff side vs. my Slytherin side? My Earth vs. my Air? My George vs. my Ringo?

      Really, I almost want to blame this on evolution.

  • I do the same thing, Ken. Every time I post a chapter I immediately wonder how many reviews it's going to get. Even if it's a terrible review, which I thankfully haven't had so far, I'd still be happy that my story evoked some kind of feeling from someone. I'm sure if I got 88 reviews for one chapter (wow!) I'd probably turn off the e-mail notification feature, but as it is right now I have it turned on and I immediately head to SIYE to see who reviewed and what they said.

    I don't do it for the reviews; I do it for myself more than anything and might not have even posted for others to read if it hadn't been for some encouragement from friends, but I still obsess about them anyway.
  • Hi Ken,

    The wonderful St. Margarets referred me to this thread, because I've recently been agonizing over the exact same things as you are in your post! I have to say it was very therapeutic for me to read this thread, as it was an intelligent and thoughtful discussion about something that came to the forefront for me after posting and concluding my latest multichaptered story. So, if this is what your LJ is like, I'd love to friend you! Is that OK? By the way - please don't let my last LJ entry scare you off - St. Margarets and I only get that silly once in a while. Thanks!
    • (Anonymous)
      Delighted, Annette! St. Maggie gave me a heads-up, and I *think* I friended you first.

      As to today's post on your LJ, I'll confess that I only skimmed it, but was sorely tempted to add a chapter of my own in which a middle-aged fellow with thinning hair named "Rhet" picked the lock and came in to bewail all the excellent fiction that wasn't being written while the two ladies discussed their love lives...
  • Left field

    I know I'm not exactly normal in how I look at life or deal with stories, so I'll toss this out there as a different point of view.

    I've said in the past, to the admins at SIYE, that if I could block Echoes from being capable of participating in the DSTA, I would. They are tinkering with the format and scoring and rules, but the ultimate stated goals of the DSTA cannot be achieved by the DSTA.

    The DSTA is supposed to encourage authors to write better stories, and even improve on their writing as time passes. The problem is that the awards are done by peer review, which even Google and the PageRank system was deliberately designed to avoid. Peer review is too skewed and biased to be actually useful.

    The "FanFic" community lacks Nebula, Hugo, or Pulitzer style distinguished independent party prizes. Thus, there seem to be two categories of prizes on various sites. (1) Admin award based, where the mechanism of choosing is unclear and runs the risk of perceived bias; and (2) peer review, which is essentially a popularity contest.

    The only thing I dislike about the same stories winning over and over again is that it really is popularity. Look at Viridian's NoFP, for example. He has some brilliant chapters, and then he has what I'd call "throw away" chapters where the writing and plot are sub-par for him. Regardless of which type of chapter is posted, he still wins, because he's popular. If you look at the voting trends on SIYE, this last month had some of the lowest vote totals (I think -- ask Sovran, he's the numbers man) recently, and I speculate that it is simply that _the_ most popular stories -- NoFP, 7th Horcrux, TC, etc -- were not in the running. Thus, a large population didn't bother checking SIYE or voting, and some of those that did visit opted not to vote because they saw no reason to vote as the ones they like were not options.

    The second effect here is that votes are cast without being educated or informed readers. I know I am guilty of this to some extent. If there are 10 stories in a category like Romance, for example, before voting have you read every story? No? Then how are you qualified to vote properly? It's like showing up at the General Election and knowing only a few of the topics you're voting on. Despite the fact that a story may not be very good in a category, because it's the only one you've read in that category, it may be the only one you vote for. This kind of skew or bias is pretty much unavoidable in peer review.

    If there were a distinguished panel of third parties involved... say, for example, taking a cross-section of the top 15 widely acclaimed authors across all of HP fanfic for writing excellent stories (plot, characters, humour, etc. are all well done, not just one or two) and the top 5-10 reader-reviewers (like Chreechree, she reads so many fics and writes quite intelligent reviews) ... and then you had them evaluate a cross-section of nominated stories from _every_ site... now that is a contest I would like to be nominated for, and would treasure winning. The current systems ... eh. Not really interesting, as it feels artificial in many respects.

    I do tend to have a mild interest in the DSTAs from a numbers analysis perspective, and to see how many people "block vote" as well as repeatedly vote exactly the same way every month. But that's my dark engineering side trying to find logic in what appears to be illogical conclusions.

    • Re: Left field

      Actually I think that peer-reviewed stories, like peer-reviewed scholarly journals, can be good things. But it is entirely dependent on your definition of "peer." I view the people who've commented on this LJ to be my peers -- people who care a lot about writing, think hard, and try to express themselves coherently. Practically nothing they have to say ever disappoints me. (Although sometimes I wish that some of them would be a little tougher on me -- because I could learn from it.) In fact, I'll go further -- even on SIYE, any other author I'd view as a "peer." But the audience is allowed to vote, and that means that one is judged by herd mentality. Excuse me, "flock" mentality.

      But in a broader sense, your take on the question, while perfectly sensible (and I agree with it) sort of makes my point. Since you are right on all counts -- why do I let it bother me?
      • Re: Left field

        I know, I owe you a few emails and some responses here, but I just am passing through.

        The new SIYE poll is up, and while a few of the stories deserve to be there, the rest just reaffirm my belief that the entire system is flawed and unworkable.
  • Left field, Part 2

    (Sorry, I exceeded the allowed length for a post. Here's the rest.)

    The problem I have with reviews is that I'd truly rather have silence for reviews than Sheeple reviews ("Dude! Awesome! Update already!"). I value intelligent reviews that show the reader is getting the more obscure things, the things that are not necessarily obvious. It shows that my writing is working, not just passively entertaining or distracting.

    My bias here probably stems from knowing a priori that I'm not mainstream. I know I'm writing to a narrow audience, and I know I'm not getting 80+ reviews for a chapter any time soon if ever. I have the same core 10 or so reviewers every chapter, with a minor fluctuation in the "noise" of whatever other reviewers I get. Some reviewers disappear, and another long-term reviewer takes their place, but the numbers don't change much.

    I do feel a mild sense of obligation -- if someone took the time to read what I wrote, and write a review, even if it is Sheeple-like, then I owe it to them to at least acknowledge their review. If I had 80+ reviews per chapter, most of which were not the kind that I value, I'd probably change that opinion and be less annoyed by the reviews that have no intrinsic merit to me.

    One thing I would point out, Ken -- I believe you've got far less content-wise published than I do on SIYE, and you're already doing better in the polls than I was at a similar time, and in some ways, better than I do now. Look how long it took Sovran to get up there. (I'd pull up the data to verify all of this which is from memory, but SIYE is down again at the moment. I'll just hope it's true like I think it is.)

    It's hard for most people to try new things. They have things that they know that they like, and they keep going back to them. The same authors, the same stories, the same foods, the same restaurants, the same TV shows (if you watch TV, I gave it up years ago). The same thing is happening with your stories. Word of mouth from someone who finally tried something new, and liked it, and told others, and that opened the door slightly so they might try it next time. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. But after a few more words-of-mouth (word-of-mouths?) get to them, they are far more likely to try it.

    Give it another few months, and you'll be winning the DSTA, I'm sure. Likewise, your review count will go up.
    • Re: Left field, Part 2

      Well, okay. Let's assume you're right, and that my review counts go up in a few months, and that I start winning DSTA all over the place (unlikely, based on my own review of the data, by the way -- but assume it anyway). And let's say that that makes me feel great. But there's the problem again -- the core problem isn't that I'm not getting enough reviews or winning enough rewards; the core problem is that it matters to me when I think it shouldn't. If it stopped bothering me just because I started winning, then I'd be like Bernard Marx in Brave New World: the guy thinks he's a nonconformist and a rebel, but it turns out he can be as mainstream conservative as anyone else when he starts getting the strokes for it. Yuck.
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