Authors and the Bitchslaps They Need
By Jaina the Blue Moose
I just want to get this out of the way right now: If you are of an overly sensitive quality, in poor health, or you just can't stand negativity of any kind, you might want to stop here. I promise not to be a raving bitch for the sake of being a raving bitch, but sometimes things work out that way and I'm definitely not Mary Sunshine. This is also very long. You might think somethingís wrong with me for going on and on about such a minor matter in the grand scheme of things, but everyone has their touchy points and this is one of them for me.
Letís talk about feedback. Itís a good thing, people. If itís good, it can send authors into paroxysms of joy. If itís well worded constructive criticism, it can be a great aid to authors working to hone their talent. If itís badÖwellÖthe world isnít perfect, you know? Neither is fic. Thatís why Iíve been disturbed to notice a particular trend on such review-oriented sites such as fanfiction.net and other sites. Itís the demand for feedback, people, and it ainít pretty. Everyone wants to know what people think of their writing, and a ďPlease send feedback!Ē or a joking demand is normal and fine. What I donít like to see is when authors say something like ďIíll only post the next chapter if I receive x number of responses.Ē Just where the hell do they get off? Feedback is something to be received gracefully, not demanded harshly. When that happens itís annoying, itís rude, and itís detrimental to the fanfic community as a whole.
Why am I such a doom and gloom girl? It's because feedback is a gift, people. A gift. There's a reason that writers thank people for giving feedback, not the other way around. No one is ever obligated to send feedback. Never. Period. Most of the time people *should*, but they never *have* to. It's like...Christmas presents. I have a wonderful best friend who, in appreciation for all she means to me, I buy a gift for every year. After many years of friendship I'm sure she's come to expect our annual exchange. What if, next year, for whatever reason, I decide not to buy her a present? Is she going to be upset? Probably. Presents are nice, and after spending lots of time working on the friendship and making it a good one, it's nice to show a little appreciation and affection. Can she be justifiably angry with me? No, absolutely not. I don't owe her a Christmas present, I give it to her because I want to. It isn't a business deal, where she gets gifts in exchange for her friendship. I give her a present every year out of the goodness of my heart, because I want to. *Should* I give her a present? I would say yes. It's something we've done for many years and it's always nice to show someone how much you appreciate them once in a while. But there's a different between "should" and "obligated to". I probably *should* give my friend a present, but I'm within my rights if I decide not to. It may make me kind of a jerk, but I have the right to decide who I buy Christmas presents for. Christmas presents are about freely given affection. They are not about obligated reciprocation. Christmas presents don't work that way, and neither does feedback.
Whenever I go to fanfiction.net and see, in the summary of a fic, "I will post the next chapter when I get x number of reviews," my instinctive response is to run far, far away, blowing raspberries behind me as I go. Who are they to demand that I send feedback? They have posted their work because they want to, and I will send feedback because I want to. Whenever someone reminds me to send feedback in a way like this, I usually doóbut always to someone else who didnít act like it was their right.
Writers: You absolutely have the right to decide where and when to distribute your work. It's your choice, and I wouldn't dream of saying it's not. But demands? You don't get demands. Feedback is a gift, and you don't get to demand gifts. For starters, it's illegal. Okay, recover from the facefault. Legally, (god I love having friends with esoteric legal knowledge) you cannot demand feedback. To do so is to demand "compensation for producing something that you don't own the copyright to or have permission to use." Demanding feedback technically violates copyright law. Sending feedback is not illegal because it is not compensation. I know, it's confusing, and I would laugh my ass off at anyone who actually tried to prosecute for such an "offense," but it's a small point to think about.
Refusing to post fic to a site or a page until youíve gotten enough feedback strikes me as very destructive. Why take this route when there are so many other ways to promote feedback? Why not start a feedback chain--someone feeds you, you feed three others and so on? Why not create a group dedicated to encouraging feedback without demanding it? I used to be on a great X-Files list called XAPEN. XAPEN had a wonderful way of encouraging feedback. Every day but Friday people posted fic, and every Friday was reserved exclusively for feedback. More people sent it because it was a specific reminder to do so, and they had fun being creative in the feedback. More people read the fic after reading good reviews on Friday. It was an endless circle that worked out great, and it didn't harm anyone. Try this, try anything that you think might work. If you donít think people send feedback enough, then get off your ass and do something about it. Donít expect the world to accommodate your needs just because you said so.
Authors who would like to see more feedback (and I'm one of them, but for the purposes of ranting I'll forget that) think about the following things. Perhaps people are honestly too busy to send feedback? There are days when I don't even get to read fic, much less comment on it. "Sure, but what about the people who aren't too busy? And why don't you just send feedback when things ease up a bit?" Excellent points, but holding fic hostage does not address them. At best, theyíll just keep doing what theyíre doing and nothing will have changed. At worst, theyíll get pissed at you and send feedback to someone whoís not so self-righteous.
Another reason: I would never suggest that authors who get little feedback write bad stories, but sometimes, um, it's true. There, I admitted it: I do not love and adore every single story that comes through fanfiction.net or my mailing lists. How shameful of me. Don't automatically assume that you're a bad writer because you don't get much feedback, but at least consider the point! Get a beta reader who is *not* a good friend of yours, who actually looks for things to fix. Don't be satisfied with a mere spelling and grammar check; writing is so much more than that. If you don't have to revise significantly at least once, you're doing something wrong. You've got to remember that if you want more feedback, you're going to have to take with the good with the bad. Most people never send negative feedback because they feel bad about it, myself included. I would never suggest that I or anyone else would send negative feedback in retaliation for the demands, but it does exist and you'll have to take more criticism if feedback increases proportionally.
I realize that people just want to feel appreciated, that there is almost never any harm intended. I donít think itís greedy to want to be acknowledged. Thereís nothing wrong with that. But if you are so dependent on feedback that you absolutely cannot write without it and you try to turn it into some kind of exchange system, Iím sorry, but itís not my job to make you feel better. No one promises authors feedback when we post, so no one has any right to demand feedback when they feel they arenít getting enough. Feedback/Christmas presents are wonderful to get. It is perfectly acceptable to want and look forward to feedback/Christmas presents. It is not okay to demand feedback/Christmas presents. You do not have the right to demand them. The proper response to feedback is not ďThatís all there is?Ē The proper response is ďthank you.Ē
Comments? Questions? Flames to warm my bathwater? Send `em to email@example.com.