Feedback

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Synonyms: LOC, Comments
See also: flame, concrit, review, critique, egoboo, DVD Commentary, Kudos, Hit Counters
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Contents

the form requesting feedback that was included in the 1986 issue of the zine Quastar

Feedback is a general term used to describe messages sent to the creators of fanworks in response to their works.

The tradition of feedback in fandom began with Letters of Comment (LoCs) in zines, a term that carried through to Usenet and mailing lists, although the term "feedback" itself also began to be used fairly regularly.

However, other fans draw a distinction between feedback, which is directed to a creator, and reviews, which are directed to potential readers/viewers/listeners.

In fandoms based on LiveJournal and other journaling/blogging platforms, feedback is now often referred to simply as "comments." On FanFiction.net and other archives, feedback may be known as "reviews." On AO3, fans have the option of leaving a comment and/or clicking on Kudos.

Complaints About the Lack of Feedback

Since the beginning of fannish time, fans have complained about the lack of feedback for their fiction and art. Letters of Comment in print zines in the 1970s and 80s, posts on USENET in the 1990s and early 2000s, online journal comments later -- all are filled with complaints about a universal lack of feedback. One common refrain: "People used to be better about leaving feedback than they are now."

Not all fans feel unappreciated, though. A fan in 2001 wrote: "I've gotten over 25,000 feedback emails. I've kept every single one, and I've tried to answer every single one. I've got a backlog of about 200 now that I've been meaning to answer for months." [1]

For more about this as it relates to print zines, see Letter of Comment.

Controversies and Issues

Feedback is a controversial issue in many fandoms. Debates over feedback have included:

  • Obligatory feedback. Some fans feel strongly that readers and viewers of fanworks owe a debt to the creators. They believe that comments are an obligation that pays the creator, and they try to comment on every story they read. Other fans might hesitate to tell a writer how much they liked their dark satire, for example, for fear the writer thought they were writing a romance.
  • What types of feedback are acceptable and the difference between concrit, comments, reviews and flames.
  • Whether feedback should be intended to be helpful to creators or is simply an expression the impact the piece had on the reader.[2]
  • Style and content of feedback for explicit fanworks. [3]
  • Whether it is appropriate for creators to request feedback, complain about a lack of feedback, or discuss their feelings about feedback in public
  • Whether it is appropriate for creators to request only certain kinds of feedback (for instance, only concrit or only positive feedback). [4]
  • Whether and how authors should respond to feedback. This question often turns on whether feedback is seen as a way of thanking creators for fanworks offered as gifts to the community, [5] or as a gift itself, [6], making it polite for creators to offer thanks by replying. [7]
  • How platform and venue affect the amount and quality of feedback. A fan in 2015 posts: "I know I myself am guilty of often not giving feedback even when I love a story. I'll tell you why, though. Because I read it on my kindle but cannot give feedback easily from it. So I have to go back to computer and look up story and sometimes it just doesn't get done, or I forget." Also see Kudos for another example. [8]

A Fan's Comment Regarding "Literary Criticism": 1975

Boldly Writing tells of an early bit of controversy in 1975 regarding the place and form of criticism. A LoC by Paula Smith
[It] sharply criticized a story in the previous issue of Warped Space because it was a Mary Sue story, which brings up the whole issue of fan criticism. Paula Smith (and I [Joan Verba], plus other fans, mostly from the science fiction tradition), asserted that fan stories should be criticized by the literary standards applied to professional stories and novels. Other fans claimed that because fan fiction was an amateur effort, and 'just for fun,' it should not be criticized at all. Clashes occurred when the 'literary' fans wrote reviews of fanzines edited by the 'no-criticism- is-acceptable' fans. As these fans grew in number, 'literary' criticism of fanzines fell into decline. Later, in some fanzines, editors stated bluntly they would tolerate only favorable comments about their work. Warped Space, on the other hand, welcomed all comments and printed Paula's criticisms for all to read.

Are Fans Too Critical of Treklit?: A Fans' Exchange in 1985

From the newsletter, The Propagator:

Joan Verba writes a LoC:
Why is there so much criticism of the ST pro novels: "Why is there so much criticism of the ST pro novels? Because, compared to the quality of writing in classic ST fanzines, the pro novels are poor. In fact, there is not too much criticism of the pro novels -- on the contrary, there is not nearly enough. I've been subscribing to ST fanzines as long as there have been pro books in existence, and my experience is that, on the whole, the pro novels have drawn overwhelmingly positive reaction. (Author Ann Crispin told me, in person, that mine was only one of the three critical comments she could recall out of hundreds). I attribute this to the fact that the vast majority of ST book readers know little or nothing about ST fanzines. Part of the reason for criticizing the pro novels is to draw attention to the better-quality fanzines: part is to get pro authors to match the quality of writing in the better fanzines. As to whether ST stories (pro or fan) should be criticized. I am aware that there is a feeling among some fans that since ST writing is a 'labor of live' and not 'serious, that critics ought to 'go easy' on ST stories (particularly in fanzines). While I belied that criticism should be polite, it is not doing the author or fandom any service to overlook problems. Critical reviews will not hurt sales -- there are literally thousands of people who will purchase any publication with a ST label. Nor will it hurt the author's fan mail -- again, there are hundreds of fans who will enjoy any ST novel. But to those of us who are selective about what we read, it is essential to get an honest appraisal of the product (and ST stories are a product) before we purchase it. Naturally, authors are disappointed to hear that there are people who do not appreciate their work. but the purpose of a review is to evaluate the quality of a written work, not to inflate the author's ego. [9]
Shirley Maiewski also wrote an LoC addressing critique and why she didn't write fiction any more:
I agree whole-heartedly... re the sniping, called 'critiquing.' at Trek writers! Some of those doing it are dear, dear friends, but, doggone it folks! Gee! We do this for fun, after all, at least in zines... Somebody likes them or they wouldn't be printed! Many, many fans enjoy all ST stories? Why make them feel dumb by telling them they have no taste or smarts? It's an awful putdown to read that something you have enjoyed a great deal is 'poorly written; no character development; a -- horrors -- Mary Sue!' So what? Frankly, people have asked why I don't write more after the success of Mind Sifter. It's a long story, but there are two main reasons: First, the damage done to my story by editors (without my knowledge or permission), second, the thought that anything else I might write would be torn apart by the 'experts.' Best reasons in the world for a terminal case of Writer's Block. [10]

One Fan's Comments: 2013

In the past few months, an old-time fan moaned something on a list about, "Is that what fandom has come to? There's no longer any such thing as constructive feedback?" Well, yes, that's what it has come to. I think, first of all, there never really was much constructive feedback that was ever helpful after a story was printed or posted. Such comments could be really interesting for the author to read, but I doubt they ever changed the way she wrote. Secondly, historically, one common reason so many readers give for not giving feedback is, "I don't know how to talk like a writer." Writers will then insist, "You don't need to! Just tell me whether you liked the story or not. Even just one sentence is better than nothing." But it's hard for that to fly, if writers are talking about how they need feedback "so I can improve".

By the same token, I think the one major drawback to "positive only" feedback, is that it makes people reluctant to give feedback at all, especially public feedback. If they feel they can't say what they really think, then why bother with just the "nice" stuff? Used to be, people would talk about new stories on lists. I don't think that happens at all anymore.

So, what's the bottom line of all of this? First, though I used to believe wholeheartedly in the idea of "constructive criticism is necessary to help writers improve", I now think that idea was always a fantasy. Constrictive criticism from a beta or editor before a story is finished can definitely help a writer write better, but not after the horse has already left the barn. I'm on board with the "positive only" thing, all in all. Not that I mind, in private, somebody pointing out something that bothered them in one of my stories. Such attention is flattering, if only because it's so rare. Actually, I don't think I'd mind somebody pointing out something like that, in public, if they did it in a respectful way. But I've come to believe that such public attention paid to stories is a dead idea. It's not polite.

For better or worse, silence is therefore the status quo. [11]

A 2015 Discussion: Well, It's a Minefield Out There

I have a large number (a hundred or so) of private bookmarks that I'd like to either make public or make into recs. What's the etiquette on notes for those things? Can I say stuff like, "Loved this overall, but the middle third dragged a bit," or would that be bad? That's the kind of thing I appreciate in reviews so I know what to expect, but I don't know if it counts as unsolicited con-crit. Also, what's the difference between a rec and a public bookmark? [12]
I'd say that's concrit by fandom standards, and might get you pushback. Stick to praising the part you liked. People can read into the absence of compliments for other stuff what they will. [13]
They are your bookmarks, so it is OK to say whatever you want, as bookmarks are not for the writers. The difference between recs and general bookmarks is that you can filter by it, so I usually reserve the recs for fics I like. Any writers who take offense on bookmarks notes are idiots, and I say as a writer whose works don't always come with bookmarks notes showering with praise. [14]
In theory I think it's fine to say stuff like that, but I had a friend of a friend get really upset at a bookmark I had written over 3 years ago (back when I didn't know anyone in the fandom). I regret writing it because it affected her so much. :/ [15]
I don't think it is your fault, as it is her problem to get affected when she deliberately look for the bookmarks, just as the writers have no business getting offended reading Goodreads reviews of their work. [16]
As someone who uses the recs to find stories, please be honest! It's not that helpful to get a wall of 100% positive reviews for stories that vary from great, to flawed but otherwise excellent, to reasonably good, to good so long as you're only reading for trope X and don't care about anything else, with no hint which they are other than trying to fill in the blanks. (e.g. The rec doesn't mention characterisation! Is this because the story is totally OOC, or just that the reccer was too busy talking about the nifty plot to mention it?) I'm quite likely to read a story on the basis of a qualified rec, but entirely positive recs of stories with noticeable flaws tends to make me go look for recs by someone with closer taste to my own. It's taking no concrit entirely too far to say that bookmarks and recs have to be utterly positive. They aren't for the author, and an author who goes looking for them (it's not like you're even notified about them) should only do so if they can take knowing someone liked their story enough to recommend it without thinking it was perfect. [17]
I second this. I'm also more like to continue reading a fic with some flaws if the rec is upfront about them. If a rec says "The author's ESL and the writing is sometimes clunky, but she more than makes makes up for it with convincing characterisation and a terrific plot about [thing I like]" then I have much more information about the fic, but also about the reccer's judgement. So when I open it and find that hey, the writing's clunky, but the plot is great, I keep reading whereas if the rec didn't mention it I'd probably nope out early thinking "well, I don't want to read for the plot, she didn't mention that this is the clunkiest writing ever, so I think her judgment on plot is probably a bit suspect, too." [18]
They might not be 'for' the authors but bookmarks will turn up basically attached to the authors' stories, so be prepared for pushback. If you leave a blistering review (and who the hell can tell what someone is going to interpret as a 'blistering' review) some authors may just delete the story. [19]
People who delete their stories over blistering reviews don't deserve to have their stories read in the first place, so good. [20]
This is just a personal interpretation but I think of public bookmarks as people choosing to public acknowledge they have read the work in question and having found it interesting enough for whatever reason that they want to be able to find it again, while recs are works the person loved and thinks others would like them too. I'm for saying what you want on your recs, because they are *your* recs. [21]
A rec is just something you're recommending. I tend to ONLY publicly bookmark recs, as I kind of see my bookmarks as a list of fics I enjoy and want to go back to, so all of mine have hearts. I don't see anything wrong with putting criticism in the bookmark. I have one work that has about 500 bookmarks and I love seeing the ones that write something in the space, even if it's critical. I really like the idea that someone took the time to read and write a review for other readers, rather than just leaving a comment for me. I think that's the way the bookmarks are intended to be used, so I say do it to your heart's content.[22]
Would you consider putting the crit on the fic itself? Because I know I'd feel a whole lot better about someone commenting on my fic to say "loved x, although I felt it dragged a little here" and then see that being publicly said, than not be told and stumble across someone broadcasting criticisms of my fic to everyone else without telling me (especially if it's on the same site as my fic and you clearly have a user account. If someone in fic recs thread on FFA decides to rec my fic with reservations, whatever, no big deal, they might not even have an account, or might only be reccing because it jumped to mind when they heard "X trope". But with AO3 bookmarks/recs, it becomes a case of "this person is fine talking about me but not to me" and that hurts a little). To be fair, I know some people do overreact to unsolicited crit, so I can understand that fear, but still, consider expressing to the author a similar opinion to what your bookmark comment will be, so that there won't be any nasty surprises if they happen to look at their statistics one day. [23]
+1 This! I would much rather someone talked *to* me than *about* me/my fic. I see what you guys are saying about bookmarks being more for readers than writers, but... They're right there at the bottom of my story. They're only a click away. I'm going to see the crit, so consider leaving it on the story where I can respond? [24]
I don't even think you have to enter a dialogue really though. Like if you commented on my fic: "I like X. I don't think we have the same view of Y (or even more vague than that). Z was great though so good stuff" and don't elaborate on Y, that's not really inviting discussion, and if I see the bookmark later detailing X and Z, but also what the Y issues were, it'll just be like "ohhhh, that's what they meant, but they didn't want to get on my case about it, moving on." In comparison, if you said (on the fic) "I disagree on Y characterization because this thing, that thing etc." I'm assuming you're giving crit you want the author to take, which is a different thing altogether. Not everyone wants to enter that dialog. [25]
But I still don't get why they don't want to say anything to me, even if they want to say things about me to everyone else? It just seems a courtesy. [26]
They aren't saying anything about you anywhere. There saying stuff about about a story, which you happen to have written. [27]
Because they don't know you, which means that in certain parts of fandom their "courtesy" would get them massively flamed. If you want this to change, then you need to push back against the anti-concrit culture. [28]
An author is neither owed a comment directly addressing them nor an explanation for anyone's reasons for not wanting to directly engage said author. I understand we, in fandom, live in a give and take culture, but the reccer is still actively participating in that dynamic. They're just paying it forward, so to speak, instead of directly engaging the author -- but then again, said author can just read what they have to say in the rec, like anyone else. The author is dead, long live the author. [29]
But that's not how the world works, nonny. We seriously JUST HAD this discussion about that ridiculous fanfic class-- you wouldn't mail your review of a book you'd read directly to the professional author. And it MIGHT be inviting discussion. You might love to get those kinds of comments; I love to get those kinds of comments (so I'm not even biased against your points here), but then you get people like SciFiGrl who might post on tumblr and tell her many, many followers to go harass you because you left a kind but critical comment. A commenter has NO IDEA what kind of can of worms they're opening up, and many commenters have been burned in the past. [30]
Did you miss the dozen concrit wanks we've had on meme? Leaving crit when you don't know if it's welcome is a bad, bad idea. [31]
Depends on why someone doesn't want concrit. I have no problem with people expressing negative opinions about my stuff, but I find it presumptuous or entitled sometimes when they express them in a comment on my fic, depending on what they're saying. I just don't want random people to try to give me unsolicited advice, or push me to write things in a way that are more to their liking. If they're saying it in their own space, though, then that's cool. [32]
I actually personally love it but there's definitely a "you come into my house..." aspect to it that I understand why people don't enjoy. [33]
See, I would only feel that way if the same people who were leaving glowing comments on my fic were saying less positive things elsewhere. Or my friends were all gushing over my fics but everyone else seemed to hate them. But as long as the criticism isn't nasty, I like seeing people's opinions in settings where I'm not the intended audience. I don't like it if it feels more like bashing (I had a bad experience on a fandom-specific anon meme a while back where people were making fun of one of something I'd written), but I like seeing people's honest opinions. And since things like recs and discussions aren't intended for me, I don't have the same expectations. Comments that I would find presumptuous on a comment to my fic are fine in a rec/bookmark. [34]
For a contrasting opinion: I'd actually prefer to see mixed reviews (like "love X, but I felt it dragged a bit here") in bookmarks/recs than in comments on the fic itself, because since it's meant for other readers or for the bookmarker's personal reference instead of for me, there's not that personal hurt factor of someone criticizing your work to your face (they're not even talking to me so I know it's not personal), plus, I know the comment is completely honest and they're not sugarcoating the negatives or sticking the positive part in just as a 'sandwich method' cushion to soften the blow because really they just wanted to tell me the fic sucked but were trying to be polite. [35]
It's not crit because you're not talking to the author, you're talking to the reader. It's like a rec or a book review. You're giving a potential reader information so they can decide if they want to read it. As a reader, I like to see what's good and bad. As a writer, I might be disappointed that someone sees flaws in my story, but I'd prefer a rec with comments than no rec at all. [36]

Further Reading

References

  1. from Working Stiffs Interview with Dawson Rambo
  2. Cereta. How does that help me? Published 13 May 2004 on LiveJournal (accessed 7 October 2008).
  3. "I don't remember any feedback or letters of comment that amounted to only "ohmygod that was hot I'll be in my bunk." That particular kind of public response to stories is, I think, relatively new; and it signals a general belief that authors will be pleased to hear it, that authors are working to create that reaction in their readership and will be satisfied with it. (I did once have someone tell me, in a con dealer's room, that they had read a story of mine and -- sly look -- "I was sorry I was reading it in public." I wish I could remember what con and what story this was, so I could date the anecdote, but it was probably in the late 1980s. I was a bit taken aback; I knew it was a compliment, so I was pleased, but I wasn't sure how I was supposed to react to being told this. Today I wouldn't be thrown by it at all.)" -- Sexuality and slash fandom (2007 post), shoshanna (2007)
  4. The Fanfic Commenter's Dilemma, Archived version
  5. Te. Last thoughts (for now) re: feedback responses Published 8 January 2003 on LiveJournal (accessed 7 October 2008).
  6. Seema. Semantic noodling Published 13 January 2003 on LiveJournal (accessed 7 October 2008).
  7. "I've heard a lot of authors complain that they don't get much response when they post fiction online, but ... if the authors don't respond to the actual feedback they do get, I'm not really surprised. I'm not inclined to send more feedback to some of the more 'prominent' authors in certain fandoms, because of the lack of response to my comments." - ACS, 2002
  8. from taass64, January 22, 2015
  9. from The Propagator #7
  10. from The Propagator #7
  11. Feedback as a Tool, by Charlotte Frost, posted July 1, 2013; WebCite
  12. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  13. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  14. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  15. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  16. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  17. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  18. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  19. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  20. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  21. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  22. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  23. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  24. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  25. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  26. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  27. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  28. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  29. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  30. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  31. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  32. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  33. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  34. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  35. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  36. fail-fandomanon: AO3 Questions; Archive, March 2015
  37. reference link; reference link.
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