Amateur Hour, or Feedback is Not Currency

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Title: Amateur Hour, or Feedback is Not Currency
Creator: princessofgeeks
Date(s): May 4, 2008
External Links: Amateur Hour, or Feedback is Not Currency; archive link
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Amateur Hour, or Feedback is Not Currency is a 2008 essay by princessofgeeks.

"What is, or what should be, feedback, on fanfic? How should we readers and writers think about it? Is it "thank you for writing"? Is it concrit? Is it negative criticism? Is it the payment the author receives, since she can't be paid in cash?"

The essay's author cites two journal posts. One is by starwatcher307 and called Writers, Readers, Feedback, and Love. The other one is by Fluterbev which is now friendslocked but may not have been at the time.

Some Topics Discussed in the Post and Comments

From the Essay

My opinion: I think it's absolutely wrong to think of feedback as currency; as the way we pay fan writers.

I guess I approach this chiefly as a writer, and as a writer who has fully embraced the idea that fandom is a "gift economy," a term I learned only recently. By that I mean, we do what we do around here on a volunteer basis, because we love the shows, movies, performers, books, or whatever we've deemed our fannish "canon". It is amateur hour in the purest sense, meaning, done for love alone.

I think it sends us down a path we really don't want to go down when we start equating fanfic feedback with the payment a professional writer gets for writing something and selling it.

Thinking of feedback as our pay makes us, as writers, pouty when we don't get the feedback that the quality of our story would imply we deserved. This is not helpful to our creative souls.

Speaking, on the other hand, as a reader -- It makes readers squirmy and annoyed when writers demand that we readers give them feedback because they somehow deserve it in proportion to the effort they expended in the writing. I find myself backing away slowly whenever a writer starts complaining about how a given story of hers has gotten inadequate feedback, and why the heck is that anyway.

Furthermore, I believe, as a writer, that counting up feedback is the wrong way to judge the impact of a story, or its quality. It leads only to heartbreak.

See, leaving feedback is voluntary. Thus, no one can compel readers to leave feedback. On the other hand, readers out in the real world must pay money or go to the trouble of borrowing a book from a library or a friend in order to get the experience. Libraries and lending books around are well established customs, but pro writers also expect to be paid, and that means it's not a gift economy. The idea of a pro writer complaining that she doesn't get fan mail? We would roll our eyes at that. Out there, outside fandom, it's not a gift economy.
I feel extremely strongly that any action that a reader is "guilted into" is just, well, wrong. In my universe, anyway. And as long as fandom is voluntary, there is no compulsion for any of us to do anything. Period. No compulsion to write a certain pairing, a certain style, a certain kink, or to refrain from writing any of same. Or for readers, no compulsion or obligation to do anything but lurk. Ever.

As a writer, I love feedback and I treasure it. It, too, is a gift. Like the story that prompted it.

Gift economy. All the things we do here, we do from love alone, with no thought of getting anything in return.

Concrit is an even bigger gift, than the "thank you, loved it" kind of feedback, though I value both. Honestly, as a writer, I would welcome more concrit, if readers wanted to give it. I do get it when I seek it out. I get it from betas, when I ask for it, ahead of posting, and I get it through writing meta, and in emails about writing with fellow fans. But feedback doesn't all have to be squee, and to me, giving helpful concrit is a rare and wonderful talent that only some writers and readers possess. But it's all good! Voluntary!

Thus, I don't see anything wrong with writers who want to post a chapter and see what kind of feedback they get and then write more accordingly. I won't read stuff like that, because too often it's badfic, and being forced to leave feedback in order to get more of the story feels like the writer is trying to manipulate me. I choose not to read under those conditions. But if that's the way that writer needs to do it, and she can find people to play with her, what's the problem?

I sometimes ask for comment fic prompts. I don't pout at the people who don't want to play with me. I sometimes can't participate in challenge communities because I don't have time or don't feel inspired. Do the mods seek me out and yell at me for not playing? No. Voluntary! Yay.

Also, I never complain if people won't read my wip's. If they don't want to invest the time and then risk the story not being finished, I fully support that attitude. But if writers need the buoyancy of writing-then-posting, chapter by chapter, to finish a story, they yay.

Again -- no right way to do it. Readers and writers are totally free agents.

Excerpts from the Comments


And yet.

And Yet...

(Link) Everything you say makes sense and is cogently argued. But fanfic is not just the compelling fictional ideas that the writer has about the show ze loves (or, anyway, finds interesting), it's the stories that ze *writes down and shares.* This is a process that, even in the case of the horriblest badfic, takes some effort.

Admittedly I'm just as prone to going off and sulking in the corner as the next writer, but if I don't feel that other fans are enjoying the stuff I'm sharing, I might as well just tell myself the story in my own head and save the trouble of writing it, rewriting it, fixing the structure, etc. And I don't even work with a beta--if I did, it would be the question of involving someone else's time and energy.

If nobody except me wants to drink purple vanilla-mint cola, I might as well just brew up the occasional batch in my own kitchen and not put it on the market.

I talked about this a little bit in fluterbev's journal. I don't really see the interaction as an economy, gift or otherwise - to me, the operative model is more community, where you need to have a critical mass of people contributing to keep things going. In that sense, people who offer feedback or make recommendations are performing a function that's just as valuable within the community as writers, fan artists, betas, people who post essays or picspam or organise events. It's not an economy in the sense of services and payments, it's a collective effort - if the contributions cease at any level, the whole thing collapses.

(I'll mention that my take on this is a RL one - my friends and I do a lot of entertaining, which requires everybody to not just cook but to show up at each others' houses with their party hats on. In other words, being a good guest is just as important as being a good a writer, I think the people who take the time to leave feedback play a really critical role in keeping the community a good place.)

wow; that metaphor so works for me, too. and in fact it's not, now that I think about it, a metaphor at all. It's a description.

and it does imply a bunch more obligation than the idea of a gift economy, and for me it's all about the gift and less about the economy.

if you're a member of a community, you accept certain responsibilities as part of your "membership", even though it's totally self selected and voluntary.

and since you can't be a community of one (although you can be a writer without readers; it's just very much lonelier!!!), then yes -- the feedback becomes a feedback loop.

I agree that fandom can be a community and that we all play an important part.

I think I'm focusing on what serves my writing, and obsessing about feedback or feeling that if I don't get feedback, then my community and/or my readers have somehow cheated me out of something to which I'm entitled as the proper reward for my effort -- I'll do just about anything to get myself out of that mindset, because that mindset is poison for both my writing and my mental health.

But yes: I embrace, as well, the idea of fandom as a community. It's certainly been that for me... a totally real community. Thanks for the reminder.

that mindset is poison for both my writing and my mental health.

Yep, that that way lies madness.

I think how much feedback any writer gets is partly the result of externals like what the story is about, what the pairing is, whether it's explicit or not, and partly the result of factors like the quality of the writing, how well the writer is known, how widely the story gets distributed. Writing everybody's OTP in a big fandom and managing to hit whatever's popular at the moment, whether that's crackfic or delicately-nuanced explorations of canon, will naturally increase readership - writing it well should increase the amount of feedback one gets.

But I don't think you can discount the value of - for lack of a better word - reputation, in bigger fandoms especially. If people know you write well, they'll either have you on their flists or be more likely to click through if your story's up on a comm post. Which gets us back to participating in the community... So it's complicated, and if getting feedback is a writer's primary goal, well, that's probably not as easy as it looks, because a lot of factors have to come into play, not least writing consistently and well, and doing all the other things that make you a part of the community's daily life.

For me personally, I don't usually write everybody's OTP & I don't post a lot of fic, and so when I do write something I'm really pleased when I get positive comments. The stories that get bookmarked on tend to be the McShep fics, which tells that if I wrote more of those I'd probably get more fb. C'est la vie. What's more important to me is that I've gotten positive fb from people I really respect as writers and as readers. (And I'm *incredibly* pleased when writers I respect ask me to beta. Everybody's got different metrics for self-esteem.)

I've always thought you were a really strong writer, and I know people say lovely things about your writing - perhaps if you look at it that way, that people you know respect your work, it'll feel more real

I've actually arrived at a pretty satisfying place in terms of my own relationship with feedback. I'm still fairly new to fandom (only started writing fanfic back in 2003), and the amazingness of being able to write stuff and have people read it is still quite fresh to me.

And I do think it's incredibly multi-layered, how a given writer finds and keeps her audience. Some people take their audience with them when they change fandoms, some do not. Some fine writers labor in obscurity, by their own choice, or because they aren't sociable in an LJ sort of way. Some people write terrific fic that is not in style.

So it's very complicated.

I want to stress that I'm not complaining about my own experience. I treasure the fb that I get, I feel good about my writing, I'm learning and growing and I'm happy to be pleasing the audience I apparently have. So yeah.

Thanks again for the thinky, and for your kind words about my work. *cheers*
el-wing: I hear what you're saying and agree-- but there's a lot a people who feel that feedback is payment and they lock journals to push people to "pay" for it too. I see it as form of communication, a pat on the back at times and also criticism. I get some great ideas to enhance what I'm writing from feedback too. Feedback fosters a community and enriches it.

I read the posts you linked to, and now yours, and it's occurred to me that on LJ we do have one more kind of fb: friending.

When I see that lj user=whonow? has friended me, I know that even though I've never gotten/may never get any fb from that person, it's someone that I've reached, someone who approves, someone who wants more.

They're just not looking for a two-way street.

Tesserae's community is a very interesting way of putting it ... my thoughts on reading these posts were that for me, LJ is a very social place, and friendships and relationships across a broad spectrum get made here.

Say you are at a themed festival, and you see people who have gone to the trouble to make costumes. Some costume wearers will have fabulous outfits on that you find very striking. Some of those people you will be moved to go up to and say, "Wow, I think you did a fantastic job," while others you will admire from afar. Some of the subset you talk to will just say "Thanks" back, and some you will end up getting in a conversation with. Some of those you have conversations with you will really hit it off with. Some of the costume maker-wearers are very social, and end up with a whole bunch of friends who were initially drawn by the quality of their costumes, and because of the friendship will always come up at future festivals to chat and appreciate the new costumes. Some costume maker-wearers will not get as many people coming up to them, or just a few, "Hey, really cool" remarks in passing, and won't necessarily see all the admiring looks they are getting from the people behind them. Some will have a small circle of friends they've built over past festivals. Some costume wearer-makers are more inherently social or project more approachability, and some are less extroverted. Some are the kind of person you approached for the costume and stayed for the conversation, and some you back out of conversation after a while, because they're not your type, and some you don't know because you only had time for a "Really nice outfit" on your way to the roasted corn booth.

There's probably some rule of sociology that explains it, but that's the nature of human interaction, and I've seen it hold true in LJ as much as in RL. So, yeah, some people get more comments because of their history and formerly built relationships, while some people fall in the trough of "everybody was over at the roast corn booth at the time," and there's everything in between.

Just to, you know, get all metaphorical. ;-)

LJ offers an intimacy that other aspects of the fandom don't provide, I think. Flists serve mostly as reading lists. Instead of being bombarded with everything, we tend to see what interests us in the first place. That makes the likelihood of generating a response just a little higher.

No, feedback isn't payment. But it's courtesy, and it's the niceties that keep a fandom going - the friendships, the joint squee, the sparks of excitement that feed off one another. If there's no give and take, then it's not a fandom at all, is it?

Expectation is a killer. Constructive criticism is a rare and treasured thing, of course. But if I had a choice between detailed feedback and silence, I'd rather get a "this was a great read!" than nothing at all. Does that mean I can demand it? Of course not!

So the key is not to expect, but to appreciate what you do get - and to do your best to remember to comment to what you do enjoy, if for no other reason than feedback often prompts more fic, so you're actually doing yourself a favor! :)

I'll add one exception, though, and that's for stories that are written by request. Whether it's someone writing your prompt for a ficathon, or an author who offered ficlets by request that responded to yours, I do think there's an obligation there to respond, or at least acknowledge it. It's sheer ungratitude to just read and fail to comment. And if you don't, you can hardly expect that author to respond to your requests in the future, can you?
cross stitchery:

I'm not sure how much feedback=more fic

strictly speaking, it doesn't. unless the writer is a total feedback whore and only/mainly writes to get feedback, then feedback =/= more fic actually written.

however, from my own experience, if i'm not getting feedback in a certain venue ::cough::852Prospect::cough:: then i won't take the time to post my stories there. these days i post to my own website and to my LJ. and there are plenty of people in TS fandom who really hate LJ, so they won't see my stories unless they go to my website. if they know where it is...

i'm not sure that your gift analogy works for me. i know that if i gave someone a gift and they simply walked away without smiling and saying thank you, i probably wouldn't feel inclined to give them another gift. or i'd think that they didn't like the gift. obviously, you can't expect everyone who reads your fic to post feedback, but if you get no or little feedback, that's another situation altogether.

however, i'd agree that the feedback = currency metaphor is a flawed one and Tesserae's analogy is more useful. have you ever thrown a party and nobody came? i have, and it's a great way to ensure that the "thrower" never has another party again. or at least, never invites those particular people again. in fandom it's not so simple, but certainly my decisions about where i *post* my stories are affected by the feedback i get.

it's not totally a "you don't appreciate me enough" decision. i have a number of stories posted to my website and nowhere else simply because i wasn't really involved in the specific fandom i wrote those stories in. my first couple of TS stories didn't get posted anywhere else until i realised i was going to be writing a *lot* more of them and i might as well get involved in the fandom...

so, i guess it comes down to my engagement in fandom which determines where i'm going to post my stories. feedback is a big part of that because both giving and receiving feedback is a huge part of engaging in fandom, whether it's for fanfic or for meta like this.

I totally agree that giving and receiving feedback is one of the accepted methods of engaging in fandom. and that writers do write to an audience, and it's one of the unique joys of fandom (and one that pro writers do not really get in the same way) to have that shared community, that close contact with readers, that hive mind when readers are in fact collaborators.

plus the intensity of the porn, as well. yum.

I found it so interesting that the fact that you didn't receive much fb through posting on 852 Prospect was a factor in how much you used it to archive your stories.

I had a totally different experience. I was not nearly as prolific in TS as you (bows to your prolificness and staying power omg), but I thought of 852 Prospect as something that was a service to me -- a place I could put my fic that would outlast my LJ or my so-far futile attempts to create my own fanfic website.

I think I maybe got a half dozen emails or fb notices directly from that site; most of my TS fb came through LJ comments. Which was fine! Either way! But that's fascinating.

I do think TS is very truncated between people who are on LJ and people who are not. I don't see the same split in SG1, whatever ship or slash pairing is of interest. Which puzzles me.

Thanks for the thinky, and thanks for all your splendid Jim/Blair.

During my time in fandom, I've put various things online. In one case - some photos of the Stargate set - I got a really awful response. This was really to do with fan politics regarding the site I put my stuff on (there's a whole gory backstory to this) but it was still upsetting to give something away that I thought was pretty special and get absolutely slated for it. Out of thousands of hits, not one person wrote and said thank you, but a lot of people were nasty about it. And no, no-one owed me feedback but it really would have helped me feel better and the whole nasty experience has affected decisions I've made since about putting stuff online.

I've put a fanfic out there that got a ton of lovely feedback and that was great fun, but I did feel a bit guilty that I didn't deserve it because the story was an experiment to see if I could write something off the top of my head with no planning. It was a daft thing I did for fun.

Although it's lovely to know lots of people enjoyed something, it's my view that if you can make just one person happy, that's a fine thing and it's a shame if writers judge their worth solely by numbers.

As a reader, I don't always leave feedback. Sometimes it's laziness; sometimes I'm reading to cheer myself up and I don't feel up to writing feedback at that moment; sometimes I don't like the story. I believe this: fanfic is a gift given, and the gracious thing to do when given a gift is to say thank you. I try to give a little detail about why I liked the story because I know from my own experience that is more rewarding for the writer.

If you really love something, I think you do owe the writer a little return of the joy they gave you. Isn't that why it's called "feedback"?
redbyrd-sgfic: This is why I really, really love having a statcounter on my fic site. If I see someone show up via a rec, and then they click through half of the rest of the site, or come back several days in a row looking at different pages? Even if they aren't inspired to leave fb, I know that they were at least interested enough to want to read more. If on top of that, they send feedback? Lovely. If not, I'm at least aware that I'm not just talking to myself, without imposing any obligation on the readership.
sally mn:

I'd be the last to claim that I didn't get a buzz at even the simplest 'I liked that' (I do stories and icons, and neither in quantity or for the big fandoms) but if I don't get much it's no great deal, mainly because - as I remind myself - if I'm allowed expectations and demands, so is the reader. One of the pure joys of writing fanfic for me is the freedom - I write what I want, when I want, exactly how I want (and yes, that sometimes means when it's written, it doesn't get put up because even I can tell I'm the only one that wants :) And if that means nothing but crackfic for a month - or mushy plot-free dialogues - or ficlets where my fascination for alien domesticity drives the entire story and overshadows half the cast - or 101-word notdrabbles that no one who can't recall an exact episode of a 20-year-old show will get... that's what it'll be.

But if the reader is expected to contribute, they're entitled to expect back. Which is fine... but then it loses one of the things I'm here for.

I agree with what you say about the bad vibes created by the 'feedback issue' and I agree that fandom, and the internet in general, is a gift economy of a sort. But gift economies generally involve reciprocation and I would question whether most gifts, real or virtual, are given without expectation of a return of some kind. Without the need for it, arguably; without the expectation of it, no. Maybe I'll let this passage from a talk by Andrew Fellows speak for me.

"To receive a gift is to become bonded to the giver of the gift and it’s out of that indebtedness that the power of the relationship is formed. Indebtedness is as unavoidable as gratitude. This feeling of indebtedness has reciprocation at its heart. How can I pay this back? It’s free, but out of indebtedness we ask, “How can I pay this back?” The feeling of indebtedness bonds us to the giver. And the indebtedness is uncomfortable because we feel that we are losing our freedom. To be bonded to a person is to be in bondage. And we fear we are losing freedom. What we are losing is our independence and autonomy. One reason commodity exchanges are so attractive is that in a commodity exchange you remain free. You never enter into indebtedness."

And I would add that if someone receives gifts without ever giving thanks then they are, in a way, refusing to acknowledge either the relationship or their indebtedness. They've turned an exchange of gifts into a one-sided commodity exchange.

i love rolling around in your brain! :D.

I disagree with Fellows that a commodity exchange is free. There is an implied contract that whatever is paid for will in fact be what it is presented as; if the item is faulty or doesn't work, the buyer can take it back, ask that it be exchanged, whatever.

And I also disagree with him that you can form a relationship by giving a gift. To me, the relationship would have to predate the gift in order for the power to be there at all. I can't buy friendship by spreading gifts around, you know?

I do agree that fandom is a community. But when I feel manipulated or nagged to write, that the reader somehow deserves my writing, or if I feel that a writer is manipulating me, the reader, to get something, that doesn't work for me. It makes me feel icky.

The reciprocation, the welcoming of obligation, freely chosen -- yes. That's community.

But those "free gifts" that companies send me? Or when someone tries to buy my friendship? No.

If people receive gifts without thanking the givers, that's just rude, and it's why I insist that the kids write thank-you notes. But the only gifts they get are from friends and family; people with whom they already have a relationship. IMHO.

On the other hand, as Woody Allen said, We all do indeed need the eggs. :).

This is excellent thinky stuff. And I have to say I land squarely with you on the thought of feedback equalling currency.

I'm constantly thrilled that people take the time to leave comments to anything I've written because it means I've made some sort of connection, that is just wonderful. Fandom, for me, is a lot about community and sharing.

Feedback is a total privilege and I treasure it. And there are certain people whose fb is extra special because I rate them so highly as writers. I value their opinions.

Maybe the way a writer views feedback is tied into why he or she actually writes. For me, I'd write anyway, regardless of whether I ever shared anything.

Feedback is the icing on the delicious cake that is fandom. :-)

I tend to leave feedback when I am really inspired to say something more than a general 'I liked it!' I always have the intention of leaving more, but there are many times I've moved the story offline (like a palm reader or something) and just totally forget.

However, I do think that there are people that are actually leaving feedback for the author rather than the story, if that makes any sense. Like if Joe Author writes one great story, even if the next few are actually mediocre, they still get pages and pages of feedback because it's Joe and you need to feedback to Joe for appearances sake. Or now that I'm thinking about it, I wonder how many stories were posted and read without receiving many comments until a well-known fan recs it. People who might have already read it and not commented might go back to comment because big-name-fan said to do so.

I think it's why I find things like ficathons or secret exchanges fascinating, because people are responding to the story and not a name. Someone who tends to get maybe 5-8 comments on anything they write might get several pages of comments when submitting a fic anonymous.

I haven't written anything in ages, and def. not in a format like LJ, so I honestly don't know how I'll feel about comments here. I'm sure I'd be bummed if noone commented, even though I generally write for myself to see a bunny take life.

fascinating point about people fb'ing authors, not fic... although that is not true for me in SG-1. I get wildly differing quantities of feedback based solely on the types of stories; even the J/D I write gets wildly varying amounts, and that's very interesting to me. Much to ponder here.

and, here's another data point for you: the only anonymous fic challenge i ever entered was the Lotrips Secret Santa, once, a while back, and I drew a very general kind of prompt, and I wrote Viggo/Lij, which was a rare pairing comparatively speaking, and also the first time I attempted that pairing.

I worked my ass off on the story and I felt it was pretty good.

It got very few comments. I was never FAMOUS in Lotrips, but within the Sean/Lij community I was very active and people knew me there.

So in that case, the quality of the story really was not the issue. It was other factors.... What that means for your body of info, I do not know! Hee.

A couple of writers I know actually disable LJ comments on the stories they post, because they don't like the public nature of commenting for feedback. They prefer the more personal approach of the Email letter of critique...