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Writing Tip: Author Feedback



For today's toss-up, Renee Stevens gives some good thoughts and important questions on author feedback. We hope you enjoy...


Author Feedback

by Renee Stevens


Today, as our Toss-Up Tuesday, we'd like to focus on reviews, both negative and positive. It's no secret that many author's on site thrive for feedback. For myself, I absolutely love to get reviews, I'm sure my eyes light up when I see that little notification that I have a review waiting for my perusal.


I don't mind getting contructive feedback from my readers, if there was something that didn't make sense then I would love to know. However, this is a double edged sword as far as I'm concerned. While I don't mind the majority of critical reviews being public, I think that any that are overly critical should be sent privately.


The majority of us on site are not professional authors. Many of the authors on site are posting their first foray into writing. Instead of discouraging them and saying "don't post if you can't take the criticism" please take a moment to think about if you really want to risk discouraging a new author or if doing the simple kindness of PM'ing the author with your criticism is a better route to take.


Bill W said it best in December of last year and I would like to take a moment to share his post with you:

A Note to the Critics


I’d like to share a word or two with the critics out there. First and foremost, those of us who post on this site are not professionals, do not do this for a living and receive no remuneration for all the time and effort we put into our stories. We do it to offer something to the gay community and I’m sorry if my, or anyone else’s, efforts don’t meet up to you’re your ‘high’ standards.


I’m mostly worried about the younger writers whom you may attack and turn off to sharing their talents. Therefore, I will offer a word of advice. If you have something nice to say about their work, then please feel free to do it in a public forum, even a review. However, if you have a more critical view of their work, share that in a PM or email – do not put it out for public display.


I’ve never had any illusions about my own personal talents and that is why I’ve never offered writing suggestions or mentoring advice. I knew I had limitations and did not profess to be an award winning author, however I offered my stories in hopes that they might help others work through uncertain situations or give them hope for a brighter future.


I hope the stories I have written offer at least some positive focus on issues, but I no longer possess the fire necessary to do this any longer and will make no further submissions to this site. Please, if you get anything from my message, it is that I beg you not to extinguish the fires of those who might still have something to offer to the GA community.


As this was nearly a year ago, some people have for sure noticed that Bill is still active on site and is still writing. What I would like everyone to focus on is the rest of his post.


What are your thoughts on this matter? Should overly negative and critical reviews be posted publicly?

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I remember reading the original post, and posting in the thread (I think it was on Christmas morning).


It was actually a couple of days before I posted my first story, and I was totally shocked to find a writer of Bill's calibre talking about throwing in the towel over what went into a review. I was so shocked it almost put me off posting my story.


But thankfully with a few kind words from Bill (and Lugh), I went ahead and posted. And I'm so glad I did.


I think any reader is entitled to form their own opinions on our stories, but I agree that anything that is either overly critical or nitpicky over things such as editing/grammar is best done via PM. That way it gives the author a chance to resolve any such issues, without it being brought to the attention of all and sundry, for all time.


We all write for the love of the craft and love sharing our stories with the GA community, however most of us are not professional authors, and none of our stories posted here have been professionally edited.


If you only have something negative to say about a story or if there is a minor issue you have picked up on, then it should be done via PM; as I have done in the past with minor editing/formatting issues.


As my English teacher always said, "Praise in public, criticise in private".

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So glad to see this, and I absolutely agree with Bill. Praise and encourage publicly, and if you do feel you can offer help or give pointers, do so privately.

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Good comments above. Here are my quick thoughts on this one. I think with feedback we have to try to treat others as we would wish to be treated. As stated above, writers here are not professionals and are mostly offering their work for free. If there are little errors - which there always are in my work, because I'm too busy to be careful - then a PM pointer can be useful. But it's a risky thing to expose your work to criticism and I think we all need to be sensitive to that. Friendly, sympathetic, good-humoured comments are always welcome; nit-picky, point-scoring is never worth anything, I'd say. When someone says something nice about my writing, I get a massive buzz. Isn't it better to be a spreader of such joy than a purveyor of misery, discomfort or disappointment? In the end, anyone who goes out of their way to make mean, unpleasant comments to someone else probably needs to think about what it is that they are really angry about.

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Andy, can you find that original post? I think it might be useful to compare it with what Bill has said in his comments.

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Anyway, while I agree that there needs to be some care taken, I'd like to point out a few things, as I do a fair bit of reviewing.


Firstly, and not most importantly, writing a review helps me work out what I think about a story. It means I can give the author's work a second go in my head.


However, to the main point. Let's understand that there are four - well, let's call them classes, for the want of a better definition - four classes of authors here. There are the Hosted and Premium authors. The Hosted are all held in high regard. At least, I imagine that's the point. I've yet to see a Hosted with uniformly poor writing. The Premiums are actually professional, like it or not. I don't know if they get paid by the site, but readers certainly have to pay for their work. Seems to me that should set a certain level of quality.


Then there are the Promising Authors. It's a weirdness to me, albeit a happy one, that some of the Proms are better than some of the Hosted. But, be that as it may, the Proms must surely have some level of quality to arrive at before they are (what? made, invited?) to take on that status.


And the other two categories make up the majority. These have no formal differentiation. I rationalise them as 'more mature' (i.e. they have been writing for longer, or have developed their skills more), and; 'newer' authors.


Why is this important? Well, I've not been a member that long, but I have been around for quite a while before that, just reading. I used to get terribly frustrated when a Hosted or a Prom's work was not that good, but I had invested the time. On the other hand, find a 'standard' author with talent and it's like wey hey!


When I became a member I finally got the point. I could see the reviews. Some great writing getting no reviews, and some pretty mediocre getting more gush that a fireman's squirty thing! But honestly very little feedback on quality. Conclusion: if the honest stuff us going on indoors, then there's not much honest stuff going on at all.


The round point to this is that I hold different authors to different standards in my reviews. Hosteds and Proms can expect a bit of sharp commentary if their stuff is choc full of errors. They should be expected to know, and be able to perform, better.


The other authors need a deal of leniency. But on the other hand, I see work that has been edited or beta'd by high status authors, and it's just not been pointed out. How can a Hosted edit a story, then we find that 'past' is spelt 'passed' several times over. It cannot surely be that it's being pointed out by the editors and ignored by the authors. Can it?


I'm afraid that if an author wants to take the rep points in huge abundance, they should be willing to take some constructive and it must be constructive criticism.


Let me share something. I've given a fair number of reviews since I signed up. Some have pointed out issues. Some authors have pm'd and asked for further information, which I have gladly given. Nobobdy has ever pm'd complaining they've had an unfair review. The only real time that happened was in public and it came from one fan and one admin. And they were both a bit - well, impolite and uninformed. But I don't edit for two Proms because I harshly hack.


Now to the last point, and I think this is easily the most important. There are not nearly enough editors on the site. And an even greater lack of good ones. That's not a criticism of the site. It's all voluntary. There are all too many really good authors working without the help of an editor or beta, which would turn their work from interesting and enjoyable into fullscale must read with no interruptions from misplaced words and repetitive bits that have slipped in as a result of a tired scribbler.


Why is this pertinent? It is pertinent because making the criticisms in public means that the learning exercise is there for everybody to benefit from. In a scenario where there are too few editors, I think that's vital. That's why I set up the MuckitList. It's available to all, especially those who don't have an editor or beta.


It is absolutely true that review criticism should not be unnecesarily harsh, and should try to point out the good as well as the bad.


But remember, a review might be the only edit a story gets.


I can tell you for a fact that if every reader was to point out the issues in a pm, either it wouldn't happen, or authors would be deluged with negative pms.


Furthermore, anybody who would send a pm would be in dire danger of being asked to edit or beta. And most have no wish to get into that. Thus they wouldn't do it. I certainly wouldn't. I hate the thought of turning down a request for help.


Look, this is a community site. We learn from the community, because the community is more than the sum of its parts. Making reviews public with honest and fair critique is part of that. Site admin needs to understand that they do no service to the authors when they try to put the brakes on, just the same as the horrible reviewers do no service when they pile the horseshit on.


PM reviews are not gonna happen. I'd love to hear from any author who has had a critical review pm. I bet it doesn't amount to many.

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The vibe I seem to get from the first few comments is sort of leaning towards not having any reviews with any criticisms public at all whatsoever, which I frankly just do not agree with. Were that to be the case, then I'd say even using the term "reviews" for author feedback here would be just plain misleading, since it would be strictly one-sided. :/


Having said that, I do agree that overly critical, harsh reviews could probably be better left privately. But I do think that there are ways to leave a review that has some criticisms in it without coming off like a complete jerk, and certainly there are ways to still be encouraging in the process. :)

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I posted my first story, the 24 chapter long Dean Warner Intrigues from May 26, 2012 to June 23, 2012 and am astonished it has to date received over 5900 views. I thank everyone who read it. I really appreciate those that liked it, reviewed it and/or sent me a private message. As a first story it is far from perfect and there were some justified criticisms. I appreciate all the comments I received. In the end, I am gratified by the sheer number of people that bothered to take a look and then proceeded to follow it to the end.


I admit, I give some of the more well-established authors on the site more grief than encouragement and Jon, CJ and Mark can bear witness to that. However, I do appreciate the hard work and thought that goes into writing and for a new author I try to accentuate the positive!

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  • Site Administrator

Feedback varies from reader to reader. Authors also take criticism in different manners. Giving honest reviews that help authors hinges on how they are given and received. That has always been a cornerstone of the debate on how to review and/or critique here at GA. There will never been an agreement between the various platforms, imo.


The interesting dynamic on GA that often is not found on other sites is that direct connection in this community style. I've posted and participated as both an author and a reader on other sites and this one is definitely unique. Sometimes that is a beneficial relationship, other times there is friction based on the manner of the interactions occuring beyond the reading and then reviewing of a story.


Since we, as authors, cannot keep those readers who choose to be abrasive silent before they leave at least one review, we can choose how we react to them. Not everyone will be doing it deliberately, so it is important to be able to read reviews with the reminder that this is someone's reaction to your story, for good or bad. While it can be difficult to be objective when someone is insulting your hard work, it is important to remember that is just their opinion. Especially on GA, it should be kept in mind that the reader's judgement can, and likely is, highly subjective because of the close contact between readers and authors.


When push comes to shove, if you disagree because you feel the reviewer is being a troll, or just don't feel their review is worth your time to respond to it, don't. Put it from your mind and move on. If it really bothers you and it is occuring here on GA, simply ask that member not to review your work any longer as you view it as harassment. Save the pm/review/forum posts where you do so.Then, if they don't comply, contact a staff member.

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I hope that this post stays up a while longer as I am really enjoying the differing opinions about Author Reviews, and the reviewing process in general.


I think that all reviews critical or not should be public, there seems to be no reason to pm an author unless you wish to troll / complain / yell at them. If a review isn't critical or offer an opinion it by it's very definition is not a review. REVIEW: a critical article or report, as in a periodical, on a book, play, recital, or the like; critique; evaluation.


When you are a beginning writer, you are going to make mistakes and before you review someone's work please take that into consideration on how critical you are going to be. But I do not think it's fair to me or to any other author that we might have glaring errors or idiosyncrasies in our stories and they are being ignored to spare our feelings.


I am in no way shape or form a great writer, but even I believe that people should be able to be honest and direct about their reviews. Critical reviews are good ones, and I would not have made as much progress as I have without those critical reviews.


If the purpose if the review option is to flower the author in meaningless flattery then we might as well get rid of it, because if offering a actual REVIEW could be considered harassment or even get you banned... well I hope you see my point.


Be kind your brothers and sisters and use a little freaking empathy when reviewing, but don't hold back when there is room for knowledge.



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Maybe I need to clarify a bit... I have seen NEW authors pull stories or quit writing because of reviews that are NOT constructive criticism. I'm not saying that all criticism must be sent via PM, but if you're going to only tell an author how awful their story is or nit pick ever little detail in the story, then what is the purpose? In my opinion, these are not reviews and may only succeed in making newer authors second guess even posting here to begin with.


Oh, and do let me point out that I have received critical PM's, and know of quite of few other authors on site who have received the same.

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I think reviews and feedback can be awesome, unless they get petty. I've used feedback from my readers to make significant changes in the direction of my stories, and they turned out a lot better because of it. I tend to ignore those that aren't well thought out, or are whiny.


The ones that conflict me the most are those by readers who declare, with self-appointed authority, that they seemingly know my characters better than I do. On the one hand, I'm flattered that they have gotten so into the character that they feel that way. On the other, it's a little irksome to be told that, considering I created them. :-)

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The first word I see on this site after Gay Authors is Quality. A teenager having an emotional breakdown because of what a person said about their story on the internet... OH MY!


I understand the desire to have a nurturing enviroment, I really do. But there is a fine line, a balance between this hand holding, kum-bi-ah singing, tree hugging, liberal cesspool you seem to be aiming for and actual literary work.


A review process is a critical one, if someone cannot handle having their work reviewed perhaps it'd be a smarter idea to allow new authors to 'shut off' reviews and allow themselves to stick their head in the proverbial sand and not be able to learn and grow. Thus providing them a caring safe enviroment in which to post Quality gay fiction...


Seriously love this topic...



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One feels one has to point out the irony ...


I have three posts above.


The first asked for a link, and got a like.


The third pointed out that the second seemed to have a lot in common with some of our most respected authors, and got a like.


But the second - the substantive one, the one that actually argues for fair and balanced and useful reviews didn't get a like.


I don't care about the likes per se. I have had PMs complementing me on the post. But I do find it hugely ironic that when we are talking about only being uber lovely in public, a reasoned, contributory argument does not get a like, but ones which have little or no contributory material do.


Another thing that made me laugh was that I posted a balanced, but basically very favourable review recently. It was of a very respected author's anthology piece. That author had actually added me as a friend the day I signed up. The day this very favourable review went live s:he unfriended me. Seems it's not possible to right because one is so fervently engaged in doing wrong.


Sounds a bit like akin to the much vaunted review, really. Jussayin :)

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The last thing I claim to be is an author. The last place I probably should be posting is on this topic, since I have no claim to fame. At this late hour, when God knows I need more sleep and rest for whatever lays ahead, here I am thinking I am so glad there is a place like GA that offers a place for me to offer my soul to other people in a small, clumsy, uncultured, and perhaps boorish attempt to leave something behind when I'm gone.


I have no problems with anyone leaving a review that is friendly and helpful. I really don't mind someone disliking my work, or attempt at work. When I find a story I don't like, and there are many, I stop reading and move on. When I find a story that is good, but has problems, I usually suggests the author find a good editor and/or beta depending on the problem I think I see, especially with a new author learning as I am to write "QUALITY" work. Besides, as it has been pointed out, very few, if any of us, make a dime on anything we post here.


My opinion is, if you don't like the damn story, stop reading it and move on. Jeepers, creepers, who here makes a living writing reviews for any of the major newspapers in this country? We all make mistakes and none of us have an army of editors to make sure there are NO mistakes.


I've only had one review that ticked me off and they were trying to demand which way the plot should go. I felt like if they wanted the story go in a particular direction, they should be writing their own story. But that's me.


I have gladly and without reservation written reviews to encourage the author to continue their work, and I will continue to do so in the future. I have also written reviews and clicked "Liked It" on several quality stories found on GA. In fact, I think GA has the most quality stories of ANY site found on the internet, paid sites or otherwise.


Therefore, I find myself asking, why can't GA be both a community where both good quality authors can be found AND be a community where new, young or old, and uncouth writers can be nurtured and respectfully given the time and experience to become another good quality author to add to the community?


I think both can and have been flourishing here in the limited time I've been here. I've said more than I should, and I apologize to anyone I've offended. I'm just really glad I found GA and I can't expressed enough what it has meant to me.


With the system as it is now, anyone can review however they want to, and I can live with that. However, I see no reason to write a review that discourages a first time author. Just saying.

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Just a few thoughts on this topic:


1. If I, as an author, am to be discouraged by a "bad" review, surely I would be just as discouraged if I received it by PM. In fact, if it's by PM, all it can do is fester, because there is nobody else to see it and either frame it more positively (if it has a basis) or contradict it (if it doesn't).


2. This is a community made up of writers and readers. Just as the writers are not professionals, neither are the readers. For a reader to feel comfortable enough to leave an honest review, he/she has to feel that his/her opinion is just as valid as everybody else's, even if it's a negative or critical one. You don't accomplish that by telling them to PM the negative reviews. What you do accomplish is that sooner or later they stop bothering with reviews at all, because they don't believe you value them.


3. I see reviews as being there for other readers, as well, and not only for writers. I don't have an unlimited amount of time and I need to pick what I read. If every single story just shows good reviews, those reviews become little more than the advertising blurb on the jacket of a book. I stop trusting them. And that is unfair to the genuinely good writers.


That being said, there are stories that I've read and enjoyed precisely because of a "negative" review that added some substance to the sea of "I loved it, write more!" that while nice, didn't say much at all.


4. While I might not be professional, when I post a story, I am in essence asking people to read it and react to it. I'm asking them to devote time, to think about what they've read, to open up to me and to my characters. In fact, I'm asking more of them than they ever asked of me. So now I'm also going to place rules on how they are allowed to respond to me? I think that's more than a little presumptuous.

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Having read through this entire thread, it strikes me that what everyone is dancing around is the issue of "tone." There are great ways to say virtually anything and there are terrible ways to say virtually anything. For anyone who aspires to be in a community of writers, readers, editors (and, yes, even admins!) and to be useful, the never-ending work at the mastery of tone is the ultimate goal for each and every one.


One question that each and every author on the site needs to address in his or her mind (or their minds if there are collaborations going on), is whether a work is "done" once it has been uploaded or if that which has been uploaded is considered merely a first version and open to updating. Walt Whitman, as most know, revised his magnum opus "Leaves of Grass" several times and published it over and over again. Surely in an environment of pixels like this one, revision and improvement are much easier than for Whitman and are reasonable goals.


I have corresponded with one author whose work I find excellent and have learned that his plan is indeed to revise the entire work. He finds the notion of getting other perspectives an exciting one. Other authors may not do so. That's a completely reasonable decision to make, but it is one that should be noted somewhere by that author. I'm not saying that an author should post that "I want only bubbly gushings in reviews" or "How does this suck? I'll let you count the ways." But some reflection of openness (or lack thereof) needs to be acknowledged.


For those authors who post pieces here with the aim of improving their writing, feedback will be vital. It certainly need not be officious (which I've read) or hostile or vapid. The overall aim should be one of helpfulness. Asking questions is a great way to offer criticism without seeming threatening, at least to most people. If a character seems to contradict him/herself over the course of a multi-chapter story, the author should be made aware of that. As s/he has proceeded with the chapters, details may have slipped from their memories of what they have already written. But any questions offered should be specific ones; blanket statements of "I'm confused" or "I don't like it" don't offer anything. As a reader, if we care enough to write a review, we owe the author our best effort at articulating the source of our confusion or dislike.


As one contributor to the thread has already mentioned, critiques with unfortunate tone can indeed cause people to withdraw their work. I know this has happened in my own case. When offering "correction," it should NOT sound like it. Modal verbs and explanations are vital and soften whatever blow you're about to deliver. Tonal ineptitude is a foe every writer struggles with, whether he or she is writing prose, poetry, drama, or even giving directions. Thought and consideration can ameliorate the negative impact.

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