Thursday, March 12, 2009

AdminEssay: Swayed by the Audience?



Hi everyone, I’m back. Why they keep letting me do this with no filter, I have no idea. I have been thinking a bit on this topic lately and I wanted to discuss something that I have personally struggled with as an author, and I suspect others have too. I know reviews are usually WTVoC’s domain (well, Rob is really her domain but around here…) but this is a little left of center and it is not so much about reviewers as it is about how I, as an author, balance my ego with my craft.

Since you all know I have a tendency to overshare on this blog, I will freely admit I’m obsessed with my FF.net stats page. I check it constantly. For those of you that don’t know, there are actual bar graphs and charts. I can look up any day of the month and see how it compares to another date. It is ridiculous, but a great way to procrastinate when you don’t want to fold laundry or write the next chapter.

I figured that I couldn’t be the only one who had this affliction. Other authors must feel the same way, so I asked around and I found that I’m not the only one that gets a little rush of happiness when a review comes across my email. Which I guess means my ego is in good company. All of this was bad enough with my moderately popular first story, but then I wrote my next one and I entered into a whole new struggle of how reviews affect me and my storytelling.

When I decided to write my current story, I was convinced it would have a small following made up primarily of people who read my other fic. The new one was AU and I knew that currently AU-Human is where the action was. But I had this idea in my head and I wanted to put it on paper, so I reconciled the fact it would most likely be less popular. I spoke to some respected friends and authors about my idea and I decided to bite the bullet and do it. My way.

So with that in mind, I wrote the first five chapters and posted the first one determined yet prepared for a low response.

I was right. It was low. It was lower than the first chapter of my other story when no one had heard of me. But from my small number of hits I had some solid reviews. So I persevered and my hits grew bit by bit, and the reviews I was getting were really supportive and encouraging. Before long I was surprised that although my hits were still low my review numbers were higher than my prior story. It seemed I had found a niche that appreciated what I was doing and I was pleased. Along the way, I was blessed by Oprah (aka Angstgoddess003) who gave me a recommendation on her epically popular story, and my hits and reviews increased dramatically. I also was thrilled to find several of my favorite authors were now reading my story and it just made me unbelievably humbled and excited to continue.

Then I wrote and posted Chapter 10. It was the chapter that fueled my entire desire to write the story in the first place. It was silly, and outlandish, and I was completely convinced I had jumped the shark and that every ounce of respect I had earned would go flying out the window. I literally clicked the submit button and held my breath thinking I had made the biggest mistake ever, that my sense of humor and others could not be the same.

I was wrong. When I finally peeled my fingers from my eyes and read my reviews I found that in fact, people responded with such enthusiasm that my reader reviews jumped by more than double from my prior chapter. I was shocked. And intrigued. And a little worried.

That chapter was what I had been building up to, and I knew I couldn’t top it. I greedily began eyeing my review chart on FF.net and wanted more. But I knew I had blown my wad and according to my outline, I was back to serious business on Chapter 11.

This put me in a quandary. Do I sell out for higher reviews by writing provoking material, or do I follow my outline and write what I set out to write? It was a tough call.

But I decided this was not what I was about as a writer. I reminded myself I had little to no expectations when this whole journey started, and I needed to go back to that place. I had a story to tell and I owed it to my readers and write what I had planned all along. And I admit, I did receive less reviews on my following chapter - almost half as many but it was okay, because I stuck to my guns and the story was better for it in the end.

Once I cleared that hurdle, and the story popularity began to rise further I began noticing some of my reviews were the suggestive kind WTVoC spoke of last week. I started receiving comments about the pacing of the story or where it should go next. But when I became bombarded with comments like these, I began to second guess myself as an author. I wondered if my readers were right and should I make some changes to make the story better.

I figured out quickly, mostly because I am stubborn and often think I am right, that the reader was actually wrong.

It’s true.

The reader is not always right.

I’m not referring to critical reviews or constructive criticism. Here is an example of a review I have received:

“... so it has been 13 chapters and still nothing has happened?! can you maybe write them more comfortable around each other, like a little more contact?! oh. it would be funny if she didn't knock coming into his office, and he was changing his shirt, so she sees him shirtless! yaow! :)
i really like the story, but its more like thinking... no ACTION!”


Sigh.

Here is my view on this.

* The reader doesn’t know my plot or outline.
* The reader is not privy to all the information I have
* The reader is not juggling 8 characters, 3 special gifts, and 3 sub plots at one time
* The reader does not take into consideration character development for future chapters
* The reader does not realize that if Bella and Edward have sex in chapter 3 of my story it will only be 4 chapters long

Of course this is still a gray area. I admit that on my thread the girls were pushing me to include some ideas and eventually I caved and worked in some “inside jokes” - Those that did not affect the plot at all, and in fact, it probably actually enhanced the story overall. So I don’t even adhere to my own rules at times. I also know some authors actually ask their readers in A/Ns for opinions, or even put up polls on FF or on their story threads.

In order to be objective, I sent a plea out to find out how other authors feel on this subject. Several had opinions on this and were willing to share their views.


With “Cascade & Cyanide”, I’ve had an outline from the very beginning that I’ve followed. Of course as the story progressed, I’ve made necessary adjustments to it based on research or where the characters have taken me, but for the most part I’m pretty unflinching in my ideas. The only time I’ve ever been swayed by a reader suggestion was when I made a mistake, giving Edward the surname “Masen” and Carlisle and Esme the surname “Cullen”, even though he’d been adopted at a young age. When someone pointed that out on the Twilighted thread, I worked it into the story, giving an explanation for the different names.

It was different with “You Get Me Closer To God”, which had a less rigid structure. If reviewers wanted for a lemon? Sure, why not. Maybe it’s because C&C is more carefully developed, but I would never take things OOC by throwing in a lemon just because some reviewers are getting antsy. It’s kind of like when reviewers tell me to “write faster”. I’m not going to post a subpar chapter simply for the sake of speed.


I have never been swayed by the number of reviews, at least not consciously. Although like most FF writers, I'm pretty much addicted to reviews, in the end I write for myself and I tell the story that's demanding to be written. I can definitely see where this could be an influence though. Smutty stories clearly get more attention than K-T rated ones. I have a writer that I beta for who originally wouldn't even read the smutty ones - now she wants to write one just to get the increased readership. Now, that said, the last chapter of MD, that ended on a wicked cliffhanger, got more reviews faster than any other chapter. Readership is increasing, though, so I don't know if the cliffhanger is the cause or not, but let's just say it's been duly noted. However, I like writing cliffhangers anyway, since it keeps the readers coming back while the story is in progress and keeps the readers clicking the "next" button when the story is done. Also, I just think it's a good writing technique. There are many published authors who end every chapters with a cliffhanger of sorts - big or small. It keeps the reader turning the pages. So the fact that the cliffhanger got a good response is just positive reinforcement for the way I like to write anyway.


Reviews definitely do not affect my plots. Some scenes, you expect a high response to (smut, cliffhangers, etc.), others you know there might not be so much - so I think if you remain aware of these things, you're less likely to be swayed by popular demand and can stick to your storyline.

Some reviewers offer suggestions (and sometimes demands) whether you ask them or not. I'm pretty capable of remaining objective about the plot even if I have an overwhelming consensus otherwise. However, when I want to accept ideas, I am also able to totally open myself up to be influenced by my readers' wants.

It is hard not to doubt yourself when everyone is screaming at you to resolve an issue or to quicken up your pace, but at the end of the day, you know where you're going and when things are going to happen, so you have to try to stay true to yourself. That, or you should just hurry the fuck up and let them do it.



Review count makes me a very happy writer, but it does not affect the way the story is evolving. Early on I knew that I wanted to be able to tell the story how I had imagined it regardless of reviews and in order to reduce the "temptation" I wrote an outline. It is nothing too fancy but it reminds me of every major plot point along the way and how I want the story to finish.

It is human nature to be liked and to gain acceptance, I like when people have nice things to say about the story. For this particular story I needed to keep my ducks in a row, because the subject matter was a bit controversial and would lend itself to falling into a PWP fest.

My sex scene was liked and I get a lot of reviews still asking me when there will be more. I look back to my outline and I still feel that the story is working the way I wanted so I am able to focus on that outline and not change it in response to the reviews.

People, readers included, like to feel included. Sometimes it can be thrilling to know that you are contributing to a writer's vision and some stories lend themselves better to this style. I think it all depends on the story.

In my particular case I have a very set vision of what I want to happen in the story. Maybe because I think of this as my baby and maybe because I am trying to write a Bella that we most women can identify with. It is more personal I guess and it makes me want to stick to the vision.

I do think that reviews can be very helpful when they ask good questions that help writers think of different angles or even point out issues in the plot. But again, as far as doubting the plan, the more concrete an outline is the easier it is to see the big picture and stick to it.



As far as being swayed in regards to the plot deviating. No. The main points and outcome were never changed but I did succumb to the reviewers that wanted them to have sex sooner. I was mad at myself in the beginning but the more I thought of it, I waited 11 chapters and it was only one chapter difference then what I had in my head so I didn't think that it was necessarily that bad, but again. I was new writing a story and I did pander to those who did review and I did feel badly initially but it was a few chapters later that I realized that it wasn't as bad as I thought since I didn't deviate from my whole idea it was just one chapter and one small part.

Cliffies I hate like a mother when they are done to me, BUT I did notice that the reviews picked up significantly after I think it was Chapter 4. The cliffie was unintentional. I only did it because the chapter was so God damn long I had to stop there. After the OMG reaction to the cliffie, I sort of got giddy and ended up ending two or three other chapters sooner to make them cliffies just to gauge the reaction (it was shitty I admit it) and it did work out that the reviews went up again in accordance to the cliffy chapters.



I find that it really does help me to hear a readers response toward my story. In the one I'm working on now, Bitter Sweet Symphony, I had an idea of where I wanted to take it, but reading some of the viewers responses helped to define what I wanted along the way. The readers don't sway major decisions (such as who Edward will end up with and when, or if Bella is going to pick James over Edward at any given point) but they do help with fantastic ideas. I often ask my readers what they would like to see and believe me, they deliver. There's plenty that I can use and it's amazing how readers want some of the same things.

I do see that sex scenes and cliff-hangers get major reviews. I do cliff-hangers personally because I WANT to. Not all my chapters have them. And the sex scenes...I personally enjoy writing them. It doesn't necessarily have to do with reviews. I think plot has a lot to do with the number of reviews you get. You can't imagine how many I get where readers are surprised at the plot that is happening during the story and as an author, it helps to know your doing a good job.

Not that reviews aren't important. They are. That's the only thing an author asks for in return. I don't think readers realize that it often takes hours to complete one chapter, and if your chapter is super long, it takes longer hours. But when a reviewer takes the time to give their thoughts on the chapter, or even give input, it really makes an author care about her work and try to give the best she's got.


Okay. So not everyone agrees with me, but at least I am willing to admit it. Right? But on the other hand I don’t mind the comments my readers just need be prepared for me to ignore them.

What I’m learning form the experience as an author is that you have to stick to your guns but always be willing to take criticism and even suggestions. You don’t have to like it or use it but it is always good to keep an open mind.

A huge thanks to the wonderful authors who offered their quotes and insight!


Angel/edwardzukorocks is an admin for this blog, writes for the Twilight fandom, and splits her time dreaming of Rob and David. Rob. David. Rob. David. Rob. David. She loves glitter, the FF stat page, superheroes with subtle homosexual tendencies, and nonsensical, yet admittedly hilarious rants on preachers with lisps.

17 comments:

  1. excellent.

    and are you trying to say i should blog about rob now? 'cuz you know i'm game.

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  2. why this may be exactly what i was going for.

    you read me.

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  3. Angel, I love Creature of Habit and think that what you are doing is perfect. I like it when the story actually has "story" to it. I haven't felt like it's taking forever at all. I love their bantering, getting to know each other, misunderstandings, all of it. You're awesome and don't let anyone make you feel differently!
    Jen

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  4. HoL's MML reviewers are the best. She asked them what they'd like for future chaps:

    "Please, can you show me Edward masturbating? I wanna see?"

    "Have him spank Bella. Saucy little bitch needs to submit."

    HAHAAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHH

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  5. hmmmm...on MML? I have no idea who would make suggestions like that. (<---total hypocrite)

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  6. Wonderful. At least I'm not the only person who is obsessed about tracking stats. I've been known to take hit counts and figure out an average review percentage.

    *sigh*

    I'm really rather pathetic, really.

    "Do I sell out for higher reviews by writing provoking material, or do I follow my outline and write what I set out to write?"

    I think that every writer faces that at some point in time. However, I firmly believe in following the outline. I think it's obvious when writers follow the 'provoking material' route and the story and writing suffers. It's similar to the writer that writes to a cliff-hanger in every single chapter... eventually it wears off and it's simply annoying to the reader. Of course, outlines change. As the story progresses, the characters evolve, sometimes to points that the writer didn't anticipate. (So, I guess that I also don't believe in blindly following an outline.)

    Though, that doesn't mean that I've never been swayed by reviewers. It can be sorely tempting and I admit that in the past I've written things in an attempt to either increase reviews or read counts or both.

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  7. we should do an experiment.

    everyone, on yer next update... say "i ain't updating again until the reviews are at least 25% of the hit count. and i'm not giving stats." 'cuz if you really calculate correctly, you'll notice that you probably get what, 10%? hmm. this could get ugly.

    (and i think i'm kidding)

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  8. 10%? Right now I'm at about 2%. Of course I gotta remember that the longer a chapter is posted.. there's rereads and such that bring that down, so it maybe starts at 8-10%.

    wtvoc- you'd either receive the most reviews ever or you'd have a mutiny. Maybe both.

    And Ginny, I do agree with the "don't blindly follow an outline" thing. I love my outlines, but it's important to sit down with them every few chapters and make the necessary adjustments... and sometimes that means completely changing stuff.

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  9. Hi

    It’s about time I added in my two cents to this whole debate.

    I shamefully admit that I succumbed to reviewer pressure once. It only happened one time, although it was a monumental one time, and it is something that I STILL regret – months later. I never intended for Edward and Bella, in my story, to have sex. I entertained the idea of alluding to the sex (you know, do a SM and fade to black), but I was never going to actually write a sex scene.

    But hot damn, these fanfiction readers LOVE the lemons. Within the first few chapters of my story, readers were begging for some sexin’ to happen. Soon the cries for sex weren’t just cries, but loud, en mass WAILS demanding sex. So I did it. I wrote the sex.

    Some of my favorite stories are smut filled. I heart Ninapolitian’s “The Bella Swan Diaries” and “Scotch, Gin, and the New Girl” by Jandco/WTVOC. These ladies should know, if they can remember my reviews in the midst of the thousands they receive, that I loved every bit of their stories. I just never intended to include it in my story.

    I only regret writing the sex because I did it for the reviewers, not for the story. The sex did nothing to the story. I succumbed to the reviewer pressure when I was a fairly new writer. I don’t consider myself to be especially experienced now, but I feel like I have a strong enough conviction in the direction of my story that I can say “no” when readers demand something that is just not going to fit in my vision of the story. I think we all just need to repeat the mantra “I am the author, I am the author.”

    The cliffhanger thing is something I really struggle with. These days it seems like every time I write a chapter, it naturally ends at a cliffhanger. If I end it any sooner or write a bit longer, it ends at a place that is too awkward. I’ve only got a few chapters left in my story, but I worry that by ending a lot of my chapters in cliffhangers (albeit they are varying degrees of cliffhangers) the story will lose its edge and no longer be dramatic.

    I didn't even want to do the math to figure out my review percentage vs. my hit count. Then the curiosity got the best of me. Comparing the hit count and the review count for most recent chapter I posted, I'm hovering just under 5% review rate. If you consider all of the hits and reviews since I posted my last chapter the review rate drops to like 1%. That is kind of depressing.

    Anyways. I’ve waxed on long enough. Angel – I really enjoyed this. Thank you for writing.

    jmeyer

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  10. Great comments! As far as an outline goes, although i am not swayed by readers and i stick to my "outline" errr...i do have a VERY loose one to begin with.

    As far as % of reviews vs. hits....I'm too lazy to go look but i would think maybe around 2%...per chapter.

    But I'm okay with it. I will say i do wonder why people can alert a story or favroite a story yet not take the time to review once in a while, but i also think that some people are just intimidated by the process and prefer to stay in lurk mode.

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  11. 25%? Oh, wtvoc, I'd like to see that. My percentage is way below even that 10% mark.

    Angel, if you can figure out a way to get all of those people who add the fics to 'alerts' and 'favorites' to actually review, I'd love you forever.

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  12. I'm curious and have a question to those of us who post to both Twilighted and FF.net.

    Do you get more reviews per chapter at one site as opposed to the other?

    I have more reads per chapter on Twilighted but I get more reviews on FF. I just thought that was weird.

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  13. Nina- I have a higher review percentage on Twilighted. It's a little above 10% there, where as on FF it's about 2%.

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  14. hmmm...i have pretty horrible review rates on Twilighted for both of my full stories. My completed one has about half of what i have on FF and the other one has, hardly any, but it only has a few chapters up too so that is not totally fair. But using my completed fic as the standard yes, about half the reviews.

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  15. Okay so while I read this blog I've never felt the need to comment... but I'm in a chatty mood so I'm gonna go for it.

    As a reader and only a reader (you won't be finding my horrible fiction anywhere) I have some insight into this whole I alert/favorite but I don't review.

    I won't say I'm speaking for all readers because, hey!, there are some readers/reviewers out there that I don't want to claim as sharing my mental wavelengths (and they probably feel the same)

    I think it has to do partly with intimidation, yes.

    I love a story and I see it has 100, 500, 1000 or 5000 reviews and think "what the heck am I gonna say that matters"

    Maybe I'm thinking too highly of myself and my words but I don't want to flood the author with a "I love the story. Great chapter. I'm looking forward to the next chapter. I can't wait for the update" etc etc etc. I call those the review platitudes. It's the truth but it's boring and it doesn't say much.

    I actually went back and read my first reviews. They were of the platitude variety. They weren't bad. I didn't throw in 1111's or LOOOOVE's or any of that crap but they still make me cringe.

    So I then went through a phase of not reviewing anything because who really cares what I have to say.

    Then I felt bad. I wanted to show the author that their work mattered to me and I didn't really know how to. So I just kept reading and...

    Somehow now I've come to the point where I can show my love but also am able to specify what I love and why I love it. I must have seen the light or something. Now my reviews resemble short essays.

    How did I do it?

    I'm one of those people that really thinks about everything I type. Every word. Every phrase. Every little thing. I get an update and I open up an email and cut and paste whatever moves me (whether good or bad). Once I finish the chapter, I go back and write my thoughts around the quotes. And then I edit what I've written until I'm satisfied.

    I don't want anyone to shower me with gold stars, but it does take some effort. I can spend up to a half hour trying to leave a good review.

    Maybe someone could start a review school.

    It's so easy just to say "YAY! I loved it." But I think there are a lot of people like me that want to say something more substantial but don't know how. Maybe over time they'll care enough to learn how to.

    If you don't like ass kissing then stop reading now......

    I really think my ability to review better has a lot to do with the quality many authors are producing. I once felt my reviews were pointless but now, even if an author were to tell me that was true, I've reached the point that I just need to express what feelings these authors provoke in me.... even if I ramble and go on for ages, they deserve to know.

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  16. I love you all and would spend all night reviewing everything if I could... yeah yeah, I suck- sometimes, I'm just too lazy/tired/busy/drunk/too far into the story to go back/etc. to write them, but I do love to give credit where it's due and that's often the problem. I stay up too late and read these addicting stories and then head to bed without leaving my thoughts. All I have to say is that ANYONE who takes the time to write and post and share their stories, ideas, and fantasies with us is due some serious reviewer lovin! Please know that all the stories I add and favorite and read may not get the # of reviews from me that I would love to leave, but they do get the love I have for the story!! I do try to review as often as possible, and sometimes I finally discover a great story when it's already 10 chapters in, so I can't stop reading to review til I hit the last chap, but I try! And I do add my two cents in, but I would never try to sway a story-teller from their line of progress and path of plot just because I think it should head in a different/faster direction! IT IS YOUR STORY! Tell it like you want and be damned the nay-sayers and beggers for story change!! And you have nothing to worry about! I have a handful of girlfriends already addicted and can't imagine them ever leaving your stories!

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  17. PS. I was trying to get to the (rambling) point that I will try to stop more often and take the time you deserve to review the story as I go. Love them, and kudos for sticking to your goal and getting there at your own pace. I can't stop now!

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