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Some words before I begin.

This is something I have been wanting to do for quite some time, but just haven't had the extra free moments to do so. Finally, I did. This is aimed more towards those who are newer to the fandom, those that don't truly understand feedback, or those that don't write feedback. So if you've been here awhile and write feedback to authors, you may not be interested in this. You're welcome to read it if you wish, however.

Being so involved in The Sentinel fandom for me is a rarity -- I have never written fic for other shows -- at least none those goes beyond my own computer or blank book. So my perceptions of TV show fans in general and those who write fic in particular is shaded toward this fandom. And may be wrong. I freely admit that. I don't really converse a whole lot on the lists, although I do read most of what comes through, except for when the topics get don't interest me or when they get too...combative for my tastes. So while I think I have some sort of feel about the general feelings of writers, I don't claim to know anything for sure.

This is OPINION only. Take from it what you will.

Feedback: A Mini-Treatise and FAQ
by Becky
Written March 13, 1999
Last updated March 31, 2003

Intro | Sending Feedback | Receiving Feedback | Critiquing


Just the word inspires both eagerness and some dread in the mind of writers. This includes myself as I am a rather prolific writer. Eagerness because we all want to know how the readers felt about what we wrote, if we got across our ideas and the story we were telling, if we were understood, if we touched anyone, if we made anyone laugh or cry or smile, if we had any impact on the readers at all. Dread because we worry about what we'll hear, sometimes even if we'll hear anything back from the readers. If a story goes out and we don't hear anything about it, then does it mean it was bad? Does it mean we've done something wrong? Did it even get to the list or webpage? Has it been missed? Has anyone read it? Or does it mean simply that no one wrote us?


My dictionary defines this word as "the return of a portion of the output of a process or system to the input" or "the return of information about the result of a process." Sounds a little complicated, but true nonetheless. In terms of writing, this would be "hearing back from the reader about what the writer sent out in terms of how it made them feel or react; what the story was like; if they enjoyed it; what they enjoyed about it."

In other words, feedback.

Feedback is a topic that has been beaten quite to death on the fic list. Some authors write for the feedback. Some only want good feedback. Some will take anything, as long as they get something. Some authors write for the enjoyment and don't care about feedback, good or bad. Some find flames quite amusing. As I say for about everything, it takes all kinds to make the world go around. We all have our differences and we need to learn to live with them and each other and be sensitive to each other's needs, something that I think sometimes gets lost in this day and age of computers and internet. You never have to see the person on the other end of an email, so it feels quite impersonal when you send letters, in this case, feedback, to writers. Maybe you feel intimidated. Maybe you don't think it's necessary. Maybe you're short of time.

Or maybe you just don't realize just how much the writers depend on feedback -- even if they say it doesn't matter to them.

Well, maybe for some it doesn't matter. But I think most authors like to hear from their readers. They want to know if the story worked, if it did what they hoped it would. There's nothing worse than putting hours and hours into a story, creating it, crafting it a piece at a time, working with your beta-readers to get everything just so, then putting it out and not receiving much in return for the gift of that story to the readers. You think: "A month creating this long story, on which I worked so hard, and I get two short notes." Now while some may think this is rather petty, wanting responses in return for writing, I don't. But then I'm a writer as well, so maybe I'm jaded.

Personally, I think authors write stories very carefully, going over them with beta-readers, taking their time, creating something they feel proud of to give to the readers to enjoy. They don't get paid to write fic. Writing any story and not getting any response to it can be very discouraging -- regardless whether a new writer or a veteran writers. As I saw it on Guide Posts once, "feedback is the only payment writers receive." Very true words.

I have been in The Sentinel fandom since January 1997 and posted my first fic in April 97. Over the course of the year that followed, I posted a handful of other stories, including my second story, a long one which you won't find anywhere on the web anymore since I pulled it sometime ago. It was one of those "earnest efforts by a newbie writer" kinda stories. It wasn't until I started the In Time and Destiny series in November 97 that I realized just how much I enjoyed writing fanfic for the show. It wasn't until I did that first story that I really began to understand feedback and just useful and wonderful and necessary and powerful it is for writers. If it wasn't for that feedback, I probably wouldn't have written anything beyond that first story, maybe not even the second one, and definitely not the series of eight stories it is now.

So, in response to this, you can consider this the "Feedback FAQ."


First, for those writing the feedback....


What do I say?

Tell the author you enjoyed it. Tell them what worked for you, i.e, "I liked it when Blair told that joke and made Jim laugh." Or "I liked seeing Rafe and Brown in the story so much." Or "Seeing Simon stand up to the Chief of Police about Blair's presence in the PD was very cool. " Or "Megan sneezing at the same time as Jim for the same allergy just cracked me up." That kind of stuff. Get specific if you can.

Depending on the author and what they want to see -- good comments only vs. all comments welcome -- you could say what didn't work for you. Like "The scene back at the loft with Jim being so mad at Blair after he'd been so nice during the scene earlier felt a little wrong to me. Did I miss something?" Or "Why was Simon yelling at Blair during that scene in his office after the Feds left? It wasn't his fault! Can you tell me why you wrote it this way?" This, I think, is acceptable constructive criticism, with or without the questions at the end of each statement.

I think it is a good policy that if you're going to say something negative, that you always have something good with it. Don't send just negative comments. That's like telling the author you read their entire fic and deliberately picked out the parts you didn't think were very good. Not a good thing.

And always, always be polite. This is the author's story. Perhaps they can explain to you what they meant. Perhaps their beta-reader missed something. Perhaps you, while reading, missed a few vital words or a sentence. Or maybe those vital words got lost somewhere. Ask nicely -- you should get an explanation. I don't understand those that say cruel things to an author, no matter the cause.

To me, flames are never acceptable. As a speaker at my church once said, "Speaking your mind without regard to other people's feelings is not a virtue." Which leads us to...


What's a "flame"?

A flame is a message telling someone how much you hated their story. Like "You wrote Jim and Blair so badly. Why did you ever even bother to write?!? This is terrible!" While I myself have never received such an email for a fic (though I have for other things not related to my fic), I know people who have got them. I just don't understand this kind of behavior. Some authors are very thick-skinned and don't mind flames. Some probably even enjoy them.

At the opposite end, you have writers who are very fragile. New writers fit into category. Writers who have low self-esteem fit into this category. Young writers fit into this category. Read the opening notes to the story -- they will usually say what they are. And they say just what kind of feedback they want to receive. Respect that.


What if I really didn't like it?

My policy? What my mother always taught me. "If you can't say something good, don't say anything at all." Between the words and the soap I got to be way too familiar with (I was a sassy child ~grin~), I had that particular sentence drilled into me quite well. Maybe this is cliche-ish or maybe authors should just get used to hearing every kind of feedback out there. I don't agree. I don't think there is a reason under the sun why we can't all be nice to each other. We're all human. And we all have feelings.

Now there might be authors who want to hear why it didn't work. And that's fine. Write them. If they ask, write. If they don't, don't. Simple as that.


How much do I write?

Depends how much you liked it. I try to write longer feedbacks for longer stories. I figure more time went into them for writing the story, so they should get more feedback in return. Then there have been shorter stories that occasionally just blow me away with what the writer has done. And my feedback will be longer or more enthusiastic to account for that.


This is a new author. Should I say anything different?

Yes. Especially if they say they're a new author completely, meaning they've never written for any show whatsoever. Sometimes we get new authors to The Sentinel fandom and who have written in other fandoms. Usually their writing shows it. In any case, new authors, IMO, need to be encouraged to keep writing. On rare occasions, we get someone who is a new author and can just blow us all away. I've read a few like that. But most times, they might be still learning and need lots of support.


I found a few grammatical errors (spelling, punctuation, etc.). Should I tell the author?

Depends on the author. Depends how bad it is. And it depends on what else you have to say. I would never write someone just to tell them that they misspelled a word on page 3. For me, I usually want to know. I always have my stories beta-read, though sometimes that happens after I post them, but then I always have a statement saying "this isn't beta-read." If I know there's an error in my fic (missing words are my specialty), I have to fix them just as soon as I can get to my computer. But then I'm a perfectionist.

Some authors don't want to be told about any grammatical errors. Or sometimes they don't realize they should get a beta-reader. They may be new or just too shy to ask. And so, errors may be missed when they're fixing their story. I tend to be lenient and let those kind of things go by. I might suggest very, very gently that they look into getting a beta-reader for their next fic, but only if I think they can handle the suggestion. You would be surprised how easily hurt some writers can be and I never want to be responsible for hurting anyone.


I wrote. Why didn't anyone write back to me?

Hmmm.... Well, a couple reasons could be behind this. First, one that happens to me every now and then -- they tried and the email bounced back to them, meaning your "reply-to" email addy was bad. My advice? Check your "reply-to" addy and try again. Most authors will write back to you after receiving comments from readers.

Another reason could be that they've been busy and haven't had time to check their email or respond to what's sitting in their email boxes. Be patient. They'll write to you when they get a chance.

A third reason could be that your message to them got lost before it reached them. Try writing them again. Email can do funny things sometimes.

Fourth, if they are a new author, perhaps they might not realize they should write back. I admit I did that after my first fic. I just didn't realize that I should write back to these wonderfully nice folk who took the time to tell me that they liked what I wrote. I did send a general message to the fic list, but other than that... Since then, I have written back to everyone who writes me.

And lastly, perhaps they just don't write back to the readers in response to feedback. There have been a few people I've written to several times and they never write back to me. Well, after this happens a few times, I don't write to them anymore. If they don't care enough to even send back just a simple "Thank you", well, then I'm sorry, maybe I shouldn't bother writing. A little on the harsh side, maybe, but it's how I feel.


But that author is just so popular, why would she want to hear from me? I'm just some unknown reader.

We always like to hear from our readers, no matter who they are. It's always a blast to hear from new people, someone who's just discovered The Sentinel. Or someone who's just found our fiction. Or someone who's been reading all along, but has never written. Whoever you are. We don't bite. We're still human. And who knows? Maybe you'll make a friend.


I don't have email and I really want to send feedback. Now what?

Most authors with webpages have a guestbook. Sign it. You don't need email to do that. Typically when someone signs my guestbook, I try to write them back. If they don't have an email addy listed and I want to say something to them, then I might add something beneath their entry. But then, that's just me.

Also, check out the Cascade Library Fanfiction Recommendation Site which takes recommendations for fanfic over the internet (not email) as well. You could do some sort of feedback that way.


What is if they don't have a story and I just want to write them about their webpage? Can I do that?

Certainly! There are folks who put a lot of time and effort into creating and maintaining their webpages that either don't write fiction or have extensive pages as well as fiction. Write them. The same rules apply to writing them as it does for writing authors. Be polite. Don't flame.

Tell them what you like about their page, i.e., layout, ease of use, unique things. Also, it's usually nice to let them know if you find a broken link, a cracked graphic, or something like that. I know that I can't always tell when I have problems on my page from my computer. I have to surf on another computer to find these problems and fix them. And while I do try to check out my links periodically, sometimes it takes me awhile to do this.

{{Thank you, Cindy, for suggesting that I add this.}}


And second, those receiving the feedback, a few tips that you can take or leave as you will...


Respond to feedback.

Just as it's discouraging not to get feedback, it's also discouraging not to be acknowledged for the feedback you send to people. Makes the reader wonder if the writers even read it or even cared. And if the writers don't care, then why should the readers send feedback. So, just as it's nice to get feedback from stories, it's also nice to receive a nice polite reply back to the feedback, even if it is just a simple "thank you" or a "glad you liked it." One of those nice circular things -- we all give to each other and receive in return.


Negative feedback.

For the more sensitive writers, learn to take any negative feedback (if you get it) graciously. I'm not saying you have to be thick-skinned -- I know I'm certainly not! But just try to calmly read the feedback. Don't over-react. It's just one person's opinion of your story. Read it and take it in the tone it was written. Try not to overanalyze it. If it's constructive criticism or questions, answer them the best you can.



If you get an actual flame in your email....well, then it's up to you to do with it what you want. For me, it would probably depend on just how bad the flame was. You can reply to it if you wish, maybe just telling the reader you're sorry they feel that way. Or you can simply trash it. If you don't like or can't take flames, then don't finish reading it once you figure out what it is, especially if it's some nasty flame. Just delete it. That's what the button's there for. There's no point in causing yourself undue stress -- especially if you don't plan to respond to flames in the first place.


Replying to flames.

Give yourself a cooling down period. Don't respond immediately. Especially don't reply in anger -- you might say something you will regret later. Wait till you're not upset at what was written, then look at it again and decide whether or not the flame has any merit. If so, write back, tell the person writing to you that you will try to do better. If you don't see any merit, then probably you just have different views on the situation. You can respond by saying this to them in a nice manner. We all have different opinions on things. And that's okay. As I said above, it takes all kinds to make the world go around. That's what makes fanfic so fun. Every writer -- and reader -- sees things in a slightly different light, giving us an endless source of creativity and possibilities.

{{Thank you, Cindy, for suggesting that I add this.}}


A few words about critiquing...

This is a topic that gets very highly and hotly debated on the lists every so often. I am not personally involved in any of the critiquing, mostly because I don't feel I have a right to do so, but also because I don't feel...qualified to critique others' stories. Yes, I have opinions on what makes a good fic. We all do. And I have opinions on fanfic authors and how well certain ones write. However, my opinions are just that -- opinions. What I consider a good story and who I consider a good author may not match others' views. I know for a fact that there are stories and authors which are widely proclaimed the "best" -- and I don't feel that way. Whether this makes me strange or just deluded, I don't know. ~grin~

In any case, fanfic critiquing is something that I know many feel strongly about, one way or other, whether they love doing it or hate any mention of it. I tend to be a fence-sitter (as I am in most things) but with a leaning towards not liking it. Actually, to be honest, I find it semi-amusing that people would want to critique fanfic since most of us are amateur writers who do have real jobs in real life. But then this could be because no one's tried critiquing anything of mine. I'm partially tempted to volunteer something, but I don't think I'm up to code on my flame-retardant. ~grin~ And I don't really think any of stories are critique-worthy since I don't really have a lot of "plot" stories.

For those interested in critiquing, there is a group that does this and you can join if you so please -- Fanfiction Critics Association -- I'm not part of the group, so I don't know what goes on there, but there it is. I've looked at the page to see who a few of the members were and for the most part the ones listed aren't gen writers, so caveat emptor. There is also a GenFicCrit mailing list -- again, I'm not part of it since I have no to desire to critique fic, but I know some people do.


Anyway, this is my long, somewhat convoluted and opinionated commentary about feedback. I've tried to think of the questions and comments I've come across in the four years (oh, man!) I've been in The Sentinel fandom. If I've missed any, please let me know. And as always, comments are welcome. ~grin~