Survey of the 1st 100 submitters

Feedback on the feedback on the feedback. Thanks to all who participated.

The survey’s been very useful. Some confirmations, some surprises.

  • I generally try to dress up reader comments (my own and others’) a bit to make the more polite. There was near universal agreement that this is unnecessary, and a fair proportion of people upset that the comments weren’t as blunt as advertised.
  • Most people find the comments helpful, but a few found them to be worthless, simplistic, or generic. That’s unlikely to change; there just isn’t enough time to write detailed comments for everyone.
  • Most people would like a ranking scale – ideally one with multiple components. I’ll think about what we can do on that that’s not too labor intensive. One person mentioned the Alex Keegan method. I’ve turned up Mr. Keegan, but not his scale, so if someone has a link, please mention it in the comments.
  • Most people want to get results right away, even if it’s within the hour.
  • Most people are willing to let us hold a piece for a while.
  • Demographics
    • 2/3 of submitters are male
    • all age ranges
    • most submitters have 5+ years writing experience
    • most have sold all kinds of short stories; few pro-level novels.

Specifics

There were a number of good suggestions. Unfortunately, most of them would be labor intensive. There just isn’t time to take all these approaches on, no matter how useful they might be.

Comments about the cutoff page

  • A cutoff sentence would be better – There’s rarely a specific line to point to. It’s more a gradual realization that the story just isn’t going to work. In fact, we’re likely to shift to only three page options – Start (usually prose quality), middle (an amalgam of issues), End (usually resolution)
  • Suitability to market – we’ve laid out our preferences pretty clearly. Of course, after launch, it will be easier to get a ‘feel’ for what we’re publishing.
  • If page 1, send a form rejection – I understand and sympathize, but page 1 cutoffs are pretty common. If you feel that will be too hurtful, you may want to opt out of feedback.
  • Supporting reasoning / more specifics – I try to cover that in the brief (and often imprecise) comments as well as possible, but I can only hit highlights. There are good critique groups online, including OWW, Critters, Scribophile, and Codex, all of which have mechanisms to ensure more thorough critique.

Comments about the comments

  • “You’re ducking the hard questions” – I try to mention the key weaknesses I see in the piece. Sometimes there are many overlapping issues, and I just can’t cover them all. The comments aren’t always precise, but they do address the issues I see.
  • Indicate which reader made which comments / I didn’t know there were multiple readers – the way our system works, that would be more trouble than I think it’s worth. I’ll keep it in mind for the future. For the present, keep in mind that I write the amalgamated comments personally, and they always reflect points I agree with. So, in many ways, they’re always my comments.
  • These read like beginner’s comments; it would be better to give nothing at all than these – we try to make the comments useful, but we can’t please everyone. It’s always possible to opt out of feedback entirely.
  • Spelling errors – oops. Embarrassing, isn’t it, to criticize typos via a message with typos in it? That’s bound to happen sometimes. Stories are final, polished products; comments are quick summaries.
  • If you cut off by page 1, the comments aren’t serious – I disagree. I may decide by page 1 that the prose just isn’t up to snuff, but that doesn’t mean I can’t add something about the weak science on page 7.
  • Comments usually show the reader misunderstood the story – that does happen. I’m sure I’ve done it as a reader, and it’s certainly happened to me as a writer. The best bet is to just ignore those comments and try the story at another venue.
  • Line-specific comments are better than broad, vague comments / More detail – I’ll see how we can incorporate that. Unfortunately, it’s usually too labor intensive to say “This specific line is an example of awkward prose” rather than “Clumsy prose.”

Thanks again to all who participated in the survey. I appreciate the comments and critique. While some of the specific suggestions for improvement are simply too labor intensive to be feasible, we’ll consider them all, and will likely make some changes to our process.

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