Written after a few too many authors chimed in on discussions of their story -- to bitch about how their stories were being discussed.
written July 6, 2003, posted September 2005
I'm on several mailing lists that actively encourage discussion of fanfiction. They all have different rules, of course, but the ones I tend to stick around on are the ones that allow people to say whatever they want about a story. That is, there are no requirements about "niceness" or "helpfulness".
At some point during one of the fic discussions, the inevitable happens: an author pops up, irate for one of two reasons. The first is that her story is being discussed at all -- to which all I can say is, read the Welcome message, you're in the wrong place. The second is that people aren't being constructive and helpful and telling her specifically where she went wrong.
On the one hand, I understand that. An author hears that her story is being discussed, and thinks to herself that this is a great way to find out what worked and what didn't -- then goes to the mailing list to discover that the sum total of the discussion was a bunch of people agreeing that it sucked, and had wasted their time. Her preparedness to deal with criticism didn't quite prepare her for that.
On the other hand -- tough shit. Really. A fiction discussion list is not about the authors, it's about the stories. It's about the readers, and how they reacted to the stories. If that reaction is nothing more than "Wow, that totally bit. Don't waste your time," that's perfectly acceptable. It's as acceptable as "Wow, that was really great. Everyone go read it!" (which, oddly, never seems to generate public authorial irateness for its equal lack of specific constructive helpfulness. Go figure.).
For an author to attempt to co-opt a thread about her story to demand specific types of feedback about it is in appallingly poor taste, IMO. The public discussion is just that, a public discussion, and not a beta thread put together for her benefit. If she does happen to benefit, in whatever way, from the discussion, great! But if not -- who cares? The discussion is for the participants and lurkers to exchange ideas and enjoy, not for her to gain freebie writing tips.
For an author to get actively angry that people are talking amongst themselves about her story, rather than setting themselves up as a post-posting beta board for her benefit, is ludicrous. She should get her story betaed before she posts it, not afterward. And if she wants specific, critical feedback, she's always welcome to privately email someone in the thread saying, "I noticed that you thought my plot had huge holes in it. If you have time, could you explain what you meant?" Maybe the person will answer, maybe not, but it's a much more appropriate way to address the issue than by whining onlist "That was mean! Why did you say that? Why didn't you at least say where you thought it was weak, instead of just attacking my whole story like that? Why do you hate me? I hate you too!!" or whatever.