You Say Potato, I say Potahto, or Why I Hate Recommendations
by Emily Brunson
I hate recommendations. And it's not for any reasons other than selfish ones. If I don't make a recommendation site, I will obsess over it for WEEKS. And underneath all the wondering about why I didn't make it when compared to X author or Y author, there is one pure feeling: "Why didn't they like me?"
To me, this is what makes art of any kind tough. You work, you practice, you watch and learn and absorb -- and then you do your art, and you hope people like it. Not all of them will, and that's the cold hard fact. No matter how good someone else says you are, no matter how good you may THINK
you are, you will nevertheless be a lonely orange when X person or Y person is shopping for apples.
A few years ago, when recommendation pages and criticism sites began springing up on the web like mushrooms after a nice rain, I was fascinated. I put together a TS Jimbabe rec page, because (at that time) there seemed to be few Jim-centric stories around, and I really liked the stories that I featured. But I got busy with other things, didn't keep it updated, and it's now sort of a page preserved in amber, if you will -- a still-life of the state of TS fandom and Em's taste oh-so-many years ago. In other words, dull as dirt.
But then there were more and more of these phenomena. I ran across a web ring for recommendation sites, and feverishly checked: Was I on any of them? If I wasn't, did that mean I sucked? I was on some of them -- yippee! But I wasn't on more, and it sent me into a crashing tailspin.
And of all the rec sites out there, there was one I achingly wanted to be on. It was the sine qua non of rec lists, for me. People celebrated when they made it. Some friends of mine made it. Some authors I didn't much care for made the list. And I wanted to. Oh, I wanted to. But I never made that list.
A while back, I finally realized how silly I was being. And how personally destructive. What did it matter that one person did not care for my work? Others did, and their words of support, their comments, their
*existence*, reminded me of why I write. Yes, I write to get tales out of my head. But mostly I write because I like to write, and because I love knowing that readers have come to my world -- willingly -- for a little while.
And yet, there was a kernel of truth that was so very, very hard for me to swallow: You will not be everyone's favorite. You will not even be everyone's least favorite. For some people, you simply will not exist.
I don't look at rec sites anymore. I appreciate -- deeply -- ones that recommend various of my stories. I respect ones that do not, because we are talking about personal taste as well as critical examination, and I do recognize that I am not always going to make the cut. Far from always. In fact, I might only make the cut 10% of the time, or 5%. And that's simply the way things are.
Yesterday I saw a post for a collection of stories on a common theme, featuring a LOT of authors I know. A lot of authors I admire. I RESPECT. But there was that pity-party demon waiting to jump in center stage, because I wasn't one of them. That demon's unquenchable, bratty, whiny little voice inside that never ceases to say, "Why didn't they like me? Why didn't they like me enough to ask me, too? Am I bad? Do I suck? What am I doing wrong?"
So for me, rec lists suck. Even though they don't. I'll recommend some stories far and wide, myself. But as a writer, there is too much of myself caught up in the competition. "Did I make the cut?" Fuck that. I got into this fanfic thing because I liked it, not because I wanted to be Queen Writer of Fanfic Mountain. Recs just make me neurotic. As a reader, they're cool. As a writer? Best to avoid them.