Rocket dragons!

So my story “Substitution” is up on Daily Science Fiction this week, and I am absurdly jittery about it.  In an effort to be marginally better about things that still feel weird, like self-promotion and blog-flogging, I 1) last-minute included my blog address in my DSF bio and 2) proceeded to have a panic attack.  What if someone actually visits this blog?  How…odd.  Then I thought, well, what would DSF readers be interested in?  Me blathering about graduate school, Clarion, and my decrepit apartment is about as fascinating as linoleum peel.

This is where my friends arrive atop white horses to save the day.  Way back when DSF first instituted their rocket-dragon voter policy, I posted a (flame-war-bait) query asking what people thought of the new voting system.  I was curious, partly, and admittedly also terrified.  DSF’s my first genre pub, and I’m both giddy and understandably nervous.  I sold the story before there were rocket-dragons, and then rocket-dragons appeared off in the distance, fire-breathing and jet propulsive.

Full disclosure: I’ve alphabetized people’s names in order to protect privacy (A, of course, is me, sounding like an idjit as usual).  Oh, and if anyone B through H wants their snippet removed, just holler and I’ll pull it down, but y’all said smart things. Hopefully you’ll permit me to publicize them.

Below, a transcription of the conversation, in full.  To my knowledge, no stories with these faux-titles have yet been written.  I still think “Placebo Community” would be fun to play with sometime….

A) DailySF has a new user rating system for stories. Those little rocket-dragons fill me with dread, despite the fact authors never see the results. How do you all feel about audience polling when it comes to artistic endeavor?

B) Obviously, you’ll get populist results. But … rocket-dragons!

A) …and I’m generally a fan of populist results, and it’s a genre pub, so the whole game is populist results. But something about it made my elitist brain get all tetchy, like “stop judging my art, man.” This is a bad reaction and I should just get over it, no? Also, would a “prestige pub” ever do something like this? Hells no. Which perpetuates genre scorn in a way that makes me sad. I dunno…and so I phish for opinions.

C) Once you publish it, it’s not your art anymore, man. 😉

D) SF magazines are a wide (and warp speed capable) church. I figure there’s plenty of venues that would never impose such a system and plenty of readers who would distain reading something just because everyone else approves of it.

E) The magazine is a business. Reader feedback is good. The readers are ultimately the ones who cut the checks. Also, if you put your writing in front of people, they are going to impose their tastes. If you can’t handle rocket-dragons and a rating system you’ll never see the results of, how well do you think you’ll handle reviews when you start selling novels? Reader response is part of being a professional… at some point you have to let it go and just do your thing 🙂 But Daily SF needs to do their thing, too, which means staying tapped into what their audience wants, because their audience is what keeps them going as a business. 🙂

F) Yeah, I’m generally with E and C in that I think publishing means your story is out in the world and doesn’t really belong to you anymore. And as much as I hate that kind of “reader response” criticism and find it pretty useless for providing any kind of helpful evaluation of anything to me, I recognize that lots of other people really like it and, you know, Daily SF is trying to build a loyal community by adding some reader interactivity and more power to ’em. That said, I think numerically rating art is a fucking terrible thing to do. But that train has sailed, methinks (he said, looking pointedly at the entire film review, restaurant review, game review industries).

G) Every publication that puts stuff online, be it genre or prestige, is paying attention to the implicit feedback of page-views. Having a user-rating system, if done well, could balance this somewhat in cases where lots of people look at a story and most of them hate it, or in cases when not so many people read it but the ones that do love it so much they desperately want more from that author.

A) I appreciate the comments, all. I am not so thin-skinned as that, don’t worry. Was more trying to figure out whyfor the aversion, just for my ownself. But I like F’s narrative best–that this is actually a community-building move on DSF’s part. Though in that case I almost wish they would just make the numbers public. I’d love a good debate about what those stats mean.

D) My only concern is for the editors themselves. If I found a shockingly good, mind-blowing story off of the pile and then saw the writer’s last three efforts had scored badly, I might second, indeed third, guess myself.

G) I think it’s bizarre that the results aren’t public, though. Why would anyone ever bother voting if they didn’t get to see the result? That isn’t how the internet works.

A) Agreed to both of you. It seems like it couldn’t help but influence editors’ willingness to take a risk on an ambitious or difficult story. And while I appreciate what must seem like a kind move, discretion re: not revealing the votes, it’s hard to see how a secret ballot is in any way community-building. Maybe it’s a placebo?

G) ‘The Placebo Community’. Good title.

F) My (extremely anecdotal) experience is that communities that do make public their ratings — that would be goodreads and amazon and bn.com, frex — don’t actually produce agglomerate results that I find at all useful as a consumer. There’s too much variance in what people mean by the numbers — I liked this much more/less than the author’s previous story! I think this story is in bad taste! Too many proofing errors! Etc.  So in many ways I think daily sf’s solution — let people rate but don’t worry too much about aggregate data — is not a bad one. In part because what might be useful to me would be seeing my OWN ratings over time…

H) I love and fear the dragons, and I don’t even have a story coming out with Daily SF! Partly I fear myself: I have already spent more than five minutes at a time fretting about whether a story deserved three or four rocket dragons.

G) ‘I love and fear the dragons’. Also a good title.

There you have it, and if you’ve read to the end of this, I’d love to hear your comments/thoughts, too.  Rocket dragons, blast away!

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11 thoughts on “Rocket dragons!

  1. Well I thought it was worth seven dragons. Definitely one of the better stories DSF have put out. Usually I just skim read for a bit and then give up on most of their stories but yours had me from the get-go. So thanks.

  2. Enjoyed ‘Substitution’ this morning. Nice work!

    I’m ambivalent toward the rocket dragons. Numerical feedback is pretty useless, but then DSF isn’t a workshop.

  3. Loved the story this morning, and I understand just what you mean about “What if someone actually visits this blog? How…odd.” Felt just the same way last month when I got comments on my blog.

    I, for one, am curious what you’re working on your PhD in, as your about page doesn’t say, and the current blog posts don’t specifically reference your field.

    On my author blog (erinmhartshorn.com/blog), I’ve been doing an A to Z series of women writers of science fiction and fantasy. Coincidentally, next Wednesday’s post is W. I’d love to include a brief review of your story, if you don’t mind. If you’d like me to add a brief statement from you about why you write the sort of things you do, feel free to e-mail me (erin@erinmhartshorn.com).

    As for the rocket dragons, well, I’m morbidly curious as to what my ratings are, but would probably rather not know if they’re low. I think they serve mostly as a way for Jonathan and Michele to connect with the readership, to try to see where their interests match up with the readers’. I don’t know whether I think that’s good or bad; I can see both sides.

  4. Well, this is a pleasant surprise to wake up to. Thank you for the comments, and WOW!

    Erin: A review?! That would be crazy fabulous. First review of first pubbed story woo!

    MC: Yeah, “ambivalent” pretty much covers where I come down on the rocket dragons too.

    I do like “connecting with the readership” as a replacement for “community-building,” though. IMO, that’s a much more plausible frame, given how the rating system actually works.

    Thanks for stopping by, all!

  5. So, for the first twenty seconds of being on the blog, i actually wondered if your last name was wonders… XD
    And i did want to say, dont worry about the dsf crowd, we’re a relatively nice pack of miscreants. I’ve gotten used to the dragons, but i always try to comment on something i liked, or more rarely would really have liked. I think anybody with both guts and panache deserves more than 6 of 7, it was good. You know?

  6. Substitution is a terrific story, just the reason I subscribe to the DSF email. Seven rocket dragons!

    You’re right about the inadequacy of the number ratings, however. There was a wonderful story up recently that was also very sad (even sadder than Substitution) and I didn’t rate it any rockets because I was so bummed after reading it, so that makes no sense at all. A story that affecting should have been a seven-shipper.

    Readers, we are a fickle lot 😉

  7. I made a judgement call in coming here before I did a dragon vote … just as well I’d made up my mind though …

    I’m glad you added your blog link at the last moment. The writer/reader relationship is an equitable one as far as I’m concerned, so when I read something that moves me, I want to let the writer know. I want that as a writer so I think it’s only fair that I give that as a reader …

    I think every reader of DSF has their own criteria for what the rocket dragon scale represents. I use it as an evaluation tool. Was the story properly edited? Was there something about it that hooked my attention? Did it avoid being just another – zombie,time-travel, spaceship, alien – fill in the blank – stereotype? Did it move me? Did it make me wonder? Did I want to read more?

    I love the little dragon rockets. Maybe everyone who gets published should get a sticker/badge thing-y to put on their blog/website!

    What did I vote? … oh yeah … thanks for reminding me … gave you a 7!

  8. Hello, I gave you six rocket dragons. I found Substitution to be a wonderfully dark hued little tragi-comedy, written with verve and precision. I enjoyed it very much, thank you. (And I’ve only given one story seven rocket-dragons, so don’t feel bad about the six!)

  9. Wowza! The overflow of smart and generous comments about my story has been totally overwhelming. Thanks to each and every one of you for your kind words. My little heart explodes with happy every time I peek at this thread–it’s going to get me through many dark rejection days, that’s for certain.

    aisboy: yup, my last name really is Wonders. I feel like I won some kind of last name lottery! It makes for a lot of great & terrible puns, that’s for sure.

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