Under a friends-lock in one of my online friend's DWs a debate rages (89 comments and counting; I only got pulled in over a side issue) over how one should react when people hit the Kudos button (in particular, on AO3) on stories but don't leave you any comments.
The scene looks like this: you visit AO3 and gleefully read Harry Potter and His Hairy Horny Toads or some such shit and you either 1) like it well enough, 2) love it, or 3) will marry the person who wrote it and have their babies so you hit the Kudos button and glory be, you move on your way.
Whoops! Some people have a problem with this!
Even worse, other people have an even bigger problem with some people having a problem with it!
This is where it gets see-saw dizzying: Say YOU, as in "you", the person reading this, wrote the story Harry Potter and His Hairy Horny Toads (a froggy free-for-all, sure to be one of AO3's greatest hits). You know it's a hit because while it's been out for just a few days, and both of those on the weekend, a notoriously slow online time, it's already got 33 Kudos and you see links for it dropped in AO3 forums and even in DW peep's entries. You're like, "Go me, man."
But! The goddamned story, to date, has gotten just one comment. The next day, it has two comments - and 11 more Kudos. But both comments are pretty much shit, like, "This was great, man, thanks!". So you write another story; it doesn't get as many Kudos, but hell, it still gets twelve on its first day - along with zero comments forever. You keep writing and the pattern keeps repeating. You see stories on AO3 that get less Kudos than your least popular story to date has gotten yet you see those same stories get tons, just tons more comments than yours do.
Rather than assume you've failed as a writer you get a bit fussed with your audience and rant that you'd rather get no Kudos at all than get Kudos but no comments. Because Kudos aren't feedback to you, they're drive-by shootings of either deeply felt or else superficial emotion and you can't tell which by looking, that's for sure, nor can you tell, by looking, what anyone likes about your story, nor can you tell why the fuck anyone's even reading it if they can't be bothered to leave a comment after leaving a Kudo and before moving along. Does that make sense? It sure does to me.
Good points, Harry Potter and The Hairy Horny Toads author.
Now you get some major backlash for preferring comments to Kudos. People are going off about it, which you know because your friend is really confused by it and says so, and one of the discussions that springs from her confusion somehow becomes about the idea that people who post fiction have no right, not ever, to control the conversation that comes out of it. I really flipped my lid when I saw this. I replied, in part, that a writer has the right to control any and every conversation that comes out of their writing:
You have a right to control the conversations that flow from your online writing (see Seth Godin). You have the right to 1) receive comments, 2) screen them, 3) disable comments altogether, 4) read and delete them on sight, 5) receive only kudos, 6) receive only comments, 7) receive kudos and comments, and so on, just pick your flavor. I write it. You read it on my terms, because if you don't then I don't have to write it at all.
(The basic working assumption here is, I not only get to not like how you say it, I also get to not let you say it the way you want to say it or to say it at all, if how you choose to say it discomfits me on any level that might hold back, mess with, dilute, or end such productivity on my end now or in the future).
OK. I get that seeing only Kudos and no comments is upsetting some writers because they never get any feedback they can sink their teeth into, but to my mind telling people not to leave Kudos at all if they don't intend to comment charges straight into Goldilocks territory, and whining like that really does annoy the shit out of me. So I tried to give a balanced reply that somehow expresses these thoughts while respecting that the author still has a valid complaint:
Oh. And I'm not on the Kudo Complainer's side in this. That person sounds like a whiny you know what and I don't like whiny you know whats. But by the same token, I don't like people complaining about other people complaining about how their feedback is received. A lot of feedback can fuel or else completely end or at least stultify future creativity and how it affects each writer is an intensely personal matter. So I guess what I'm saying is just let them whine if they want.
This person then tries to cover their obvious blunder by saying that if a story gets posted within an author's own space then of course they have a right to control the discussion duh, but these crazed, wicked authors are overrunning and shutting down forum discussions and that's one big fucking Oh Noes. Right. Let's stop the presses: this same person posted the comment that started our exchange, and nowhere did she mention authors who want to stop people from leaving Kudos if they won't also leave comments overrunning and "shutting down", however you do that, forum discussions. No one else interrupted to mention such a thing, either. So I was like *jaw drops*..."That was
This person (I keep saying "this person" because they've named "theirself" after a large, gender-neutral vehicle and I don't do the "hir" thing because I don't know what that is) goes on to flounce around about the "reader-writer handshake agreement", then adds that "my right to express my opinion on a story is not trumped by the author's right to shut me up". Saying, "I'd prefer you not leave a Kudo if you're not leaving a comment" is like putting duct tape over someone's mouth now, who knew? Given my limited knowledge of how the "etiquette" works that this person goes on to mention only in passing, maybe they've got a point.
But then this person goes on to say that if someone tells them not to leave Kudos, then they're not going to read that person's writing anymore because obviously their opinion isn't welcome. Ah! The online equivalent of a temper tantrum. The minute I get the, "I will just wander off, and no I won't be back" treatment I'm reminded of the time my mom wouldn't give me a cookie so I packed my bag and ran away. When I was just 10. I got as far as the highway in front of the house, then I got scared, got over it and got my ass back home, all within the same hour.
My mom laughed until she almost cried. And I don't blame her for it. Now.
Thinking this was a really high-falutin' reaction to, "Just don't leave me any Kudos", I replied (massively cut for length, emphasis added after-the-fact):
She (merely assuming "she" in this instance) is sort of mad that people hit the Like button to avoid exerting themselves any further. I totally get that. [...] She has a very specific complaint: "Yes, you guys seem to like my post but if you won't tell me what resonated for you or even that you're glad to read it then what am I doing this for?"
[...] Getting only Likes and few if any comments is obviously a dealbreaker for this particular author; it either dulls or perhaps kills her drive and enthusiasm for her form of writing altogether. Though it sounds a bit whiny to me, it's a huge issue for her. I respect that, despite the Goldilocks nature of her complaint. That's why I say just let her whine, it's a valid point in her mind, and that's all that really matters. What we think isn't relevant at all. Not to her.
At this point this person is too busy re-directing my words to make them look like they're targeted at her personally (and no one else) to really give a crap what I'm saying Re: authors who want you to take your no-comments Kudos and shove them up your ass. My hunch is confirmed when she replies, "I appreciate the discussion, MM, but these points seem mutually exclusive of each other: 'Yes, you guys seem to like my post but if you won't tell me what resonated for you or even that you're glad to read it then what am I doing this for?' and 'What we think isn't relevant at all. Not to her.'"
This person goes on to say that if how we leave feedback matters to an author, then of course what we think about that author asking us to stop with the Kudos also matters to them. And that if it doesn't matter to them then they can't have it both ways, you feelin' me now? Yes, I think my head exploded three times just reading that.
Soooo...they wrap up with various thoughts like, "If I don't get any comments or kudos on something I publish, I don't blame my readers, I blame my lack of skill or ability to engage. Maybe it just fell flat or I needed another edit. It's not their fault, it's my fault" and, "I don't understand why you feel the writer is more important than the reader. By reading their story I'm opening myself up to an author, and giving them permission to play with my emotions. I should be allowed to express my reaction, whether negative or positive." and the even more resounding, "Feedback isn't part of the creative process, it's part of the sharing process."
Oh. My. God. What?
Let me address one thought at a time to keep things fairly straight.
"If I don't get any comments or kudos on something I publish, I don't blame my readers, I blame my lack of skill or ability to engage. [...] It's not their fault, it's my fault." Bullshit. Just bullshit. To limit myself to examples I can find right here on DW, I'm subscribed to at least three people who should be swamped with comments on just about every post they make but one currently has few subscribers and the other two are barely on anyone's radar, but of the three, two are fairly good writers and one is Great as in Classic Material. I don't know why the fuck you're all not reading him. Having almost no subscribers, he gets few comments yet each post he puts out not only doesn't need editing to make it "engage" or "show [more] skill" but is of better quality than most of the writing I see. I don't feel it's his fault that he doesn't get more comments. And I don't feel it's anyone else's fault for not leaving him some. That it's pretty quiet over by him is simply a fact. Not everyone gets the recognition they deserve. Sounds unfair, but holy fuck, either way, it's still true.
"I don't understand why you feel the writer is more important than the reader." OK, that's an easy one: because it doesn't require too much effort to attach your eyes to a page and use your mind to absorb the words on it, but it costs the author some serious effort to make sure you come away from what you see on that page happy. The effort they put into what you find to be a good piece of writing trumps the effort you put into reading it. The author sacrificed something on one or more levels to make sure their story spoke to you. That deserves both your recognition and some credit for time served. Neither is required, but either would be nice. You'll never spend as much time leaving a two or three line comment to thank the author and/or tell them what you liked about their story as they did writing the story that you just read.
"By reading their story I'm opening myself up to an author, and giving them permission to play with my emotions." But by the same token, authors open themselves up to share their stories and emotions with you. While they can toy with how we feel as we read along, we can toy with them even more by not respecting how they feel, period. This is not just a symbiotic relationship but one in which power is tilted in favor of the reader: while an author can't change how we'll react to their writing, we can change how an author will react to writing more of the same in the future. We can stoke the writer with our enthusiasm or dampen their craving for future storytelling by criticizing or panning what we see from them now or even change the author's mind about writing altogether by not playing by his or her rules.
"I should be allowed to express my reaction, whether negative or positive." And you are allowed! That's the damndest thing about this: you are not just allowed but even encouraged by some authors to express your reaction, not just in passing but in detail; you are welcomed to leave Kudos along with your comments (but to please not just leave Kudos) yet it's the very "detail" part of this equation that has you sweeping your skirts up, to use a turn of speech from about a hundred years ago, and exiting stage left. I just find that...inexplicable.
"Feedback isn't part of the creative process, it's part of the sharing process." No, it's part of both processes. If feedback didn't determine not only what I write but how I feel about writing it, comments would've always been closed on every blog I own. In fact, I've been so disgusted with feedback, both the lack of it and various forms it took, that I've reacted to it over the years by: 1) closing comments altogether, 2) dropping every single person on my friends list at once to avoid showing favoritism to the handful of people who either didn't piss me off or else shoot me down or shut me out of what they were saying about my writing and 3) deleting blogs of mine whose feedback lacked in quantity and/or quality. I have also been known to beg people to go away already. En masse.
All that, over nothing more than how people chose to comment and what they chose to say when they did, combined with how often they didn't comment but chose some other form of action in place of an honest conversation with me, such as making posts I was locked out of, mysteriously unsubscribing over a topic I'm 99.9% sure pressed some buttons, and so on. If feedback isn't part of my creative process then someone needs to tell me why not, because it certainly seems to have influenced the hell out of mine over the years.
And I'm sure it influences many other writer's zest for their own creative writing, as well.