Monday, July 2, 2012

Drak's Post Thing

I'm probably home by now, but as of post time I've also probably only been home for an hour or two tops, so we have one more guest post before I'm back (for real) on Wednesday.  Taking the reigns for me one last time is Drakmire, a fanfic writer who's currently one of EqD's pre-readers.  And as it turns out, his post deals mostly with that latter capacity; below the break, he sheds some light on the pre-reading process, both its theory and practice.

Also, I think we can all agree that he picked the best name for his post.

I want you to picture something for me: a walnut-brown monkey sitting at a computer, screeching at the monitor and tearing at his hair as he deletes wall of text after wall of text.

That is me as I try to write this post for Chris.  [Ouch... -Chris]

My name is Drakmire. I am a reviewer for my friends, an Equestria Daily pre-reader, and an author, in that order of frequency, and in that order of importance to me. Rather than try to fill Chris’s shoes by writing a review (and failing to live up to the quality we’ve come to expect from this blog), I’d like to take this opportunity to explain a bit of the behind-the-scenes action in regards to the lifecycle of a story submission to Equestria Daily.

Those of you who frequent Ponychan’s /fic/ board know that the pre-readers maintain an Ask thread wherein you can ask us anything. Ostensibly, these questions are related to the pre-reading process, but sometimes they’re about Nicolas Cage.

Luck of the draw, I guess.

Regardless, I know many folks don’t go there, and so it seems worthwhile to explain why pre-reading isn’t so bad in some ways and worse than you might think in others.

Let’s start with the submission. Gone are the days when you’d email the blog ponies (Seth, Cereal, Phoe) directly with a link, praying that it wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle. Now, one need only fill out a form which then emails the information to the pre-readers (hereafter referred to as PRs because I am sick of using hyphens) who staff the Fanfic inbox. Those few brave souls, masochists among us volunteers, open the document, take a brief look for basic grammar and flow, and then make a decision on whether it’s worth forwarding on to the rest of the PRs.

Many submission do not make it to us as a result.

Aside from basic language issues, there are many story topics which fall under the auto-reject category, and the ones specifically listed on the Submission Guidelines page should give you a pretty good grasp of what’s not allowed. In theory, there’s some flexibility to these rules, but the cold reality is that sometimes, sometimes, the topic is more trouble than it’s worth, regardless of how good the story is. Love it or hate it, Equestria Daily is seen by a lot of the fandom and by some of those folks working on the show itself, and it’s one of the major public representations of us. And so, as much as several of the PRs would love to see, say, Romance Reports go up on the blog, it just will not be happening.

But! Let’s pretend that a story looks clean of errors and the story isn’t atrocious. What happens then? The folks manning the submission inbox will forward the story to us and make a note in our collectively accessed spreadsheet that the story is now up for grabs.

I want to emphasize here that how often we pre-read and what we pre-read are completely up to us. There’s no one yelling at us to fill our quota, no mandate that we take the oldest fic in the pool even if it’s some godawful self-insert HiE shipfic. We decide when and what we want to read. As a result, sometimes stories get taken care of in a matter of hours while others might languish for days. There are a few pre-readers that will take mercy on these unwanted few, regardless of their personal preferences, so submission will never go completely missing if they’re in our pool.

So now, we’ve received the submission email and the story’s in our spreadsheet. I think this one over here is pretty interesting, so I’ll go ahead and claim that. I mark it with my name and a timestamp on when I picked it up, then get down to business.

As a brief aside, there’s no mandatory submission source. That is, it doesn’t need to be on gdocs, FiMFiction, dA, or wherever, but I personally have a bias towards stories on FiMFiction and against those on FanFiction.net, just because of the tracking system and the text formatting, respectively. Others might lean a different way, though I don’t think anyone is ever fond of FanFiction.net. [The only people who like fanfiction.net are the ones who don't know anything better, poor sods.  -Chris]

Anyway, I like to think I start by giving authors some credit: I will begin reading for pleasure with my critical goggles off, but if anything breaks me out of the story, I start looking for problems and counting any I find. Most stories I reject are for mechanical issues—semicolon misuse, dialogue attribution gone wrong, periods where there should be no periods. You get the idea.

If I find enough basic mechanical problems to warrant a rejection, I have a form letter that goes out along with the problems I found. It directs the author to Ponychan’s /fic/ board to get some help with their story. In rare cases, the writing might be interesting enough that while I will still reject it, I’ll skip the form letter and try to give them actual feedback.

On the topic of rejection and feedback, this bears special emphasis: the PRs are not editors. We are not even reviewers (well, a couple of the PRs are, and they maintain a presence on Ponychan doing exactly that). The rejection information we send is meant partially as an explanation to the other PRs for what went wrong so that everyone knows what did or didn’t get fixed if the story returns. It is also meant partially as a genuine attempt to help the author improve, but a detailed response is by no means required, and our responses almost never cover all of the problems that a fic has—only those that totalled up enough to merit a rejection. Stories can, but almost never are, rejected for any reason and without explanation. We know what it’s like being on the other end of a rejection, however, and so we try not to be that cold. Unfortunately, many authors don’t make the distinction between us as filters (which we are) and us as reviewers or editors (which we aren’t).

Sometimes authors write back, thanking us for the detailed response, promising us that they’ll give our notes all due attention, and then some.

Sometimes they get angry.

Very angry.

This is usually the point that people sympathize with our plight, where they give us thanks for slogging through the dross, but I would like to point out that raging, irrational authors are actually really, really funny. We’ve heard from some folks who seem to genuinely believe that they’ve got divine inspiration, that Shakespeare is walking among us again and he’s writing MLP fanfiction, and how dare we reject the story for its brilliance.

We get those emails, we have a good laugh, and then write a civil response. We don’t poke bears with sticks, however tempting it might be. [One of the many reasons I'd be a bad pre-reader...  -Chris]

Still on the topic of rejection, did you know that there are three kinds? I sure didn’t back before I became a pre-reader, back when I submitted my stories, both of which got rejected on the first pass. On the response to my first story (a first fic of a first-time author), I nodded sagely and agreed with as many points as I could. My story had some genuine problems that needed fixing, and I made sure to iron those out before submitting again. I sent in my re-submission with my head held low and hat in hand, clutched at my chest as I gave them my best puppy dog eyes. On my second story, long, long after that first one, I got rejected again. Seriously? How dare they! I had four, four extremely talented individuals go over it before I submitted, what is this garbage! *froths at the mouth*

Okay, maybe not that bad, but I was miffed.

Turns out, there are three kinds of rejections. The one I got is the mildest one, and it’s almost a form of praise in itself. It’s a rejection without a strike, a rejection that’s meant to tell the author that their story has a great deal of potential, and if these minor things are fixed, or this small area is polished, it could be so, so much more. It’s a last chance to let the author take a look, to give the story all the attention it deserves so that it can do its absolute best for its time in the spotlight. This rejection comes with a tentative approval for publication—if the concerns are addressed.

These days, we try to be a bit clearer on the intention for this kind of response, as occasions where an author has mistaken it for the next kind have led to unfortunate amounts of confusion.

The second type is a rejection with a strike. These are the ones that have serious errors, that have problems which the author might not be able to fix on their own. We recommend Ponychan for these, and if this isn’t the first strike, require that the reviews be linked when the story gets re-submitted to us. There’s potential here, but the writing needs help.

For whatever reason, most stories don’t come back after the first strike, and from my occasional browsing, I don’t see them appear on Ponychan either. I don’t know where these authors go after we respond. Sometimes, it’s no great loss. Sometimes... I wish I could have been more lenient. There are stories that I read all 40,000 words of, ones that I got emotionally involved in, adored the characters—if the author would just take some time to get the problems ironed out, it would be such a great ride.

But sometimes... they just don’t come back.

Hm.

The third type of rejection is the most severe. There are no strikes here. There is only the cold embrace of an entire rewrite. I have only ever given out two of these: one for a story whose subject was on the auto-reject list and was only in our pool by mistaken, and one for terrible writing that led into a filly rape scene with no redeeming qualities.

We try to be clear with our rejections. We’re not always successful, but I like to think we do a pretty good job.

We don’t reject stories because we’re spiteful. We love to read, and we love to read interesting stories. There are half a dozen things on my Read Later list in FiM that are only there as a result of how much another PR went on about it, how much they loved it. I would never have checked those out otherwise, and I’m looking forward to when I have the free time to look at them.

I was hoping to end on a super-suave note here on something or another, but if you’ve read Lacuna, you know that endings aren’t my strong point. So instead, I’ll make note of one last thing before I leave you be: how we get new pre-readers.

They apply, we decide. That’s about it. I sent in a cold application one day on a whim and got told a couple days later that I was in. For reference, I only had a vague knowledge of who a couple of the PRs were, so it’s not like I had an inside contact. I sent in a detailed explanation of what my credentials were and what I thought I could contribute to the team, and they decided. As of this post, we’re not actively looking for new pre-readers, and we tend to get a steady influx of new applicants such that we probably won’t need to go looking for one in a long while. However, if you’re interested, feel free to apply. The worst that’ll happen is that we say no.

[And that's the lot of it!  I'd like to thank everyone who helped me out by writing a guest post once more for their assistance, and for the amount of thought that obviously went into all of their writings.  Yours truly returns Wednesday!  -Chris]

12 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Hey! I know this asshole!

      I will now retire to bask in knowledge that I know a guy that wrote a guest post for a blog I read.

      Delete
  2. Heh. Nice post you have here; insights into the pre-reading process and what it's evolved into today are always interesting, and that tidbit on the different kinds of rejection is new to me.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hmmm... nothing surprising here, although I'm actually curious to read some of the author responses now. Sounds like they might be a good laugh if someone is claiming divine inspiration.

    *Yours truly returns Wednesday! -Chris*

    Ummm... yay?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Since I'm not a pre-reader (nor do I even want that thankless job), I can only speak from my experience when submitting, and so far that has been fairly pleasant. Both times I submitted a story for inspection, I got a fair, reasonable response explaining why I sucked and should never take up the digital pen again. And then I went and got posted after a second go-through anyway, thereby degrading the good name of Equestria Daily for all time.

    There was the time Keeping Your Hooves On The Ground didn't get a response for over a month, requiring me to use your newfangled submission form so I could get rejected properly, but that's another story.

    I really do appreciate you guys. As sad as it is to not get some of the best, albeit more controversial, fics on the site, it's a lot better than getting overrun with HiE and "OC has sex with everypony" stories like Fimfiction.

    Can't wait for Wednesday!

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Luck of the draw, I guess."

    Tell me about it. I mean, what are these people doing not asking questions about Nicolas Cage? Do they know anything about pre-readers?

    ReplyDelete
  6. >but sometimes they're about nicholas cage

    Oh god my sides.

    ReplyDelete
  7. As someone who hopes to one day submit a story, this was a really great post. :)

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  8. The EQD pre-readers are just another reason to love this fandom.

    I submitted my first story a short while ago and was given an incredibly helpful rejection. The grammar stuff was useful, but what really helped me was a single, trenchant, observation about my plot. (No jokes, please!) After a quick re-write and a long struggle with the horror that is coma splices, I was accepted.

    And after the initial *yay* reaction, my first thought was, "I am [i]so[/i] glad that my first submission [i]wasn't[/i] accepted."

    You guys are wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "What an excellent plot, Twist." (Friendship is Witchcraft)

      Don't talk to me about commas! GAH!

      Also, use < > instead of [ ].

      Delete
  9. I remember my first EqD rejection. It was for The Wind Thief, my fun little Skyrim crossover. Mind you, by this time I already had 7 stories published on EqD.

    I got the rejection, and I was instantly filled with rage. Incandescent rage! Like the kind Drak mentioned above, but without the "I'm kidding!" at the end!

    Eventually I got over my anger and made the fixes the pre-reader suggested. I resubmitted and it sailed through without issue, and today it's a successful story.

    But I am still filled with rage. Every night, I open up that rejection letter and read it a dozen times, burning it into my mind.

    Someday, pre-reader 23, revenge will be mine! Mine! Ahahahaha!

    (Just kidding!)

    (Or am I?)

    (Dun dun duuunn!)

    ReplyDelete