On The Importance of Feedback

30 Oct

Two interesting (and seemingly unrelated) articles popped up in my Facebook feed today. The first was a reaction post to the new Supergirl TV series, which called it ‘Badly-written, Badly-acted Dreck.’ (I haven’t watched the pilot episode, so I cannot comment on it – besides, pilots are often quite weak viewing in any case.) The second was a piece entitled ‘The Left’s War On Comments Sections’.

You may ask what these have in common. Read on.

Reading the first link led to an interesting series of points. Official commenters – The Washington Post, Vox – applauded the episode in no uncertain terms. Unofficial commenters – the IMDB page is particularly noteworthy – were less impressed. Many of their reviews boiled down to an episode that tries too hard to sell a message, rather than tell a story.

The issue here, as I see it, is that the first set of commenters focus on the industry buzzwords – feminism, in this case. (The fact that Kara is a superpowered alien, with powers no human can match, is seemingly ignored.) Their argument is that Supergirl is great because it’s a feminist show, that Kara is a great role model for young girls. But the second set of commenters aren’t looking for deep symbolism, they’re looking to be entertained. And their assertion is that Supergirl is not entertaining.

Now, I have no idea if the producers are reading the IMDB page or not, but that’s the kind of feedback they need (if not what they want). They should not be trying to make TV shows (etc) that appeal to the cultural elite, but shows that appeal to their watchers. All the plaudits in the world from official commenters won’t help if viewers are changing the channel and watching something else.

Feedback, actual feedback, is important. And that’s where the second article comes in.

One of the issues writers have to deal with is people who don’t feel obliged to give them a good review. (Every writer has a story about showing a manuscript to his mother, who says it’s wonderful, and then puts it online and gets nothing apart from one-star reviews.) I know it hurts have your work dissected by a reader, to read a comment that tears at the very foundation of your novel, but it has to be endured. Feedback from the readers is the only pro-active way to monitor your own success and work to improve it. (Or, sometimes, to overcome the ‘this is awful’ depression that writers get from time to time.)

I’ve had a lot of feedback over the years. Sometimes, it’s helpful remarks about words I’ve misspelled or facts I’ve gotten wrong. Sometimes, it’s suggestions about the direction of the plot that need to be incorporated into the manuscript. Sometimes, I think about it overnight and decide I don’t agree with the reader. That’s my decision – I’m the writer – but the mere fact that someone commented on it means I have a problem.

Yes, there are bad commenters out there. There are ‘drive-by commenters’ who say “I don’t like this” and buzz off without bothering to explain why. There are trolls whose only objective is to get under your skin, people who haven’t read the book but feel compelled to give an opinion anyway. I think every writer gets people like this … yet, trying to deny them the right to comment is not only pointless (Amazon rarely deletes legitimate reviews), but self-defeating (you won’t get feedback you desperately need).

The odd disconnect between official and unofficial commenters that I noted above appears in the publishing world too, with odd results. Comments on Star Wars: Aftermath have suffered from a similar spilt, with many official commenters praising the book while unofficial commenters have been sharply criticising it. (It currently has 1407 reviews on Amazon US, with an overall rating of 2.5.) The literature elite’s power to push a book has been crippled, perhaps fatally, by the change in the market, by the ability of everyone to review a book they bought. Indeed, the problems facing the Hugo Awards owe a great deal to the fact that official commenters praise books for their message first and put entertainment second.

For writers, the tendency to believe official commenters over unofficial commenters can be disastrous. The average reader does not want to be given a message, but relax into an alternate world they can enjoy. It doesn’t matter if they’re a SF reader, fantasy reader or even a romance reader. Entertainment comes first! Plaudits from the elite are no longer worth what they were, if indeed they were worth anything in the first place. All that matters is pleasing the readers – and the only way to know how well you’re doing is listening to the feedback.

The reboot of Battlestar Galactica suffered from the same problem. I don’t mind admitting that much of the first two seasons included some of the finest moments in TV science-fiction since Babylon 5. (And both the miniseries and the first episode of the series were very good.) But nBSG went off the rails shortly afterwards, at the same time as its producers were being invited to the United Nations. They sacrificed the interests of their viewers for the praise of the cultural elite and the show became unwatchable.

I don’t know if the second article is right, if there is a growing tendency to ban commenters from blogs, online newspapers, etc. Jokes aside, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was. The concept that someone disagrees with you (that they think your book isn’t the paragon of good writing you believe it to be) isn’t an easy one to stomach. And there is the prospect of someone who knows more than you, or is simply more convincing, popping up to lure your readers away. But it has to be faced.

But, for what it’s worth, I don’t ever intend to stop listening to feedback.

16 Responses to “On The Importance of Feedback”

  1. Dennis the Menace October 30, 2015 at 10:42 pm #

    1) I agree about Battlestar Galactica.

    2) Supergirl in my view WAS crap. But mostly because I think 99.99% of network produced TV is crap compared to what studios develop for Netflix/Amazon and cable. So, I am biased that way.

    Now for my main response:

    I read the Left’s War on Comment Sections myself as well. That wasn’t news to me, as I’ve noticed this going on for the last two years especially. See, the Leftwing sites are mostly moderated while right wing ones aren’t, as a general rule. There are exceptions in both cases, as there are always exceptions with generalizations.

    The Left needs their Echo Chambers badly. They tend suffer severe cognitive dissonance issues when their myths are challenged by facts…or just a good series of logical questions they’d rather not have to answer, I have found. The Left wing sites know this. They lose forum participants fast when they don’t delete what those right wing ‘trolls’ post. The lefty commenters then learn to ‘expect’ that to be an aspect of a properly administered forum.

    But the ones that need to be profitable news sites can’t really afford to hire armies of moderators or even a smaller army of staffers to supervise an army of volunteer moderators like Dem Underground has. So they are simply killing the comment sections. To them, it is all about the $$$$ in the ‘costs’ section of the ledger, pure and simple.

    You can see proof of what I just said by visiting the few sites where lefties and righties still participate in unmoderated comment sections together — usually futurist or tech oriented sites, in my experience. For many newbies to those sites from the Left, they are patently shocked that folks like me are allowed to even have an account, let alone the ability to freely post what I actually think. I am not being melodramatic here. I am quite serious.

    That’s when they start screaming about how the site isn’t properly moderated and almost always accuse the righty who ‘offended them’ of being an Internet troll when in fact what was written is not offensive at all nor conforms to the definition of what a troll is. But most lefties have developed their own definition of ‘internet troll’ which is “anything a Republithug says…ESPECIALLY if it might sway others to think favorably to his/her points”. That last part is a key aspect of their motives for calling the site owner to ban ‘certain people’, I have found. When pointed out they are calling for censorship, they just can’t accept that is what they are doing and usually scream about just being accused of censorship proves their point about censoring people!

    Disclaimer: After figuring this little nugget out, I have had great fun pushing their buttons in the ‘censorship debates’ on the forums. Technically, THAT does make me an internet troll when I do that. But I never start these things…I always wait for them to. And it is soo easy to discombobulate these fools because they don’t think with logic but with emotions — the emotions of a two year old, usually. I just can’t resist, I freely admit. 🙂

    Whereas, Conservatives in America have been long used to being challenged for their views all the time. The media and ‘polite society’ for most of our lives have been against us. The whole PC thing is meant to redefine everything in Orwellian Newspeak to defeat acceptance of our views even before we express them. As you saw in the way the CNBC ‘moderators’ behaved, this is now indisputable fact even to many of the more open-minded Lefties. Even ‘worse’, we righties are starting to stand up and declare the BS for what it is and that we refuse to play ball with it anymore. You saw that happen in that debate as well.

    (Note: In my opinion, this move in the ‘Overton Window’ of conservatives’ self-confidence is real bad news for the lefties, btw.)

    In summary, most Righties have way thicker skins than most Lefties do with regards to expressing their views for reasons that have to do with environment. In the case of this topic about comment sections, the differences in environment is usually sharply defined by whether the comment section in question is moderated or not.

  2. Rob Godfrey October 30, 2015 at 11:01 pm #

    hang on calling presidential candidates on the fact of their plans is ‘BS’? Also I enjoyed BSG, all of it, and The Plan (the prequels where weak mind you, the transhumanism was badly done)

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard October 30, 2015 at 11:40 pm #

      Oh yes, it’s “such a good thing” for people who’s lives have always depended on high tech to just leave all of their high tech behind to settle a new world. [Sarcasm]

      I’d expect that only around 1% of them (or less) survived to have children.

      • jklangford October 31, 2015 at 1:30 am #

        That is correct. Adam and Eve were the two children that survived. So in essence the entire human race has Cylon Dna!

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard October 31, 2015 at 1:41 am #

        Oh yes! The Adam & Eve were from outer-space plot line! It’s one of the most over-used plot lines for newbie writers and few editors would purchase such a story. [Sad Smile]

      • jklangford October 31, 2015 at 2:22 am #

        Yes I had mixed feelings at the end of that series. Relieved it was over and disappointed at the bland climax.

      • chrishanger October 31, 2015 at 6:20 pm #

        Done well, it can be entertaining. But it would have been much more realistic to have the colonials settle on an island near Greece … Atlantis. .


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      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard October 31, 2015 at 6:58 pm #

        And with some planning on how they are going to live with limited technology.

      • Rob Godfrey October 31, 2015 at 5:12 am #

        It had a weak last episode doesn’t equal a weak entire last 3 seasons.

      • chrishanger October 31, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

        IMGO, the show jumped the shark, I think, during the occupation period and never really recovered. (Though the mutiny arc was pretty cool.)


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      • chrishanger October 31, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

        The population of the fleet must have been quite weird – they were largely composed of everyone who was in space at the time. . The odds of them having the skillset they need to survive on a low-tech world are pretty low … and just giving up technology is stupid. Really stupid.


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  3. George Phillies October 31, 2015 at 1:37 am #

    Supergirl was highly entertaining. The special effects were good. The combat stunts were first rate. Ignore contrary critics.

  4. George Phillies October 31, 2015 at 1:38 am #

    Notions that Supergirl was feminist propaganda are bizarre.

  5. Rob Godfrey October 31, 2015 at 6:50 am #

    Would you please stop projecting? Simple fact checks show that right wing claims are lies over half of the time, while leftists are running at about 10%, which is not good, but again the entire right is based on a lie.

    • sjallen343 October 31, 2015 at 8:42 pm #

      Also, 87% of statistics are made up on the spot. Like imaginary friends almost.

      Probably a good idea just to debate reasonably using easily accessible references on the spot. Then everyone knows who is right without any of that pesky thinking.

      Feminist propaganda is just about everywhere if you go looking for it. I find the trick is to just turn the brain off and enjoy the nice, calming explosions.

      I didn’t mind Supergirl. The feminist undertone was to be expected but wasn’t overt enough to really annoy. I don’t see the problem with a female running a large company or a Kryptonian having a whole bunch of powers. Cat Grants defence of the world girl leads to the naming of the character and also shows that Kara is a bit of a hot tempered idiot as well, just like in the comics.

      I have a hard time seeing this “James” Olsen as being Superman’s pal though. Jimmy Olsen was a dorky, short and bespectacled teenage type with ginger hair. That’s how he was relatable to the fans of the day. Leaving aside made up racial issues, why did they so completely change his character by making him tall, dark, handsome, well built and confident? None of that is in character and few people can relate to that.

      That said, he was a good character that the shows needs in that form. No complaints about the new character but why not just make him a completely new character, you know, like Felicity on Arrow.

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