Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted December 26, 2018

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Contest Entry: FanStory Suggestions for 2019

Five Star Reality

by Y. M. Roger

Fanstory-Suggestions For 2019 Contest Winner 

As I begin, please know that the five-star phenomenon I will address is one that I have investigated quite extensively (sorry, that would be the scientist in me) utilizing an option available to everyone. It is the VIEW RATINGS button just above the review comments section that follows each write.
It seems that no matter the quality of a write nowadays, it automatically receives a five-star (excellent) rating. In fact, many reviews do not even seem to ‘note’ or otherwise mention the sometimes obvious errors…just general ‘praise’ for originality or ‘restatement’ of what the author had generally written there accompanied by the five-star rating. If it is a poem with or without errors, with or without reasonable meter or rhythm, with or without comprehensibility, then it gets five stars. If it is a prose posting with or without grammatical errors, with or without form or purpose, it gets five stars. Basically, if it was posted, reviewers gave it a participation trophy...because it ‘participated’ by being posting.  Of course, there are occasional exceptions to this phenomenon, and it is these exceptions that led to my investigation in the first place.
One exception occurred near the end of September when I wrote a review for a poem that had a number of errors in it. I pointed out the errors, suggested corrections, and gave the write a four-star rating. It had been a pretty good poem but it did have issues; therefore, it was not excellent in the presentation that I reviewed. Within five minutes, I received a review of my own work written by the author of the work I had just reviewed. This 'retaliation review' of my work was a very negative commentary on how they ‘did not like’ this or that about my work (my most recent release at the time and, therefore, at the top of my portfolio) and how my work generally just ‘did not sound appealing’. This negative editorial was concluded with a three-star rating for my work.
I followed a similar review/message trail (comparable, I guess, to the ‘paper trail’ of old) on more than a few of the less-than-five-star ratings given to randomly-chosen writes over the course of a two-and-a-half week period. In just about fifty percent (just under half) of the cases investigated, when the write was given a four- or three-star rating for clearly legitimate reasons, the author of the write responded with a similar negative editorial review of the reviewer’s work. In a few cases, this negative editorial (and, thus, two- , three-, or four-star rating) was of a work that had received multiple six-star ratings. [As a side note, four- and the rare and nearly extinct three-star ratings are getting harder and harder to find, especially on the poetry side of things.]
In another approximately ten to twelve percent of the cases, the ‘negative response’ to a less-than-excellent rating was an initial scathing response. This response included an explanation of why the reviewer had not appreciated the beauty, profundity, or else of their [the author’s] write or that they [the author] had been a published author and the reviewer had no idea what they [the reviewer] were talking about with respect to their [the author’s] write. Some of the responses bordered on personal attacks, but could not be said to realistically have crossed that line. In many of these cases, this rant of a response was followed up by the same negative editorial review and low rating process described above.
And, thus, the reason for the over-abundance of five-star (excellent) ratings became crystal clear. FanStory authors must perform reviews in order to earn dollars to be able to post their work – this is an unavoidable fact of FanStory’s modus operandi.  However, if the giving of less than a five-star rating on a review causes backlash and grief, authors as human beings will always take the path of least resistance: the awarding of five-star ratings no matter what the write under review actually deserves.
Although I am certainly not a founding member (I only joined this year – so, call me newbee), the FanStory review process seems to be set-up to mimic the editorial review process that any author would have to go through upon submitting a work for publication. Even famous authors get recommendations and red-lines back from their publicist before their work goes to print. Plots have been altered and character aspects have been changed as a result of this process. It is not unusual. It is the life of an author. It is reality.
This ‘write and review’ process mirrors the blacksmithing process in creating a battle sword – a beautifully sharp and battle-ready weapon is not produced from the blacksmith's showing the unproven metal to his indentures and having them fawn over the color of the metal or even having a few of them say ‘what a beautiful piece of metal’. If that were the process followed, the army that particular blacksmith serviced would be slaughtered by their opposition because his army’s swords would be useless. Sure, the blacksmith would feel wonderful about his handiwork because of all the compliments, but the soldiers would be dead and soon he would be too or he’d be a slave to the other side – that is the reality of the situation.  We all know the process by which a blacksmith labors is a series of shaping and re-shaping and honing and sharpening – all of which must be done before the sword is battle-ready. [Please see the link in my author notes if you are unfamiliar with the process.]
By posting a work on FanStory, an author should expect honest feedback on the work they present; they should not expect to be patted on the head and told that they did a great job -- although, hey, that is a nice thing once in a while! However, when there are obvious avenues for improvement, an author should welcome the pointing out of those avenues by fellow authors or poets. This is the entire reason for the review process: self-improvement as an author or poet. Even the premier authors and poets on this site will thank you for pointing out errors they may have over-looked or even for looking at things from a different point of view. No author or poet is perfect or perfectly accepted. No author or poet speaks for every other author or poet here or specializes as many of the authors and poets here do. It is wonderful to have a forum to get critiques and suggestions and differing viewpoints. The differences are a fact of life in the world. They are reality.
Does this mean you must always agree with a negative comment about your write? Of course not. If you don’t agree with a criticism and you do not like discussing why, just politely thank the reviewer, don’t implement their suggestions, and move forward with your life as if the criticism never happened. It counts as a Review toward being recognized and you never have to see it again once you hit SAVE REPLIES and CONTINUE.

However, if you don’t agree with a criticism or if you would really like more details on how you can improve, politely ask the reviewer for more details on their comments. Remember, they are under no obligation to answer you, but, if they are a genuine FanStory author that truly believes in the mission of FanStory, you will most likely receive a detailed response to your inquiry. Please note the ‘polite’ aspect emphasized in the direction here – aggressive or rude responses will always guarantee no response from a reviewer. Remember, they also have that same option of simply ‘moving on with their lives’ as if your rudeness ‘never happened’. A polite, respectful, and open dialogue with experienced authors and poets is part of the Fanstory experience. But the reality of such an experience requires everyone's acceptance of the fact that they are not perfect.
Does this mean that all reviewers have what is best for the author [of the write under review] when they pen their review? Of course not. I believe we’ve all received those reviews that are obviously a cut/paste of the required one hundred fifty characters which has absolutely no essence that will help you as an author except to award you your participation trophy for posting (and them their monies/points for reviewing). There are also those reviews penned by authors who expect their [the reviewer’s] opinion and/or style should be reflected in all website postings; their review comments are a strong disagreement with the topic of the write or a strong criticism with positions taken by the author of the write under review. Once again, there is no essence to their self-aggrandizements that would help you as an author.

For each of these kinds of reviews, you should do two things. First, take note to never be ‘that reviewer’ – that is, strive to make your review honest and substantive and something that you believe would help the author [of the write under review] improve technically. Second, just politely thank the reviewer, hit SAVE REPLIES plus CONTINUE, and move forward with your life as if the review never happened.
Finally, I would like to clearly caveat this proposal with the statement that, unlike prose, poetry is much more difficult to rate if a posting does not agree with your life ideology or your opinion of what poetry should be or – and this is a ‘biggy’ – your value system. When presented with a write such that one or more of these descriptors is in the mix, I usually use the SKIP option and move on to another posting. However, if you can divorce these descriptors from your technical expertise of poetry and its associated styles, then rate the poem according to your technical opinion of the poet’s skills. None of the three descriptors as defined here should be a factor in that rating; however, your written review can then incorporate and/or address the three descriptors in as much detail as you would like or as you are comfortable. This should be the case in all reviews; it just seems to be more difficult to implement with respect to poetry.
Now, the rules for this specific FanStory-Suggestions Contest state that an entry should offer ideas for FanStory to improve the experience for authors based on the problems addressed. While I have presented some personal responsibility matters here with respect to sane and reasonable Response to Reviews as well as Reviews themselves, I have not addressed the noted issue of an over-whelming number of five-star ratings when many of those ratings may not be warranted.  Please know that this does not mean that I favor one author above another. It does not mean that I hold any animus toward any author or their postings. It is simply the fact that not all postings are five-star excellent. It is reality.
With respect to this five-star matter, I present the following three suggestions.
Perhaps FanStory could offer a Presentation Membership Package for authors and poets who cannot handle or do not wish to be presented with negative feedback on their postings. This participation package would cost half the price of the regular FanStory membership and includes the following benefits/restrictions:
  • No awarding of Bonus Member ‘Pumps’ for reviews.
  • Limit of ten to twelve reviews performed in a twenty-four hour period (no carry-overs/ this number is re-set every 24). Members would still have the option of reading all of the Fanstory posts, but could only submit reviews on this limited number of them.
  • The postings for this package can ONLY receive five- and six-star ratings (no other options available for reviewers when the ‘select your rating’ menu is chosen).
  • Limit of two postings in a twenty-four hour period (already in effect for all memberships). There is no identification as to the different membership (only that ratings limit above) and they can still receive as many reviews as they can garner.
  • All other membership benefits remain the same, such as participating in the contests (both site-wide and member-sponsored), awarding a fixed number of 6-stars per week, and buying Certificates, Member Pumps, etc. as necessary for posting.
As the habit of the awarding of an over-abundance of five stars will not be broken simply with the writing of this contest entry essay, I would also propose that FanStory limit the number of five-star ratings to, perhaps, fifty or maybe sixty per week. With this limitation, a count of remaining stars should be provided in the same current location as the six-star counter.  I may be mistaken in this count and it can certainly be argued that I just don’t have the experience to make such a call, but an ‘excellent’ rating should state that a posting lacks nothing in the mechanics – that not only does it fit all of the criteria applicable for the type of write (style of prose, type of poem) but also is very well implemented and would 'hold its own' against most others the reviewer has recently read in that genre both on and beyond the FanStory site. This five-star limitation could have a site-wide expiration date of six or nine months. The publication of the expiration date is not necessary, as it is simply a method of behavior-modification.
This leads me to my final suggestion: a bold and obvious posting of a short definition of the ‘star’ rating system with clearly noted changes to the current system. This change is actually in word only; but, given the number of newer and perhaps some not-so-new members that take anything but five or six stars as an insult, I think it would benefit everyone on the site if this listing were included just below the review box of every post. It would serve to keep the reality of the star-system and its true meaning at the forefront of everyone’s mind at all times. If the decision is made to implement this system, it should be announced as ‘This is the Rating System’ and every other reference to the old system should be replaced prior to its release. Such judicious pre-announcement and pre-implementation housekeeping would avoid much if not all comments as the change is small yet very important to current social culture thought processes and perceptions of necessary approval.
     ******     Six Stars         (Exceptional:  Simply an Outstanding Post)
Five Stars       (Excellent:  Enjoyable & Understandable – no
                                                 real revisions needed)
Four Stars      (Very Good:  Enjoyable & Understandable – multiple
                                                 SPAG or other adjustments needed as specifically
                                                 noted in the review)
Three Stars     (Good:  Understandable but adjustments needed to
                                                 be enjoyable as explained or noted in the review)
Two Stars       (Below Average:  Needs work to be understandable
                                                 with problems explained or noted in the review)
One star         (Poor:  Not understandable and in need of major
                                                 revision explained or noted in the review)

In my opinion, my suggested updates to include ‘enjoyable’ and the extension of ‘understandable’ allow the system to more easily be applied across the board to both prose and poetry. The reviewer’s written explanations provided in the review itself can now reflect the subtle differences, and the rating is less subjective. It is important that any rating under 5 stars should include suggestions for improvement. I am hoping this may encourage more interaction between mentors/mentees, experienced/less experienced, and, perhaps, across the generations. Please note, however, that because we are all human beings, there will always be some subjectivity in any chosen system. It is completely unavoidable. It is reality.
In conclusion, I will admit my own guilt in the awarding of too many five-star ratings to avoid the inevitable ‘backlash’ of negative reviews and snide responses. Depending on how tired I am after dealing with students’ entitled attitudes all day (yes, I am a high school teacher), I have even been known to politely suggest a list of fixes and still award the five stars just so I do not have to deal with the unreasonable response to the awarding of four stars. In contrast, not remembering to do so today, I received one of the negative editorial reviews as a response to one four-star rating. I also received another (different) three paragraph defense/explanation in response to a simple suggested formatting – that’s right, not writing or grammar, just formatting – change to a poem, and that one I had given a five-star rating to accompany my suggestion. Sigh.
But I will endeavor to do better. I will continue to be an honest, polite reviewer and a polite, sane responder.  After all, that is what should be expected in the FanStory reality -- a reality that has introduced me to some wonderful authors around the world. Most importantly, it is a reality that so many of us love and enjoy!


Fanstory-Suggestions For 2019
Contest Winner


Nothing personal. No one targeted. No offense meant. I posted and am now moving on with my life. LOL! LOL! :) :) Happy Holidays and a Joyous New Year to all FanStorians! :) ;)

Perhaps some of this was offered tongue-in-cheek with one eye-brow raised and perhaps not - I will let those of you who might 'get' my personality by now decide on that because I'm not saying anything one way or another. :) :) ;)

Modern day blacksmithing of a sword:

'Five Star' image from Google Images
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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