In the guide to participating in exchange fests
I wrote about ten thousand years ago, my instructions for responding to your gift story or artwork are:
Someone made you a gift. Say thank you. Whether it's your great-aunt Mildred's fruitcake or a new iPod, someone worked hard on that gift. Try to find something nice about it, even if it's something basic like the pairing or the setting. The #1 complaint of participants after the fact is ‘my person didn't even bother to comment on the fic I wrote for her.' ...Notice you do not have to say anything about the parts of the fic that bugged you, even if that part was 'every time the characters thought, spoke, or interacted with each other.'
...Seriously. Say thank you. You do not have to gush on your lj or rec the fic, or acknowledge it in any other way. If you really hated the fic, you do not have to lie and say you did (although this is nicer and no one will hold it against you).
I am a big proponent of constructive criticism, and when I first began smutty_claus
I was very hesitant to screen comments of any kind. However, I came around to it pretty fast when the first mean-spirited comments were posted. The reasons I've come to screen harsh criticism are these:
- the author or artist is anonymous, and can't respond to "defend" herself like she normally would be able to.
- the piece is a gift, made by request. Oftentimes, the criticized element might be something that the author would never have included if not for the request. I've seen comments like "I hate these awful stories in igloos, I wish authors would never write about igloos, why would you do this you sick fuck?" The reviewer has no idea that the recipient may have said "If you write sex in an igloo I will love you forever!!" Heck, the writer might hate igloos too and could just be trying to do something nice for their recipient. As the mod, I want to avoid an enormous debate about the recipient's own tastes on their gift post.
- as mod, my first priority is to create a fun and enjoyable experience for my participants. Frankly, mean comments insulting igloos and calling igloo-lovers names just ruin the fun for any igloo-loving fans who are enjoying the fest (not to mention the author/artist whose work you've insulted).
My idealistic self from 5 years ago would cringe at the third point there, but I'm a bitter old fangirl now and that's what I've come to believe. However, this is not about all critical comments. The sample review above is paraphrased, obviously, but it's basically the same as a few comments posted on fest fics over the years. A review like that offers no helpful advice or encouraging words -- all it does is tear down the story and impose the reader's own opinions onto a story that was not written with them in mind at all. It also is personally insulting to the anonymous author. If and when such a comment is posted on a smutty_claus
story, I typically screen it from view.
If a comment includes both good and bad points, delivered diplomatically in a way that both highlights weak areas and encourages the author to improve, I will leave it up. Something like "Wow, great job with Hagrid and Maxime here, the characterization is flawless and Hagrid's dialogue sounds just right. I thought the igloo scenario was kind of farfetched, but it was fun anyway!"
is obviously not a problem. Or even, "I liked the beginning of the story, but I just couldn't get past the igloo thing. It was too weird."
I would leave that in place. And of course, comments alerting me to broken HTML tags, missed warnings, and easily-fixable things like that are completely welcome.
None of this is new territory, and it's already been discussed ad nauseum. Recently, though, I've seen some discussion about comments posted OUTSIDE the original gift post. If you disliked a gift you received in an exchange, is it ok to talk about it elsewhere? Are fest submissions fair game for critique?
The short answer is yes: this is the internet, you can say whatever you want.
OF COURSE. When you post a mean comment on my fest, as the mod I may choose to screen it for the reasons above or for any other reason I may have. But on your own journal, in your own space, of course everyone has the RIGHT to say what they want. Is it rude and tacky to insult a gift someone made, for you or someone else? Yes. But it's well within your rights to do so. Of course, other people have the right to react negatively to what you say as well, and they probably will.
Any fest mod who attempts to impose regulations on what participants can say or do on their own journal is overreaching, in my opinion. This is an attempt that is doomed to fail. We all cruise by our participants' journals from time to time -- I check them regularly during smutty_claus
looking for recs, and if someone is late I check their journal to make sure they aren't dead in a ditch (because surely they'd update about that). And I've been tempted and prodded into responding a time or two when I probably shouldn't. But overall, I believe that it's a losing proposition to attempt to interfere with what people post on their own journals. It's just not going to work. Mods are control freaks by nature, but it's best if we stay within our own sphere (ie, the community) where we may actually *have* control.