The Feng Shui of Reviewing
It is ironic that, in a day when so many people would rather talk then listen, seemingly few people are willing to review Fictionpress stories, yet everyone clamors to hear commentary on their own work. However, this problem does stem from the state of the day: in order to put your two cents in about a story, you first have to sit still and read through the story! Thus, many people review sporadically, half-heartedly, or not at all.
In this essay I will state why you should review, some guidelines to keep in mind while reviewing, how to respond and attract reviews, and a section in which I respond to common responses to reviews (a re-review I suppose you might call it).
1. Why to Review
Firstly, you will find many authors who promise to return reviews. That is, if you review them, they review you. Everyone has their work read and everybody is happy. However, even if an author does not return reviews, every time you submit a signed review you will put your name and a link to your Fictionpress author page in a place someone where someone can see it. Several times I find myself playing a follow-the-links game by clicking on people who have reviewed the same story I have.
Second, it is a chance to state your opinion. And who doesn't want to do that?
Third, reviewing is simple. Fictionpress is large enough that you should be able to find a story that appeals to you, or at least is short and entertaining. And all for free, too! If a story has a good premise but is poorly written, compliment the premise and offer tips to improve the author's writing. The odds are that they will take them and you will find yourself a fully enjoyable read.
Lastly, for you power-hungry folk, a review gives you the power to make someone's day, and a well-placed bit of advice might change someone's destiny. I'll leave you to imagine how.
2. How to Review
I find it best to open the review box as soon as I enter a story and write what comes to mind as I read along. You will probably find this sort of review more pleasant to write and more profitable to the writer than a hurried 'It was good but I didn't like the main character or the punctuation' sort of blurb after finishing a 4,000 word chapter.
Still, try not to make your comments so dense that you overwhelm the writer receiving them. For example, do not keep commenting on the same type of mistake. If they confused 'they're' and 'their', point this out the first time you come across it and then ignore all other misuses of 'they're' and 'their' even if you find twenty more (though do warn the author that there is more than one confusion of the words). Also, give a one-sentence guideline after pointing out a grammar mistake. "I've noticed that you confuse 'they're' and 'their'. 'They're' means that 'they are', and 'their' is a possessive, as in 'what belongs to them'." You could also offer an example of correct usage.
If you notice a mistake in continuity, misuse of a word- 'shingles of neophyte' or 'an elk with a broken horn' - or a sentence that just doesn't sound right, point out each of them. Don't generalize and say 'I notice that you can't use basic color words' if the author says 'Jade and jasper hues of the forest' once.
Also feel free to add comments like 'Snor'kel is a funny name, and it detracts from the menace of the Snor'kelans' or 'Rashied is a bastard; I haven't hated a villain this much since Darth Vader'. Commentary, especially using character's names and specific events, will make the author appreciate that you've really read their story.
3. How to Make the Most of the Reviews You Get- and Get More
First, just read the review. If you are given advice that doesn't work for whatever reason, don't force yourself to use it. If someone suggest rewriting a part of your story, you might or might not do that. But remember that small changes are not difficult. You can always export, re-edit, and then replace chapters all on the Fictionpress site.
Answer all reviews except flames. Thank people for taking their time to read and review. If possible, make a habit of returning reviews, and feel free to advertise this on either your author page or in the story summary.
Reviews might draw your attention to things you haven't noticed before. This is a good thing. The readers don't know what you know, and sometimes you will forget that.
To attract reviews, returning reviews is usually a good policy. Getting your story into a C2 can attract attention, as can starting a forum. Try to make your title and summary interesting. Think of what makes you want to read more. Lastly, try a snappy author name. It might be too late in some cases (although you can change your Fictionpress account name, it's drastic and will probably cause confusion), but I can never resist seeing what 'The King of Id' writes about. Or, taking a page from , names like 'Legolaslover' and 'Drizzzzt18' and 'H/Hrisdabomb!' might work as advertisement for the kind of fic you specialize in, if that's really what you wish to do.
Don't forget to spell and grammar check. Nothing will turn readers off like tons of foolish mistakes. They'll likely also doubt your intelligence, which makes them less likely to give you good advice, since they won't believe you'll take it.
Also, short chapters will make everything easier. I for one am most willing to review a chapter of 1,500 words with about 500 words on either side. Shorter than 1,000 is too little, unless it's a prologue. Prologues should be short if present at all, I generally think (since they aren't part of the main story). But anyway, a short chapter means that you can read and review quickly and don't have to trudge through something you aren't too enthusiastic about, nor will you have to comment on a magnum opus in one review.
4. FAQS, sort of.
Sometimes people who politely thank others for the reviews (sweet people, every last one of them) will also comment on the specific review they were given. This can be a good thing, particularly if the review includes a question like 'Why didn't Eric notice that Jason had a bomb in his pocket?' or 'Do you really pronounced Snor'Kell like scuba equipment?' However, it can also be a time for whining, or half-handed explanations, or 'But I didn't mean that...' So, to save time, if you are ever reviewed by me and feel the urge to say one of these things:
1. You told me not to do X, but you did X in story Y!
Sage says: It is quite possible I was a hypocrite. But anyway, you don't need to be a pilot to know when the plane is crashing, although a pilot who has crashed a plane might know the warning signs.
2. You made fun of Snor'Kell's name!
Sage says: It was funny.
3. If you only read the third book in my trilogy/the second chapter/the explanation story that I linked to I'd have explained that!
Sage says: But I didn't. And thus I was confused, and thus I told you so. Anyone reading in the same order I did will likewise be confused.
4. But in school, they told me...
Sage says: But this isn't school, it's creative writing. The expectations of your audience are different, and what works for academic writing (or writing that pleases your creative writing professor) may be dry or too slow-paced for most people reading for fun.
5. But (published author here) did this!
Sage says: I probably gave them a nasty review, too.
6. You gave me compliments, but no constructive criticism!
Sage says: You were too good for me. There's nothing I can say that you don't already know.
(note: this is unlikely to happen. A lot of writers live in hope of posting the story that gets only positive feedback. Don't hold your breath or stake your ego on this)
7. Are you firmly convinced that you are superior to the rest of humanity?
Sage says: Not firmly, no.
Do not, however, take this to say that you can't ask for a clarification of a review. Reviewers are not all-powerful, nor are we necessarily very good communicators. For example, "Why do you find Snor'kell's name funny?" is a perfectly good question (although I think the answer is a bit obvious). If they don't know why I don't like something, they won't know how to fix the problem, or even if there is a problem.
As a side note, I am returning all reviews on this essay. Although I'm not on Fictionpress a lot anymore (see my profile for what I've been doing instead), that's how this essay started off and that's how I intend for it to begin. You can even ask which story you would like me to review in return. Let the goodwill, mass-reviewing orgy begin.