Kidding, but not really: Why Some Stories Don't Have Any Reviews

4 years ago | lifesharpener (Member)

Bottom line? Your story just isn't that good. I'm sorry to say it.

No doubt at this moment there are lots of people saying "That's not true you mutherf'er!" That group of people probably includes the author, other friendly authors, well-meaning bystanders, and maybe some editors. Possibly even Mr. Poirier.

They might argue that every story has an audience, maybe it just "wasn't my style." Which could totally be true.
They also might argue that the review primarily is there to help people grow in their writing. Which could also totally be true.

But let me explain my logic. I'm not trying to smash the dreams of authors (I'm an aspiring author as well.)

I'm just trying to point out a teeny flaw in the system.

Here it is. The reason why your (bad) story doesn't have reviews, is because there is really no benefit in writing reviews for bad stories.

Here's my take on it. That's all it is, my OPINION, so don't hang me (or yourself) after reading this:
1. People want to write reviews of books they like, not books they hate. Why? Because reading through a book that sucks, (pardon my french) is agonizing. Who wants to read something that causes your eyeballs to bleed? Not this guy. (pointing to self)

2. It is difficult to write something worthwhile about a book that "needs work" in practically every category. The grammar is bad, the writing is cliqued, the plot is flat, the characters are unbelievable. Some authors genuinely do not have any redeemable features. And it's damning to say that. You'd just look like an ass that decided to go on a book-bashing spree for the weekend. Which brings up my next point....

3. Nobody really wants to read a negative review.

A) The readers aren't concerned with how bad a story is. All they really want to know is if it's worth reading. A cursory glance at the story's rating or summary page is all they really need to see. Maybe they'll read the first couple paragraphs of your negative review before deciding that the story isn't worth their time, after which they won't bother scrolling to the bottom of the review.
Which is where the vote option is. The up-vote is the corporeal motivation for a reviewer, a real reward for valuable content; not just that warm feeling you get inside for doing your good online deed for the day.

B) The author, of course, cares about your review; the problem is that he/she cares too much. There is a conflict of interest here, and I am sure that the following scenario has played itself many a time on this site. Author gets bad review. Author gets angry at bad review. Author angrily down-votes bad review. Why would any reviewer take that risk?

Now if the first three scenarios haven't convinced you that your review-less story is crap, maybe this last point will.

4) Why review your story when reviewing better stories will get me more publicity, upvotes, and all-round more enjoyment? It's a matter of opportunity cost. A reviewer could write a review of your (terrible) story, but he will undoubtedly have much more fun writing a review elsewhere.

Now this is mostly just a fun thought experiment for me. ("LifeSharpener, you're a douchebag." I know, I know...)
But how could anyone possibly solve this dilemma? In reality, this problem is not exclusive to webfictionguide, but any site that offers reviews of written works.

I don't really know a solution. Haha! Plot Twist.

All joking aside, I propose that another section/metric be added to the site. It could be called, "workshopping" or something. It would be limited to advice on improvements; and these would probably not featured on the main page! And instead of usefulness ratings, maybe other people could give you a rating on accuracy; to what extent they agreed with your assessment for improvement. I figure that it may be useful for other writers as well to see some examples of concrete feedback. (or it may backfire and only serve homogenize the entire writing world...)

Just an idea. What do you guys think?

Read responses...

Page: 123


  1. Billy Higgins Peery (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Good food for thought, lifesharpener. I appreciate the care that was clearly put into this post.

    That said, I mostly disagree with it. In particular, I don't think that older unreviewed stories are automatically bad, or that workshopping should become a thing.

    For the former, I genuinely believe that some good stories slip through the cracks. Admittedly this still ends up being the author's fault, but not because of the story itself -- all it takes is a dud title or synopsis to turn people away. Yes, authors should make sure their titles and synopses snap, and yes it IS very possible that the unreviewed story is bad. But sometimes these things require patience. Sometimes the timing of a submissions means that it gets lost in the shuffle, only to be discovered later. Not getting reviewed isn't a good sign, but there's more at play than just the quality of the story. A lot of stories come through here, and we're just not going to get through them all.

    (Though I'd like to take a moment for a congratulatory digression: there've been 45 reviews in the last 42 days. That's the most I ever remember, and it's all thanks to the work of 30 people. Whoa. Just feeling proud of the community.)

    Towards the idea of workshopping, I just don't think it's necessary. In part we already have something similar: so far as I can tell, Chris rarely puts negative reviews on the main page. And there are plenty of places you can go if you actually want your piece to be workshopped. Critters and the r/writing subreddit are the two that come to mind most immediately.

    Accuracy ratings would be dangerous, because there's more room there to call people liars. With usefulness, there's no debate. Either members of the community found a review useful, or they didn't.

    "Any number of hitlers, are still not my problem." -Tempest
  2. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I am far too arrogant to believe this is true. :-)

    Also, there are plenty of people who have written bad reviews on WFG. I've even received one (albeit a rather mild one). Which I ultimately didn't take to heart, because See Above Statement.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  3. Chris Poirier (Moderator)

    Posted 4 years ago

    There's lots of good stories that don't have any reviews, because people haven't found that story yet, or because that author doesn't ask their readers for reviews. And there are a few mediocre stories that have lots of reviews, because the author happens to be good at marketing.

    Back when we started, an editor used to review every story we listed. As a result, we published lots of negative reviews. These days, you're right, there are fewer negative reviews, because all the editors burned out on the old policy and few members will stick with something they don't like long enough to review it.

    I'm actually perfectly happy to send a negative review to the home page: IFF it's an entertaining review. Reviewing itself is an art form. It takes a lot of skill to write a review that's worth reading for itself—regardless of whether or not the story is of interest. I would love to see more of those.

    Ultimately, WFG is not directed at authors, it's directed at readers. It's not a critique site. I don't generally send advice-to-the-author reviews to the home page, because I'd like to think our readers don't care. More often than not, that kind of review is really boring to read. I'd prefer to see that kind of thing be done in email or in the forums, where the audience is more specific, and discussion can be had.

    Finally, in reference to truly badly-written stories—I'm just not listing them any more. If I think the story needs a critique group more than it needs an audience, these days, I just reject the submission. As a result, I think the quality of the stories we're listing these days is better. There's still a range, for sure—I'm trying not to be too heavy-handed with that policy—but, on the whole, the stories we're listing now are at least coherent.


  4. zephy669 (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Good post. I generally think that writing a bad review is extremely tough to do. We are all generally nice people and want to be nice to others, so writing a bad review can really be almost physically and emotionally draining. But it's all on how it's tailored. I think a bad review can be a "good" review if it offers constructive criticism like... the character did this, but I really wanted them to do this, and I felt cheated because of it. I think lifesharpener, you did an excellent review of Set In Stone recently. AND you mentioned things that were lacking in the story. But you didn't just list it... like... there's not enough conflict... you actually LIST the things that you felt needed work and why you felt that there was no conflict. That's helpful. To readers and to the author. And it wasn't offensive. It was clear and simple (not that that was a negative review, but there were negative aspects to the review--like things you didn't like about the story or wanted to see improved).

    And for sure there are stories--good ones--that just aren't promoted enough by the author. Part of it is doing your own promoting and being part of the community. Those are important steps. I see Wildbow posting and being active. That can't be missed.

    Workshopping sounds good in practice, but I think if people really want to workshop their stories, it is very easy to get a writer's group going. Only make sure you're choosing the right people.

  5. J.A. Waters (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I kinda feel you on this. It's hard for me to keep reading something if it just doesn't draw me in and that makes it impossible to review. Perhaps it's worth a thought to review stuff that doesn't draw a person anyway?

    That said, I have started going through some unreviewed listings, but it takes some time to do so. Some of these stories are hundreds of pages long, completed, or just have multiple parts that take time to navigate. Some are incomplete, too much so for me to feel like they merit a review. Still, most don't seem written badly.

    The only thing I can think of, in reference to the half-question brought up by this, is to maybe add a click-through metric. I feel like it may be telling if a serial has a lot of unique visits and no reviews or ratings.

  6. Tempest (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Part of it is investment. Our stuff is out there for free and there is so much of it. If something is not great, or good but not your thing, it is easy enough to drop it and move on without giving it a second thought.

    I know I've received more reviews, good and bad, through my ebook stuff. There is something to be said for people appreaciating stuff they have paid for, or at least being to put the effort into reviewing it.

  7. Patrick Rochefort (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I think it's more accurate to say that "polarizing" will draw more reviews, good or bad, than mild and mediocre. Controversial stories (whether or not the controversy is merited) will draw opinions, which raises awareness about the story. (Whether that awareness is a good or bad thing, that's the gamble...)

    From Winter's Ashes: A Detective with nothing left to lose, against a Necromancer with a world to gain.
  8. Fiona Gregory (Moderator)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Various members, including me, have occasionally taken on the reviewing of unreviewed listings, and we've found, yeah, there's a lot that are unreviewed for a reason, sometimes poorly written and sometimes just not very interesting, a lot that are incomplete and abandoned, and a few gems that have just been overlooked. I recommend not bothering with the former cases, but it can be fun to go on a treasure hunt for the gems.

  9. E_Foster (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I'm with Fiona on this one. When I review, I look specifically for stories that haven't been reviewed yet. If the story is pretty good (or at least doing something new and interesting), then I'll write a review.

    Cages: A Captivity Story -
  10. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I did that for a while, reviewing stories that needed it. While there is the rare gem in the rough, by and large there's a lot of rough. I started to feel like I was being too critical overall because I kept reviewing works that needed a lot of work.

  11. lifesharpener (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I have to say, when I came online and saw all these people replying to my post, made me feel giddy on the inside. (Got some big names in the thread, yes!)

    Although I'm sure that part of the reason is because it was borderline inflammatory, I really appreciate you guys taking the time to respond!

    I think my overall point of the article wasn't that ALL unreviewed stories are BAD, or that good stories can't have bad reviews. I was primarily trying to say that there's a reason why some stories aren't reviewed. And that is because they are bad. Which I initially figured to be a problem; but after considering Chris's point that the site is for readers primarily and NOT authors, it's not a big deal.

    "Don't beat a dead horse." I can live with that.

    I'm coming from the same place as J.A Water, Fiona and E_Foster. I was trying to find unreviewed stories, "treasure hunting" so to speak, but despite panning the river dregs for a couple weeks, I didn't find any gold nuggets. Which basically inspired this post. Now I'm thinking my best bet is to just hone in on new listed stories.

    @BillyHiggins, I did spend some time on the post: 1 hour in fact. Thanks for noticing the effort. As for the 45 reviews, make sure you take at least 15.5% of the credit. (that's the percentage of the reviews that you wrote. haha!) You make excellent points, about both unreviewed stories and the workshopping idea.

    @Chris Poirier, thanks for pointing out some of the history of WFG, it definitely gives me some perspective. I will keep in mind what you said about the ultimate direction of WFG, and also the type of reviews that get listed on the main page(negative or positive). From now on, I'll only be preachy in private. (I was trying to figure out why my Set-In-Stone review got listed, and now I know why. Hopefully I can write more witty entertainers like that one.)

    @J.A Water, I like your idea! That's really smart. I wonder though if it is possible, I feel like it might be a large drain on website resources?

    @zephy669, thanks for reading my review. :-) and thanks again everyone for your thoughts. It feels great to be a part of this.

  12. lifesharpener (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Wildbow, I imagine that there's nothing quite like finding an awesome story that everyone managed to miss.

    I wonder if that's why talent scouts in other industries do it.

  13. Tartra (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    That, and they get paid to pan for the gems.

    The Other Kind of Roommate — Like Fight Club meets X-Men meets The Matrix meets Superbad.
  14. Chrysalis (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    WHat about stories that started out bad, then continually improved over the course of months and maybe years?

    They might get overlooked because of the 'That story is bad!' idea that's still floating around. Even when it isn't true anymore.

    Anathema, a web serial about the effect superpowers would have on our world.

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