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

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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...)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Speaking from my experience in publishing, lifesharpener's original post actually hits on some truth in a roundabout way. People generally don't leave negative reviews unless they really hate something or feel like they've been ripped off in some way. Why? Because writing a review takes effort. Even a single line is less easy than just voting with your feet. People need some impetus in order to take the time to comment -- whether it be satisfaction or genuine anger. On top of that, it's hard to evoke a really negative response with a story posted for free online. They didn't pay anything, so who cares, right? Nothing lost but a little bit of time.

These situations always remind me of something Gordon Ramsay once said about comment cards at restaurants. People don't fill them out honestly. They eat, they pay the bill, and if they don't like it then they won't come back. That's usually all the negative feedback you can hope for unless your stuff is excruciatingly bad or offensive.

Which does make it hard for stuff to get noticed if it's mediocre or simply good without standing out. The only thing you can do then is keep working through it and do your best to perfect your craft. If you're determined enough to persevere, you'll get somewhere sooner or later.

I'm going to go with the OP on this.

I've written a few reviews here, and I started out going through the list of unreviewed stories. Eventually I wound up with the exception to the rule and found myself reading a golden gem just for the joy of it before I wrote my first review.

The other stories I checked on that list. Not so.

It's one thing if a piece of work doesn't mesh well with my literary taste buds. I can still run through it and look for its merits and problems pretending I was the kind of reader the work was meant for.

It's a totally different thing when the work maims the English language (or any other language for that matter). When words are misspelled, grammar is poor and you have tense-swapping mid-sentence. When the words chosen are semantically incorrect given the context, and no attempt has been made to stay with standard mechanical rules for writing a narrative.

When the work is painful to read it becomes painful to review. So I skip to the next story and the work stays unreviewed.

As for review-swaps, I'm grateful I've been graced with sound writing thus far. I honestly don't know how I would handle being given an atrocious piece of work to review.

I've decided not to do review swaps for that reason. If I didn't like the other story at all, I'd feel really bad about it.

There's one thing you got wrong: people actually do read negative reviews. Take, for example, Nerd^3, a gaming personality on YouTube. He has several series called Nerd's Hell where he plays awful, awful games, such as Sonic '06 and Grass Simulator. Now, you might say, "Well, that's the one people complain about the most, so that proves my point." However, according to Nerd^3, that's the series that gets the most views, and consequently, makes the most money. This pattern also repeats for other internet personalities so much that they almost always review complete and utter crap. Jim Sterling, The Nostalgia Critic, Linkara,... I'm willing to bet that you've heard of at least one of these people.

However, it does prove very few of them like having to wade through something the devil pooped out. It is not fun to sit through Jason Derulo's Wiggle until your ears bleed and you start losing IQ points. But Todd in the Shadows does it because he knows he'll get a paycheck. However, I suppose he isn't writing music. When we review another person's story, we know we'll probably meet that person in the WFG forums at some point, and we're all friends so we're worried about offending someone.

Therefore, what we need is either more people who aren't authors or someone like Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation, who literally does not care what you think of him.

You know, I'd really like a more casual way to publicly give my opinion on a piece. I know I could write a short review (HAHAHAHA!) just saying, "This needs a significant amount of work before it's ready to reach a broader audience".

On one hand, I could just go through things and start one-starring or two starring them. On the other, not only does it feel a little mean, but I just don't buy that it'd be effective. I certainly wouldn't keep up with the story, either. They'd have to get in touch with me to ask me to re-review their story's quality.

... The more I write this, the more I think I might do this. One star, two star, but I'm not going to bother with a string of, "You need to edit this," non-reviews.