Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Engagement, feedback, and the online-print pub chasm in furry lit

burbles Okay was not really expecting so much to come out of this! You people are so freaking cool.

That’s not a bad idea. I suspect that as with many of these things the problem lies with volition rather than venue. Writing a thoughtful review takes time, which makes it an effective if not intentional imposition.

This has I think also been proposed, and probably also falls to a question of volition — I know that that was, as Chipotle says, originally the intent of the SoFurry relaunch from a FurRag point of view. Or at least, the hope was that the Groups functionality would allow FurRag to continue as a subset of SoFurry. The FWG has a SoFurry group, but I don’t know exactly what its mission is.

Fair enough. Perhaps “gatekeeping” was the wrong word to use. I mean that I don’t think that the only reason a divide exists, if it exists, is a bridge on which one side lies quality and the other side lies the shadowlands, guarded by a stern-faced soldier wielding a red pen.

That’s also true, and I tried to get at that. There’s a commitment required one way or the other, which is one reason why I asked what the “best of both worlds” would be — because I don’t know that it is possible to do both — perhaps there is something that I am missing, however.

Also true! To be super clear I don’t think the answer is moving everybody to FA :wink: And perhaps it may be that the answer for how to close the gap is so different between the two camps that there isn’t really one “answer” at all. This discussion thread has been incredibly enlightening in helping me to put that all into context.

That sort of dovetails with what Camio said. But there must be a way to close that gap, right? Technically speaking all (most?) printed works are assembled and developed with some online component — solicited online, organized by editors working together online — so it’s not like they don’t have digital footprints. So at least some of those steps (looking up names, contact information, etc.) could be skipped — which doesn’t solve the problem of immediacy. I suppose if something was truly wowing, you’d find a way to communicate that (I have before) but every added barrier is constricting that funnel even further.

That’s true, and I should’ve touched on that. Presumably in a more easily monetisable fandom there would be yet another clearer motivation to separate the two (and for the infrastructure required for effective gatekeeping as Rechan says) and in this fashion a clearer impulse to generate a self-sustaining imperative in terms of quality.

One thing I think wasn’t clear enough in my original post — Ianus was quite direct on this front at AC, so it should’ve been — is that “online” vs “print” does not necessarily mean “free” vs “paid.” We do have vehicles for paying authors who post primarily online (and a number of authors doing so) and it’s probably important that this be stressed, because that is at least part of bridging that gap: establishing, to repeat, the expectation and understanding that writing is a profession and professionals get paid.

There will of course always be people who aren’t interested in being paid, which has been an issue for other creative industries: why bother hiring a photographer for your stock imagery when everyone has a DSLR these days and what you get on Flickr or Wikimedia Commons is probably “good enough”? For that matter, why bothering to edit a general reference when the “wisdom of crowds” will do it for you on Wikipedia…

But broadly speaking I agree with you, particularly at the idea that there is no real incentive to, as you put it, “work at the harder parts of writing” in a complete “everything goes” free-for-all.

Why is that, do you suppose? Just that the growth in creators has outstripped the growth in the fandom overall? Or that the fandom’s writing scene has also become more niche, which I suspect — it’s gotten large enough that you can afford to be selective, in the same way that television these days is able to cater to more diverse interests, more narrowly.

The truism used to be that furry fandom is creative because if you wanted to see something, the odds were you had to make it yourself. I’m not entirely certain that’s still true. I can probably get pretty close — and, of course, it’s a lot easier to find these days… which paradoxically makes any individual story harder to find.

One interesting thing about SoFurry is that it does, at least, make it fairly easy to find older stories. If you take a look at average number of views, for example, average number of views for a story posted in 2014 is 369. For 2013: 641.

2012: 820
2011: 1236
2010: 1138
2009: 1904
2008: 2202
2007: 2626
2006: 3246

… And so on. Rather than older stories simply disappearing into the void, they at least generate consistent views over time. The complete picture is a little bit more complicated and I’m working on a longitudinal survey that tries to tease some of that out, but it’s a key advantage of such archives. That said

I’ll be honest, NightEyes was the original reason I started thinking about this, but you were a big reason I wrote up my thoughts more formally — I know this is something you’ve thought about before. I’m not smart enough to judge what the practical requirements would be for that. A lot of it comes down to effort; herding writers is probably like herding cats, and I expect many writers understand that any effort that goes into curation is effort that isn’t going into writing, per se.

Why did Alex Vance’s idea for SoFurry groups not work out? In your opinion, that is?

Unfortunately all of these are good points. It would be nice to say that A) is a self-solving problem, because authors who refuse to take criticism are those who, as Rabbit points out, may be by and large authors who are not interested in the hard work of professional development. That doesn’t change the fact that it makes an already grueling task substantially less rewarding.

That, I guess, adds in yet another wrinkle — in raising the bar in terms of quantity of feedback, we have to be effective at creating a culture in which it’s expected, and to be honest I don’t actually think we have it. I don’t 100% know how many authors actually are seriously looking for it, and how many say they are because it’s expected.

I did back in 2012. I wrote about 40,000 words of new content, linked it to a few stories I’d already read, and compiled it into an ebook form (epub/Kindle/RTF/PDF/plain text). I didn’t advertise it outside of a journal entry, and whatever traction I got from the cover artist posting the cover, and probably Twitter. Should’ve done better about that; it was a very ad hoc sort of thing. I literally just wrote a script to validate unique tokens and allow people to download the book, then wrote a post saying “hey, here’s a book; here’s my PayPal address.” Outside the cover art I did all layout, compilation, web backend stuff, etc. myself.

So, no storefront. I told people to pay what they thought was appropriate and took PayPal and Dwolla as payment methods. At the time, I had about 350 watchers on SoFurry; I sold 32 copies, which isn’t a bad conversion rate, at amounts ranging between $5 and $20. I think this is high, and I chalk some of that up to a desire to support furry authors and furry writing — this was before Patreon became a thing — rather than as a reflection of what the market would actually bear, and might bear today.

Anecdotes not being data, take that as you will.

I disagree. That policy is ridiculous and terrible.

In a large genre – like science-fiction – it’s just a joke. I write science-fiction. I read science-fiction. I don’t see how it possibly makes sense to restrict me from reviewing science-fiction books. Yes, I’m friends with a few science-fiction authors, but there are many, many, many more whom I’ve never met, never will meet, and who are nothing to me other than the authors of books that I’ve read and have opinions on.

In a small genre – like furry – it’s actively harmful. There will always be overlap between the readers and the writers of a genre, and in a small pond, that overlap is significant. Amazon’s policy penalizes small genres for being small.

It’s a terrible, horrible policy.


Why is that, do you suppose? Just that the growth in creators has outstripped the growth in the fandom overall?[/QUOTE]

Not exactly. I think it’s because YARF! (and a few other 'zines) provided what amounted to a commons. If you were a furry in the '90s and you wanted to read furry stories, you were going to find a way to get your paws on copies.

At risk of slipping into Silicon Valley speak, Fur Affinity and SoFurry completely disrupted the original furry publishing scene. New fans saw no reason to go through the hassle and expense of subscribing to 'zines. This is eminently understandable, although I think it often goes unremarked that archive sites are not direct replacements for fanzines; it’s arguably a little harder to be introduced to new artists and writers on FA/SF simply because the entire model is built around users curating their own experience and creating little bubbles of Creators We Like. (I know SF’s groups are supposed to help with that, but I’ll get to that in a moment…)

The furry publishing scene that developed post-FA has been much more successful in certain respects, but it’s problematic in several respects we don’t often talk about.

First, nobody’s been able to keep a periodical going. I think this is less a furry-specific problem than a “periodicals need to be on the internet” problem. But I think it’s a genuine problem: we need places for curated, edited, high-quality short stories that aren’t just anthologies. Why? Because…

Second, with rare exceptions anthologies don’t sell all that well. Figuring out why is not rocket surgery: they go for $15 or $20 a pop and for most fans that’s high enough to be out of the “impulse buy” category. You’d better love love love the theme or love love love at least a few of the contributors. This is why I keep harping on periodicals; the entry bar is a lot lower.

First off, the vast majority of groups are organized around what might be tactfully called “special interests.” If there’s a group whose theme is “this is actually quality stuff no kidding,” I haven’t found it.

Second, once you’ve joined a group and be approved, as near as I can tell, that gives you the ability to add anything you want to that group. I don’t know if anyone but the group admin can remove things from a group once it’s added. The problem with this model is that there’s absolutely no vetting: certainly not for quality, and not even for applicability. In theory, if a group has only approved members, they can all act as responsible curators. In practice, it doesn’t seem to really have worked out that way.

Is there an alternative to that? Maybe. Imagine a system in which individual users could create lists of stories they wanted to share, possibly with little notes about why they liked them. Users could watch and favorite those lists, thus enabling a system where one could get a reputation and followers for being a good curator. I’m not at all positive that would work any better, but again, it seems to be something that companies like Apple, Rdio and Spotify actively encourage when it comes to music; I don’t see why it couldn’t be applied to stories and art.

As a quick aside about reviewing, since the subject has been brought up: I’ve thought about reviewing a lot over the last year and have come to the conclusion that there’s a pretty easy solution to the whole “I’m afraid to give negative reviews” problem in furry: Don’t give negative reviews. This could be an essay in and of itself, I know, but the bottom line is that in a community our size, a review which can lead a few people to a story they wouldn’t have otherwise found offers far more value than a review which warns a few people away from a story that, well, they wouldn’t have otherwise found.

Y’know, it’s such an obvious answer and yet one rarely thought of. Thanks Chip.

I agree a lot with what Chipotle said above. Yarf! was -the- magazine. Everyone read it, everyone talked about it, they even got passed around. There were series that people enjoyed in it, and overall the quality was good.
There also wasn’t much competition. A lot of the other 'zines didn’t last long, or were one offs. Many of which were self funded by the creator, who then sat back to see if they’d recoup their investment or not. Yarf! had high production quality, and was presented well too.

Places like SoFurry, sadly, get lost in the noise. How many furry story sites are there, out there? I can think of at least three, and there used to be a few more. But I have no idea where they are at, or how most of them are doing. SoFurry, if it wants to be at the level FA is, needs to do something to get people to come to it, lots of people. That means people investing time and money, primarily time, and investing that time regularly, like a job.

Competition on the internet is tough, it takes work to stay on top of the heap. For FA, the artists do most of that work, and inertia has helped with the rest.

Another factor right now as well, is that the economy currently sucks and record number of people are out of work. So that means money is tight and funds are scarce. That doesn’t help things either.

And more popping up all the time! I got an email inviting me to Furiffic today. 'Cause, you know, I definitely want to try to figure out a new site when I barely keep up with posting to FA and would have to poke about on my computer to remember which of the other sites – SoFurry? Weasyl? – I have completely neglected accounts on… (This time, it is sarcasm.)

SoFurry actually has more active developers than FA does; they have a pretty active and engaged user community that, unlike FA’s, mostly likes the site, and if you’re a writer it’s quite possible to get as many followers, favorites and such there as it is on FA.

None of which really disproves your observation. :slight_smile: I think the big problem they face is the same one Weasyl and everyone else faces: there’s just not much differentiation between any of the archive sites, which means there’s little reason not to just pick the one that works for you (by whatever definition of “work” you choose) and stick with it. Once you have even a few hundred followers on one site there’s little incentive to go somewhere else.

I suspect there are really only two things that are likely to disrupt FA. One is, well, IMVU. While I think it’s difficult for management to make being there so unattractive that there’s a mass exodus, it’s not impossible. The second would be the rise of a black swan: a new site that does things so differently it may not even be intended as a competitor, but that people flock to anyway. As much as people like to cap on Tumblr, for instance, it’s been immensely disruptive to sites like LiveJournal – it’s not the same type of site and in certain ways it does much, much less in 2015 than LJ did in 2005, but what it does well it does really well. I’ve been convinced for a couple years that whatever takes down FA isn’t going to be any of the existing sites, but something designed along an entirely different model which makes FA – and SoFurry, Weasyl and Inkbunny – suddenly look like ancient relics.

I have noticed on the internet however that the way things change is not the way people think they do.
At first when something new comes along, people will bounce from one to the next, as the new shiny baubles come out.
Eventually the rate of new things slows down.

Then one thing will get all of the people, or at least a sizable proportion there of. After that, that ‘one thing’ is it. People will complain about it, launch better ones, leave (but they’ll come back), but it’s hit critical mass and no one wants to leave because there are already so many other people there.

There are a lot better sites out there, than FA, but moving is too difficult. So people don’t. Not that it can’t be destroyed, it’s just highly unlikely.

It’s the same thing with starting a new site. If SoFurry wants to be the place that everyone goes to, they need a better landing page (The current one is not good enough), and they need to do something to push them over the top. Like say a kindle reader program that you DL to your tablet or smartphone that lets you browse their wares, remotely. And a more evolved search algorithm perhaps. And then you have to market the hell out of it.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t know why someone wouldn’t want to give a negative review.
Okay, that’s not 100% true, as I have seen backlash from authors before, and even more backlash from rabid fans, so there is a valid reason.
But you have to remember, a negative review that gets said backlash actually looks WORSE on the person doing it than it does on the person who wrote the review.
But, as Chip says, you can always write positive reviews and leave it at that.