Furry Writers' Guild Forum

The Role of Criticism Within Furry

Hi everyone. I wanted to ask a question about criticism and hopefully open a discussion about the topic.

Some of you will have seen a lively comment thread on Flayrah, following Fred Patten’s review of the Trick or Treat anthology:

Fred barely mentioned four of the stories. He was not exactly negative but reading between the lines it was pretty clear that he didn’t think much of them. Some people reacted negatively to that, saying that the stories deserved more than a few dismissive words.

Over on [adjective][species], we saw a similar response when Phil Geusz profiled Fred:


Phil said, among other things, that “there’s a crying need in our fandom for individuals willing to read boatloads of furry fiction and then tell the rest of us that work “A” was excellent, “B” sucked, and “C” was somewhere in between”. Some people felt that this was disrespectful towards work that was a labour of love, or had other qualities, or was otherwise unfairly treated by someone who is distilling quality down to a score out of 100.

On one hand, criticism is valuable because it helps people discriminate. On the other, it can unfairly lead to works being ignored, and arguably it’s contradictory to the spirit of our by-furry, for-furry community. I can see both points of view.

What do you guys think? Is criticism valuable? Have you ever received an unfairly poor/dismissive review? Or a particularly good one?

As a word of warning, I’m asking this with a mind to write about it for [adjective][species] at some point in the future. So there is every chance that I’ll paraphrase the general response, although I won’t quote anyone directly without their permission.

Thanks, and I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


Will likely come back to this later when I’m not working and so can devote a little more thought to it, because I know this subject is a potential minefield – but I do just want to point out in terms of this particular instance that, in that review, Fred also didn’t say anything about two of the “Tricks” stories either, except to say that all 5 in that section were well-written if lightweight, or whatever the wording was. I haven’t seen anybody really upset about that so far, which I find interesting. Personally, having been in a lot of anthologies and magazines, to me having some stories get more attention than others is par for the course for any kind of multi-author review – sometimes your story gets mentioned, sometimes it gets brushed aside with a few words, sometimes it gets lavished over, sometimes it doesn’t even get mentioned in the review at all, even just by its title. That’s just the way it goes. shrug

I’ll chime in a bit on anthology reviews in particular, then I’ll go into a bit of my thoughts of reviews.

Concerning anthologies, it’s sort of hard to review them without going into each story. When it comes to furry anthologies, I’ve honestly struggled to find more than two stories in each (though keep in mind I haven’t read recent ones) that I could really say were written well. More detail about which and what will come about when I eventually get some time to do reviews.

So in a review such as Fred’s with Trick or Treat…can I blame him for not thinking much of the handful of stories he read and not wanting to continue the review? Not really. I know with a couple of the ROAR volumes that I struggled to make it past the first page and a half of several of the stories, just because I couldn’t get past how the authors set the me up for the rest of the story. But again, more detail on that for later.

On reviews in general, especially in a market where furs may only get to purchase one new book every few weeks or months, they are going to want to spend that money on a book that others have read and had high opinions of. Which is why phrases such as “If you liked X book or X topic, you’ll love/hate this book” do wonders for me when I’m looking into reviews for things I wish to purchase.

I’m not just talking about furry on this one, either. Furry reviews can seem more blunt and cruel, simply because I believe there are more people who know what makes a really good book in this fandom than people who can actually write a really good book (or story). Which is common outside the fandom too, but there are far more people in the market to buy that it can usually compensate for the few readers lost off of a bad review. Plus, there’s usually a decent number of good reviews to make up for the bad ones.

Quality reviews comes in to be one of those things that quantity is really key on. A furry book that has three quality reviews, two negative and one positive, can be a dealbreaker for a potential reader. However, a book that has twenty negative and ten positive reviews can have a different effect. I can now go through the reviews and see what the common complaints and praises are (which is something that I again look for in reviews: coinciding criticisms).

Now the question would be, what do I mean by “quality”? I mean that the arguments on both the positive and negative side are well-represented and presented in a manner that clearly states the facts from the options. I mean that the arguments aren’t presented in a way that attacks the author, but that incites the potential for discussion and provides helpful criticism to the author.

In short, yes I do believe that quality reviews are helpful. And only the quality ones.

I wrote about reviewing and it’s need to some degree in my blog post (now also a guest blog post for the FWG) here: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/2566940-why-i-review

As one of the authors that didn’t get mentioned in the T&T review mentioned above, it boggles my mind that everyone feels the need to comment on the fact he didn’t mention these other stories. If they weren’t blisteringly bad, or a step above the others, why should he? The fact is, a lot of anthologies contain good stories that aren’t worth mentioning, and as a reviewer, taking the time to go through an anthology and talk about each story is a lot of work. So why get upset if your story isn’t mentioned? I don’t get it. I looked over his review, and sure, he states that those in the ‘Tricks’ section were fun, but lightweight. That’s hardly a scathing review or a put down to the work that everyone seems to be making it into.

Anyway, back to the topic of this thread.
I think the fandom needs more reviewers. I think it helps the writers and the fandom. We need more people who know how to CORRECTLY review works and not just slather blind praise or random crap onto a work. People who actually take the time to properly articulate a review of both the good and bad points to a piece of furry fiction.

We also need writers who are willing to accept said comments without either having their fans defend them like rabid dogs, or who don’t have hissy fits like small children. There are a lot of us that can take the good and the bad, but there are a lot who can’t, and it shows on Goodread accounts, as well as other places where works are reviewed. There have been some absolutely terrible pieces that have been 5 star reviewed because they are the author’s friends, and others marked 1 star because of either a disagreement or ‘war’ between the authors.

I feel criticism is valuable when presented properly. It helps authors improve and it holds writers/authors accountable for the quality of their work, and publishers accountable for the quality of their publications/printing/covers/etc.

(hope this post makes sense, I am at work and have to hide this screen each time I type. :P)

Yes. (And yes to the fandom needing more reviewers; I think that’s a big part of the problem right now.)

Honestly, I know it’s hard and we’re all human, but 99 times out of 100, it’s really best for authors (furry or non) to just not respond to negative reviews. It generally doesn’t end well and only makes the author look unprofessional. If the review is really that unfair or that bad, it’s probably obvious to more people than just the author.

(And there’s even a reasonable argument to be made for authors to not directly respond in public to any reviews, positive or negative. Reviews aren’t meant to be written for the author’s benefit. The reviewer isn’t actually talking to you; they’re talking to potential readers. If you respond publicly, you’re kind of butting in on that conversation, so even if you want to thank somebody for their great review, the advice I’ve seen is to send a private note to the reviewer. I think that’s less of a problem in the more casual atmosphere of the fandom, though, and more for mainstream publishing where the lines between creator and fan are more sharply drawn.)

Again, I know it’s hard to walk away from a negative review. God knows I’ve had to do it myself, and expect to do it a lot more as I continue publishing. But ideally you bitch about it in private, not to the reviewer.

Voice, I read through many of your blog articles and particularly enjoyed those talking about the need for an author to take reviews in a constructive fashion. Your point, that acting in a friendly and open fashion helps develop your “brand” and help get you known, if a very good and important one.

It’s probably fair to say that, in the Flayrah thread, Ashe doesn’t do himself or his spouse many favours in the longer term. (Regardless of the merit of his argument.)

On a common point, it’s easy enough to say that furry needs more reviewers, but how do we find them? At the moment, Flayrah is the only obvious regular clearinghouse for reviews, although there are plenty of people posting personal reviews on forums and personal journals. Perhaps more people could be encouraged to submit those reviews to furry sites, like Flayrah or [adjective][species] or Claw & Quill or wherever else?

And perhaps authors and publishers could be freer about sending review copies. Fred Patton often notes that review copies are hard to come by, and I’m sure he isn’t the only one who would be more likely to review something when a free ebook. Although, having never published a book, maybe this is already being done?

Poetigress, I’m curious to hear your story: who gave you the negative review, and how did you manage it?

And this brings up a very good point. What if I make a comment on your story and say something, thinking that my meaning is perfectly clear, but it’s taken by you to mean something completely different? Even if you reply publicly to me saying that you appreciate that I read your book, disagree with this and think something else entirely, it can start drama. And that’s with a completely amicable response.

While if you message me privately about it, thanking me for reading and mentioning that you disagree with a point, I have all the time in the world to clarify what I meant before someone else jumps in and starts speaking on my behalf about the point I’m “clearly trying to make”.

This would be great, though many publisher contracts inflict a clause of exclusiveness that prevents authors from doing much of anything about it. I doubt this is something that would change, just for the sake of reviews. Plus, review copies do usually need to be paid for, and most times end up getting taken out of the author’s royalties (if physical). Digital copies I’m not 100% sure on. Still working on that part of my agency training.

Thank you for the compliment. ;D

I agree, getting review copies is difficult and I can only see self-pub authors doing so. I have gotten free copies from non-furry authors due to my Goodread reviews, but for some reason furry authors seem to be more resistant to those ideas. (though not all I will point out)

Isiah is a good reviewer, he just needs to expand away from Kyell Gold’s works and he could really do well.

Probably – though to be fair, it’s hard to hold anyone totally responsible for having a fervent spouse. I’ve been in a vaguely similar situation (though not a review situation) where my husband was trying to be helpful, but the exchange was taking place so fast that I couldn’t contact him and say “I love you, I appreciate the thought, but please stop because you’re only making things worse.” XD

On a common point, it's easy enough to say that furry needs more reviewers, but how do we find them? At the moment, Flayrah is the only obvious regular clearinghouse for reviews, although there are plenty of people posting personal reviews on forums and personal journals. Perhaps more people could be encouraged to submit those reviews to furry sites, like Flayrah or [adjective][species] or Claw & Quill or wherever else?

I’d love to see a blog started just for furry book reviews. If I didn’t have this whole president gig taking up so much of my time right now, I’d be sorely tempted to start one.

And perhaps authors and publishers could be freer about sending review copies. Fred Patton often notes that review copies are hard to come by, and I'm sure he isn't the only one who would be more likely to review something when a free ebook.

Fred doesn’t do ebooks, only print copies, which likely limits what he has access to. And yeah, one big issue there is definitely cost. I stopped sending out print copies of my novel for review because it was just too expensive, and sometimes you wound up not even getting a review in the end. I’m happy to send out free ebooks in exchange for reviews, though I will say that even though I’ve made that clear in various places (including a thread here in the forums and on my website), I’ve gotten only a handful of requests over a period of about 2-1/2 years. Even the power of getting something for free can’t always override the obligation – and perceived hassle – of writing a review. :slight_smile:

While if you message me privately about it, thanking me for reading and mentioning that you disagree with a point, I have all the time in the world to clarify what I meant before someone else jumps in and starts speaking on my behalf about the point I'm "clearly trying to make".

True. Though I probably wouldn’t even do that. If I just disagree with you on something, that’s not worth it. The only time I’d bring anything up other than “thanks for the review,” even in private, would be if there were something objectively factually wrong in the review that needed to be corrected (like, say, the wrong publisher being listed, or a broken link, or a character’s name being wrong.)

Now, I did have a time recently with Lauren Rivers’ review of By Sword and Star where she later approached me and asked some things about the book, and we had a dialogue there about some aspects of it. But I followed her lead on that.

Isiah is a good reviewer, he just needs to expand away from Kyell Gold's works and he could really do well.

From what I remember seeing posted to Flayrah, he’s actually done reviews of other books and authors; it’s just that he’s become known more for his reviews of Gold’s stuff. (Assuming I’m not mixing him up with someone else, of course.)

(Also, JM - will write a reply to your question after work. :slight_smile: )

While I don’t figure you in particular would, I more or less meant “you” as an author, and “me” as someone who would be reviewing a story. Not sure if I didn’t make that one clear as I thought I did (entirely possible) or if you were just using this to share your own personal situation.
But yes, I totally agree. Private on these sort of situations is the way to go, and Lauren does do a good job with her reviews.

nods I was being hypothetical too in my first paragraph, and then personally specific in my second, which was probably confusing. :slight_smile:

The one point that comes to my mind as I read through this whole issue is when people have asked me to read a story of theirs (be it for enjoyment or a beta read). Once the story is read, the next question(s) you get asked right away will be, “What did you think? Did you like it?” I’ve responded at times with, “It was fine.” This is quickly taken to mean that I didn’t like the story. People begin seeing things in black and white, something must be great or horrible, if I didn’t cheer for the story, I clearly must have hated it. This is not true. If I enjoyed your story, of course I’d tell you. If the story was bad, I’d probably tell you that too but in a constructive criticism manner. What I’m usually trying to express is that the story had little impact on me. This does not make a story bad, it merely means the story was probably not meant for me.

Take for example the mass amount of coming out stories this fandom has. As a person who has never had to deal with the troubles of such a situation, those tales do not appeal to me as they would someone who struggles with the uphill battle finding and expressing their sexuality like the characters in those stories. I can still be interested in these stories due to other elements or just prime writing but on a general par, it’s probably not going to speak to me. Does this mean most of those stories are bad? Of course not.

A few thoughts on this one point:

I can see this argument having been more valid, say, twenty years ago, when furry writing was much more the province of zines and APAs, and there was far more of a homemade/amateur feel to many aspects of the fandom. I can still see this argument, to some degree, if we’re talking about authors who only post to FA or other free-to-read venues and just write as a fun hobby.

The thing is, though, when you get to the point of asking people to pay money for your work, with that work you’re now operating on a level that to my mind has gone beyond that sort of fun fan spirit, and thus you’re operating in the realm where criticism, in some form or another, is to be expected. Hopefully it’s fair and civil criticism, but it might not be – but either way, once you put your work out there on those terms, where you’re expecting people to invest not just time but money in what you’re producing, you’re at the point where you have to kind of suck it up and deal with it like a pro. Even when you’re not getting paid like one. :slight_smile:

Now, this doesn’t excuse cruel or snarky or outright mean-spirited reviews. (I’ve never been crazy about the argument I’ve seen on FA of “well, you put it online, so that means people can say whatever they want about it.” Well, yeah, people can, but that doesn’t make them immune to being asses in terms of what they say.) And of course you’re going to feel upset or angry if you get a review you think is unfair or cruel; you’re human. But again, the question is what you do about it.

JM, this is Phil speaking from behind a top-secret NSA-proof pseudonym. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone!

I can’t read this entire discussion right now because I’m about to leave on a long trip to attend a wedding. However, I’d like to say that my goal is always to grow, grow, grow and improve as an artist, and I tend to hang around other artists who feel the same way. That means accepting kick-in-the-groin reviews with a smile and pained “thank you”, because those are the ones I learn most from. (Please note that a kick-in-the-groin review is not at all the the same as simply trashing a piece for no good reason-- I’m assuming valid points are being expressed. Trashings deserve (and from me would receive, if I ever got one) nothing but pity.) While I have no objection whatsoever to people writing only for themselves or a small group of friends-- it’s how I started, after all, though I didn’t stick with it for long-- I feel that it’s perfectly acceptable to campaign for more reviewers and to encourage the ones we already have to grow, grow, grow just as I seek to do as a writer to ever-higher levels of competence. I need them to achieve my own deepest personal goal, and vice-versa. For the same reason I also encourage and support all furry publishers whenever and however I can. They butter my bread, and again vice-versa.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, to create good art takes a village?

At any rate I rarely offer to co-author stuff, but if you’re interested and can work at my current slow-due-to-overloading speed, I’d sort be interested in perhaps co-authoring that column with you, or perhaps writing a sister piece might work out even better. Would that be of interest to you?

If you e-mail, I may not reply for a few days. As I said, I’m about to undertake a multiday drive to attend a wedding.

That would be here.

and how did you manage it?

With a lot of chocolate and a soupçon of alcohol, if I remember correctly. :wink:

Seriously, though, this cut deeper than anything I’d had to deal with before, simply because of how prominent the venue and the reviewer is. So I tried to basically put things in perspective, with the first reminder to self being that this is still just one person’s opinion, no matter how prominent that person might be, and thus no more or less valid than the positive comments I was getting on the story. (Like most creative types, I know I tend to give more authority to negative comments than positive ones – of course those people who like my stuff are just stupid, and these well-read people hate it.)

I also read through her other reviews, and realized that I was hardly alone in getting panned (and other people got worse than I did – she’s a pretty tough grader IMO). This also helped reinforce the idea that reviewers have taste and bias issues like any other reader – she sometimes demolished stuff I liked, and the stuff she liked I sometimes didn’t get at all. So, there’s also a case of “this isn’t my target audience anyway.”

And I reminded myself that this was just one story, not some kind of giant freaking judgment on me as a writer or my entire body of work. One good review doesn’t mean a story’s perfect; one bad review doesn’t mean it’s a failure.

And yeah, I ranted privately (and maybe semi-privately – I think there were some tweets about it in discussion with other people).

By now, the sting is pretty much gone. There’s a scar there, but the review has become something I’ve kind of used as a self-deprecating joke, a tactic that can also help rob something of its power. (As I said in an email several months ago when introducing myself, “My most impressive publishing credit to date is probably still Strange Horizons, for ‘The Bear with the Quantum Heart,’ which Lois Tilton called ‘pretty mawkish stuff’ and another reader elsewhere on the Internet found ‘deeply disturbing.’ XD”)

There was another similar experience with the same story when I read this review. In this case, it wasn’t that the review was negative. On the contrary, it gave me a lot of credit. The only problem was, that great turnabout they’re giving me credit for? That… wasn’t my intent at all. They’re getting a completely different interpretation – a literally opposite interpretation – out of the story than I intended. Again, though, I wasn’t about to say anything, because this was my lesson in “it’s not 100% your story anymore” – in short, I had, and have, no right to tell a reader that their interpretation of my story is wrong. I could have said “hey, that wasn’t what I intended,” but that’s not really the point of the review anyway – it’s about what they got out of it. And if they’re going to give me credit for some genius thing that I never meant, hey, cool, go for it. :slight_smile:

One last anecdote for the mix, from the reader’s side: I remember in my earliest days on Twitter, I made a tweet about having listened to the first couple podcasts of Scott Sigler’s Infected (I think that’s the title), and how painful an experience it was so far. (I don’t remember my exact wording now, but anyway, I wasn’t impressed with either the writing or the author’s narration.) A little while later, the author replied to me, saying to give it a few more chapters. It was friendly (and a good early lesson for me in “don’t tweet about someone without remembering they might be listening”), but on a visceral level, as a reader, it still felt really intrusive and almost rude to me. I felt like saying “Dude, I wasn’t talking to you.” (I wound up taking the book out of the library instead. Still wasn’t impressed.)

I’d love to do one, though I currently review everything I read anyway on Goodreads.
But I mean, concentrate on furry and actually have a blog that is solely furry reviews would be pretty nice.
Maybe in the future sometime soon.
As long as it doesn’t detract from my writing that is. :stuck_out_tongue:

Yeah, I’m envisioning a group blog via Wordpress or similar, with ideally about 3-6 reviewers taking part. Anybody ever wants to start something like that, I’ll signal boost it pretty much everywhere I have an account. :slight_smile:

Personally I think reviews aren’t for authors. They’re to inform readers “Will I like this?” “Is this worth my time?” They’re to set some expectation as to what you’re getting. I don’t like books that have element x, I see that this book has element x that the blurb doesn’t tell me, I avoid. Especially where in this fandom books are $20 a pop, buying a stinker is a pretty big deal. But it also shows that someone else read this, it’s doing the act of “spreading the word”, etc.

With the Fandom, I agree in general that we need more reviewers and that it will help, but there are a few caveats.

Fuzzwolf made the point the other day that with Fandom books, they may get 1 review. So whatever that review says is going to be taken as gospel because there’s no other viewpoints. Thus if the review is bad, the book is taking that hit. Whether the book was legitimately bad or simply a bad fit for the reader, it doesn’t matter, the damage is done.

The problem is also quality reviewers. Pop culture reviewers like Nostalgia Critic and Yahtzee make reviews Entertaining rather than informative, so they are about being loud and nasty. This has bled over to people emulating them, and being unnecessarily cruel to look cool. That might work with big budget movies and games which can handle noisy critics, but not small works. One particular individual who reviewed like this, whose reviews were all negative except for his favorite author, managed to kill all sales of a furry book. There’s also a certain reviewer who plainly gets facts about the stories false, to the point where it seems like he skimmed the story. Certain sites are just housed with toxic attitudes and it’s doing no one any good.

I’m also noticing that certain reviewers will intentionally review things they know they aren’t going to like. Why, if you don’t like erotica, would you then buy and review an erotic book? Why, if you Do Not Like a particular author’s writing, would you buy and review his new book? Everyone is biased yes, but the reviewer is going into it unhappy and negative, how can the review be considered fair? It really frustrates me to see this.

Specific to the fandom, certain people want certain things from furry writing. Certain people expect an origin story for the anthros, and if there isn’t one, they’re upset. If there isn’t a Plot-specific reason why these characters are anthros, they are unsatisfied. And quite frankly that means that a lot of fandom writing isn’t going ot make them happy, and that’s going to color those reviews too.

As far as getting more reviewers, I have no idea. It’s just like the issue of getting more readers. Here you are, wanting someone to take the time to read a book, THEN take the time to write a small essay about that book and post it everywhere. That’s asking quite a lot. The percentage of average readers of mainstream fiction who also write reviews is very small, and in Furry we’re shrinking that pool of readers down so tiny, the number of people who will write reviews is going to be next to none. It takes dedicated people, and I would expect other writers would be dedicated to that. We already ask our fandom writers to do so much - write, start anthologies, etc - so reviewing is just another responsibility. It’s tough.

As an aside, I’ve reviewed (non-furry) anthologies and I don’t mention all the stories. It’s the ones that stand out, for better or worse. Some are just “eh” and some you really can’t talk about without spoiling them. So while I would be disappointed if my story wasn’t mentioned, I’d be more disappointed if it was just flat out dismissed derisively or hey, the reviewer got the facts wrong.