Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted March 4, 2014


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unanswered questions and observations

OPEN LETTER TO FS

by Spiritual Echo


I have been on Fan Story for more than five years. During that time I have grown tremendously as a writer, entirely due to the feedback, mentoring and support of other members. When I latched onto this site originally, I was blown away by the talent, intimidated by the quality of the work and questioned whether I belonged in this group.

Like most of the other members here, I took writing courses, submitted to the odd local contest, but I'd never found myself in an environment where writing as a craft and showcase for people like me, the nobodies of any literary circle, congregated.

Over the years my confidence grew, my technical skills sharpened and in the process, I met many fine people; new friends that shared the gnawing passion that burned inside me. FanStory was my guilty pleasure, a part of my day that I cherished.

Primarily because of the friendships and the sincere interest in my work, I too became seduced by the 'clubby' feeling that I belonged to some special community, in which I felt a kinship. As the quality of my work improved, I felt an obligation to help those who like me in the old days, had a lot to learn.

When a writer replies to my six star review,(and believe me I am a miser with them, often retiring unused accolades at the end of the week) with absolute glee, I understand exactly how that felt the first time--hell, even now, usually. But in time, I began to expect six stars for my writing and flinch if I get a four. Not because I had some arrogant notion of entitlement, but rather because I expected to post work of that calibre. I am my fiercest competitor, demanding that my posts strive for a personally set goal of excellence.

There are writers on site who absolutely deserve a six star response from me every single time, but I find myself holding back, storing the treasure for someone who may not have the recognition or status of the celebrities on FanStory. I have come to recognize that we all need measures to calculate our progress and success. It is human nature to want a reward, a sticker or an acknowledgement of our efforts.

I won't play cards unless there's money on the table, and my usual condition is one hundred dollars a game. Now, I don't pay, nor do I try to collect, but at the end of the evening, I want to KNOW how much I won or lost. It gives me bragging rights or something to complain about.

The rankings work the same way for me. It's a score card. I am not delusional, just as I know that member dollars don't buy anything I can eat or wear, the rankings are numbers that are contained within this site. Try telling editors in the real world that you are ranked in the top ten on FanStory. They will laugh, and if you come across one that will stoop to communicate with you, they'll tell you this is a vanity site.

But just like my gambling debts, I want to know how I earn the status. This information is not available.

Last month, I won Story of the Month. "Train to Freedom' is a story that I was very proud of and felt honoured by the nomination, and humbled by votes from members that gave me that victory. When I checked how my ranking changed with the win, I found it increased by a mere twelve points, while other ranks around me jumped by thirty or forty overnight.

Curiosity aroused, I contacted 'Tom' for clarification. I was told that member contests, of which Story of the Month is classified as such, do not factor into the rankings. Winning in a contest gives you nothing but the added exposure (which we pay for to enter) and nothing more. The seven-star special review bestowed by FS (story, poem or book of the month only) for the win was included, but the rank was influenced by reviews only. In a follow-up Email from 'Tom,' it was clarified that it wasn't the number of reviews a writer received it was the quality of those reviews.

With all due respect to the current nominees in the recently announced Story of the Month, I investigated the reviews of the contest entrants. Two stories each had a mere five reviews before hitting the roster. In both cases the story received either two or three - six star reviews, but were recently posted with a limited number of hits on their submission. It seems, by this standard they scored between 40-60% of some ratio, if in fact the computer is the tool used to isolate the nominees. It doesn't seem to factor in response to hit ratios at all.

For that matter, the Story of the Month contest for last month ended two weeks ago. It seems there is no posted schedule and a hit-or-miss calculation as to the length of any month. With this information, a writer could post just before closing, rack up a handful of excellent reviews and qualify for this prestigious prize the day before the deadline, leaving other well-read stories in the dust.

This week I posted a story for entertainment purposes only. If I was trawling for six star reviews, I'd have been better off to save the posting until Sunday morning when all six stars are restored to members. But I put it up on a Wednesday or Thursday, unmindful of any other influences. I receive fifty reviews from one hundred visitors, a hefty percentage of members seemed to want to join my Dumb Cluck club, but alas, only two had a six-star entrance fee. Well, actually only one, officially. In one of the daily maintenance shut downs, I lost one six star review that was not recorded. I know this because I received the automatically generated PM to advise me of this compliment. When I reported this issue, 'Tom' told me to ignore the message. I persisted, saying that the six star review was meaningful to me, and should be recorded. My response was that the member reviewing was notified. Can I be sure that other reviews were not lost during maintenance?

This story was not deemed worthy to be included in the contest nominations.

This is not sour grapes, not at all. I'd like to understand what the ante is to join this game. How exactly are the ratings compiled? While I have taken note that the best and lowest review is removed, but what are the calculations?

During our correspondence, FS told me the member only contests winners did not receive any points for their wins. That implied that site sponsored contests did. Do they? As a second and third place winner in site contests, I was neither notified of this placing, nor did I see any shift in my rank that I could attribute to the 'also ran' position.

Whenever I try to understand the ranking system and ask questions, I get a minimal or evasive answer, always going back to 'rank is decided by popularity.' What does that mean?

If the system is set up in such a way to calculate elaborate formulas that make it impossible to answer this question directly, perhaps instead of spending weeks devoted to giving members the ability to choose the size of the picture that adorns their post, Fan Story's time might be better spent simplifying the ranking system. How difficult is it to tell members they earn a point for every four star review, two for a five star, three for a six and treat the three and below as liabilities?

Or, perhaps that maintenance time could be spent investigating the sudden appearance of question marks that litter our documents when we cut and paste to site.

Being a part of this community and enjoying the work and friendship of other members is what keeps me here. FanStory is a business and I never forget that fact. Their business model seems to encourage the club feel and Costco is a viable, successful example. In today's world customer service has become an essential ingredient in fostering loyalty. Did you notice that stores no longer refer to you as a customer? You are a guest and all sales associates are encouraged to exhibit hospitality as people walk across their threshold. I don't feel that we are being extended that courtesy.

My experience in contacting FS about my concerns has left me feeling 'fluffed off.' Furthermore, like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, I don't believe in 'The Tom.' I have no idea who runs this site, where it is located and who owns this business. A Tom might be a real person, but who is the Tom that responds to me at three o'clock on a Sunday afternoon? Is he the same guy that answers at 4AM on a Thursday? I feel disconnected and patronized. Surely there are real people out there monitoring the site who have real names. That distancing has made me far more interested in the way things work around here. I could easily accept the FS site, the same way I utilize an ATM machine, getting my money's worth when I punch in my private PIN number, if I simply understood the rules and knew the game.

I do feel honoured and humbled by member support. That is what MY FanStory consists of--the folks who read my work and are invested enough to enter into dialogue based on what we read and write.

I am discouraged and cynical by my ignorance. Who is on the committee? Do they have writers on staff or are we being judged by the overnight part-time help? I don't even know whether I should feel good about a win in a site sponsored contests, but at least they throw some cash on the table with their blue ribbon. Has anyone ever actually received one of those Visa cards, or do they just load the winnings into your FS account?

In the event that FS management might read this post, may I also suggest that it would be prudent to share information as to why the site goes down every single night between 1AM and 4AM? Perhaps if I understood what you were trying to accomplish, I might be more understanding. Today, mid afternoon, it went down with a maintenance notice and Sunday afternoon the same disruption occurred. While I am in North America and can appreciate that service is scheduled for non-peak hours, we have many members from Australia and the UK that experience this during prime time. Letting people know what's going on is simple courtesy.

Part of my deep satisfaction being here is mentoring and helping others reach their potential. It is a courtesy that continues to be offered to me and I am deeply grateful for the combined knowledge that I enjoy from the writers here. It continues to work for me at that level.




Recognized


This should not be interpreted as a rant. I've been a member for five years and can't tell you how any of this works on this site.

In no way should any of the current nominees in Story of the Month interpret this as a quality of their work. This is simply looking at the qualifying numbers, not the work itself.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by supergold at FanArtReview.com

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