The Mathematics of Feedback

Occupied territory of the day: al-Andalus

I’m back from the deep, dark swamps of Southeastern Massachusetts. I got a ride home, so now I have a leftover “get out of Fall River free” card (otherwise known as a return ticket) from Bonanza Bus Lines. They should be paying me to go there. But I digress…

I don’t usually think about the feedback I’m not getting, but when my site stats came back up recently after months of being AWOL for an upgrade I was surprised all over again at just how little feedback people send when they think I’m not looking. My standard estimate is 1% feedback - that is, one piece of email per 100 readers - but that estimate is a bit high. In some cases the rate is more like 1 in 500, or 1 in 1000. My latest story has received not a single feedback out of over 200 hits, and it was a good story, if I do say so myself.

So I started wondering, how can it be that some people get so much feedback they don’t have time to answer it, and other people get nothing? To what, exactly, does an order of magnitude more feedback correspond - a name that’s an order of magnitude bigger? An army with ten minions for every one of mine? Ten fan friends for each of mine? A story that’s ten times better?

To answer that question, I’d have to know where all that feedback was coming from. There are two kinds of feedback in the fan world: potlatch fb and unsolicited fb. If you know that certain actions (such as posting to a mailing list) will inevitably bring you feedback no matter the quality of the fic, you can assume the fb is potlatch. On the other hand, if you post a story anonymously (say, in a blind contest) and get feedback for it, that’s unsolicited feedback. Everything in between is suspect. And if you hardly know with your own fic whether the feedback you get is spontaneous or a result of a complex network of fannish obligations and feedback guilt, how can you know what the BNF’s are getting?

It’s almost impossible to get an honest piece of fb in fandom. Even newbies get fb that’s intended to rope them into the potlatch rather than express how the reader really felt about their fic. People who aren’t involved in the potlatch generally don’t send any feedback at all. They’re going to archives and reading your fic and you never even know.

Sure there are rec sites, contests, and the occasional slightly picky archive, but there are no real rewards for quality the way there are for quantity. (Anyone who thinks fb numbers are a reflection of quality should take a look around Fb is just one of the many rewards for quantity.

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