Bewildering Stories discusses...
A contributor asks:
Is there any way to see the reader feedback for individual stories, or at least the responses to the Challenges? I am curious how various elements of my stories are playing with the audience.
Most of the feedback occurs before publication, when a submission is being considered. And even acceptances often contain useful suggestions. But what about ordinary readers?
Bewildering Stories invites reader feedback at the bottom of every page of every story, poem or essay: “Would you like to compliment the author? Offer a comment or suggestion? We’ll be glad to forward it.” And the footer even includes a mailto link for the readers’ convenience.
We sometimes do get messages for our authors. I forward them with an invitation to reply directly to the reader. That is, provided the sender says who and what the message is for; sometimes it’s impossible even to guess. Honestly, you’d be amazed. Thereafter, contact is in their hands, and they’re free to continue on their own.
The word “compliment” implies rather strongly that we forward only constructive messages. Over the years, we’ve received only one on the order of “Your story stank.” I don’t remember who it came from or what it was for. Needless to say, I did not forward it; our Associate Editors didn’t agree with it, and their opinions take priority.
BwS has had two on-line forums at different points in the past, and they were open to everyone. Such forums can be very productive — witness Bewildering Stories itself — but they usually aren’t. And there’s no way we’ll take a poll. A BwS motto: “People will like or dislike the same thing for the same reasons.”
Our forums succumbed to two problems: Not even registration could protect them against spam. Consequently, a forum needs a full-time moderator, which is a job nobody wants.
That’s why we rely on semi-formal feedback, mainly by way of the Challenges. They take the form of a kind of Socratic dialogue and often reflect ideas from the Review Editors. The questions may be pointed at times, but the Challenges only ask readers to think; they don’t tell anyone what to think.
If readers look at the Challenges, they normally have one of three reactions:
- “I think the answer to that question is pretty clear.”
- “I have no idea how to answer that question.”
- “That’s an interesting question. I could answer it, but I don’t feel like writing it up.”
If we do get a response, we are likely to be interested in publishing it.
Occasionally, the Review Editors’ discussions provide a Challenge Response. We have to keep two things in mind, though:
The discussions are confidential. They may be paraphrased but not quoted directly, and they can’t be identified by name. I make an exception for myself, as in issue 837.
The Review Editors’ discussion-group format makes for very elliptical comments. The Review Editors understand them, but organizing the gist into something comprehensible to the authors, let alone the reading public, takes work.
My advice to authors is to try answering some Challenge questions yourself and see what discussions they elicit.
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