The Role of Criticism Within Furry, or: Buy This Article

The majority of furries create and contribute to our community in one way or another. Few furries are just consumers.

Our art encompasses a wide range of media, with a focus on creations that help bring our imaginary furry world to life. We have a lot of visual artists and a lot of writers, and it’s no surprise that two of our biggest online gathering places—Fur Affinity and SoFurry—were originally settled by each of these two groups.

With so many contributors and contributions, it’s inevitable that the quality of art is often pretty poor. That’s a good thing, because we are an inclusive community, where the emphasis is on contributing and sharing, rather some race for a prize. Furries draw and furries write because they enjoy the process, and because they are contributing to the collective community. In many cases, people hope to improve and aspire to take their art further. It’s the sort of collaborative environment that creates artists, and we within furry can be proud to have bred and encouraged so many talented people.

Some artists—the focus of this piece is on furry writing, but it equally applies to visual art—look to sell their works, in either hard-copy format or as ebooks. Those works that are for sale, ideally, should represent the best of furry writing and be worth their cost to the buyer. Sadly that is not always the case.

Visual artists who sell their work can be judged easily enough by a prospective customer: a quick glance will give an idea of the quality of the art. This creates a meritocracy, where the more (commercially) successful artists are those who are better able to meet demand. This does not work so simply with writing, because it’s not always possible to quickly sample before buying, and because a significant time investment is required to consume a work.

The challenge for we furry readers, then, is to identify good writing and good writers based on other information. In the past, publishing companies were the only route to sales, and therefore they acted as gatekeepers, choosing to publish only works that were of a certain quality. Someone buying a book would be more likely to enjoy a published work than something unpublished on SoFurry. The cost of the book was more than just paying the author: it was also paying the gatekeeper.

This has changed. There is now almost zero barrier to self-publication, and just about anything can be made available for sale as an ebook. To make the point, I have made this article available for purchase—the sale version contains absolutely nothing extra and is a complete waste of money—you can download it from Amazon for an inflated price here.

Obviously you’d be better served spending your money elsewhere. But where? There is a lot of bad writing out there for sale, but instead of offering it for free on SoFurry (or on [adjective][species]), writers are taking advantage of the low bar to publication and hoping to make a few extra dollars, or maybe become the next Kyell Gold.

You have a few options to increase your chances of ending up with a good read. Your first is to buy only from specialist furry publishers, like Furplanet or Sofawolf, to take advantage of their gatekeeping.

You also might wish to read some reviews.

Way back in 2012, Phil Geusz wrote a piece here on [adjective][species] thanking one of furry’s gatekeepers, Fred Patten. Fred is furry’s most prolific reviewer by far, writing about just about any and every furry book he can get his hands on. Reviewing is a largely thankless job—the joy of books is in the reading—and Phil wanted to acknowledge Fred for his unheralded contribution to furry.

Fred had a long association with Flayrah, but has recently started publishing his reviews on Dogpatch Press after becoming frustrated with editorial delays at his old home. His reviews at Dogpatch don’t seem to be on any obvious schedule, but they turn up regularly, and I understand that there are several dozen more reviews already written (and undoubtedly many more planned). His reviews are a good place to start.

There are a few other places to read reviews of furry books. The rebooted Claw & Quill seems to be staking out ground as a place for in-depth reviews, and Flayrah will undoubtedly continue to publish reviews now their editorial backlog is cleared. However the biggest source of reviews anywhere are places like Goodreads and Amazon, full of largely informal opinions offered by readers. Here we have a significant issue.

Sites like Goodreads and Amazon offer the opportunity for readers to offer up a rating and/or a review. This is great in theory, and works well when there is a large, engaged readership. However because of the low bar to publication, a new furry reader is presented with a dizzying array of choices, very few of which have a large number of reviews. The result is that it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to tell what is worthwhile. The rating system doesn’t work.

As an example (or perhaps cautionary tale), a friend of mine decided to dip his toe into the waters of furry fiction back in 2012. He purchased a couple of furry ebooks based on their blurb and their Amazon rating. He came away with two books, both of which were clearly labours of love for the writers, neither of which had been edited to anything resembling a reasonable standard. I would describe the quality of these books—both currently available as ebooks for around $10 each—to be somewhere in the vicinity of “embarrassing”.

Part of the problem is that the rating system on Goodreads/Amazon is easily manipulated. One furry author over at the Furry Writers’ Guild noted: “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.

There are annual awards given for furry writing, which help sort the needles from the hay. The Ursa Major Awards have three relevant categories, and the Furry Writers’ Guild run the Cóyotl awards. The Ursa Majors are awarded based on popular vote, and the Cóyotls are semi-juried, with guild members voting on a winner from a shortlist. Both systems work pretty well, and tend to recognize higher-quality works. But awards can only be given to a small number of books each year.

Some furries question whether reviews have any value at all, because they can be seen as a form of elitism, with high-profile reviewers (like Fred Patten) able to single-handedly determine the quality of a work of art. This might be considered contrary to the values of the furry community—creative, nurturing, and collaborative—although arguably this no longer applies when the author is asking people to buy their works. Reviewing does have value – it is a judgement of quality, and quality is valuable to consumers.

As furry author Renee Carter Hall says: “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“.

The complaint, that a single review from one gatekeeper is too influential, has a simple solution: more reviewers. (Furry authors were universal on this need in a forum discussion.) However reviewers are subject to a lot of negativity from authors, negativity that all too often becomes somewhat abusive. It feels at times that authors treat their reviewers as the enemy.

Fred Patten reviewed Bonds of Silver, Bonds of Gold on Flayrah in 2012. Fred’s review is a long one, featuring an introduction to the plot and several quotes directly from the book. Any reader of his review would get a good idea of the Bonds of Silver, Bonds of Gold’s themes and style. The bulk of his criticism is a single, short paragraph:

“There is a good dramatic plot here, but it is buried under the constant nonstop graphic sex, the beatings, and the humiliation. The beatings and the humiliation are [one character’s] alone; everybody participates in the sex. Buy according to your taste for this sort of thing.”

 

The author, Kristina Tracer, took exception to this review, stating in a Furry Writers’ Guild Forum thread—two and half years later (!)—that Fred is not a “credible” reviewer because of a (perceived) bias against explicit sexual content:

“I’m angry with the situation with Fred because it feels like our most prolific reviewer is letting his biases show in a way that isn’t healthy for the community as a whole”.

 

Kristina’s frustration is understandable—reviews are difficult for any artist—but in this case it feels unfair to Fred. Fred is writing in good faith and—unlike Kristina—isn’t offering his words up for sale. He deserves acknowledgement and thanks for his time.

If there is a problem with Fred’s criticism (and furry criticism in general), I suspect it’s the other way round: reviews of furry books are too positive. I think that reviewers shy away from making criticisms that might be perceived as negative. I have a couple of examples to support this, one bad, one good:-

A bad book: Fred reviewed The Cat’s Eye Pub last year, a book that obviously fails to meet minimum standards for publication. Fred noted several major issues with the book, such as a failure to perform basic copyediting, which suggested to me that the author hadn’t bothered to reread and self-edit his own work. Errors mentioned by Fred included obvious punctuation mistakes, missing quotation marks, misused words, missing words, and “common misspellings such as “to” for “too” and “use” for “used”“.

Yet, Fred concluded his review with a recommendation for purchase: “Recommended? Yes; despite the book’s problems, The Cat’s Eye Pub is a feel-good story featuring charismatic non-humans whose difference is more than window-dressing. I enjoyed it; I think that you will, too.

A good book: Fred reviewed Kyell Gold’s Green Fairy in 2012. Fred gave Green Fairy a rave, concluding his review by calling it “a piece of magnificent literature“.

As part of my research for this article, I cast about on Twitter for book recommendations, and Green Fairy was a popular choice for the best furry novel written to date (God of Clay by Ryan Campbell was the other collective recommendation). I read Green Fairy and wrote a long review, which was recently published at Hooded Utilitarian – you can read my thoughts on the book in detail there.

The short version: I enjoyed reading Green Fairy. But it is not a piece of magnificent literature.


It’s understandable that Fred, or indeed any reviewer, might err on the side of being positive. Furry is a tight-knit community and negativity has the potential to cause friction. And as we saw with Bonds of Silver, Bonds of Gold, even a neutral-to-positive review can create some long-simmering problems.

The issue here, for authors and reviewers is this: who are you writing for? If you are writing a story for yourself and for your own enjoyment, then by all means enjoy and post it on your SoFurry account. But if you’re planning to sell your work, you must write with the reader in mind. Copy-editing and editing are needed to demonstrate respect for the reader, even if they are a lot less fun than writing your first draft.

And for reviewers: you are writing for the prospective reader, not the author. Authors will of course take a very close interest in any review, and they will always be interested and perhaps vocal. Readers who avoid picking up The Cat’s Eye Pub and instead read Green Fairy will be grateful, but may not think to thank the reviewer once they have enjoyed their purchase.

So, from me and all those silent readers, to Fred Patten and every other reviewer out there: you have our thanks. Keep helping us spend our money wisely.

This article is available as an ebook from Amazon.

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

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55 thoughts on “The Role of Criticism Within Furry, or: Buy This Article

  1. “the Cóyotls are semi-juried, with guild members voting on a winner from a shortlist”

    The Cóyotls aren’t technically a juried award. Nominations are made by guild members, with the works receiving the most nominations making it to the final ballot. Voting’s then handled the same way. It’s technically still a popular vote, but from the limited voting pool of FWG members (a furry writer’s peers) rather than being open to the general public.

    1. Thanks for the clarification Renee (and thanks for letting me quote you in the article itself).

      I hope you don’t mind my simplification of the Cóyotl voting process. I wanted to note that the vote wasn’t open to all comers like the UMAs, and that the voters are an informed bunch (for the most part). (I also wanted to explain that in a single sentence shared with the UMA rules. I was writing with the reader in mind!) I figured that the FWG membership acts similarly enough to a (large) jury.

    2. Yes, but they were originally juried, or at least they were supposed to be. If that’s not how they’re currently being run… well, I confess a little bit of disappointment. The whole point of having them was to provide a different nomination process fom the popularity contest model of the Ursas.

      1. They were never technically a juried award, nor were they intended to be. A juried award has a panel of judges who read all the eligible/submitted/nominated works. That’s not how the Cóyotls ever worked. Yes, the first year’s nominating/voting system didn’t use a pure popular vote to tally the winners, as it does now, but that’s not the same as being a juried award.

  2. I’ve always been a big proponent of (constructive) criticism in our furry writing spaces, for pretty much the reasons you’ve outlined here. A LOT of furry fiction that’s being sold these days doesn’t feel up to snuff for me, so I think talking about those mistakes can — hopefully — encourage writers, editors and publishers to hold their offerings to a higher standard.

    One of the reasons I’ve pulled back from talking about that (and reading/reviewing furry work) is the intensity of the backlash ideas like that have gotten from furry authors and publishers. It seemed more or less that if you wanted to critique a work, you had to set yourself up for a lot of negativity and I have a hard enough time with that as it is. :) Still, I hold out hope that we can treat furry fiction as “real” fiction, with the robust critique and discussion (and standards) that brings.

    1. I would absolutely agree with you, as long as by criticism we are actually talking about literary criticism and not simply a flowery décollage covering up “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.” I’m much more bothered by the idea of a few people’s personal tastes becoming the criteria by which we judge things.

      1. I have to agree with Kristina. I like Fred, and I enjoy reading his reviews, but as J.M mentioned in the article, I think Fred can err to the side of too positive when he’s afraid of backlash. Fred tends to take a look at the tip of the iceberg when he’s reviewing something, and then he lists the things he enjoyed or did not enjoy, and then remarks on whether or not the piece was edited cleanly. I wouldn’t call Fred’s reviews in-depth literary criticism, and he more or less states whether he liked something or did not like something, which isn’t particularly useful to me as a reader.

        But I don’t think this is entirely Fred’s shortcoming, because we need more reviewers in general, and it’s discouraging to be an honest reviewer when you feel personal politics might take advantage of your views, opinions and research.

        To paraphrase what Renee said, when you begin charging money for work, that’s when you exit the real of fan appreciation, and you have to expect criticism. But a personal distaste of erotic sex shouldn’t affect a work’s grade. Some reviewers hold the strong position that sex that does not pertain to advancing a story’s plot are wasted words, and that’s a purely subjective opinion to hold. I conscientiously hold the same opinion of graphic violence in a work, but I make sure to diminish personal bias when giving a work a grade.

        1. George, what impression did you get from Fred’s review of Kristina’s book? I came away thinking it was “neutral to positive”, as I say in my article. Have I missed something? Has Fred given a misleading impression of the book’s contents?

          1. I would say neutral to “not comprehensive enough” due to omitting material he didn’t enjoy, which can easily be read as dismissive, even if that was unintentional on Fred’s part.

      2. Kristina — I’m…not sure that’s being fair to reviewers. In *most* review spaces, from movies to art to novels, the reaction itself can be boiled down to a “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” and here’s why. Some reviewers who have a wide breadth of experience or know how to talk about the nuts and bolts of stories might be able to offer the kind of in-depth literary criticism you’re looking for, but I honestly think that sort of thing is best for writer’s groups and beta readers before a story sees print.

        By the time a book is published, it should be accessible to the general audience it’s intended for. I think it’s helpful to think of reviewers as a sample of that audience, who will answer the questions about the work that the general audience cares about. What is the book about (both in terms of plot and theme)? Is it entertaining? Will I connect emotionally to the story and its characters? Is it worth buying?

        When the reviewer space expands, I think there will be a natural progression of different types of reviews — populist, literary, intellectual. But right now there’s really only one, and that’s the problem. Going after a reviewer you feel has unfairly dismissed your work doesn’t encourage other reviewers to come out of the woodwork and offer alternative views. It actually silences people who would otherwise take a crack at it.

        No one gets paid for reviewing. So there’s only so much of the stresses of the “job” that people are willing to put up with. I think a reviewer can be honest and critical of a work without being dismissive. I also think a reviewer’s enjoyment of a work will be affected by personal biases. But I’m pretty sure readers are well-aware of a reviewer’s personal biases; like, I knew that Roger Ebert hates shock comedy but likes cats — so I’ll take his reviews of Farrelly Brothers movies and Garfield films with a grain of salt. I’m willing to bet that people in the know do the same for Fred when he talks about sexual material.

        As a writer, I’m aware of how much criticism stings — especially when it feels like a critic didn’t actually understand my work. But I think a better reaction might be to ask myself whether or not the themes were presented as clearly enough that the general audience would pick up on them. If that’s true, then I’d stay quiet and work on that in the next story. If it’s not, and I genuinely believe the story will stand on its own, then I’d stay quiet and work on the next story. I’d trust the audience.

        Part of being a professional author is learning how to deal with criticism and rejection, and I think a big problem in the writing space right now is the general inability to do that. Reviewers can be misguided, mistaken and even careless — I’ve definitely seen that. But learning how to take a step back and handle that gracefully is a really important tool — not only in preserving your sanity as a writer, but in building a reputation and “brand” that your audience and other people in the community will have positive associations with.

    2. Hi Jakebe, I think you’ve hit on a key conflict. On one hand, furry writers want more reviewers. On the other, furry reviewers aren’t always made to feel welcome by furry writers. Kristina is one of several authors I have seen complain about Fred’s reviews: pretty clearly he pays an unfortunate price for his service to the furry community.

      I really enjoyed the process of reviewing Green Fairy, but like you I’m reticent to review other works. I don’t want to put myself in a position where I’m either being positive or silent, a compromise that Altivo talks about in his comment below. (Having said that, I’ll buy a copy of God of Clay at Rainfurrest later this year, if it’s available, given the recommendations I received. I may review that one as well, in the hope/expectation I can honestly be largely positive.)

      Kristina was kind enough to offer me a review copy of Bonds, however I declined partly because I was worried about how any negative comments might be received. However I can’t help but think it would make an interesting follow-up article, given the discussion in this comment thread, in the FWG forums, and elsewhere. I’ll give it some more thought.

      1. I’ll note that Fred has been reasonably favorable to me on one occasion, and another time brushed off one of my stories as “fantasy-fulfillment for the transformation fans.” Rather than take offense at the second remark, I concluded that I had been too subtle in that story, as “death and transfiguration” was the intended theme, not mere physical transformation.

        In general, I think Fred does a good job. All critics are biased in one way or another. They are, after all, human. We have to learn what their individual slants may be in order to apply what they say to our own expected reactions. For a fairly extreme example, I learned over the years that I was most likely going to detest any film that made Roger Ebert react in a strongly positive fashion. His reviews were still useful in that respect, and whether I agreed with him or not, he always provided useful information about whatever he was reviewing.

        His honest admission that he had never read Tolkien was sufficient to put his favorable reviews of Peter Jackson’s horrid films into the right perspective.

  3. As Jakebe says above, and as you yourself describe when writing of Fred’s experiences, JM, writing a critical review of most furry books can generate a lot of really nasty backlash.

    I tend to review things that I liked, and say positive things about them though I may often point out one or two elements that I consider to be weaknesses or defects. Books and stories that I just plain don’t like, I don’t review in public at all. I suspect you will find that’s a fairly common behavior, and especially so among those of us who are writers ourselves.

    With respect to the existing publishing houses as “gatekeepers” I have to say I’ve been pretty disappointed. The trouble with that is that publishers, whether they be small special presses or big name multi-million dollar operations, are in it to make profits. Consequently, they have an eye on what sells well, rather than what is good writing (or even more rarely, good literature.) When they latch onto an author whose name sells books no matter what is in those books, they will keep publishing that author’s works. Often, in fact, for years beyond the author’s own demise as we can see with Robert B. Parker, V. C. Andrews, Dick Francis, and any number of other big selling (and now very dead) authors. I have no doubt that James Patterson will keep sending forth books long after he’s in the grave, too.

    No, the publishers are not gatekeepers at all, except in the sense that they stand in the way of new ideas, and resist changes with the same weight a mountain uses to resist snowfall. Eventually change and new work does slip through, but not often and not nearly as fast as it should.

    With respect to self-publishing, I will note that most of the organizations that make self-publishing possible (Amazon, Lulu, Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and so forth) do provide samples of a book that you can see before buying it. Also, authors who are working independently and through the self-publishing channels know that they do better if they provide such samples. Most offer short stories, sample excerpts, and occasionally entire books as “loss leaders” to help a potential audience find them and feel confident in buying their work. I find this a much more reliable method of prediction than word of mouth or even published reviews.

    Like you, I didn’t find Green Fairy to be great literature, or magnificent in any way. In fact, it seemed downright unpleasant reading, which is unusual as I have generally enjoyed Kyell Gold’s writing even when individual scenes or events were distasteful to me. I did not review the book and will not. The same is true for his extremely popular series of football novels. But obviously, even if I had written a negative review, it would have done nothing to dissuade people from buying and reading those books. And if I had read all the positive reviews, and believed them, I still would have been disappointed.

    In the end, readers have to take responsibility for choosing their own reading material. I say this even after a 40+ year career as a librarian. I am often asked for suggestions, and I try to offer them. But I hear back later with a “You know that book you suggested? I hated it,” just as often as I get a positive response later on.

    There is no way to judge a book by its cover, or the publisher’s name, or the reviews in the papers, or even its standing on some best seller list. In the end, we can only judge it by reading it ourselves. Even if the author is one we have enjoyed repeatedly, there will one day come a work from that author that we don’t like, or that offends some sensibility. We each have to find our own way.

    1. Altivo, thanks for the comment. I think you’ve added a lot to the article.

      It all comes down to what the reader wants. As you have experienced at your job, it’s very difficult to predict what people do and don’t like. People are naturally resistant to change I suppose, and so recommendations are most likely to succeed if they are a known quantity, perhaps more from the same author or something from the same genre. I think this is what drives the behaviour of publishers – they are, as you point out, profit-driven (not quality-driven).

      I rely on a combination of reviews and random selections for my reading. It doesn’t always work out but it does give me a broad feel for what is available, which helps me make improved selections going forward. On the whole I’m pretty happy with that approach, although I don’t think it would work with furry writing, because too many of the books are poor. A combination of reviews and ebook samples makes sense as a reliable approach.

      Having said that, I do appreciate the furry publishers. Their emphasis on profit does favour established authors, and can close the door on new ideas. But they are great advocates for furry writers and writing in general. That’s where the profit motive is in sync with the interests of furry readers: like Fred’s reviews, it’s not all positive, but I think it’s a good thing on balance.

  4. The irony is that the review of “Bonds of Silver” received a complaint by one commenter that Fred was reviewing too much porn. o_o

    I think it’s reasonable to say “only buy this if you like beatings and sex”, as this is not necessarily obvious from the cover. In fact, it would have been just as reasonable for Fred to say that he didn’t like it, as long as he made it clear that was based on his personal opinion of the topic, not the quality of the writing.

    In fact, I might feel flattered if someone said of my work “I don’t like this, but it’s good for those who do”, because they bothered to give it a go and write the review – even though they didn’t personally like the topic.

    1. I think there is a good point to be made (which Kristina has done) that as a reviewer, you can exercise discrimination when reviewing things you know you have a distaste for. Reviewers are inherently biased, and when a reviewer recognizes this, they can more carefully select which books they’d like to promote. That is probably why I would never review a Tom Clancy-esque military fantasy, because I know it has an audience and an appeal and a degree of craftsmanship that should be appreciated, but it would bore me to tears.

  5. As a guy who reviews mostly non-fandom works on Flayrah, I’m much freer to just go on stuff; I will say the two times I was given fan-produced works, I was consciously much nicer than I would have been. That is also part of the system; I was given copies in order to give a review by the author (and I’m guessing this is also the case in most of Fred’s actual fandom reviews) , so I, basically, am forced to have a relationship with the author. (Ironically, I was once given a comic strip to review by Green Reaper because he felt he couldn’t cover it because he vaguely knew the author, only to discover I also vaguely knew the author.) So, yes, I was more nice than I maybe should have been (I kind of handwaved some pretty terrible art in one, for example). However, in hindsight, I did give one a really, really nice thumbs down.

    Also, just an aside, but I’m not talking about a piece for Rabbit, and feel pretty guilty at this point that my first “review” took so long and I never got around to the second and I don’t think I ever really apologized for that. But I am really sorry about that whole thing, though I guess it does illustrate a point; review copies are a tacit agreement that a review will be forthcoming (and here I failed Rabbit utterly, and that’s all my fault). A lot of furries seem to think that automatically implies a positive review (which I better clarify I don’t believe is the case with Rabbit, since I’m using his as an example).

    On the other hand, you have my normal movie/comic book/TV show/video game reviews, which I am under no illusions that, for example, a review of Guardians of the Galaxy is actually going to help anyone decide whether to see it. The only purpose of a review isn’t even really as a tool for consumers, never mind as a critical document, at that level; I’m mostly trying to be entertaining at that point, and maybe leave a record in the archive, so that some future furry historian can look back and say, “Oh, yeah, that movie did come out around then, didn’t it?”

    Of course, even then, negative reviews are surprisingly difficult; I was once called a horrible human being for pointing out a mediocre Pokemon game was mediocre.

    1. As you say. I _don’t_ consider providing a review copy to be a tacit under-the-table bribe for a positive review. In the real world where books cost money, review-copies have been a long-time standard business practice and I think we all understand the ethics and economics involved.
      Nor do I bear any ill will to a reviewer who fails to review a work after a copy is provided. In fact, it happens so often that I personally at least can’t keep track of all the instances. Cross, if you failed to review a book I sent you then don’t sweat it. Not only do I no longer even remember the incident, but I value your (or anyone’s) friendship far more than a few bucks.

  6. I think I’ve been quoted somewhat out of context here, especially after the follow-up discussion we had:

    This is why I found Fred’s review of Bonds so frustrating. It felt ultimately like he didn’t like it for reasons that had nothing to do with whether the book was good and everything to do with it falling so far out of his comfort zone that he didn’t know what to do with it. However, instead of just saying that, it felt like he tried to treat the things he didn’t understand as problems. Likewise, it feels like he simply dismissed the stories in Trick or Treat 1 that had sex in them as being not worth reviewing. It appears to me that, as a reviewer, Fred simply doesn’t like erotica, and when he runs into it, rather than acknowledge it’s not his cuppa or try to review the style independent of the subject matter, he simply dismisses the work. As such, he’s not really helping. Perhaps he thinks he’s breeding a better fandom by saying “this has sex in it; you can skip it,” but if so, he’s not making my fandom better. Critique is, at least in part, the ability to separate “this is badly written” from “this is well-written for some other audience,” and that’s an area where I feel we as a fandom don’t do very well.

    Go back and reread Fred’s review, and ask yourself if Fred ever comments on the execution of the plot aside from “it’s buried under the sex.” Does he ever talk about the narrative arcs of the characters? Does he talk at all about the consistency or lack thereof of the setting? Does he try to touch on any of the themes in the work and whether they were well-handled? Ask yourself, “if I were handed this review as a homework assignment, whether you would consider it a well-written review?”

    Now contrast this with this review. There are comments about theme and motif, comments about what is done well, specific mention of problems in story construction and execution, analyses of literary technique, and a quite legitimate warning about the amount of sexual content in the work that doesn’t sound like the plot is buried beneath the sounds of heavy breathing, and in roughly the same space, without relying on titillating quotations from the book.

    I can’t and don’t expect every review of every furry novel everywhere to be at this level, but I would expect that somebody who’s primary skillset is “performing reviews” would at least be capable of producing a review of this caliber despite the content of the work being reviewed. So, we must ask: is Fred’s review of Bonds representative of his skills as a reviewer, or not? If it is, then I think Fred has a wealth of growth opportunities as a critic and reviewer. If it isn’t, then I think it’s fair to say that his ability to separate content from quality is lacking, which has been my contention all along.

    1. So, you’re complaint is that Fred ignores sex because he doesn’t like it, and say his review should be more like one where … the author obviously really likes sex.

      1. As Wolfgang Pauli might have said, “that’s not even wrong.”

        My complaint is that, though Mr. Patten does not like sex, he insists on reviewing books that contain a lot of it, and he does not seem to understand how that colors his reviews. I don’t expect him to be able to act as though he likes something he doesn’t. I do expect him to be able to distinguish between what he doesn’t like and what isn’t done well, or at a minimum to be able to admit that he can’t or won’t and then to not review them. A critical component of critique is the ability to admit when you’re not the right audience for a particular work and then either talk only of the parts that you can discuss fairly or put the whole work down.

        A critic who doesn’t like comedies probably isn’t going to have a lot of nice things to say about Spacecalls. A critic who doesn’t like tragedies probably isn’t going to have much positive to comment in Schindler’s List. I don’t believe Mr. Patten is in a position to be able to give a fair review on any book with a large amount of sex in it, if only because he tends to dismiss the sexual content as getting in the way of the story. He himself has admitted to doing this, which I think is a positive step.

        If we had a plethora of reviewers, there probably wouldn’t be such a problem. Mr. Patten might well feel less pressure to review works with a significant amount of adult content, because at least somebody else was doing it. However, there presently isn’t, and thus we’re left with the uncomfortable dilemma of seeing him try to engage with material he himself acknowledges he doesn’t enjoy, to the detriment of his reviews; or to simply leave books untouched. Having been the subject of what I feel is an unfair review, I can say I would rather he simply not have picked it up in the first place.

        1. Well, actually, then we’re both not even wrong, because that’s a complete misunderstanding of what a review is, or, perhaps more pertinently, what a good reviewer does; they review everything, precisely because by consuming and reviewing everything, especially things outside their preferences, they become better at reviewing, both in a semi-sorta mechanical “practice makes perfect” sort of way, but that a variety of experiences medium/genre/whatever, systematically thought out, is required to develop a sense of “taste.”

          This also informs the readers of the reviewer’s tastes; if you think Fred has a distaste for something it’s because he’s allowed you to know that, by frequently and often expressing opinions about the things he likes and doesn’t like (and by being honest and up front about these opinions). This allows a better “sample size” for the reader to agree or disagree with the reviewer; if Fred praised something in the past you also liked, then you will trust him more. Conversely, if you find yourself disagreeing frequently, then you will trust him less. This baseline isn’t put forward if he only reviews what he likes; that’s completely unhelpful to the reader. You wouldn’t expect a movie critic to only review say, superhero movies, because that’s all he likes, or even a movie critic on a superhero themed site to only review Marvel movies because he thinks DC movies are too dark. He should probably say he thinks DC movies are too dark, and he prefers Marvel movies in general, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t provide some form of review for both.

          Of course, the major problem is that, as a writer, you, naturally, think its about you. For a reviewer, that’s not the case. The most important relationship in a review is the one between the reviewer and the reader; in fact, as I’ve argued farther the comments, the best relationship between a reviewer and the creator of the work reviewed is none whatsoever.

          Let’s face it, an act of creation takes a hell of a lot of ego; to not be the important person in this process is naturally a bit painful, never mind if the review is negative or not. But furry “literature” is really bad about this, because, rather than seek an outside audience, they have consciously chosen to appeal to a small group that should like their output, to a certain extent, regardless of quality.

          In other words, you have written something for a small, protective group, and have the temerity to complain that you are being treated unfairly.

          Actually, you are completely correct in that assumption; you are being treated unfairly.

          You have no idea how nice you have been treated. Or perhaps you do, and that’s why you complain so loudly.

          1. A reviewer cannot, and will not, read the entirety of a genre. (Never mind that furry is more or less considered a meta-theme or an aesthetic as opposed to a genre). Implying that it’s is a reviewer’s sworn duty to review as much as they can, as quickly as they can, is naive. When you get to a certain advancement as a reader, you understand very well what your tastes and preferences are, and you can use those as a part of your tool kit to analyzing a piece of fiction.

            I know plenty of reviewers who can put aside this distaste to fairly review, but it’s a painful process. I’d rather not attack any reviewers or writers in this discussion, and I feel you have been disrespectful to the conversation content Kristina has provided based on the premise that “this is too personal for you to have any say in,” and I don’t think that’s fair or true.

            I have come across reviewers and editors who do not frequently write, do not spell check their comments, do not show any track record of providing they have the credibility to offer a professional opinion, but they are still listened to because they have acquired a following, much like any writer can.

            Just because you are a critic does not mean you are immune to criticism, too. If we are going to gatekeep, and require that authors are up to snuff, the same needs to hold true to our reviewers. You can argue that an editor does not need quality control because they don’t always profit from their work, but many reviewers become editors, or find their way into the business one way or another. It’s disingenuous to say that because an editor isn’t immediately profiting from spoken word they won’t use that spoken word as a portfolio piece later. Neither author nor writer can be held on a pedestal if we are going to make an honest effort at quality control in furry fiction.

          2. (Also I will say ahead of time that I am fully aware many of my posts contain typos, but I would rather not poke Makyo with a stick to edit my Word Press posts. )

          3. Well, seeing as her entire argument is basically “Fred has personal biases, so he shouldn’t review me,” I don’t know why my pointing out she has personal biases is unfair.

            But, okay, whatever, you’re in the comment section of an opinion piece complaining about how Fred is TOO NICE in his reviews, and the reaction is to complain about how big a meanie he is, well, that says something interesting. I’ve seen it before, I’ll see it again, but oh, my God, if Fred actually gave some of these people a bad review, holy cow.

            No, I’ve got a better example. There’s that video reviewer, Isiah Jacobs; very frequent contributor to Flayrah, posts one negative review on Kyell Gold, and the furry writing community goes COMPLETELY INSANE. Yes, he shouldn’t have cussed and ranted like he did, but come on. He was like 17! He’s going to make mistakes like that. And it was aimed at Kyell Gold. If Kyell Gold can’t take criticism from a 17 year old kid, well, seriously? Instead, Isiah was all but chased off the Internet for daring to have a negative opinion; he’s barely come back recently, and even then he’s not reviewing your precious furry writers with their precious furry writings and their precious furry egos. A kid’s ego was destroyed in order to spare the ego of the most feted furry writer in the fandom (as far as I know, Gold himself had nothing to do with it, and was the only one who came out of that innocent).

            Look, I’m not going to lie, I think most of the writers complaining, basically, need to toughen up. The fact that most of them are coming from the “sex, sex, sex” crowd, i.e. the lowest common denominator, is a sign that these people are writing to, basically, be praised and popular writers rather than because they actually have something to say.

            And let’s face it, nothing you can say really convince me otherwise, and you’re just making me angry, so I’ll leave now before I start typing obscenities.

          4. Crossie, I have a pretty good idea which review by Isiah Jacobs you’re referring to, and he later admitted that the “going insane” part was a mistake, though more than likely he stands by his opinion of the work in question. You could probably call it a lesson learned in the process of maturing as a reviewer. In his more recent reviews that I’ve seen, he’s been pretty good about being level-headed in pointing out the good and the bad of the works he reviews. I don’t think he’s as prolific a reviewer as Fred, but aside from him I can’t think of anyone who reviews more works than Isiah. So he’s made a couple of bad judgment calls in past reviews, but I still think he’s a reviewer to keep an eye on.

        2. Have you considered that the sexual content might in fact be getting in the way of what is otherwise a good story, at least for some potential readers? This seems like a valid criticism – albeit one which you might consciously disregard if you are willing to give up part of the audience; just as Phil Geusz might be criticized for putting anthropomorphic bunnies in serious military history fiction (I recall several Amazon reviewers who could not get over this issue).

          Phil could choose to ignore those critics, of course; but his publisher might drop him in turn because they now have proof that it limits his audience. Hence, even if it is not useful feedback for you, since you presumably intended to write a sex-heavy story and would like more such stories to be published in the future, it may be useful feedback for others.

          1. Ironically, I love Phil’s bunnies but I don’t read his military stuff because, well, it is military. Audiences can be limited by many different factors.

          2. Well– editors in erotica often give writers feedback on sexual content. Is there enough, is there too much, does it work with the format of the story? All of this and more. There has been more thought about sex in a piece than you might ever see as a reviewer, and it’s an easy misstep to make.

            So the conscientious decision to make a work of fiction an erotica piece has already made, which means the author does not wish to change their entire genre to suit a wider or more universal audience.

            That’s why I think it’s good to trust authors about whether they want sex to be present or not– they have already thought about it.

            And with that being said, like Altivo and Jackebe mention, there are easier ways to alienate a wider audience than the presence of sex– such as a military motif.

    2. Hi Kristina. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, especially given that you felt I could have given more context to your quote. I appreciate the extra context, and I think it’s worth adding that you are far from the only critical voice of Fred’s work.

      As I mentioned elsewhere, I was a bit flummoxed by your reaction to Fred’s review. I thought he gave Bonds a positive write-up. You’re right to say that the review is slight – he makes no comments on the story/characters/technique/etc – but that doesn’t make it negative. I wonder if you feel that his choice of quotes from the book, plus his mention of “constant nonstop graphic sex”, gives the impression that Bonds is pornographic rather than literary?

      Even so, the solution is not for a sex-positive Fred Patten to magically appear. Fred does our community a great service by reviewing dozens of books a year, even if some of those reviews are better than others. He offers his time and his opinions for free.

      Furry needs more reviewers, and you can see from the comments in this thread that several prospective reviewers are reluctant to do so because of the risk of receiving negative reactions, like the one you have given Fred. To paraphrase Rabbit, I think this gives us more reasons to be grateful for Fred Patten. He has, after all, been very dignified in the face of all this criticism.

    3. I’d say that Fred’s review of Bonds of Silver, Bonds of Gold is representative of his general output, and does not differ significantly from other reviews which he has written on Flayrah, which you can see examples of if you go a few pages back in our reviews. He focuses on describing the plot and story world, with heavy use of quotes – both as an example of the author’s style, and to ensure that the characters are represented as the author intended. The “opinion” section of his review tends to be restricted to one or two short paragraphs, and typically focuses on who should buy the book (and he almost always finds someone who should).

      Whether this makes for a good review is, in turn, a matter of opinion, and one which has been the topic of debate on several occasions; he has been criticized of writing book reports, as opposed to book reviews. As such, I would say that your criticisms may be fair, but they are not necessarily related to the nature of the work.

      In this case, he gave a clear direction for those who like a good dramatic plot and who like (or at least do not mind) “nonstop graphic sex, the beatings, and the humiliation” to buy the book – while at the same time indicating that he felt that these themes might make it hard for others to enjoy the plot. I can see how this might be unsatisfactory if you expected a more detailed exploration of whether the book succeeded in its literary goals, but that’s just not what he does.

      1. To give a few more examples of the brevity of his opinion, from books which Fred clearly did appreciate:
        “There are few novels that you HAVE to read, but Mindline is one, whether you like science fiction or medical drama. It is especially recommended to those who have any interest in Hogarth’s stories of the Pelted and their 24th century universe of the interstellar United Alliance.”

        “I have seldom seen books that look so awful but are so worth reading despite the laughable covers and the wince-worthy typesetting. But there is a really good story behind it all. Don’t be put off by the superficialities.” [The rest of the review has opinion, but it focuses largely on the covers.]

        At the same time, he will say if he feels that a book is likely to be of restricted interest, and often this is based on the sexual content:
        All Tied Up in Knotz is well-written, but it is 100% for the gay male eroticism market. St. Marx appears to be a city inhabited entirely by handsome gay male anthros looking for friendly sex with no long-term attachments. Females and even families with children appear later, but the reader sees things from Carson’s point of view, and he notices little but the roving gay males.”

        Again, this may be a valid and appropriate statement if you see the primary purpose of a reviewer to be to help you determine whether you, specifically, should buy a book, as opposed to whether the work has literary merit.

        1. Right Green– and I’m speaking for myself, but I welcome more negative reviews, and I understand the hard position a reviewer is in to criticize a writer with a following. I would indeed argue that Patten does not necessarily review for literary merit (which you may disagree with), yet I would also argue it’s not productive to attack reviewers, and I have tried to stray away from that.

          Patten has remained graceful in the face of criticism, and I don’t expect him to stop reviewing. Also, Patten should not be the designated scapegoat for larger societal perceptions of adult writing that transcends the fandom. But these are things we do have to talk about at some point– and good place to start was probably these comment sections based on crossaffliction’s posts– but it’s very likely not a good idea to extend them here.

  7. tl;dr version:

    A critic who can’t say something about something they didn’t like is a suck critic.

    1. WHOA, Cross….

      I think you’re showing a LOT of bias here and making unfair assumptions about why writers write the things they do, why they *react* the way they do and making value judgements where they shouldn’t be made.

      First of all, I agree that it’s not helpful for authors to go after reviewers — in general, it’s a good idea for writers (or anyone) to not get into arguments with people on the Internet. It really does damage the reputations of everyone involved, and in a community like this damage to reputation can hurt you a lot more. If you’re trying to make money as a writer, you have to find a way to gracefully disagree or reassert the message you’re trying to bring to the book. That addresses the unfair review without attacking a reviewer’s process.

      That being said, I’ve seen the Isaiah Jacobs review of Kyell Gold, and…it wasn’t just because the review was negative. It came across as malicious, ill-informed and…noisy, for lack of a better word. I think it cemented my view of Jacobs as more interested in being a “personality” than being a good reviewer, and it looked like he was trying to start a beef with someone to get more eyeballs. It did nothing to actually promote debate or conversation; it was just a kid yelling into his computer and posting it on YouTube.

      Here is where I admit that I’m a friend of Kyell Gold. :) And I wrote an embarrassingly effusive review of one of his stories that I’ll never live down. But there are weaknesses in his books, and I think there should be reviews out there that address them. *Because* I’m a friend of his, I know that he takes criticism quite well, and he works hard to improve and edit work that he feels hasn’t landed the way he wants it to.

      With regards to sex, it is a part of the human experience and something that a LOT of us spend a LOT of time focused on. I’ve seen sex used as a literary device and emotional anchor in a lot of stories, and I think you can explore a lot of really deep and interesting themes through that gateway, in any number of ways. Saying that people include (even explicit) sex as a means of appealing to the lowest common denominator only is needlessly dismissive and diminishing of the work of so many authors.

      It’s a good idea in general to believe that there are good intentions behind most of the things people do (and I realize that I’ve disobeyed that with my thoughts on Jacobs there — I don’t dislike him, and I’m willing to admit that I might be wrong about his motivations, but that’s how he came off to me). Kristina was genuinely bothered by Fred’s critique because she thought she could never have gotten a fair shake from him; I don’t dispute that, even though I think the reaction could be better. It’s because she cares about her work and wants to see it succeed; she’s protective of it in a way that every writer *should* be. It’s not because she (as a writer who includes sex in her stories) would rather be popular than good.

      You know, now that I’m thinking about it, I said the EXACT SAME THING about Isaiah Jacobs that you (indirectly) said about Kristina. I’m leaving it in just because the thought intrigued me.

      In communication, HOW we express our thoughts matters as much as the thoughts themselves. How we express them can connect us to our audience, making them more likely to entertain those thoughts; or they can distance us from our audience, making them more likely to reject them without consideration. It’s very important to take a serious look at the effect we have on the people we speak to, and whether it’s what we want.

      1. Jakebe, I think you’ve neatly summarized the problem of being a reviewer here. Of course you should be writing with the reader in mind, but in a small community like furry, it’s impossible to disregard the potential feelings of the author. It makes being positive easy and being critical difficult.

        I found that a real challenge writing my Green Fairy review. I am well aware that creating a novel is a long and difficult process, and the relative effort and intellect involved in criticism is peanuts. Green Fairy was a good choice for me to tackle because Kyell has an enormous fanbase and Green Fairy holds its place as one of the best-ever furry books, and nothing I could write was ever going to change that. Even so, every time I looked to poke a hole in the writing or the premise here and there, I immediately thought of Kyell over the potential reader. It seems so unfair to be judgemental of something so big and complex like a novel, with something so small and simple like a review.

  8. Kristina was a subject in the article, and they may have felt misrepresented, so I think it’s sensible for them to respond. It doesn’t say anything apart from “those who are subjects in an article want to be fairly represented.” Also, you should note that I too agree that Patten is “too nice” occasionally.

    I think a better critique of Patten as opposed to “he’s too nice” or “he’s too mean” is that “he doesn’t always go in-depth enough” as a general complaint of his critiques. I will reiterate that this isn’t necessarily a personal failing so much as “we don’t have enough reviewers” and one man cannot be both comprehensive and in-depth enough to review all that furry has to offer without getting either grossly fatigued or light in subject matter.

    Note also that I’m not complaining so much as I expect professionalism from every end of a creative engine. If fans go bananas over a negative review that Isaiah has posted, that’s not Kyell’s fault (and you seem to heavily imply that it is indeed his fault), nor is it Isiah’s fault for invoking strong words. I have followed Isaiah on twitter for a few months, and he is a good reviewer, but he also occasionally posts controversial subject matter (unrelated to writing– and I do this too) and a community response is sometimes inevitable. That doesn’t make it excusable, but sometimes that is the nature of social media. I mean, just look at the recent bombardment Joss Whedon has endured.

    Also, as a writer (particularly an adult writer) it can be very tedious to be lumped into what you call “the lowest common denominator” crowd when writing adult fiction is a very difficult thing. Most of us who write erotica also write for general audiences, too. I have published Nonfiction and Poetry. I frequently speak with members of the Furry Writer’s Guild, some who write adult fiction, so who do not, and an overwhelming majority are concerned with improving their craft, working hard, and being receptive to criticism. Writers are tough. We know when our performance is poor and we know when we need to do better. What we don’t need is “well, this had a lot of sex in it so it will never have as much literary merit as this classic. Sorry. Try not writing for a rubbish genre?” Not many reviewers have openly said this, but some times that is a dominant tone from those who feel adult or erotic fiction has nothing of value to offer. I think that is an attitude everybody should abandon if they decide to review something like erotica.

    In lieu of this, a reviewer might add: “Well, repressed groups might find a lot of value in reading erotic narratives involving people like them which our sex obsessed culture does not offer, and the fact that this is present in furry is admirable.” Or discuss why it is important that two of these characters had sex in the story or novel. I could spin a mouthful as to why Dany and Khal Drogo’s sex scene was both extremely important in the first ASoIaF, or I could say “straight people had sex and I didn’t like it and there’s too much sex,” which I think adds nothing of value to a conversation. That doesn’t mean I think a reviewer should be chased off of the internet if they do say this, but it doesn’t mean I won’t have my own input as somebody who experienced the scene of a book differently.

    What I’m saying is, “toughen up” is not a one-way street. Writers are not here to shut up and entertain you. We do have things to share, and to say, and there is a time to not say anything at all. I think writers and reviewers will inevitably always have a go at one another and disagreements, and neither needs to be defended if a certain degree of professionalism is maintained.

    As for “precious furry writers and their precious furry egos,” well, if you are hurt by the words we have to offer, one has to question why you are reading our work in the first place. Criticism is good and valuable but it does not exist in a vacuum. I am not responding as an attempt to change your mind so much as show how strong opposition to open conversation sometimes is in the writing scene.

    Critics should not have to feel afraid to critique, and writers should not have to feel afraid to engage. We need to move past this.

    1. Hi George – interesting discussion we have going here. I know that this comment was largely in response to Crossaffliction but there are some interesting ideas I wanted to chime in on. (I promise to not use caps or get angry!)

      Firstly, I think you have hit the nail on the head, where you mention that some readers (and reviewers) may assume that “erotic” and “literary” can’t go together. I suspect that this is at the heart of Kristina’s concerns with Fred’s review of her book, that it was dismissive of the quality of the storytelling because of the erotic content. It’s not something I had really considered (and I didn’t get that from reading Fred’s review), however there is a lot of erotica out there in furry writing and a lot of it is just pornography.

      The two books bought by my friend in 2012 fit into each of these categories. Both were sexually explicit, but one was just a collection of porn, while the other had literary pretensions (and also a lot of sex). Neither are good examples of writing, regardless of intent, but I can see that there is an important difference between the two. Do furry writers, who include erotic elements in their books, feel like they get unfairly categorized as writing “just porn”?

      Also:
      “Writers are not here to shut up and entertain you.”

      I certainly wouldn’t put it in those terms, but this is close to what I mean about the relationship with a reader when they pay for a book. If you’re charging for your work, then it’s a commercial agreement, money in exchange for entertainment.

      1. Hey JM! Thank you for responding. As usual, your articles are eloquent and thought provoking, and they always have a steady amount of ground work put into them which I admire and am enthralled by. But there’s a lot to cover here (more than I can cover in an abridged post) that remains stringent, so I will try address what I can.

        First, I will say that not all writing is just entertainment. You have non-fiction, or poetry, that tries to entertain you /as well/ as inform you, enlighten you, or strike an intellectual or emotional chord. There is plenty of good fiction that did not entertain me, such as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but it was still an important read as my development of an author in that it was intellectually resonant and said something important about colonialism. Then there’s Paradise Lost, which discovers one of the most important unintentional logical fallacies about Predestination and the nature of Satan’s morality, such as “if God designed Satan to choose an evil path when God knew what this path would be ahead of time, what does that say about God’s morality? Is Satan a sympathetic character?”

        These aspects are not questions of entertainment, but it is true that good fiction /often/ (and almost always) entertains, too. So a good author can provoke these questions, also. A reviewer can pick up on these questions (if the questions are successfully executed by plot or prose) and with the advent of social media, readers can respond to the questions via twitter, blogs an forums.

        It’s a lively, consistantly evolving discussion that takes on a life of its own, and sometimes that discussion makes it back to the author. The author might respond, the author might not. But they do tend to contribute again to the discussion at one point or another, and in a smaller fandom like furry, reviewers and fans often take advantage of the luxury of having a conversation with a writer. So while professional writers may choose a gatekeeper to sell their work in small press for a small period or a long one, the conversation does not end with monetary exchange. In fact, many authors make their work free for set times, or release them to the public after a certain time period past the anthology’s contract on a work expires. An author’s input is not necessarily null and void about their own work if monetary exchange dispensed their work at some point. And an author’s fans are certainly not to be dismissed, either. So if a reviewer says “I did not like this author’s work,” we will probably not respond, and nod our heads, and hope for better production in the future. But in a small fandom, when a popular reviewer with a following says “I do not like this genre” and that colors a degree of opinion on whether or not an entire genre merits worth (whether that is the intention of the reviewer or not), authors will have to address this at some point or another. It becomes a question of “do we care enough about our own field of work to defend it?” And then of course you’ll have a contingency of readers and reviewers who will think “you write porn so it’s not like a real job.”

        So to bridge this topic into another, erotica writers (who write everything from utilitarian porn to sex in literature) will have to say at some point “do I respect the work that I create, and does it have merit?” For myself, that is a resounding yes, even though I don’t write only erotica or porn. I have heard from peer authors who I once respected that they feel porn and erotica is worthless, and that it is only a grab for popularity as opposed to some degree of artful sexual expression. Furry is one of the few fandoms with thriving queer representation in literature, and I noticed that the more open alternative sex is embraced in a purportedly safe place like a fandom, the more queers you will find in the fandom in the representation of lit and art. But this is both relevant /and/ tangential, and merits its own entire article and discussion that others have already covered rather well and rather succinctly.

        But then when we come back to the topic of writing in the fandom itself, and quality control, I have to think of sci-fi and fantasy fandoms and their early start-up culture in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s: pulp fiction and fan zines that folks would rightfully accuse being rife with typos and clunky punctuation; flat characters and self-fulfilling fantasies with boring Red Scare aesops. To this day, furry fandom writing anthologies pay around 1/10th per word as mainstream magazines and it lets me know “hey– this fandom is young. We aren’t really at a place to massively sustain ourselves as a big mainstream publishing house might.”

        I have read brighter insights and better writing from Erotica than some published GA material in this fandom,and it would be unfair to say that Erotica is a better genre than GA for furry; I expect the same respect from reviewers who push GA above erotica, and as evidenced in the above exchange, I don’t always get it. I suspect there is similar sentiments from other writers who promote erotic lit as a worthy venture.

        What I covered is just a sampler of topics that merit a lot more discussion and interdisciplinary evaluation that interacts with the furry subculture.

        1. George, interesting stuff, and I agree that it’s fertile ground for further discussion, although as you say perhaps a comments thread is not the ideal venue. Certainly the relationship between author and consumer is an interesting one: I’d tend to argue that the reader has a relationship with the book, not the writer. Of course the writer will be interested, but a relationship with an artwork is a personal thing and I think it’s the reader that “owns” it, at least at the point they pass money across a table.

          (But then that implies that free art doesn’t have value, which I don’t believe. The choice to sell a book, or at least position it as a commercial agreement with a sampler/freebie, is an important step.)

          I’ll add that I used Crossaffliction’s term – “entertainment” – in the broadest possible sense. My intent is that it would certainly encompass the likes of non-fiction, Joseph Conrad, and John Milton. Still, I believe the writer has a responsibility to the reader to keep things readable… a recommendation I wish had been whispered in the ear of the modern animalism philosophers I am currently slogging through (again with an eye to write about in these virtual pages). It’s hard work when a writer doesn’t consider the interests of the reader.

          1. And I fully agree– I think a writer has the responsibility to present legible work for their readers. It’s just when we start talking about “good” or “quality” as opposed to “edited” or “polished” where the lines blur. Thank you. : )

      2. Actually, you’ve hit the nail precisely on the head: there is a segment of the populace, not just the fandom, that dismisses any and all adult content as “just porn,” regardless of the quality of the writing. This includes some people who write porn and think that anyone claiming that erotica and porn are different beasts is putting on airs. This includes a lot of people that don’t like adult content and would like it if all the sex in art just Went Away. I’m not going to try to qualify or quantify what motivates this attitude, but it’s there and it exists and it must be worked with. I’m not going to tell those people that they’re wrong, but I will say that I think it invisibly colors the conversations that people have about adult content, to the detriment of those who’re trying to make a distinction.

        As someone who does try to draw at least some division between “pornography” and “erotica,” I found Mr. Patten’s review negative in tone precisely because it tried to treat the “sexual” and the “literary” components of the book as two separate things, and in a story like Bonds which at least likes to pretend that it’s literary sexuality, the two are indivisible. The idea that there’s a good story “buried underneath” a bunch of sex is a judgement that the sex is in the way of the story, rather than in the service of it. As such, it can’t help but come across not only as negative, but as naively negative, because it dismisses half the work and then can’t make sense of the rest.

        I don’t know if you remember this, JM, but we spoke in e-mail about this very subject not a month ago. I said to you then and I say to you now that I value the work Mr. Patten does in the abstract, but that in this case, he did the work a disservice precisely because he tends to ignore anything happening in and around the sex content, and in Bonds the sex just isn’t ignorable. You even acknowledged to me that, yes, perhaps it was a fair assessment that Mr. Patten wasn’t the right reviewer for the book because of that fact. Imagine my surprise to see this post, then!

        1. Kristina, thanks for replying in good faith. I pulled that single quote because I think it makes good reading: it’s a pithy criticism of one of Fred’s reviews, and it makes the point that one particular review would probably have been better never written.

          It was never my intent to isolate you or shame you for your opinion. I am well aware that you are not the only person who has issues with the way Fred deals with sexual content. I apologise for giving the wrong impression, to you and to other people similarly critical of Fred. I would certainly welcome anyone who wanted to criticize my point of view here in the comments, or even write a counterpoint article for future publication on [a][s].

          I certainly don’t think that Fred is above criticism because he writes for free. (Equally my writing here on [a][s] can certainly be criticized.) A big chunk of my article is critical of Fred, specifically for pulling his punches on poor works, and over-praising better works. To that list I think you can add a tendency to treat, as you put it, sexual and literary components of a book as separate things. So even though Fred might not be the right reviewer for Bonds, I still think we’re better off with the review he gave rather than no review at all.

          I do remember our interesting exchange over email of course, in fact this piece was (basically) already written when we chatted. I dare say that makes my failure to fairly represent your views an even more egregious error, although thankfully it seems that people are engaged with the comment thread and have hopefully read your clarifying words. You’ll recall that I said that, like Fred, I’m probably not the “right person” to review Bonds.

          Yet I’m curious. I will certainly pick up a copy of Bonds and have a read at some point in the near future however I’m still not sure about whether I should review it. I was out having a beer with a few furry friends last night, we were talking about this, and one asked “what’s the worst case scenario”. I said: “that I don’t like Bonds, write a review explaining why I think it’s bad, and that Kristina never writes again”. That’s obviously extreme—I don’t actually think I have that sort of power—but hopefully it helps explain why I’m reticent. Perhaps a better idea would be to have the book simultaneously reviewed by a “right person” (someone who reads furry more than I), although as we all know, people willing to read a novel and then reflect on it to the tune of several hundred words don’t fall of trees. But something to ponder perhaps… it’d certainly make an interesting followup on [a][s].

    1. This is a good point. And a comment like “Great stuff. Write more,” doesn’t qualify.

      As the author of some lengthy works that racked up reader counts in the tens of thousands and yet received no comments at all, let’s just say that I’m not very favorably impressed with the responsivity of a furry audience.

  9. As a writer of the vaguest clout, I have thought about this topic quite a lot and probably need to say something along these lines.

    In the more-professional world, there’s almost certainly a barrier between the mainstream author and the critical reviews of their work, to the degree that any given author doesn’t even HAVE to engage any reviews they don’t want; the publishing house or their publicist is a buffer. Most people at that level have likely become used to only ever hearing these reviews secondhand, should they hear them at all.

    This is not the case for small indie authors who have to do their own publicizing. They have to simultaneously have the personality to advertise for themselves, and the humility to recognize they need self-improvement. It is incredibly difficult to embody both of these at the same time, not just for the mental balance but because you are the same person embodying both of these ideas, you may come across as a hypocrite for trying to be both a boasting marketer AND a sensitive poet.

    So that made me wonder, why am I, the author, involved in this process at all?

    Because the thing I want–knowledge of how to build better stories–is not what most critics address directly, which is how the stories ended up appearing. And they shouldn’t, because critics are talking to an audience, not an author. And what matters to the audience is not what the author intended, only what they ended up doing. That’s Death of the Author.

    At best, any given critic can tell me what I ended up doing. They can rarely tell me what mistake I made in the process of getting there, because I also as the author am expected to not explain my intentions, because my intentions are not part of the work if they ended up failing to present themselves.

    In short, review criticism either IS part of my education, in which case the review should be directed at me, or it IS NOT part of my education, in which case its only value is from the market standpoint.

    So you would EXPECT marketer-me to engage the review, not author-me. But anything I do as marketer-me reflects directly on author-me, because we’re still the same person. Marketer-me is not in any way interested in negative reviews because they don’t help drive positive traffic. Why would marketer-me be expected to shoot himself in the foot? Or leave money on the table? Marketer-me recognizes that advertising is a game of positivity; after all, the author is expected to frame their work positively, not say “Here’s some crap I made, it’s by far not my best work but I guess you could take a look”.

    Being both the marketer and the author at the same time, or revealing that one face of you does not have the exact same standards as the other face will appear hypocritical, even if it’s common sense either way. The author who rejects bad reviews will be seen as egotistical and self-centered. But the marketer who accepts bad reviews is a nut case–TERRIBLE at their job, seen as unable to pull together enough good reviews to fill space.

    Which is not to say the author IS blameless; like I said, it is very difficult to have both an author face and a marketing face in the same person. We want to merge these identities and reconcile them. Sometimes it’s hard to not take criticism of one as a denouncement of the other–though at the same time, not everyone making such judgement realizes there are two different sets of goals at work here.

    But if the Author is Dead, then yeah, there would be no purpose for the author-self to engage with a review that does not consider the author, except to get the vaguest sense of what they ended up with, and only one data point at that. Self-improvement lies elsewhere. And I also think it’s probably naive to think that an author should expect critics to engage their work as though the author is sitting in the room with them, when that is not the reviewer’s job.

    It’s just a lot harder when the social circle is so close that bumping elbows is inevitable.

    1. This point is excellent and contributes more insight to how Indy writers in something small like furry have to function differently from writers with marketers and agents, and how that makes their relationship with Reviewers and PR very different.

    2. Hi Rick, thanks for stopping by and giving your insight. The internal conflict created int he author/marketer by any review makes sense, and I guess it’s unreasonable to expect that a terrific author might be equally terrific at self-marketing.

      I do wonder how important the two parts are. There are certainly some great writers out there who fail because they are poor at self-marketing, and conversely (and sadly) some poor writers who succeed by virtue of their marketing skills. For Housepets!, was there was some event that took it from being a “good” comic to a “successful” comic? Was it a change in the creative process or the marketing process?

      Ideally every review would be disinterested in the origin of the book in question, and would provide guidance on its quality, and never be affected by the marketing skills, notoriety, or likability of the author. From a reader’s point of view (at least in the large majority of cases) the Author is indeed Dead and that would be reflected in such an ideal review. Of course that’s rarely the case in a close social circle like furry. In the meantime I’m inclined to believe that reviews, however flawed, are always good.

      1. I DON’T think the author and the marketer are mutually exclusive. They’re not even two sides of a coin, they’re the same side, but a different approach. The author me needs some semblance of an illusion up so the magic trick that is a story can take place without drawing attention to the machinery behind the curtain. But the stuff happening on stage is just as much a matter of showmanship as the marketing itself is. The story by itself IS intended to grab attention; the materials surrounding the story are other attention-grabbers to draw attention to what is hopefully an attention-grabber.

        (The main difference being that marketing alone is empty without a show for it to surround.)

        And some people are better at putting on a show, and some people are better at drawing a crowd to the theater. And even in this there is an illusion; even with a lackluster show, the good marketer can make it a whole event that is itself an experience. (That is one way that a lot of “invisible” products are marketed; why do we think of bacon, cereal or coffee as “breakfast food”? Someone started that machine and people ran with it)

        And all of that is, and should be, open to criticism. The best I can do, after all, is hope I’m putting on a good show; I cannot point at someone and TELL them to like my show. I can wonder if someone is operating in bad faith, or how applicable their criticism is, and I can worry about the heckler who stands up in the middle of the show and points out the wires of my magic trick.

        It’s usually not as big of a deal as it feels, and it takes experience to learn that, no, someone having an opinion or even trying to talk over you isn’t all that crushing a setback. (I still wouldn’t add the critic as my co-headliner in any case.)

        As for my comic’s success, I can point to a few things here and there that add up to “luck” or “attrition”. Marketing is basically an attempt to generate interest, to at least get people to take a look at what I have to offer, but audience interest is mostly out of my control. Instead, most of what I do is try to capitalize on good fortune (My built-in fanbase from my art sites, Twokind’s shoutout, the unexpected success of King, the launch of Patreon; all things that “happened” instead of being engineered) and give people the most value I can.

        1. This makes me recall a stunt of Harlan Ellison’s, where he would write short stories while sitting at his typewriter in the display window of a sci-fi bookstore.

          Something about Ellison’s stunt always appealed to me, even though I knew it doesn’t really have any relevance to the finished product once it’s printed on a page. I recall that he claimed it to be about demystifying the process of writing but that never rang true to me, because it always felt like it was adding to the mystery & mythology of his stories, by giving them a kind of self-referential origin story. It was about making the author a character in the stories; it would be impossible to read the finished product without thinking of Ellison in a shop window.

          This feels like Ellison’s version of your magic trick metaphor. He is putting on a show to draw attention to the final work, but for all the bells and whistles it’s the work itself which remains as the sole product.

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