• Equestria Daily, Fanfiction, and You (The Unrated Sequel): Where We Were, Where We Are, And What We Want To Be

    Boy, do we know that feeling, Twi. Boy, do we know it well.

    Couch posted a writeup last week announcing some changes to how Equestria Daily handles fan fiction, chief among them the switch from review-by-bullet-points to a no-feedback yes/no system. Much of the response to this announcement was positive (avoiding 3 month review times is a good thing), but here and there we noticed some dissenting opinions. That's nothing new to us. Many things the pre-readers have done for the last couple years have been met with some degree of derision and scorn. It comes with the territory, and we've always said that we've done our level best to be open and honest in public, as well as in replying publicly to criticism.

    There comes a point, though, when we need to make a stronger response than just a one-off email or forum comment. Since Couch's last editorial went up, the pre-readers have agreed that that's the point we've been at for some time. This isn't a case of a broken clock being right twice a day. This is a case of us admitting that the clock was broken because we never took responsibility for letting it fall apart, and that we should've tried harder to fix it a long time ago.

    In short: we messed up, and the yes/no system alone won't make that go away. This post won't fully do the job either, but hopefully it'll be enough to give it a good start.

    Where We Were

    The most common complaint leveled against the pre-readers is that our submission process for stories is unfair. Our posting criteria come across as inconsistent in terms of what issues we reject for, and many of those issues seem inconsequential or subjective. We're accused of being biased against certain genres, authors, shipping pairs, you name it. To some degree, these types of biases are inevitable in any form of publishing, amateur or professional. While we strive to maintain a roster of open-minded and evenly skilled pre-readers, some level of subjectivity will remain in the process of stories being approved or rejected for publication.

    As far as internal consistency goes, however, we've fallen down the job more than is acceptable. As a result, we’ve garnered a reputation of being unapproachable and implicitly hostile towards submitting authors. In the interest of revitalizing our position in the community, I want to start by acknowledging that to an unfortunate degree, our infamy as I've described it was warranted.

    Stories took anywhere from a couple weeks to several months to clear the queue. In the meantime, the responses we gave authors were vaguely worded and often valued grammar over narrative, and could vary wildly depending on which pre-reader ended up seeing their submission. Authors were told to contact us if they had questions, but they had no clear line of communication and no reasonable expectation of a timely or helpful reply.

    All of this led to inefficiency on our end and angry confusion on our readers' ends. Above all, we lost our reputation as a dependable source of quality fan fiction. This is inexcusable for a site that claims to represent the pinnacle of this fandom's creativity and skill. To that end, I'd like to apologize on behalf of all the pre-readers, both for allowing things to get this bad and for not directly addressing it before. We are aware of it, we are taking steps to fix it, and as I'm about to explain before, those steps extend far beyond what Couch initially noted in his own post before.

    • • •

    Where We Are

    To start, I'll clarify that the yes/no system Couch went over before will remain in place for the foreseeable future, and in all likelihood will be permanent. Many of you have argued that eliminating explanation for rejections would lead to more confusion for submitters and less oversight for the pre-readers. We sympathize with you on this more than you may realize. The vast majority of us write fan fiction for this fandom ourselves, and we understand how frustrating it is to be rejected without receiving any constructive criticism to act upon.

    Compared to bullet points and full reviews, the yes/no system is the least of three evils. We wish we could respond to each submission with full reviews like we used to, but in light of how large the fandom has grown and how many submissions we receive because of that, that method hasn’t been viable for a long time. We should have accepted long ago that full reviews weren’t sustainable, but instead we chose to slog through our lengthening queue with the mentality that every submitted story needed to receive at least some kind of personalized response.

    Aside from being inconsistent with our oft-repeated mantra—”We're a spotlight site, not an editing service”—these “personalized responses” soon became lists of grammatical and formatting missteps because we had no way to condense larger, more important problems into bullet points. For example, a bullet point that just says "show, don't tell" is effectively useless, as that's a thorny, subjective issue that requires specific examples for the author to fully grasp what we’re trying to tell them.

    It's also possible for a story to be technically perfect but still read tepidly because all it does is tell without showing. Many pre-readers felt like they would be perceived as lazy or incompetent if they only provided one reason for rejecting a story. For these reasons, the bullet-point system inadvertently led to an unfair focus on grammar, as well as a high turnover rate for pre-readers who simply burned out trying to force meaningful feedback into such an unwieldy format.

    None of what I've said is meant to excuse our conduct over the past few months. Regardless of the specific reasons, the pre-reading system was deeply flawed, and our readers and submitters suffered the most for it. My intention here is to explain the internal workings of the pre-reader process, as the second step to solving a problem—after admitting that there is one—is identifying what went wrong. We will continue to maintain a high standard of publication, but we can be approachable about it too. That being said, changing those common perceptions will require significant change from us first. With that in mind, we've decided to make some additional adjustments to the system Couch already announced, and I'd like to share those with you now.

    • • •

    Where We Want To Be

    You’ve been waiting patiently for this new process I’ve been on about, so you can take a look at it it by checking out our brand new submission form. There, you’ll find this flowchart and an in-depth explanation of its components:

    If it looks much more complicated than a “yes/no” system would warrant, it isn’t. This is just the first time we’ve shown any pre-reader process as completely as this. Again, the form will provide much more detail on the particulars here, but you may notice a couple of new things right now:

    • No more strikes (under most circumstances)
    The three-strike rule was originally implemented in order to prevent authors from spamming the ficbox with rejected stories that had received minimal editing before resubmission. Since we've eliminated the expectation of reviews from the pre-readers, there's no longer any need for a strike limit barring exceptional circumstances (and we're talking about something like a half-dozen same-day submissions here). This means any stories that previously received permanent rejections for exceeding three strikes are now eligible for submission again. This does not apply to stories that were permanently rejected for a different reason, such as a violation of Equestria Daily's content guidelines.

    • Work hard, get feedback
    The problem with our previous feedback systems wasn’t that we disliked giving it. We had to give too much of it. With relaxing the strike rules, authors have many, many more chances to get their own help first. We want to reward those who show that initiative with feedback the closer they get to publication, since they’ll benefit from our advice the most.

    • Dedicated separate email account for submitter questions and concerns
    If you have a question, comment, or complaint about the pre-reading process or a specific pre-reader or submission, you can now email us directly at [email protected]. Our intention is to provide a channel of communication for matters specifically related to the Equestria Daily pre-reading process. Feel free to write us about your story in particular or writing advice in general, but be prepared to show your work.

    • • •

    Some more stuff we’ll be working on in the near future:

    • Updated Editor's Omnibus
    Our end goal is to tailor our site-sponsored submission guide to better reflect what we're looking for in submissions. This will include a section on subjective story components that are likely to make your story more engaging to pre-readers and readers alike.

    • Faster submission processing 
    Ideally, the yes/no system will take care of this. If the last week or so is anything to go by, there are good odds of that working out.

    • • •

    In the meantime, this is what you can expect from us going forward:

    • Simplified ficbox 
    Because of how our submission system was set up in the past, only certain pre-readers had the ability to forward submissions to the rest of the corps. When no one did this, this could have added weeks to the time a story waited for review. By automating this step, every pre-reader will now receive your fic the moment you send it in, and we’re working to take ficbox out of handling responses, too.

    • More focus on using Google spreadsheets to keep track of submissions
    While we can't in good conscience share this document publicly (submitter confidentiality and all that), we do have a spreadsheet that automatically logs every submission we receive, and which we'll probably be putting to much greater use in the future.

    • Roll call on active pre-readers and internal review of genre preferences 
    We've cleaned up our active roster, and in doing so will facilitate the following two points:

    • Collective agreement among pre-readers to loosen up on grammatical and stylistic errors
    As far as these sorts of issues go, what we'll be prioritizing from now on is readability and consistency. We’ll no longer care if you use if you use double-hyphens as em-dashes if you use them in a consistent manner. We reserve the right to reject a story for extensive grammatical errors, but as long as we think your story reads smoothly in the end, you’ll be fine.

    • More leeway with taking on new pre-readers
    We've had a history of insular behavior when it comes to accepting applications for new pre-readers, and we'd like to change that as well. As with story submitters, new pre-readers won’t be asked to recite the entire Chicago Manual of Style, figuratively speaking. Instead, what we'll be looking for is a wide range of experience with reading, writing, and reviewing various genres of fic, and an awareness of what separates a unique submission from one that's more run-of-the-mill.

    • • •

    In essence, we're making our job easier so we can make your experience with our site better. Even though our stated goal is to post the highest-quality content we can find, we can't do that unless we have people who are willing to come read it. We sincerely appreciate every single Equestria Daily viewer out there, and everything I've discussed here is our way of showing that we don't want to lose any of you through our own lack of awareness or inability to change. So on that note, thanks for sticking with us this long, and thanks in advance for supporting us as we continue to improve the site we both love.

    - Aqua