Aphelion Issue 233, Volume 22
October 2018
 
Editorial    
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The July Editorial is courtesy of the Aphelion Forums. There is a discussion thread there about suggestions for increasing the number of comments and critiques on the stories and poetry that appears in the zine every month. Among the various suggestions was one about putting counters in every story page so that writers could see how many times a story was read, sort of like a survey tally. I replied with a bit about why that wouldn't be workable, rambled a bit, then got back onto the subject of reader commentary. When I was done, I though that I'd save the Forum reply to use as an editorial. I'll be at a convention when this issue goes live, so time will be at a premium for the two weeks before the con. So here's what I wrote:

At one time we had hit counters on a few pages; the table of contents, the Mare Inebrium stories page, etc. Hit counters fell out of fashion for some reason, over the years, and they were hard to maintain from time to time. The main page had two million+ hits on it when we discontinued it, but that was built up over years and years of readers visiting the website.

I don't know of any web code that would allow a reader to click to add to a total, except for something like a survey vote tally. I suppose it could be done, but it would add to what the Editors already have to do for each page we lay out, and the votes themselves would quickly eat up all our web space. There is already a log file of I don't know what information, specifically--but that has to be deleted periodically or we run out of room to upload new stories. As it stands now, Aphelion's total file content can fit on a data DVD. The web space for the site costs me $60 per month, but for the first 20 years it was only $35. We finally ran out of room, so I opted to double our web space early this year--instead of deleting older stories. You may have noticed your monthly subscription fees double in size two months ago. From nothing to twice nothing, LOL! No, I'm not going to pass Aphelion's expenses off to the readers. I'm not going to start putting adverts up either. Aphelion isn't here to make money for me, it's here so that writers have a chance to improve their skills enough for a paying publisher to start buying their work. Sure, I own the site and I've taken the liberty of putting up a page where people can find where my work is sold. I have no way of knowing if anyone does go and buy something because of that page, or not. Writers are encouraged to add a link to an Amazon search for their work in the bio they send with their submissions if they like. Or link to your publisher's page for your work on their website. One more line of code in a bio isn't going to take up too much of our web space.

And you're exactly right: comments in the Forum are a huge help to the writers. That's like having many editors giving suggestions on how something can be improved instead of just the one you sent your submission to originally. And of course, sometimes there have been feuds between some of the Forum members over how a comment was worded, or if someone was being unkind accidentally, or even, rarely, someone set out to be a troll and hurt other people's feelings intentionally. Sad, but it happens. Text can be a difficult form of communication because it lacks all the visual and inflectional cues that speaking in person uses so often. That's one reason emoticons came about, really. But if Forum members do take the time to comment on a story, usually that's the best sort of commentary to have: reader feedback.

Now, there is a valid reason that I rarely comment on anyone stories. And it's a sad reason, too. I can't allow myself to comment on much because I'm the Publisher. There is a small, but non-trivial, chance that any comments I make will be thought of as submissions guidelines. The logic is simple, and a bit brutal, and it goes like this: "Oh! Dan really liked that story by Manassas Serengeti about the Bigfoot who stole a time machine and went back to the stone age to become the ancestor of all the Neanderthals! That must be the kind of thing he wants us to submit! I'm gonna write one just like that and send it in..." The result would be that someone would think that what I enjoyed is all I want writers to send in. And that's not true at all. We have readers and writers who enjoy all sorts of fiction that isn't my cup of tea. My personal likes and dislikes are not a standard I want Aphelion to go by. What's worse is that I almost never see a submission before an issue goes online anyway. Unless it's a Mare Inebrium story, submissions don't come to me. And unless an Editor has a question about adult content or violence or cuss words and they want me to make a judgment call on a submission, I don't see anything sent to them until a new issue goes live. I don't micro-manage the staff, or the writers, or the readers. I'm a pretty laid-back guy. The Editors get their submissions, pick and choose by their own rules, the writers' work gets seen by the public, the readers get to read, and I kick back and pay the bills to make all that happen. That's my Aphelion job in a nutshell. I built the original playground and I keep it open, I let the staff construct new rides and features to improve the playground, and occasionally I have to keep someone from trying to burn it down or break the playground equipment. Sometimes an unruly player will have to be asked to go play elsewhere. Sometimes said unruly player flounces off in a huff. I don't like either of those situations. I trust y'all, all y'all, to play nice with one another, to refrain from littering, and to communicate with each other as clearly and precisely as possible so the playground remains fun for as many people as possible.

Making time to write comments on each other's work is supposed to be part of the fun, part of the shared learning experience, and part of the reason you want to keep coming back. The equipment is there for you to use. If you're having trouble finding the words to say that "parts of this were really good, but other parts need work. Have you thought of trying this option, or that option?" That's part of the learning experience as well. So is "I don't really enjoy that genre very much, but this bit stood out as some really fine writing." Or even "I can't STAND first person narrators. I can't get into stories written that way. But I gave your story a chance and I found a paragraph of how you described the room the scene took place in, and that was really nice. It worked really well. Now, have you thought about trying to write something using third person? Might be something to consider, just to stretch yourself a bit. To step out of your comfort zine and try something new." Or what I would hear a lot about my stuff: "ARGH! Passive voice! Everything was going so well until you slipped into passive voice. That threw me out of the story so hard I almost broke my hip, LOL! I heard about this trick you can try..."

We writers can have fragile egos, sometimes. The trick is remembering that how diplomacy works is to make something negative seem like a polite gesture, made from genuine good will towards one another. Remember, the Forum is where you teach one another the trick you've learned. The Editors are here to teach you as well, but here you are able to teach one another. Aphelion is about learning, but everyone has something to learn here as well as something to teach. One big, yet slightly dysfunctional, family. You are all "cousins" so to speak. What one learns, another might need to know. One trick you've learned might just be the key to someone else's success. Don't be shy, don't be parsimonious with your time here. It's taken me hours to type this little essay. I didn't mean to write an editorial, but here we are, at the end of one of my better ones.

Maybe I should save this and use it for July. I'll be at a convention, so I'll have very little time to come up with a totally new one. What say ye? Do you think that this ought to be re-run outside of the Forums? Did it help? Was it instructional? Did it make you think about commenting in the Forums in a new light?

Thank you for reading this,

Dan


ON THE COVER

Title: Close-up of the drama of star formation.

Photo Credit: ESO/Sergey Stepanenko