How We Need to Fix Things

OK. I’ve had a run to burn off my fighting mood and a walk to get my brain working, and here’s where things are going.

When I started the Pseudo-Official XYZZY Reviews, a couple of years ago, it was strictly a side-project. It ended up on the Awards site, but it was off in a little corner and didn’t feel as if it was part of the main thing. It was my first year helping out with the Awards, and I didn’t want to rock the boat too hard. The Reviews were to a large degree an attempt to encourage the kind of IF writing that wanted to see more of; as far as recruitment goes, I just made public posts asking if people wanted to participate. I got a lot of responses and didn’t turn anyone away, even if their work didn’t fully meet the expectations I had for the project, because those were just my expectations, and who am I to make demands, right? While the results were decidedly mixed, nobody cared all that much, because it was all bonus.

The next year, things got changed around: instead of putting out a general call, I headhunted known-quality reviewers, preferably with category-specific expertise or interests. This worked way better, both in terms of the raw number of responses and in how consistently the reviewers were able to match the expectations I had for the event – which were still articulated as an informal list of rough principles. In a last-minute decision based on the realisation that doing it the old way was stupid, the reviews got adapted to blog format, moved to the front page of the site and rolled out slowly, rather than getting dumped en masse in one gigantic plain-HTML page.

This year… was mostly treated like last year again, apart from doing a bit more to promote it. That was an error, partly because ‘business as usual’ often tends to mean ‘let things slide’, and partly because the thing’s nature was changing even if I wasn’t.

The response to the last post has made it clear that a bunch of people who are not me have taken on some of those expectations. Which is great news (please! go and write similar things in other venues! I want your essay on representations of power in early Cadre!), but it means that now I have to take the job of fulfilling them more seriously. So, it’s probably time to drop the Pseudo part, acknowledge that this has become an established component of the Awards, and start treating it as such. What does that entail?

  • In the short term, I’ll be bringing on another writer or two to take a second pass at Individual Puzzles. Individual Puzzle is an inherently tough category to tackle. In an ideal world, 2+ reviewers per category serve as the safety-valve for when a reviewer reacts strongly against a work. In an imperfect one, where we will often be unable to ensure that level of coverage, we obviously need other mechanisms. This is a stopgap, not a long-term solution. (And it will, for reasons that I hope are clear, take a little while.)
  • We’ll be drafting a document laying out in detail the expectations for what the reviews should be, so that both the people writing and reading them are given a clear picture. We have some informal lists of goals and mission-statement-ish things right now, but they’re not really something you can work to. The final result will not satisfy everybody, but it will at least give us all a concrete point of reference.
  • The event will probably move to later in the year. Initially, the idea was to have the reviews form part of the same event, more or less, as the ceremony. That’s more fun, but it inevitably loads all the socially-hardest work of running the Awards into the same time-period, so it’s not really compatible with giving the Reviews the degree of attention they require.
  • I’ll be looking into a system of sub-editors, or peer review among writers. More eyes on a thing makes for better results. I don’t want my volunteers working alone in the dark, and alone I am not able to give them all the support that they should have.
  • A name change. The Pseudo bit is a caveat, basically, and if that doesn’t fly any more then it’s just deadweight. It’s been pointed out, too, that ‘reviews’ may suggest the wrong emphasis.

Let me be absolutely clear. I’m not blaming Lucian for this: he worked to the standards he was given, ran into some honest bad luck with his games, and ran into a deadline. Any failure here is mine, and I apologise for it.

Finally: my volunteers produce giant piles of quality work. They’re talented people with other commitments, who have agreed to do a challenging job with rewards that barely count as for exposure. If I’ve asked them to participate, that means I value their labour and trust their ability for the task. Please keep this in mind in your responses.

6 thoughts on “How We Need to Fix Things

  1. Dannii Willis

    Part of the difficulty of being a reviewer is that you can be given the task of reviewing works specifically in regards to categories, which you might not even think they should have qualified for. This will always be a problem with the nomination process as it currently is.

    I’m not sure how to address this problem, but I’ll repeat an idea I’ve had in the past: require a sentence or two justification for each nomination.

    Reply
  2. inurashii

    Thanks for taking our concerns seriously, Sam. Much respect to you and the volunteer staff.

    Reply
  3. cvaneseltine

    Thank you for making these changes. I really appreciate that you took feedback seriously.

    Reply
  4. A. DeNiro

    At last, a venue for my essay on the sublimated Lyotardian jouissance in I-O!

    (But seriously, cool, and thanks to the writers as well)

    Reply
  5. Andrew Schultz

    These look like great ideas. It looks like this project became a lot more than you originally planned. I think everyone understands that changing procedure for this is a lot more than flipping a switch, and I want to add my appreciation for this to those who responded a lot sooner.

    And FWIW I agree that judging best puzzle/puzzles make for the toughest categories.

    Reply

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