I Know All The Best People: pet peeves about recommendations pages

I love well-constructed recommendations pages. When I've fallen behind in my reading, I head straight for the places I know I can find sturdy, dependable recs, and I start clicking links. A good recs page is like an oasis in the desert. The ideal recs page, for me, is a diverse collection of stories and authors, with some idea of what each story is about, but no direct plot spoilers. Pages such as these are rare and wonderful, perfect pearls in a sea of muck.

Whose pages are like this, you ask? Why, for the mother of all recs pages, go see torch. She reads and recs a variety of fandoms, slash and gen, comedy and drama. She doesn't play favorites. She recs what she enjoys, she does it gently and intelligently, and that's the bottom line. And her recommendations page is legend. Another recs page I can't say enough good things about is Anna's. Diversity is key here also: new, old, little-known, flawed, and everything in between, and she articulates the positives and not-so-positives about everything she recs. And she's not afraid to call it like it is: kink, button-fic, guilty pleasure, whatever.

Now let's talk about muck. What are my issues with recommendations pages? Ah, this is a lovely collection of hypocritical and self-indulgent irritations. It sometimes depends on the time of day or the cycle of the moon, in fact, as to whether or not these things bother me enormously, or not at all. But by and large, these are the things that make me write mental hate mail. Have I done some of these things? Yep. Do the people whose recs pages I adore do them? Most likely. The beauty of this list is, we all fall victim to these frailties, sometimes by choice. Recognizing these things, particularly if we do them unconsciously, helps remove their power to inadvertently overtake your recs page.

1. Lack of integrity. For instance, recommending a story because you are friends with the author, or want to kiss their ass, and then removing said recommendation when that person pisses you off or falls from grace. Let's rise above it, people. If you can't respect the work, regardless of the person behind the work, then don't recommend it to begin with. Spare us all the confusion of returning to your site looking for a link to a particular story, and finding it gone. Tastes can be transitory, but most people don't recommend things they later dislike so much they feel they must take back their recommendation. And if by some chance a writer later hurts your feelings or doesn't worship you in kind, don't take the rec down out of spite if you genuinely enjoyed the work. On my site, there is a recommendation for a story written by a person I dislike intensely. I disliked her when I recommended the work, and I dislike her even more now. But the work is outstanding, and if a recommendations page is to be any good at all, it has to be balanced and fair and be about more than who is in your inner circle. Put ego aside and reward the creativity.

Which brings me to the second point:

2. People who recommend only their cronies, friends, idols, writing partners, or betas. Now occasionally, we all do this, and for various reasons - because someone talented needs a little visibility, because we adore someone's writing unequivocally (in my case, that would be Merry Lynne, whose writing rocks), or because we just can't help it. It becomes a problem, however, when every time a recs page is updated, the same person's name and their latest story is right at the top. There should be a drinking game about this: take two drinks every time the reviewer mentions (blank's) new story, and three drinks every time you go to read the story and find out that just as you suspected, it's crap. A reviewer will lose all credibility if what she recommends really sucks, especially if everyone knows why it was recommended, and if literary merit wasn't involved. Every reviewer is entitled to one, or several, recs that the average reader won't like much. Personal preference is a beautiful thing. But balance is essential.

3. Being afraid to recommend a story for fear others will think you suck for liking it. Some of my favorite stories are guilty pleasures. They have no plot to speak of, or are poorly written and are full of plot holes, and are really dreadfully constructed, technically speaking. But they are emotionally gripping, or lyrical, or just plain hotter than a firecracker because they are button-fic. Is it necessary that every story recommended be perfect? Hardly. That's where a few comments can make a world of difference when you make the recommendation, so there is a bit of preparation and explanation for the reader. But the virtues of perfect fiction are extolled ad infinitum on some sites, and writers are berated because they haven't grasped all the finer points of writing and are just...inferior. I'm not talking about a balanced review that points out legitimate flaws, along with good stuff - I'm talking about barbs and jabs at people who haven't yet learned all the things they need to know to write well. That "better than thou" attitude annoys the hell out of me, because every story can't be a masterpiece, and it's okay to enjoy things about so-so stories. Which brings me to another point:

4. Feeling that only perfect stories can be recommended. This differs from point four because there is quite a bit of snobbery and elitism in fan fiction circles, and that's what I'm referring to here. Also there is a definite feeling that certain authors and their work are not worthy of being recommended, even if they should happen to write one lovely story in the midst of several dozen pieces of crap. I mean, my goodness - we can't have people extrapolate our preferences from this one tiny rec and start to think we like this lousy writer's OTHER work, now can we? I mean, what's the world coming to? I have a reputation to protect! (See point 3.)

Certainly recommendations pages should be about the cream of the crop, at least partially, since they are the starting place for many readers new to the fandom. And there's only so many hours in the day, and we all want to spend them reading the good stuff, not the mediocre stuff. But if you are only recommending "pedestal fic" - stories too beautiful to be criticized, but that can only be worshipped from afar - get a grip. And if you are afraid to recommend things that are off-center, dark, or different because others will think you are weird, then you probably don't have the backbone for this. I mean, I really dig some of Laura JV's very satisfyingly dark work, and it's quite different, and that's why I love recommending it. Controversial stories can make recs pages interesting, and unpredictability can take a recs page out of the mundane and repetitive rut.

5. Discounting all of a writer's work based upon their earliest pieces. I don't know about any of you, but I'm embarrassed by much of the work I posted in the first year I was writing. I have learned so much since that time, thanks to the kindness of strangers, that I considered taking it all down. If one of those stories is the first thing of mine that someone reads, they will never get to the things I've written in the last year that are really worth reading, because they will run away screaming. Realistically, once we form an impression of the sort of work we can expect from a writer, we tend to carry that with us forever. And some people never do improve on the potential they show, either for lack of understanding or lack of trying. But many do. Some of my favorite writers were not so hot when they started, and now they write gorgeous, enjoyable stories. If I made the mistake of not trying their latest work because I didn't like the things they initially posted, I'd be missing much, and my recs page would lack relevance.

6. Deciding not to recommend a particular writer or story because they are "over-recommended". What is this about, exactly? Fear of being trumped by the competition? Thinking that readers will assume you can't come to conclusions independently? It's a very silly thing, and a recs page should reflect personal taste, not be edited according to who else out there has put up the same rec. This is one rule that seems to fluctuate depending upon the brilliance of the writer or the story, which makes things even worse. For instance, Nuance by Livia and Resonant, a Sentinel story, has been recommended...well, everywhere. torch even joked about this, and the phenomenon of wanting to be the first to recommend something, on her site. When Speranza burst upon the scene in due South fandom, everyone jumped at the chance to be able to point out her work to the world. It's important not to forget that while nearly everyone reads certain "famous" recs pages, other pages are frequented by different groups with different tastes. Someone may happen to visit your recs page first thing upon entry to a new fandom, and find that gem of a story on your page. And you will have done them a favor by not choosing to omit that rec.

7. Disclaiming recs by saying the reader may hate our choices. Do reviewers need to do this? Probably not. Many of us do it, but the fact is, the intelligent consumer recognizes that the person whose writing they enjoy will likely recommend stories in a style similar to their own. Also, once they have followed a few links and can tell what sorts of things a reviewer enjoys, it's much easier to figure out if this person can help you indulge your own tastes. Sandy Herrold makes this point eloquently on her recs page. A good reviewer will have more than one type of story on their recs page - so following links to several will likely produce good results. Let's give the reader some credit for knowing that every reviewer can't please every reader with what they recommend.

And one last thing:

8. "The last thing the world needs is another recs page, but..." Oh, just stop. Either you really want to share your treasures and finds with the world, or you don't. Every time I see this phrase somewhere, I start chuckling. Because we all love to read recs pages, and see who's made the cut and who hasn't, and what's new and different, and if we are on there, and what's the hot new thing, and what fandoms our favorite authors are reading/writing. Hard to believe, I know, but I've heard of people searching Google regularly for their pseudonym to see where they are popping up. Te once called it the "ego search". Recs pages are better than gossip columns for predicting tastes, trends and new phenoms in fandom. So if you want to put up that recs page, don't apologize for it. Just do it. Someone out there will be grateful, I promise.

Those of us who have recs pages love to share our preferences, and indulge our egos by thinking that maybe what we like could be interesting or helpful to someone else. Often it is like giving without expecting anything back. I love to make recs because when I find a good story, I just want everyone else to drop what they are doing and go and read it so they can have the same rush I had, and then we can talk about it. You won't ever see me apologize for my recs, or for giving in to any of the above-mentioned pet peeves on my own site. (Told you it was hypocritical. Whatever.)

Excuse me, I have to go update my recs pages now.

Disagree with my point of view? Drop me a line.

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