Tuesday, March 12, 2013


With rare exceptions, we all find our way to the audience through a number of people. Editors and critique partners, publishers, marketers, educators, reviewers, legislators, and in the case of the younger audiences particularly, parents, often have a lot more direct control over whether our work ever hits the target audience or not.

So we try to please them. We datamine rejection letters for hints, revise according to advice and try again, agonize over making the perfect query, study the markets till our brains bleed. And far too often we forget some important things.

First, that the gatekeeper is not the audience.

Second, that the gatekeeper does not owe the creator anything (outside the stated terms of an existing contract).

Third, that other gates are out there.

Widespot is currently sitting in the moderation queue (essentially a slushpile) at Mod the Sims, a large download host which has evolved procedures to control what kind of content it provides. This is my second time through. The first time, I misunderstood many points on the submission format desired and messed up the submission so badly they had no choice but to reject it. I had to re-take all the pictures, which is far more difficult for me than someone who sees straight lines can easily understand. Then the moderators closed the moderation queue for a period of time necessary to clear out a backlog and update some of their policies, which took over a month; and then I had to double-check the revised guidelines and reassess my drafted submission document before finally starting my submission thread, shortly after hundreds of other people with smaller submissions had swooped into the queue ahead of me. So now I'm waiting.

That all sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Then this will sound familiar, too. The original rejection, an obvious series of cut-and-paste boilerplate, cited crimes of which I am guiltless, though my botching of the format may have misled the moderator in charge of accepting or rejecting it into thinking that I was. I expect these objections to be dropped now that I have (I think) done things right. But a couple of items do give me pause. Like this one:

Item 3: ... your sim does not represent a unique and different overall look. While your sim may have an interesting face, anyone can create interesting faces spending a few minutes fiddling in Body Shop - the idea is to create a unique overall look... The submission guidelines clearly state that sims without custom content created by the uploader (i.e., new eyes, new hair, a variant skintone) will not be accepted.

Leaving aside the vexed and unanswerable question of whether anyone else ever would produce Dixie Land's face, and granting its theoretical possibility, the citizens of Widespot are not the shells generally uploaded for sharing, but characters in an established neighborhood with an ongoing storyline. It is Dixie's looks in combination with her stats, aspiration, biography, relationships, and history in the context of the whole neighborhood that make her and the other citizens of Widespot both unique and fun to play (as my playtesters assure me they are).

I more or less expect the story content of the neighborhood to be treated as the necessary custom content in this instance. Insisting on other kinds of custom content, such as genetics or clothing, would be counterproductive. Firstly, because Widespot is intended as a Base Game Only/Custom Content free neighborhood which anyone with a Sims2 game can drop in and with a minimum of hassle. Custom content would be unnecessary padding and violate the purpose.

Secondly, I can't make any other standard kind of custom content. Wouldn't know where to start. I can't do visual media to a professional or even amateur display standard, as I've demonstrated to my own satisfaction many times. I can make story and character all day long, and frequently do. Demand exists for inhabited neighborhoods with ongoing storylines, and this is where I can make a contribution. So I think my sims fit the intention of the guidelines even though they violate the letter of it, and I think the moderators will recognize that.

But you know what? I could be wrong. And if I am, Widespot will be rejected and that will be that. Because I'm not going to shoehorn stuff that doesn't belong, which would make me less satisfied with my work and would please my target audience less, into my work just to get it hosted. I'll find some other place, with different criteria, or no criteria; or I'll put a link in the sidebar of the blog and keep it on Mediafire as long as I can, directing people to the blog in my sig; or eventually I'll write off spreading it any further and be satisfied with the dozen or so people playing it now.

If, however, the moderator doesn't like the house the Lands live in and makes specific suggestions about how to make it acceptable without adding anything not available in the base game, and I can make those changes around the Land family as they are frozen in pause on the Friday morning that I intend the story to begin - heck, yes, if that's the only thing standing in my way, I'll do that in a heartbeat. Because the Land house really is a bit of a mess. It's playable, and to a certain extent the mess is deliberate, as it's supposed to have started out as a one-room cabin and added onto willy-nilly as finances allowed and a growing family required; but I got contradictory feedback on its aesthetic in playtest and I stopped fiddling with it more because I'd run out of ideas than because I was truly satisfied. As long as the concept of the house isn't violated by a suggestion, I'll tweak it as often as I need to in order to get it uploaded in the place I believe the intended audience will find it most easily.

The difference is that adding custom content would violate the work and, therefore, make it less suitable for the target audience; but changing the arrangement of a few walls and floors in the house may substantially improve it. These are the only considerations that matter, in the end.

If a gatekeeper rejects your work, it will not be (necessarily) because the work sucks; nor will it be because the gatekeeper is a Philistine with no taste; and it certainly will not be (in any viable market, even the internet) because the gatekeeper has some animus against you personally. It will be because, in the gatekeeper's judgement, the audience he's serving will not be well-served if he passes it. He may be right; he may be wrong; that is not the issue. The gate keeper controls this gate and if he won't let you through, you need to go look for another gate. Don't stand at this one whining to go through - you'll just make yourself obnoxious.

And for pity's sake, don't mutilate your work to please a gatekeeper. You'll regret it, I promise. Consider all suggestions as dispassionately as you can, see if your judgement coincides with his on this point, and only make changes that your judgement approves. For what profiteth it an author to gain publication, and lose the point of book?

I admire gatekeepers. They are, for the most work, overworked and underpaid. I've seen editors in the office and at home, and you would not believe the places they find to stack manuscripts, or how much work they have to get through with how little help. Most of them can't do any actual submission reading at work because they're too busy doing other parts of an editor's job. Librarians and teachers and parents are in much the same boat, and I presume that other kinds of gatekeepers are, too. If submission guidelines are difficult, it's because the number of people who think they've made something good enough to share far exceeds the number of people who truly have, and even some of those people have not taken sufficient care to be standing at the right gate. The more of these people who can be eliminated before the gatekeeper has to waste any time on them, the better for everybody.

Nobody owes me, or you, or anyone, publication. The loyalty of the gatekeeper is not to the creator, nor to the shareholder (if there is one in the market in question) but to the audience they conceive themselves as representing. Which is as it should be and I, as a creator, would not ask anything different of them.

Which doesn't mean I'm not really, really tired of sending queries and partials and fulls out into the cold world and never seeing them again except with the word "no" stamped on them. Especially when I know, as well as anyone ever knows these things, that the work is good. That isn't always what matters, in this imperfect world.

But that's life.


  1. Ha-ha. Philistines. However, I am certain that this post is referring to the modern definition of a philistine as someone who lacks aesthetic taste or knowledge of the liberal arts much like a hyper-conformist, not the biblical definition of philistine. Though, even the biblical authors of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible portrays the Philistines as the enemies of Canaan and not in a very good light. Even today, people portray anybody who disagree with them as "evil" or cast a negative light on those people without a second thought that the antagonists might be human as well. The idea that God's grace, mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love (agape) for humanity must have been counter-intuitive in the eyes of humankind which innately has a selfish (sinful) nature. What does this rant about God have to do with this post? Well, the bottom line is, people will always have opinions contrary to others. Some people listen to the opinions of others and cannot find their own voice. Some people only shun outside voices, thinking their own voice is superior. It would be best to just have a balance of the two extremes. I recently watched Pocahontas II: Journey to the New World, and what I got from the movie was "So many voices ringing in my ear / Which is the voice that I was meant to hear?" Chew on that.

  2. In addition to what I said, there is a well-known fable called "The Miller, His Son, and The Donkey". Though, when I first read it in a children's storybook on Aesop's fables, the donkey was known as "ass". I interpret the moral lesson of the fable is to show that sometimes it's so easy to change opinions to please other people that it's hard to be sincere for one's personal thoughts and actions. The miller and his son could have stayed with their own way of doing things, or might have taken what they perceived to be the best suggestion or the best and most efficient way to travel. Both ways are perfectly viable in my opinion. But trying to please people for the sake of pleasing people is presumptuous. That reminds me of a video I saw a long, long time ago concerning evangelism. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDo6xDb6NJc&feature=player_embedded#!

    The narrator has a vision that all American Christians evangelize, because he believes that what he is called to do. He compares evangelism to helping people altruistically. In other words, instead of helping people for the sake of helping people, the point is to help people, because the person in imminent danger is in need of help. The 10000-year part can be quite confusing, but having talked to this guy in person, he actually comes from a young-earth creationist background like his father Tom Short. So, he believes that the universe is about 10,000 years old, and God created it. While it is understandable to disagree with Tim's position on evangelism for a non-Christian (even though many Christians do identify themselves as "evangelical" or about the gospel) or Tom's position on God or his interpretation of scripture, I think the more important thing is what altruism is. The idea is to do good works, not for personal ambitions or desires, but for the sake of trying to be more godly even though one knows that one is going to miserably fail. It's not a bad idea really, when it might give someone something to live for. For some people, they literally and passionately live for God.

  3. You know, just because you have to post anonymously due to not being signed into some identifying tool Blogspot recognizes doesn't mean you can't sign your comments.

    Personally I always read the story of the guys with the donkey as illustrating the truth that if you try to please everybody you're going to fall off the bridge and lose the donkey.

    1. I think I shall call myself "Niffirg R. Inep". Call me Inep, for short.

      You know, understanding a story depends greatly on context. Even understanding one interpretation of a story depends greatly on context. When you told me "if you try to please everybody you're going to fall off the bridge and lose the donkey", I was completely clueless on what you were trying to say. Fools think that all they need are the words of wisdom and they can get away with the wise words without their proper context. I think that's a mistake, because without understanding the context of a situation or the experience of a person has gone through, it is incredibly difficult to feel empathy and/or truly understand the meaning of someone's intended words. We can make best guesses, but sometimes even our best guesses are not good enough.

      It's a lot like talking to your grandpa or grandma. Sometimes, your grandpa or grandma may tell you stories. These stories are not just entertaining stories. Well, yeah, they can be entertaining, but they hold some wisdom about life that is so precious that it can only be experienced and perceived, and the words they say can always be with the person, shaping the person's identity and worldview.

      This is why I am thinking sometimes it's not so easy to describe a person's deeply held beliefs, and sometimes the best way to share one's beliefs about the world is by storytelling. The real danger comes into play when people think that stories are only one thing or the other, that stories always contain morals, or that stories can only be entertaining, or that stories must be classified as SOMETHING. The big beef I have classifications is that sometimes it's hard to classify things. I'm not saying that people shouldn't classify things. I'm just saying that classification may depend on the person's perceptions of the story, but this is perfectly normal and, heck, even encouraged. Just keep in mind that there's a lot of subjectivity that goes into classification, and subjectivity is as powerful and valuable as objectivity.

      Phew! Way to go, Niffirg R. Inep. I just made whopping rant.

  4. Yes, you did. I think I know who you are now; and I'm positive that, whether you are who I think or not, you need to ask yourself if you're in the same conversation as me, what you want from me, whether it is reasonable to expect me to provide it, and if so, how to best go about eliciting it. Also, whether it isn't time to stop hiding and start being honest with yourself and others.

    As for the context - you supplied it. The story as I know it ends with the protagonist trying to carry the loaded donkey across the bridge, losing his balance and everything else. If that doesn't look straightforward to you, I can't help it.

  5. OK. I am going to ask myself some questions?

    Am I in the same conversation as Peni R. Griffin?


    What do I want from Peni R. Griffin?


    Is it reasonable to expect Peni R. Griffin to provide whatever I expect from her?


    How to best go about eliciting it?

    I don't know, and I don't care.

    Is it time to stop hiding and start being honest with yourself and others?

    No. Apparently, Peni R. Griffin doesn't like anonymity.

    That's OK. I don't need your help. Goodbye, Peni R. Griffin. I seek nothing from you, and I would care less of what you say from now on.

  6. I am just writing this, because Peni R. Griffin thinks I have some ulterior motivation for commenting on this blog, and when I say something contrary to her opinions, she immediately assumes that I have ulterior motive. WTF? As if my own post is not good enough for her or she expects something from ME! Returning to the story, I think Peni R. Griffin was paying attention to the donkey, while I was paying attention to the implications of the story. It's no wonder that we weren't on the same page at the same time.

    Lighten up, Peni. Otherwise, do whatever you want. Sheesh.

  7. Niffirg R. Inep has decided to stop posting on this blog.

  8. Anonymous has decided to stop posting on this blog.

  9. To be on the safe side and avoid legal problems for myself, I have done a quick check on anonymous posting here: http://www.jaburgwilk.com/articles/how-to-discover-the-identity-of-an-anonymous-internet-author.aspx

    It appears that I have the right to post anonymously as long as my posts are not false or defamatory in any way. First of all, I have said nothing false about the author. I am not trying to disparage the author in any way, shape, or form. Second of all, I have said nothing defamatory to the author's personal reputation. I'm only commenting on the post, not attacking the author who made the post.

    In Post #3 of this blog post, I have made an attempt to understand Peni R. Griffin's position. I assumed that Peni Griffin and I was on talking on different levels, focusing on different subjects, so we didn't understand each other. To make matters worse, I accidentally used the wrong words to describe the situation. The word is not "reading without context". The correct word that best defines my intentions is "not being on the same page". Sorry for the confusion. I think that's what led Peni to think that I have insulted her and return that she did read in context. Oops. I am going to trust her and believe that she did, even though I misspoke and gave a different wording. I meant to say "not being on the same page". I try to think highly of her and try to understand the motivations for writing her first response in this blog post, but my intentions are misunderstood as criticisms. Again, I think it's because I am posting anonymously. Like the website said, anonymous posters are often taken suspiciously as if they are up to no good.

    I hope that this post clears any misunderstandings of this exchange.