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Eight Music Forums

 

When I was younger I thought that there was an objective level of quality that I would have to reach as a writer, at which point every agent and editor in the book publishing business would see the quality of my work and I would get published, and the book buying audience would likewise see the quality of my work and I would sell books. 

 

As I got older, I saw things weren't that simple. Different agents and publishers had different opinions on what was good writing and what was not-so-good writing. This left me confused, no longer sure whose advice to follow or how to move forward.

 

Then, I read an article about an interesting experiment. A music company (can't recall which one, exactly) took dozens of unknown bands and made their music available on a password-protected website where anyone who logged in could listen to it. Then they gave 500 people, chosen at random, log-in information. The website also had a forum section, so people could share their opinons and point each other to their favorite songs. A handful of people listened to every song from every band within a couple days. Those people got on the forums and were very vocal about their opinions. The other people who weren't as fast in listening to the music tended to agree with those opinion leaders and when it was time for people to rank which bands and which songs were the best there was a stong consensus.

 

So we can now objectively say that those are the best bands and songs, right? Not so fast, hombre.

 

Because that music company created seven other websites, also password protected, also with 500 people given log-in information, also with forums, and also - here's the clever part - with the exact same bands and the exact same songs to listen to. There were eight sites, all walled-off from each other, all completely identical except for the users. So what happened in those other seven?

 

Just like on the first site, a handful of people listed ot every song from every band with a couple of days. Just like on the first site, those people got on the forums and were very vocal about their opinions. Just like on the first site, the other people who weren't as fast in listening to the music tended to agree with those opinion leader and and when it was time for people to rank which bands and which songs were the best there was a strong consensus. 

 

Just one difference - the consensus best songs were different on all eight sites. 

 

The conclusion the company walked with was this - there are a relatively small number of people who are voracious consumers of new media, and those people tend to be loud in their opinions. When the more casual consumer is looking for something new to listen to, they are going to come across the opinions of this vocal early-adopter minority and be highly influenced by those opinions, which they then adopt as their own opinions and repeat.

 

What does this mean for me (and you) as a writer? There is no consensus on what's good and what's not-so-good. You have to know what you like to write, then find the people who like to read what you like to write and go after them. And ignore everyone else.

 

Mary Robinette Kowal says that she doesn't read one, two, or three star reviews of her books on Goodreads because she figures that's not an indication of the quality of her work, that's an indication that those readers are just not her audience. Considering that she's won multiple prestigeous literary awards I think she's justified in that opinion. I have not won multiple prestigeous literary awards (yet) but I've adopted the same opinion anyway. I would recommend it to any writer. 

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