Log in

No account? Create an account


Middle-earth Fanfiction Awards

A Comments-based Fanfic Award

Previous Entry Share Flag Next Entry
Ratings and MEFA Eligibility
telperion1 wrote in mefas
Hello everyone,the

A few days ago, several MEFA participants came to me with concerns about the new ratings system we'll be using as part of the 2012 awards. You can see their original letter at:


and my initial reply where I explained the motivation behind this change here:


Because we're so close to the 2012 awards' opening, it's really too late to change the policies for this year. It's not that I don't understand these peoples' concerns; I'm simply too busy in the first part of the awards, where we're accepting new nominations and sorting them into categories, to do anything except run the awards. However, I did promise (and I mean it!) that we can discuss these issues in September, once we're through this busy part of the award.

That conversation will happen right here, at the mefas LJ community in early September. At that point we'll discuss how to improve the way the MEFAs handle ratings, and hopefully people will have some good ideas how we can accomplish the goals I mentioned in my reply (the second link above) while addressing all the concerns people have about this new policy. I really do want to find an approach that works for most people, and if the one we're using in 2012 isn't it, then I'm all for finding a better one.

One thing I do want to emphasize: I know a lot of people think they're being forced into a whole new system, but that really wasn't my intent. (Several other volunteers helped me design the system, but since I signed off on it I'll take responsibility.) I saw it as a finetuning of the old ratings system - which worked pretty well in most ways, but there were some situations in the 2011 awards that we needed to avoid - rather than something completely new. Of course, intent doesn't matter nearly as much as reality, and that's why I'm more than willing to work with anyone interested in this topic, once we're through the crazy-making parts of the awards and I'm able to think about policy.

In the mean time, I encourage everyone to think about this issue as they're using the 2012 site, and think in particular about how we can improve the way we handle ratings. You might want to jot down thoughts over the next two months about what works well and where you think we can improve things.

I know some people may not be comfortable competing under the current guidelines. I hate to see anyone go, but of course I will respect any member's wishes not to participate. Please email me at mefasupportATgmailDOTcom.

In light of the fact that the 2012 awards will be starting soon (which means that I and most of the other volunteers are really very busy right now) I don't want to debate the new system just now. If you're confused by what has changed, I'll do my best to answer your questions. However, if you think certain things need to change, please hold on to those thoughts until we can discuss things properly in September.

On a realted note - and this is IMPORTANT:

As some of you probably know, the 2012 awards were scheduled to start tonight. That's not going to happen. This is mainly because of technical issues that Aranel and I are working hard to straighten out. (It's been an interesting few days in MEFA-land!) We plan to start on Tuesday July 3 and the rest of the awards will proceed as scheduled. Specifically:

  • July 3-July 31: Nominations

  • August 7: Deadline for authors to finish up their nominations

  • Marta

  • 1
Well, I will say what I think now and not wait till September.

1. I agree in principle with a rating system and with certain types of stories not being eligible.
2. I disagree with a system by which stories rated 5 - and these stories only - have to be defended by the author upfront. This is unfair, because peope are trusted to correctly rate stories 1-4, but not 5. It is also unnecessary, because since presumbaly all 5 rated stories now have to go to a panel anyway, they might as well go to that panel without the author having to write an essay on them first.
3. I can understand that the rating system itself can not be changed at this point, since that would require changes to the website. But I don't see why the requirement to defend the story upfront cannot simply be dropped.
4. Personally, I find the rating system as it has been posted now confusing and inconsistent. Especially the prase "even an adult might find upsetting" is extremely vague since different people find different things upsetting, depending on their personal experiences.

Hi Virtuella,

I'm trying not to discuss what should be changed now, for the reasons I've given several times. I have saved this email and will keep them in mind when we have our discussion in September.

There was one suggestion you made, and I want to explain why we can't just make that change for 2012. You said:

3. I can understand that the rating system itself can not be changed at this point, since that would require changes to the website. But I don't see why the requirement to defend the story upfront cannot simply be dropped.

Let's say we did that. We still have the requirement that certain types of content (graphic sex, graphic violence, etc.) aren't eligible for the MEFAs. And we're in exactly the same situation we were in 2011. I still have that huge question of what to do if I find out a story isn't eligible, but find out very late in the awards. Do I let it compete even though it's ineligible? Or do we set up some kind of deadline and don't pull stories after that date for any reason? Both of those are pretty big policy changes, much bigger than the change most people are objecting to; I'm not going to make them just as my own decision, and I'm too exhausted and busy to make a good decision right now in any event. But if we didn't make at least one of those changes, we could wind up in precisely the situation we faced at the end of 2011, that a lot of people thought I handled very badly - and I'd have to handle it exactly the same way as I did then, because that's what the rules would require.

I don't think lifting the requirement that a story go to the ratings panel won't really solve anything, unless we make other changes as well. So I'm not willing to make that change for this year. There may be a better way to set things up so stories don't have to go to the ratings panel, but it requires bigger changes (and more discussions) than I can handle right now.

Marta and other admins... can you please please take off the requirement for the authors to write a statement as to why their story landed in the category 5 of any rating? You now have the luxury of having a large ratings panel and in the past this panel has done an excellent job. A very simple instruction to the liaisons can be given that any rating above 4 can be spotted by a liaison to put forward the panel. Let the ratings panel do their excellent job and do not add an extra burden for the authors where the forms are already quite a task as it already is.

I am not asking this for myself since I will not be participating due to personal reasons, but for those authors who do write stories that possibly could fall under the category 5.

Rhapsody, I'm not sure I understand what you're asking, so please bear with me.

Right now, if your story has a "5" in any area I will look to see if it's hosted at one of the archives that let you skip the ratings panel. If it is, I'll go ahead and finalize it. If it's not, then I would email you as the author and ask for a few pieces of information, most importantly the specific scenes that you want the panel to look at. I also give the author the opportunity to explain the context (what's going on before and after a scene), since the panel usually needs to know that. I think I ask for some other things, but those other things aren't really crucial.

Is this the description you're talking about? If so, I think we can be flexible here, especially for shorter stories. If something is a single chapter, I could just pass it on to the ratings panel without the author needing to do anything. For longer pieces, I'd still need to know what chapters need looking at, but everything else is strictly optional. So even if I had to email you and ask "Which chapters made you think this story earned a five", you could just send me the links. I could also offer to pass on anything else you wanted the rating panel to see, but that would be optional.

If you're talking about something else, please let me know.

I have a question, Marta. Why was such a hot button topic addressed in a Star Chamber hearing, instead of at very least raising some of the proposed issues or concerns months ago? Surely you were aware that these are delicate questions.

Edited at 2012-07-01 12:55 am (UTC)

Oshun, as I explained over at the Yahoo group I honestly thought of this as a finetuning of a longstanding policy - not a major change. Maybe I've just been on the outskirts of fandom too long (the MEFAs and the BMEM project are really my only fannish involvement these days); Since we weren't changing the kind of stories that's eligible for the MEFAs, I honestly didn't think it was a big issue.

It certainly wasn't anything conspiratorial, as your "Star Chamber hearing" language suggests (at least to me; I do hope I'm not reading too much into it) - just several very busy people trying their best to avoid having a bad situation repeat itself.

Marta, I ask your forgiveness for posting now despite your delaying the discussion until September. Unfortunately, September being the first month of school for me, I don't know that I will be able to comment then. I don't expect a reply now and will try to speak up in September as well, but I did want to get my thoughts down now, while they are fresh.

I have been on vacation for the past week but have spent the past few hours trying to catch up on the conversation thus far. Here are my impressions:

Firstly is that, when I first became involved in the MEFAs some years ago, many people remarked on the awards as something that wasn't for the "kinds of stories" that they wrote. In 2008, I nominated Elfscribe's "Wind and Fire"--one of those "kinds of stories"--and to the surprise and delight and many more than just Elfscribe, it won First Place in the First Age and Prior category. I remember many conversations then that seemed hope-filled in comparison to what I'd heard in the years prior: that the MEFAs were more open than people had realized and that stories like "Wind and Fire" stood a chance of being recognized as well. I've always supported the MEFAs, in part because I felt it moving toward diversity and inclusivity. I understand that the award inherited its disallowance of "Adult" stories but felt it moving away from that (in my opinion) mistake.

I know that when this change was made, it was intended to be small and to benefit, not burden, authors of higher-rated stories. I do believe this was the intent. Yet when I read the guidelines, as they are currently written, I feel myself having the same knee-jerk ohnononono reaction that others have had. For one, as written, the "justification" of a 5-rated story seems onerous:

To do this, you would need to email the awards administrator. [mefasupport@gmail.com> Re: ratings panel] Include a link to the story, specific chapters or scenes you want looked at, and also a brief description of the scenes' context to show how they function in the larger story.

Many--maybe even most--of my stories rate a 5 in at least one area; the idea of having to add this task to an already extensive form does not appeal. I understand that it takes some of the burden off the rating panel, who will have more on their plates, perhaps, under the new guidelines, and I also feel a bit silly, complaining that it's too arduous to sign up one's story to receive detailed reviews and possibly awards, but given how little time I have these days, I actually have found it difficult to complete this process, and an extra step does feel like a burden. It also feels like a burden aimed primarily at those of us who write work aimed for an audience of adult readers, as those who choose other ratings for their stories do not likewise have to explain why they did.

[Continued because LJ couldn't digest my long comment. :)]

Which probably gets to the heart of my feelings on this issue: This is a fandom of adults. I don't think I know a single person in fandom under 18 anymore. This isn't Twilight or even Harry Potter where a significant contingent of participants are under the age of majority. It feels a bit absurd, given this, to read comments up-thread from mine discussing how to handle presenting, say, a 20-chapter story of 100,000 words that contains a single graphic sex scene. Rather than debating how best to present this story to the ratings folks, I ask why we are even considering the idea that this story cannot compete. With topics like bigotry and wartime violence that one can see on the evening news earning a 5, I suddenly feel like many of my stories that have been nominated for, competed in, and won MEFAs probably never should have been eligible at all.

I'm in favor of getting rid of the Mature versus Adult distinction altogether. I'm not sure what the payoff is for maintaining it: We're a mature fandom, we are conscientious about alerting readers about potentially objectionable content, and it saves us the time and heartache of having to debate the eligibility of a 20-chapter story with one graphic scene (or, heck, even three or four!) or disqualify stories like Esteliel's late in the game because it falls on the wrong side of an admittedly arbitrary line drawn in the sand. The MEFAs are a readers' choice award. If the majority of readers decide they don't wish to read and review stories with adult content, then they won't. Put the means in place for readers to make that decision and trust them to be mature enough to make it. Given that Esteliel's story was in second place before it was withdrawn, it doesn't seem that readers particularly disliked what they read. And given the celebration that greeted awards like for Elfscribe's "Wind and Fire" or Oshun's "A New Day," I think such a change would have a galvanizing effect on corners of the fandom who have some truly excellent writers that, at this precise moment, feel that their stories are unwelcome and viewed as little more that gratuitous or pornographic.

Again, I do not expect a reply or any action at this time, but I do appreciate the opportunity to express my opinion.

(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) (Anonymous) Expand
(Deleted comment)
I think a moment to define what the "justification" entails might cut to the meat of the matter, at least on that point. I know this part is unclear to me, and I feel it needs to be ironed out before nominations start coming in. I'll use my own story "The Dark One" which ran in 2008 and contains one of the most F-ed up scenes I've ever written, as an example.

Would the italicized section be sufficient to meet the "description" requirement in an entry that so many are concerned to see, or would the analysis of *why* that particular scene is necessary be needed as well?

The Ratings Panel would receive an email saying, essentially:

I'd like to check the eligibility of my short story "The Dark One," posted on Open Scrolls Archive, where it is rated as Adult for Implied Sex; Angst; Discussion of War-time Violence, including the death/dismemberment of an infant; and Disturbing Imagery.


Thanks for your help,

STOP: TRIGGERS BELOW. Proceed cautiously.

The situation that worried me is when a hopeless old grandmother describes how her now traumatized daughter-in-law came to be in her state. Grandma explains that an Uruk Hai snatched up the infant the wife had been nursing, bit off his head, and handed her back the body. While the story is told, the husband lies beside them dying of burns incurred in the attack, and the bereaved mother sits with a piglet wrapped in sacking, nursing it. In a later scene, the grandmother and son are found dead, with the daughter-in-law still nursing the piglet. Eomer and Thedred, deprived of the information the son could have provided about the Uruk Hai in the West of Rohan, see that the traumatized woman will be taken to Aldburg where she might be safe and looked after.


It sickened me to write, but I included it to illustrate the kind of emotional and psychological torment refugees in war-torn areas frequently go through, and some of the ways a traumatized mind would find to cope with so sudden and gruesome a loss.

Does it have "literary merit"? I don't know, but I haven't been chewed out for it, and the story would definitely lose something without that scene. But, looking at it as a reader/reviewer, the fact that the violence is "off screen" so to speak is all that I think keeps it R v NC17.

Neume, this is exactly the kind of thing I want to clear up now rather than later. I can't remember when I used "justify" or in what context specifically, but I didn't mean to make too much out of it.

At a minimum, the panel needs two pieces of information: that a certain story needs to be looked at, and (for longer stories) that the panel should focus on these specific chapters. And really, the author's only providing the second point. Anything else is gravy. If an author has has specific concerns they'd like the panel to look at more specifically, I'm happy to pass that on and have the panel assure the author that, no, the animal cruelty you wrote about in chapter seven really doesn't earn more than a violence content advisory of four. Or whatever the case may be. The justification isn't you laying out your case for why you think your choice is correct. The language is a hold-over from the old system, and is my way of asking: what is it that makes you uneasy with your rating choice? What makes you unsure about your rating to the point that you want a second opinion? It really doesn't need to be anything complicated or involved.

If you sent me the italics section that would definitely be sufficient. And if you sent me all the rest, I'd pass that along to the ratings panel. But if you didn't include it, I wouldn't bat an eye either.

I do not write so much anymore and I never wrote that much in this fandom. I only participated in the MEFAs as an author for one year, if I remember right, though I've left a bunch of reviews and I've nominated. What I did write, was mostly erotica. That said, I believe, for a variety of reasons, that the MEFAs should stay mature but not adult. Mainly I think that because in my experience, there are still a lot of younger readers in LotR (I beta for a few people and their readers are largely younger) and I think we will get an influx of younger people again once the Hobbit comes out. I don't agree with the idea of mixing adult (which some voters legally can't read) and everything else in one category. It puts the 'everything else' stories at a disadvantage because they can't legally have the same potential voters.

Juno (above) suggested separate/mirror communities. That seems like a good idea.

I understand the frustration of writing erotica and then feeling segregated like some kind of second class citizen/lesser writer just because of the subject matter. But the fact is, not everyone agrees that every topic is suitable for every age. I think it is fair to respect that and maybe one way to do so is a mirror adult awards.

Meanwhile, from what I have seen of everything that happened and how it was handled, I can say I understand the difficulties and the reasoning for the decisions made (and the way they were made) and I think giving the new system a try is worthwhile, at least for this year until a full discussion might produce more/better solutions.

I do not write erotic. I do write stories which include mature themes.

I understand the frustration of writing erotica and then feeling segregated like some kind of second class citizen/lesser writer just because of the subject matter. But the fact is, not everyone agrees that every topic is suitable for every age. I think it is fair to respect that and maybe one way to do so is a mirror adult awards.

I do not write erotica. I write character-driven fiction with a strong element of politics in it and which reflects my own extensive research into all of Tolkien's work published to date. I like examining the motives and interests of groups of people.

I resent having a novel, extensive short story or novella that includes the full spectrum of human experience and focuses on so many other aspects of life throw into the classification of erotica because it might include a love relationship or two. (Not that there is anything wrong with Erotica. It is, however, completely different from what I write and the stories I review for the MEFAs.) In at least one case of mine, an awarding winning story in last year's MEFAs, those political and cultural themes and the long history of the Elves were viewed through the prism of an affair.

I do resent being boxed off from the fandom as a whole and believe I have something to say that is of equal value to the people who write Gen fics. I do not want to be a star in the Adult Fiction of Middle-earth, I want to be respected for what I write in the context of a fandom-wide award program.

Apart from the whole "author must justify story" thing (which does create a "second class" of fiction wherein adult themed stories-- not limited to sex-- are considered lesser just because they contain them), what gets me about this change is the fact that The Silmarillion and possibly LotR would not be able to run without having to go to the ratings panel. When the canon works need to be defended, there is a problem with how the rating system is set up.

Another thing-- when I first read the guidelines, I did not get the fact that 5=M. As several people have pointed out, there are Teen-rated situations that would be disqualified under the current wording. And bigotry automatically getting a 5-- why? There are General and Teen rated stories that deal specifically with that subject in order to open a dialogue about it, or to show that it can't be brushed over and yet those fics would automatically have to go to the panel. It doesn't make sense.

[Note: This letter represents the collective position of the MEFA participants listed below.]

Following on from the letter we posted here at the MEFAwards Yahoo Groups on 29th June 2012, titled “MEFAwards 2012 Ratings System: Objections and Alternative Proposals”, and from the MEFAwards Admin response, the ensuing debate involving a wide range of members suggests that there is an immediate need for a forum in a user-friendly venue to openly discuss the issues raised about the current ratings policy. The ultimate objective of this discussion is the agreement on a new, improved policy and procedure for the MEFA Awards in the 2013 season.

We recognise the pressures that the opening of the current 2012 season of the awards will place on the MEFA Admin team in the short term, but we believe it is crucial that the discussion is not delayed until September, as it has been proposed by the Admin team. A postponement of this discussion might result in an undesirable reduction of the current level of engagement by all parties and perhaps cause an erroneous perception about the matter being settled, implying acceptance of the 2012 policy for subsequent years.

Therefore, we have created a new MEFA Ratings Discussion Community on LJ, fully open to posts and comments by all, so as to encourage wide participation in the debate from as many MEFA members as possible. After quick consultation, it was apparent that LJ will improve usability over the current forum based on the Yahoo Groups platform. Equally, though we appreciate the new post about the topic in the MEFA LJ community, participants can only comment on the existing entry, and soon it will prove cumbersome to everyone to navigate through a large single thread.

We urge the MEFA Admin team to join us in the MEFA Ratings Discussion Community where they will be most welcome at all times, and we look forward to collectively discussing and agreeing the best option for the implementation of new and simplified ratings policy and procedure in 2013.


Grey Gazania
Spiced Wine
Surgical Steel
The Lauderdale

Stepping in briefly, for reasons similar to dawn_felagund:

To the two issues of concern: 1) self-governance in awards - what will make this more inclusive at the level of policy without being so much of a time-suck that it drags out unreasonably, given busy RLs of all participants involved?

I would support moving back to the older model, using e-mailed suggestion box comments as the basis of discussion, and with a timeline of like, two weeks, or something manageably short, yet long enough that most people who were interested could make some time to drop a comment and vote in policy polls.

2) How to deal with the ratings-based eligibility issue?

I haven't had time even to read the new ratings guide due to the RL mentioned several times by several people upstream, but 128 comments on a MEFA post and my inbox suddenly full to bursting got me skimming through enough to write this.

Given that rating systems are at least sometimes incompatible in and of themselves, and often inconsistently applied given that it's authors who apply them, and given further that there are multiple reasons for retaining or rejecting ratings on both sides, none of them fully compatible with each other, I suggest the following changes, to be taken up and considered during September's discussion:

We should drop the link between ratings and eligibility. Instead, we should have a radio button that an author can optionally select, and which would label the story "Not Work Safe." That addresses one major concern on the side of keeping the ratings-based eligibility criterion, but it does so without any pretense that a literary judgment is being made. It would be a courtesy only from the author to those concerned they may get caught on their lunch break reading what the supervisor or whoever will not take any time to determine whether it was a "literarily appropriate" use of sex or violence. It also means no rating panels are needed, which cuts down on time commitments, a plus for all concerned on both sides of the debate, since I think everyone would agree that for a ratings panel to function well, it actually does take quite a bit of time and the heuristics involved presently are a compromise with readers' schedules. And of course, on the side of those not in favor of the current eligibility criteria, no one can be offended by a panel that doesn't exist. On the side of writers participating, no one's story can be pulled for violating readers' sense of what a rating means if the only label is to warn someone not to open the story at work.

If there is no link between ratings and eligibility, I think further that one could also reasonably drop the ratings field on the MEFA form itself. Stories are not hosted at MEFAs anyway, they are hosted in archives and on LJs, many of which have (incompatible or inconsistently interpreted) ratings systems (e.g., HASA's binary general/adult system and any MPAA-like system). Since stories are not archived at MEFAs, only linked to, I don't see that we have any responsibility to provide ratings so long as a caveat lector is clearly printed at the top of the MEFA page, stating that ratings are determined by the sites the authors post on and that MEFAs have no position on other sites' rating systems. This means that for those who like ratings as heuristics for whether they will be likely to enjoy the story, the solution is simply to click the link and open the story in a new browser tab to decide if the story has a "comfortable" rating, for whatever your definition of comfortable may be. This move would also simplify the MEFA form somewhat, eliminate having to try to translate ratings from one archive into MEFA-specific terms, and remove MEFAs from having any responsibility for declaring ratings.

And if these changes were adopted, I would support allowing, if the author wanted it, resubmission of the story yanked under the old rules, since they'd have been rendered inoperative and clearly the whole affair was deeply dismaying to all those involved.

I hope these comments can contribute to a fruitful and respectful discussion in September, whether or not I'm able to participate in it.

  • 1