from the a-submitter's-opinion dept.
[Editor's Comment: The following submission is printed as received. It was not solicited by SN, nor is Hugh Pickens receiving any form of favour or recompense for his submission. It is a very good suggestion from a prolific submitter and, although I do not agree with every word in it, it does make many valuable points.]
There has been a lot of discussion on the site recently about the quality of the stories, the number of stories, the number of comments stories receive, and whether Soylent should slow down the flow of stories. As a frequent submitter to Soylent and someone who has submitted stories to Slashdot for over ten years, here is my two cents a polemic if you will, designed to start some discussion on a topic that I think is critical for the long term success of Soylent News.
Quality of the Stories is the Most Important Single Factor Driving Readership
Everybody agrees that readers come to a site like Soylent for the discussion not for the stories. Now it is probably not politically correct for me to to say so, but in my opinion the quality of the stories is the single most important factor that drives readership on a site like soylent of slashdot. The quality of the stories drives the number of the comments which drives the quality of comments. It's chicken/egg. You have to have an interesting story to get the comments started before you have good comments and a good discussion.
Let's Define a Successful Submission
First let's define an objective standard of a successful submission. The purpose of a submission is always to get a critical number of comments going. To me, unless a story gets 10 comments it is a failure. A story on Soylent with twenty comments is a success. A story with thrity comments or above is a huge success. Once readers see that twenty or thirty people have posted they will see it is an interesting story and join in. It's a cummulative effect.
What Determines Story Quality?
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In my opinion there are three major factors that determine the quality of the story and increase the number of comments a submission receives: the inherent interest of the story, the headline, and the story itself.
Inherent Interest of the Story Itself
The first factor in a successful submission is the inherent interest of the story itself. Readers want to be challenged, they want the author to tell them something they didn't know already, or something that challenges their view on something and makes them think. That is why I always on the lookout for stories on the internet that challenge me I figure if a story is interesting to me, then it will be interesting to other people.The first step is the hardest selecting the story. The right story "writes" itself. The wrong story is impossible to write.
A lot of people think the difficulty of making a submission is in writing the story. NO. Nothing could be further from the truth. The difficulty in making a good submission is in selecting the right story to submit. Once you find the right story, the story practically writes itself. I speak from experience. I've had 19 successful submissions so far in June 2014 and my stories have garnered an average of 35.6 comments each. But for each story I submit, I usually spend 20 minutes finding the right story and then ten minutes writing the story itself.
I constantly see comments on slashdot/soylent on the difficulty of making a submission. Here's a good methodology on selecting the right story that works for me. I find most of my stories on the rss feed on "Hacker News". Go down Hacker News and look for interesting stories stories that you would be interested in reading yourself. Then go to the comments for the stories. If you see 30 or 40 comments on Hacker News then you know that it is a story that has general interest and will probably get 15 -30 comments on Soylent. If you see a story on Hacker News that only gets half a dozen comments, then it probably won't get more than 3 or 4 comments on Soylent and won't reach critical mass.
The second factor in a successful submission is the headline. The first thing I do before I even start to write a story is write the headline. If I can't think of a good headline, then I won't proceed any further. If people don't read your headline and think "that sounds interesting" there is little chance they will read your story. I strive to present the story in the most challenging way possible and the best way to do that is with a great headline. A lot of times I will spend as much time writing and re-writing my headline as I do putting together a story. Before I even start to write a story, I have to have a good headline.
Writing the Story
The final factor in a successful submission is the story itself. Sometimes my final submission uses the same lead sentence as the original article but many times I will find the lead buried in the middle of the article. One problem is the need to condense a 1,500 words article down to 250 words submission and still have something that makes sense. My purpose is not to read a story, digest all the words in it, and then close the book, and rewrite the story in my own words. My purpose is to convey what the original author wanted to say and the best way to do that is to select the parts of the story that contain the essence of the story, put them into a cogent narrative, condense this down to a format suitable, and if possible add another link or two to the story to provide additional depth to the story to anyone who wants to follow the links. I have found that the best way to do that is to select the original author's own words but to re-order them and provide grammatical transitions to condense them down.
It goes without saying that I don't always submit stories that I agree with. My purpose is not to extol my personal philosophy, write about people I admire, or convince you to join my point of view. My purpose is to get you to comment. That means writing an interesting story, whether I agree with it or not. My only measure of success is in the number of comments a story receives which leads to higher quality comments and a more interesting discussion.
How Often Should Soylent Publish New Stories
I think Soylent is making a mistake if the editors slow stories down too much. I think a lot of the traffic that comes to slashdot/soylent during the day is looking for new stories and checking two or three times a day to see if there is anything new. If they see the same story at the top of the page when they come back three hours later, they will get tired of the site and abandon it.
I think one story an hour is about the right flow and can slow down to one story every 1.5 hours on a slow news day. Of course, during the night, the stories can slow down to one story every two or three hours.
If you want more details on writing a submission for Slashdot/Soylent read an essay I wrote a few years ago on the subject.