About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Two Way Streets

Did you know that Uber drivers get to rank you, just like you get to rank them?

And when you summon an Uber, drivers can decide not to pick you up based on your passenger rating?

In theory, ratings and reviews are always a good thing, but I'm not always sure.

Generally, I've had good rides with Uber, but when I took an Uber from my hotel to LAX a few weeks ago, it wasn't a very good ride at all.  The driver decided to park across the street from my hotel rather than in the hotel's carport, even though we needed to make an easy right turn out of the carport, there was no obstacle to turning into the carport, and no obstacle in the carport.  The driver didn't offer to help wheel my luggage across the street to his car, which would be a nice thing to do if you're deciding to park across the street for no reason.  Then when we ran into traffic and the "10" looked really really backed up, the driver had little awareness of the alternate routes.  When we got to the airport, and there was a clearly marked sign to go left to cut across the "U" shape of the main terminal area at LAX to get to our terminal, and I even pointed this out to the driver, the driver didn't feel like taking the left because he knew it wasn't the right way to our terminal.  Um, he was wrong.

So how am I, the passenger, supposed to behave during this ride from hell?

Because if I don't protect my passenger rating with Uber, who knows what might happen the next time I need to get one...

And just as an aside, my experiences with Beverly Hills and LA cabbies have often been pretty miserable, with drivers who wouldn't know their way from the bed to the bathroom without a GPS, let alone from Beverly Hills to Burbank, and waiting times are usually longer.  My average with Uber has been better, even if this single ride was probably the single worst.

The same thing happens when I go to a writer's conference.  At many of these conferences, all the attending writers get to grade me, and my grade might determine whether I get invited back to the conference.

So what do I do when I have someone with the worst idea sitting across from me in the pitch session, or the absolute worst pitch?  I could politely give constructive criticism regarding the pitch.  I could give some constructive criticism on the really really bad idea.  Or not.  Because it's a lot simpler to be less than helpful during the pitch session, invite the author to send something along, and then deliver a bland rejection two weeks or two months later.  One course of action, you're actually delivering value to the author by providing the sort of constructive criticism that might help the author improve at their craft and presentation.  The other, you're protecting your rating and doing the easier and arguably more polite thing by not spoiling the face-to-face moment.  You do whatever you want after the conference, it doesn't change the ranking that gets turned in at the end of the conference.

Even if the attending agents or editors aren't specifically aware that they are being graded, the default tendency will still be to take the course of least resistance and do your rejecting after the conference rather than during.  Which will make any outlier who does the rejecting at the pitch session itself that much more of an outlier.

So should we get rated?  After all, Uber shouldn't want passengers throwing up in their cars, and I wouldn't want such a person in my car.  Authors can invest hundreds of dollars in registration and travel fees for a writer's conference, and you don't want to have them filled with agents and editors who aren't giving value.

And yet the existence of the ratings encourages bad behavior.

1 comment:

Tim Akers said...

Any decent rating system concentrates more on the mean than the median, because griefers can skew the balance too easily. For that matter, the sort of ratings you give in the past *should* impact the weight of future ratings. If you're someone who is never happy with the service, you're not going to be happy in the future and there's no reason to let you poison the pot. And I'm not saying you (Joshua) are that sort of person, but I have friends who always, always get bad service at restaurants, and it's because they're rude from the second they sit down to the moment they leave, and they're baffled when we tell them how we have different experiences. I've learned to not take their advice on where to eat, simply because of this observed behavior. If it was an anonymous rating system, I would want someone behind the scenes doing a similar weighting.