The Featured Article process has a well-deserved reputation for being a difficult slog. This two-parter is an exploration of that process from the viewpoint of a first-time nominator. We'll look at how WP:FAC compares to other review processes (on-wiki and in real life), try to take some of the mystery out of it, and give some suggestions for what you can do to make things go smoother on your own first submission. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't take advantage of this opportunity to take a few jabs at things that were annoying.
In August 2023, with about a dozen GAs under my belt, I decided it was time to give FAs a shot. I nominated Fleetwood Park Racetrack as a featured article candidate (FAC) which turned out to be a wild ride; I'm writing this retrospective of my experience for the cathartic value and in the hope it might help those who follow me into the FA maelstrom.
I'm new to FA, but not to peer review. I've done a bit of scientific writing which is all peer-reviewed, and lots of software development which undergoes code review. There's much in common (good and bad) and my experiences with other review processes certainly helped me navigate FAC. If you recognize yourself in anything I've written, please don't take offense. I really appreciate all the work my reviewers put into helping me and any of my complaints are presented entirely with the desire to provide constructive feedback to the process.
My first mistake was not availing myself of a pre-FAC peer review at peer review (PR). I had done one peer review a few years ago, prior to my first GA submission; the review was cursory and of so little value I decided not to bother again. Looking at the current FAC peer reviews, I can see that if you specifically ask for an FA review, you get something which is far more useful. Definitely recommended. There doesn't seem to be any urgency to PR requests, so put your request in several months before you want to nominate.
The reviews you get at WP:PR and WP:FAM will be similar to the ones you get at featured article candidate, but done in a lower-pressure environment. Once you submit to FAC, there's a clock running. Reviewers decide which articles to review from reading your nomination statement and a quick glance to see if your stuff is any good. If this is your first submission to FAC, you may find yourself in the unenviable position of not having attracted anybody to review your work after a few weeks, and the FAC coordinators may time-out your submission and archive it (FAC-speak for "fail"). Get the obvious problems dealt with early, before the clock starts.
One thing that totally caught me by surprise was needing to write a nomination statement. This is a short introduction to your article which is intended to attract reviewers to doing a review. I didn't know I had to write one until I was in the middle of the submission process, and was prompted to enter it. I made something up on the spot. I don't know how much difference my poor nomination statement made, but having a good one is probably better than having a poor one. So before you nominate, read the various nomination statements at WP:FAC and think about your elevator pitch to sell your article to reviewers.
Don't fight with your reviewers, or at least reserve your pushback for important stuff. I made a ton of minor changes that I thought were silly or just plain wrong, but weren't worth arguing about. I'm sure in some cases the reviewer was actually right. And I'm sure there were also cases where they were wrong, but at some point your goal needs to be to get through the review and collect your "looks good to me" (LGTM) stamp, so pick your battles carefully.
If you decide to push back, go in armed with evidence. I had two specific comments about diction/grammar. On one, my response was basically, "Yeah, whatev, I'll let the grammar freaks worry about that". I think I only got away with that because that particular reviewer was a softie, and did the research for me. The other one was from a more hard-nosed reviewer, but I came back with a citation to a respected dictionary supporting my usage and heard no more about it. I also found that "I like my way better, but if you feel strongly about this, I'll be happy to make the change" is useful; it lets you express your opinion while showing that you're open to input. Pissing off your reviewer isn't going to help get you to LGTM. Or, as I recently read in another context, "Since you have asked for the [...] review, I encourage you to graciously accept more suggestions."
This one is critical: respond to all reviews promptly. It does a few things. It shows the reviewer that you're engaged. It also throws things back into their court; it may not be good to piss off your reviewer, but a little guilt-trip never hurts :-) The review is going to take longer than you want it to; any delay you add shows up directly on the bottom line, so do what you can on your end to keep it moving.
I need to mention a couple of things that made the process more difficult for me than it should have been.
First: I took to heart the advice I got that the best way to entice other people to review your article is to do some reviews yourself. I was shocked when I got an email from somebody telling me (in rather pointed language) that my review of their article was unwelcome and I should stay away. I'll leave it anonymous, but really? Whatever happened to WP:BITE? I've got a thick skin so I didn't let that phase me. A less experienced editor might have been devastated and driven away from any further participation.
Second: Please, reviewers, try to set reasonable expectations. It does nobody any good to say, "I'll finish this tomorrow" and then not finish it tomorrow. It's really no fun to be in the position of having to figure out if enough days have gone past tomorrow that it's time to bug your reviewer. Much better to say, "I'll do this, but may not get to it until next week".
Lastly: Please, reviewers, make your reviews actionable, and make them understandable. I had several reviews that left me scratching my head trying to figure out what the reviewer wanted. Leading questions are a great face-to-face teaching technique. On wiki, not so much. And some of the comments I got seemed more like crossword puzzle clues than anything else. When I'm doing a crossword, the joy of finally understanding the hidden meaning of the clue is what I'm looking for. When I'm having my work reviewed, what I really want is for the reviewer to tell me what's wrong and how to fix it.