Conflicts of interest

I probably shouldn’t write this post at this point in time for reasons I won’t get into in this post, but it’s been bugging me enough over the past couple of weeks that I feel like I have to say something about it.

So, my professional background is one where conflicts very much matter.  There are rules that prohibit them.  News articles vilify people in my industry for even the appearance of a conflict.  Conflicts are just a BAD THING in my world.

And recently one of the markets I would submit to underwent some changes due to an unfortunate occurrence and now has a new gatekeeper in place.  And, because of the new gatekeeper, I’ve decided not to submit there anymore.

Not that it matters to anyone or that my anonymously deciding not to submit will make any sort of difference at all in the grand scheme of things, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it anymore.

So, let’s go through what set me off.

This market happens to be one that handles submissions in batches.  So, it’s possible for someone reviewing the stories to make general announcements about where they are in the review process and for that to be of general interest to anyone who has submitted recently.  The new gatekeeper chose to do this through their Facebook page.  Fine.  Ok.  No problem with that.  Except they chose to do it only for those who were subscribed to their page.  (They could have easily made the comments public if they had wanted.)

This isn’t the Facebook page for the publication, but the Facebook page for the individual.  Which means they used their new role as a gatekeeper for this particular publication to increase the number of followers on their own personal page.  (Next step, post about their new book or upcoming workshop or what-have-you that is completely unrelated to the publication.)

This person also chose to write some blog posts specific to their new role.  (As in, this is why I won’t select your story for this publication.)  Once more this has the effect of driving people to this particular person’s personal blog.  To top it off, at the bottom of most of the blog posts the person advertises their personal writing workshops.

In addition, in these blog posts, the person mentions specifics about stories under review.  I think writers are a nervous enough bunch that you don’t need to go and call individuals out and talk about how crappy their stories are.  Especially if you’re dealing with newbies.  It’s cruel and uncalled for and could discourage someone from continuing who might have an otherwise brilliant career.  (Of course, I have some doubts about whether the examples were in fact real.  Either someone wrote something close to the plot to Killashandra or the person writing the blogs actually made up examples based on other stories they’d read before.)

And the way the posts are written they are belittling instead of encouraging.  Yes, this publication pays pro rates, but its target demographic aren’t the thick-skinned, have-lived-in-the-trenches-for-twenty-plus-years-and-can-take-a-little-bit-of-public-criticism type of writers.  It’s the new, uncertain, just-trying-this-writing-thing-on-for-size types.

Overall, I’m turned off by the general attitude of this new gatekeeper.  And I see most of this person’s actions as trying to drive the sale of their books or workshops and I think it’s inappropriate.

In the securities industry there are rules or guidelines that specifically aim to protect vulnerable populations like seniors or unaccredited investors.  Unfortunately, in this situation there are new writers who are desperate for recognition who are going to be taken in by all of this.  They’ll buy this individual’s books, they’ll contort themselves and their stories to meet this individual’s arbitrary rules (this individual has already had to backtrack on at least one of their absolutes already), and they’ll pay good money to attend this person’s workshops to get that added edge.

And it may work.  Mimicking this person’s style and fitting this person’s preferences and attending this person’s workshops may get some people published in this publication.  But what will it do to their long-term evolution as a writer?  A proper foundation is key to long-term success and I’m not sure this individual offers that.

I think it’s sad that things are headed in this direction for this particular publication.  All I can do personally is refuse to participate myself (from this point onward that is).

And  I can caution others to think about these things.  In all aspects of your life.  Sometimes it makes absolute sense that someone will leverage expertise in one area to assist in another.  (Writing skill may in fact equal the ability to teach others to write.)  But sometimes you’re being sold a false bill of goods.  Just be careful out there…


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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3 Responses to Conflicts of interest

  1. I can totally see that situation happening. Things are just a bit gross out there right now, it seems, in terms of how people get attention, give attention, and get their names out there. It seems very cruel for someone to talk about sensitive writers without their consent if they were not told that such a thing was going to happen. I think its great that you can vent here about it, because really, that type of behavior on the part of the new gatekeeper seems to not be good, maybe if more people were with you on it, some type of change could happen, or the person could learn that their behavior is affecting others in this way?

    • mhleewriter says:

      Maybe. From what I’ve seen I think I’m alone in finding an issue with it. So far most of the comments I’ve seen have been grateful to have the “insight” into the new gatekeeper’s approach. A few folks have voiced a bit of concern about the comments on specific stories, but that’s about it…so…

      • That’s too bad, maybe the people that do have a problem just don’t have a good avenue to speak up publicly to each other about it, and a lot of them feel compelled to appreciate the new way of things, just so that they can be heard. I’m sorry that it’s happening in a somewhat frustrating way; maybe something will eventually come out of it. At least it can also provide some fuel for writing 🙂

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