From the slush minion’s diary #13: confidentiality

This is a hard one, and a subject I offer here for discussion.

Supposing I received in the slush a story which I think is absolute crap or which annoys me for a reason, and I then jumped on Twitter and tweeted “Haha, here is yet another [insert reason why story annoyed me]”

The author of that story is also on Twitter, and sees my response. The author recognises the story and is offended.

Hell, yeah, the author has every right be offended. As far as I know, when you submit a story, you enter into a voluntary agreement that the venue will write back to you saying stuff about your story, most likely “we are unable to use this story”. You do not give permission for the slushreader to jump onto social networking and lampoon your submission in front of millions. I do, seriously, not submit to editors who tweet their slush, and fortunately most seem to have understood how offensive it is to do so without the author’s express permission, for example if it’s a blog contest or something where social media posting is part of the package.

OK, no we agree on that, let’s consider the next step.

The author receives a rejection with some comments on the story. The author is a bit pissed off because the slushreader seems to have totally misunderstood the story or it is clear that the slushreader hasn’t even made it past the first paragraph.

So, the author jumps on Twitter to vent frustration about this fact, thereby breaking the equally voluntary agreement of confidentiality between the magazine and author. How could this be harmful? After all, authors are underdogs in this game.

Ok, supposing you were an author trying to get an agent, and an agent is kind enoughh to make some comments on either your query or your manuscript. You find the comments annoying and say so on your blog or Twitter. When the time comes to send out your next manuscript, that agent might see it, remember your name, google it… and come up with the stuff you said.

I think there is a fine line. While I agree that some stuff (rude comments or hideously long response times or other beating about the bush in terms of contracts or payment) is tweetable, I think it is only OK for an author to tweet literal personal rejections if the author is happy not to sell anything to that particular venue.

I, for one, as slush reader, hate seeing the comments I thought were personal rejections being tweeted around the twitterverse, and have stopped making those comments for that very reason. I make the comments with an assumption of confidentiality, in other words, that the submission process is a conversation between the magazine and the author, and that it only acceptable to be aired publicly if the conversation breaks down.

What do you guys think?

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10 comments on “From the slush minion’s diary #13: confidentiality

  1. Sounds messy. I suspect that when it come to other parties being involved, that old saying “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,’ may come into play. Trite perhaps, but at least it can’t come back to bite you, or unnecessarily hurt someone without a real right of reply.

    • My question is more this:

      When I submit, I give a slushreader permission to judge my story for suitability for the magazine. I do not give permission to tweet to the world about it. When I comment on a submission, this is the frame of reference I’ll be working under. I equally do not give permission for the author to tweet my comments.

      I won’t mind if the comments were positive or encouraging, but it becomes harder if the comments were critical. If the author thinks I’m a twat, fine, but maybe we should then gracefully agree not to cross paths again. If the author hopes to sell a story next time, tweeting about a very specific rejection can be counter-productive.

  2. I don’t know I agree about this – if the author’s name or the story title is attached to the comment, then no, not on. But if it’s a very random comment by the slusher, that could, let’s face it, be about any submission (nothing is unique!), what right does an author have to be upset?? Ditto the reverse – if no names are mentioned, I’m cool with that. It’s a bit passive aggressive I guess, but if the guilty are still anonymous, well, no real harm.

    • The author will know, and passive-aggressive commentary is just not on. What does it say to authors out there? This venues is childish, pedantic, passive-aggressive etc. There is no need to comment in public on specific stories. All the author needs to know is yes or no. If the venue wants to comment, fine, but that is between the author and the venue. Basically, when I submit, I do not give a slushreader the right to rake my story through the muck even without mentioning my name. Likely I am in a critique group and my buddies might recognise the story. Heck, I have recognised stories or authors who were publicly embarrassed in this way.

      If it’s about submission guidelines or anything that’s publicly available on the venues website–yeah–fine. Otherwise, not on, as far as I’m concerned.

  3. I say it depends on whether or not it places the other party in a bad light. Public ranting in areas where you are supposed to be professional is never okay in my opinion, but I have blogged in my public blog, without mentioning the name of the publishing house, about a positive rejection I received (and which made me very happy), and I wouldn’t mind if the publishing house posted their rejection online either.

    An author is more vulnerable to bad publicity, but it goes both ways. Don’t behave in a manner that will make others try to avoid working with you.

  4. So, if I understand correctly, you have stopped giving comments with your rejections because you don’t want them made public or commented upon in public. But, from what I understand, you are an editor and slush reader for ASIM, which boasts that its submissions are sent to readers anonymously. Likewise, the comments made by ASIM slush readers are also sent to the writers anonymously. I’m wondering how you found out that one of your comments was being commented upon. I understand the story of the agent who googles a writer’s name, but I’m wondering where you got the writer’s name from.

    Also, do you think it fair to deprive all writers of a comment simply because one of them made your own comment public? I’d understand not giving personal comments to that one writer, but what about the writers who weren’t even submitting stories at the time that happened and who were going to stick to the confidentiality rule? Do you think you are being fair to them? Particularly since ASIM boasts that they give comments with their rejections.

    Finally, for both the case of the editor making public comments on stories and the writer making public comments on personalized rejections, I think that it shouldn’t be a problem as long as no names are mentioned. For those who can recognise the story, if it is as bad as the editor claims it is, then they should already share the editor’s thoughts on it. If it is not, if they didn’t share that editor’s oppinion in the first palce, then they would simply rally against the editor by at the very least providing some comforting words to the writer. You cannot humiliate a writer for a story that is actually good. And if the story is really that bad that it’s worth a public rant, those who have read it, those who can recognize it, will have already thought the same thing about it, so the real humiliation lies in presenting such a story to others, not in having someone rant about it. Of course, if these rants are not anonymous, they can influence those who do not know the story and have only the editor’s words to go by in assuming it’s terrible. The same goes for comments made by the writer: without having read the story, others might think the reader’s comments were unjust when in fact they were spot on. But if the name of the slush reader or magazine isn’t mentioned, then I don’t see how it could harm anyone. As for having your feelings hurt by finding out that someone has taken one of your comments rather personally, I’m afraid that only happens when you hurt their own feelings. Of course, they are being over-sensitive about it if they feel the need to rant about it in public. But aren’t you being over-sensitive about it by refusing to help other writers improve the quality of their submissions because someone twittered about your feedback?

  5. I think there’s a power imbalance between even a slush reader and an aspiring writer–in the slush reader’s favor. So while I totally see your point, I don’t think the frustrated writer tweeting about her rejection is as bad a thing as an editor tweeting about specific failed writing pieces.

    Also, the editor who tweets about writer fails is almost certainly mocking, while the writer who tweets about mean editor comments is venting and seeking support, but likely not mocking. A writer who receives feedback she thought was mean is more hurt than an editor is by receiving substandard manuscripts, and so I find it more understandable for that writer to seek solace from her friends.

    But like I said, I get where you’re coming from, and egregious enough writer misbehavior would tip the scales for me.

    • I totally agree with you, and as I said, I don’t submit to venues where I see people tweeting their slush. That is just tasteless mockery in the face of a pwerless writer as far as I’m concerned.

      On the other hand, the distinction writer/slushreader is not as clear as new writers may think. During their writing careers, a lot of people have stints as both or either. The world of writers is small enough for people to remember someone’s name. Personally, I never get to see the writers’ names in the slush, but I may read the writer’s blog, because the writing world is that small. It’s such an interconnected world that I wish people would just treat these interactions as confidential, from both sides of the equation.

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