WotF: Anonymity and the Number Eight

Note: Even if you’ve been entering a long time, I highly suggest you read this post.  You might be damaging your anonymity without realizing it.

For those of you who don’t know, the Writers of the Future contest is open to amateurs looking to become professionals.  It’s designed to give them a leg-up in the industry.  And, it’s judged blind.

The blind judging is important.  It lets the contestants know that, sink or swim, your story was judged on its merits alone.  It wasn’t chosen because you took a judge’s workshop and they remembered your name.  It wasn’t chosen because you’ve done well in the contest before.  The story was either what the contest was looking for, or it wasn’t.

The rules are both very specific and very vague when it comes to keeping your entry anon.  They tell you to remove all identifying information from your story to facilitate fair judging.  But, what they don’t tell you is how to treat your entry in public–especially online.

Science fiction and fantasy authors tend to be tech savvy–at least to the point where they’re plugged in to the web, have blogs, pursue social networking of some sort, and digitally interact with their fan base.

And that fan base often includes amateur authors.

Meaning that a judge visiting a writing forum, or website, or group–or, even, doing an innocent web search–could potentially stumble across clues to your entry, were you to post them.

And, technically, if a story can be tied to its author by a judge, that story is supposed to get disqualified.

I’ve seen a lot of people skirt the line lately when it comes their anonymity in the Writers of the Future contest.   They’re excited about a story they’ve selected for entry and want to talk about it, or think it makes a great illustrative example of a pro’s style suggestions, or want specific help on a part of the story they’re concerned about.

Now, for people brand new to the contest, it’s easy to see why they might let a tell-tale attribute slip.  They’re probably thinking of the contest as a faceless entity–not as a conglomerate of people who have access to google.

New entrants can sometimes be found posting the title of their story or character names, which are of course massive no-nos.  I try to point this out whenever I find it.  If I, in my totally casual flight through the interwebs, can find entrants linking themselves very specifically to their stories, there’s no reason a judge can’t as well.  New contestants sometimes slip up, but they’ve got an excuse: they’re not familiar with the way the contest functions.

However, people who’ve been entering for a long time (sometimes years) have no excuse, but I still see people blatantly typing out story information into blog and forum posts.  Recently, I even noted a whole slew of people posting specific setting details and summaries of their stories.

Ok, at this point, you’re probably thinking, Marina, you’re just being paranoid.  How on earth is stating that my story is set on a space-tanker going to get me disqualified?  Surly in an entry pool of 1000+ there are multiple stories set on space-tankers.

And if this is your line of thinking, I spot a fatal flaw.  Because it’s not the pool of 1000+ you should be worried about.  It’s the pool of eight.  The only pool that matters in terms of actually winning.

There are eight finalists.  And out of those, three get published.

Out of eight stories, how many do you think are going to be set on space-tankers?  How many are going to match that “vague” summary you posted on a forum?

How many are going to be specifically urban fantasy?  Or cyber-punk?

What you might think is an indistinct, general detail becomes awfully specific when you can count the competing stories on two hands.

So, with that in mind, how do you publically talk about a story without getting it tied to you and thrown out?

Well, if you’re like me, you don’t say anything until you’ve gotten the final yay or nay.

But, here are a few tips for those of you who have good reason not to stay quiet:

1. Post in password-protected places.  Do you know why most venues consider stories posted on password-protected critique sties unpublished, while those you put up on your blog lose their first world rights?  Because things that are password protected cannot be accessed by search engines.  Or the “public.”  So, if you post about your WotF entry on a password protected site (that the judges do not frequent), you should be alright.

2. Don’t specify what quarter your story is in.  If you’re talking about a story you intend to enter next quarter, or the quarter after that, or one that’s in the current quarter, just don’t say when you submitted it.  Maybe you’ve got a space-tanker story, a moon-base story, and a volcano story all out there at once.  You’ve mentioned them all (but in no great detail), and didn’t link them to a quarter.  And now you’re a finalist!  No one’s quite sure if one of those is your finalist, or if you sent in an entirely different story, because you didn’t tag your entry.  NOTE: I don’t think this’ll save you if you’ve posted a summary.

3. Avoid mentioning plot points or theme.  These are more specific than setting or genre, usually.  If a brother is trying to reconcile with his sister, don’t say that.  How do you know there’s another story about siblings?  How do you know there’s another story about reconciliation?

4. Make PMs and e-mail your allies.  If you really need specific advice about a very specific thing, make friends and directly contact them.  I find a lot of people are very willing to help (especially on the WotF forums).  If you need specific advice, you should have no problem finding someone to turn to.

5. This is the obvious one, but I thought I’d throw it in anyway: Don’t mention any proper nouns from the story.  EVER.  No titles, no place names, etc.   I don’t care if you think telling people that your story contains a character named Bill is no big deal.  It’s a big deal when out of eight stories only one has a character named Bill, no matter how minor he-or-she is.

6. This is where it gets hyper-paranoid, but if you are selected as a finalist I suggest deleting (if only temporarily) any posts you might have made referring to your story.  This gives you a clean slate, and you don’t have to worry if you were too specific at some point.

But, like I said, I find the best course of action is to either go with number 4 (because it’s not public in any way, shape , or form), or just not saying anything at all.

And yes, I might be going over-the-top here.  But, better safe than sorry, no?

~Marina

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6 thoughts on “WotF: Anonymity and the Number Eight

  1. I found this page thanks to your suggestion on my other post.

    I’d followed most of these on the “professionally published” grounds, changed the status of one post to “draft” (I figure I can re-post it later), and you reminded me to check around for the title listed elsewhere.

    Only two problems: putting the character’s bio into storage still leaves it available as a Google search (deviantart doesn’t truly make things “private”.
    And the same character is named on my OTHER deviantArt account in a fanfiction (written LONG before the short story I submitted, and taking place long after). Is that going to interfere, or would would the fact that the fan-fiction and the WotF story are two completely separate stories (separate universes, even) keep that safe?

    • Yes, Google keeps a cache of public information. There’s not much you can do about that, just be careful in the future.

      And yes, it’s widely accepted that posting more than ten percent of a final work online in a public place qualifies as publication (though it is a rule of thumb–some venues wouldn’t want to publish a manuscript if any of it is currently available, and a few don’t mind if the whole thing is on your blog). If you want to sell your work you should avoid posting it anywhere but password protected critique sites.

      I wouldn’t worry about the shared character name in your fan fiction. After all, it’s perfectly possible for two writers to come up with the same name (you’ll only have to worry if it’s a character from another person’s established universe, as works utilizing copyrighted information cannot be published without consent from the copyright holder, and WotF only deals with original works by the entrant–that’s standard industry practice, not including tie-in works).

      And it’s good to remember that the judges aren’t out scouring the web looking for people to disqualify. My guidelines here are aimed at avoiding accidents. So, a judge may or may not ever find a post where soneone lists the title and has character profiles. But I think it’s always better to be cautious.

      Hope that helps!

      • This doesn’t seem to be so much a “cache on Google” issue as it is “deviantArt storage doesn’t make things private” issue.
        I can put something into storage on deviantArt, and you’ll never find it in my gallery, but you can still access it if you know the link.
        So I went and deleted the bio (there were no comments or faves, so I’m not losing much), and I can just re-upload it later.

        As for password protected sites (purely for critiquing purposes): I use Google docs a lot, sharing at most with people who have the link, and sometimes not even that much.
        And I’m looking into whatever privacy settings deviantArt’s Stash has available….

      • Sounds like you’re taking good steps.

  2. D.M. Bonanno says:

    I don’t anymore, but I used to talk about my stories before I even knoew this contest existed. So now I’m going through my blog searching for titles of stories that I know I’ll be submitting in the next few months and revising those posts. I’m using code as a replacement reference. Thanks for the idea.

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