The List: On the topic of blocklists in publishing

The List: On the topic of blocklists in publishing

Please note that we avoid the use of terms such as ‘blacklists’ and ‘whitelists’ given their racial implications. To read more on this topic see: A salutary warning concerning the prevalence of racist language in discussions of predatory publishing. Throughout this article, we use the term blocklist as an alternative.

Jump to the bottom of this article if you want a run-down of how we got to this point and the initial creation of the list.

Over the long weekend, our Twitter account participated in a conversation regarding independent publications, like ourselves, who choose to keep a running document listing individuals that have demonstrated predatory behaviour toward editorial staff. This subject is, frankly, neither novel to the publishing industry nor the social media accounts we have engaged with regarding this topic. Yet, after a curiously quiet four-day delay, we caught the attention of folks who are, shall we say, not keen. 

Our EIC, live-tweeting on the Epoch Press account on 1 April, responded to a query regarding the concept of a ‘never-publish list’. The description given by the original poster does not do a great job at describing what our document really is, so for clarity let us elucidate:

Consider this hypothetical situation. A potential contributor has sent the journal aggressive and threatening messages. They are warned to adjust their tone and language, which demonstrates a lack of respect, understanding or consideration to journal staff members. They continue their behaviour. This individual is put on a list alongside others who have displayed similar behaviour and failed to act professionally.

When we say ‘unprofessional, we mean behaviour that would be considered a fireable offence at any office. Epoch Press is our workplace, and unlike your standard office, we lack an HR department. We have little recourse beyond declining to publish the work of abusive creatives and then warning other publishing companies about their behaviour.

‘The List’, as it has so fondly come to be known, has and continues to be a tool to ensure that the editorial staff of independent publications, many of whom dedicate their time and effort on a voluntary basis, are not subject to undue insults or cruelty. This list is a shared spreadsheet, which consists of the name of the aggressor, the associated publication(s), and a detailed description of the event(s), which are backed by evidence (yes, we keep the receipts). It is a warning system, the sole purpose of which is to list contributors with unprofessional and bigoted reputations. Editors of independent publications can access to avoid interacting with individuals who routinely act unprofessionally.

As a journal, we have made the decision not to provide a platform to individuals who have demonstrated verbally aggressive and predatory behaviour. Why? Because we do not condone that behaviour and choose not to support that individual. In our attempt to build a safer literary and artistic community by supporting other independent publications, we allow other LitMags to request access to this list. It is completely up to the discretion of each publisher what to do with that information, and we trust each one to make decisions based on what is best for their publication. 

As you can imagine, it’s been a rather wild ride as Twitter always is. But levity aside, we understand how there can be some confusion around the topic. So, as firm believers in working to build a safer artistic community, we want to respond to and explore some of the main concerns that were expressed around this topic in further detail.

Isn’t a blocklist just censorship?

A lot of responses question the ethics behind keeping a list of this sort. It seems clear to us that the worry here is of silencing and censoring opinions and beliefs that we do not agree with. From the above, we hope that we have explained how this is not the case but let us reiterate.

We have no interest in censoring opinions or beliefs unless they promote or support sexual and physical violence and trauma or demonstrate discriminatory language and behaviour. Submissions that include oppressive language or prejudicial ideologies, without unpacking and dismantling them are not productive. We do not publish hate speech. 

Therefore, ‘the list’ is exclusively comprised of individuals whose behaviour compromise the wellbeing of our staff. This list does not include the names of people whose submissions include opinions we do not agree with.

How is that different? You’re just fascists!

The speed and ease this word was thrown around brought us equal parts of amusement and confusion. It should be understood, however, that weariness of blocklists is not unwarranted. The history of censorship is rife with political motivations. However, as we have explained, we’re not in the business of censorship. And, no, we are not fascists.

You should be publishing on the basis of merit!

We built Epoch Press from the ground up exclusively from the enthusiasm and unpaid labour of our volunteer staff. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that we are entitled to make executive decisions about who we would like to work with. 

On that note, we absolutely do publish on the basis of merit. You can find more on our submission process here.  However, our criterion for merit includes more than sheer creative ability. We require a modicum of respect for all editorial staff, including those who send our rejection letters. We will not tolerate abuse. Contributors who do not reflect that in their correspondences are unlikely to merit space in our publication.

How can you do it right?

It is clear that the question of how to keep a blocklist properly and ethically is at the crux of this debate. For this, clear and public criteria for inclusion are non-negotiable. We are open to revisiting the list if it is apparent to the affected parties, especially anyone victimised, that the offending person has apologised and made sincere amends (whatever that looks like for those impacted).

It’s normal to fear being accused of poor behaviour but, truly, it is easy to avoid. Here are some quick things to avoid and you will be well on your way to ensuring you’re never put on ‘the list’. Some of these seem like common sense, but it is easy to get carried away when passionate about something.

  • No stalking/doxxing
    We understand the desire to talk to or appeal to a published or editor that has rejected your submission, and most editors do welcome a good-natured chat depending on how much time they have. We attempt to give all rejections personalised feedback and that takes both mental and physical energy. Hounding that person about your submission is not effective, nor will it make them feel comfortable working with you in the future. Approaching editors about your submission rejections via social media, personal email or in person is a violation of the professional boundary.
  • Don’t Make Unreasonable Demands
    Most publishers will provide a time frame within which they will work to get a response back to you. In the spirit of patience, don’t hassle publishers or their editors. They are working hard to give everyone a fair look and assessment. However, if a response is outside of that expected timeframe, please do let us know! Things can fall by the wayside, and administration errors do occasionally happen. What we will not accept is nagging that devolves into name-calling, cussing or otherwise inappropriate and indecent responses.
  • Rudeness
    It is never acceptable to treat any of our staff with rudeness or cruelty. We run a private business and reserve the right to not work with any individual that swears at, make unreasonable demands of, or otherwise engage without a sense of respect or decency.
    In the same vein, we will not tolerate repeated and intentional behaviour that is in opposition to our ethos and values, such as misgendering our editors and contributors, failing to mention necessary Content Warnings, sending unsolicited explicit images and submissions, or otherwise belittling and mocking our staff.

If you want to be a professional writer, behave professionally. And keep that in mind for all of your social media platforms. Even if an interaction is directed to another publisher or editor, if you say something derogatory we may decide that your reputation has made it clear that you are not someone we want to work with. 

It really is that simple; treat people how you want to be treated and we’ll all get along grandly!

Examples of the rationale for submitters that are currently on our list:

  • Making fraudulent claims about yourself, your accolades or information that has informed your writing. This includes using a pseudonym to assume the identity of a marginalised person in order to apply for their opportunities, repeated and documented plagiarism, and falsifying previous publication lists or awards. Instead, be honest about yourself. We are a CNF publication, and our motto is ‘Truth in Ink’; if we have a reason not to trust you, we will not want to publish your work.
  • Knowingly submitting work that goes against a publication’s guidelines. Always read the publisher’s guidelines carefully before submitting. Work that is not titled/formatted correctly will not get you on this list, however, the inclusion of subjects or content that the publication does not consent to read is never okay. 
  • Responding to rejection or feedback with any of the following: threats, slander, name-calling, explicit imagery or harassment. Publishers are not obligated to publish your work. Still, rejection sucks. Try to keep in mind that the editorial process is incredibly subjective, and what doesn’t work for one publication might be perfect for another.  
  • Submitting work that is against our values and ethos, such as pieces that are especially bigoted, discriminatory or promoting hate speech (i.e. xenophobic, fatphobic, transphobic, homophobic, trans antagonistic, ageist, classist, racist, sexist, ableist, colourist, etc.) If you’re going to include any prejudice or harmful language in your piece, please ensure that you dismantle it. 
  • Withdrawing accepted submissions as a retaliatory action for another submission being rejected.Be considerate of the countless hours of work that our editors and copy editors put into your piece, especially when this is done on a voluntary or unpaid basis. 

‘The List’: A Timeline

7 August 2020: Creation

We were (and are) a small independent publication, brand-new to Twitter, clunkily navigating that literary community and making connections to the best of our ability. 

As a direct result of learning about Gerard Sarnat, we decided to create what has since come to be known (ominously?) as ‘The List’. Sarnat was known on Twitter for his history of harassing the editorial staff of PerHappened months previous, though we had only just heard of him. Not wanting to publish the work of abusive artists, we decided to create a private spreadsheet that could be shared with other literary journals as an act of solidarity. At this point, our first submission window had only been open a month, so we were somewhat innocent on the subject of abuse toward editorial staff. But as the new kids, we had the unique experience of noticing a gap, or as it is frequently called, ‘a missing stair’. The list is meant to fill in this stair in many ways, to make the staircase of our community a place editors can traverse in which clear indications of potential harm are marked.  

We believe that being included on this list is a natural consequence of the individual’s behaviour, although it isn’t a punishment, just as having a reputation is a natural consequence and not a punishment. The values of our publication simply do not allow us to give a platform to predatory individuals. 

When it comes to potentially publishing these authors in the future, that is not something that is clear cut. We are wary of empty apologies, fake remorse, and gaslighting. We believe that real reform is possible, and if, on an individual basis, that becomes apparent, then we will happily revisit our decision. This applies too in the fallibility of editors. We stand by our colleagues until we are given a reason not to, not the other way around.

After establishing the list, we invited other literary magazines to view and edit. Not many chose to take us up on that, though. As we had only been active for a few months at that point, we had yet to develop a reputation as a safe space in our community.

3 January 2021: Our First Entry

It would be five months before Epoch actually made a contribution to the shared document.

After adding some initial entries, those that had access to ‘The List’ soon forgot to check it with any regularity (including us). And so it sat, stagnant, for months. However, after this experience, we added our first name to the list, and thereby learned that another publication had a similar experience from the same individual.

The idea that we could have avoided the whole unfortunate interaction served as a push to repost information about the solidarity doc. 

Unlike our initial post, LitMags were actually DMing for access. Since then, it has been a living document, regularly edited and updated. Checked and cross-referenced. 

27 February 2021: Discussing Censorship

This was not the first time we had engaged in conversations about censorship.

All of this to say, we always knew that our document was not universally agreed with. But it was supported by the literary community that we engaged with regularly, and we believe that the existence of such a list to be a necessary practice. 

Epoch Press
Epoch Press

Epoch Press is an independent press dedicated to publishing exceptional creative nonfiction.
We publish truth in ink.

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