Clarksworld Reports: A Concerning Trend

A post from Clarksworld: A Concerning Trend

Since the early days of the pandemic, I’ve observed an increase in the number of spammy submissions to Clarkesworld. What I mean by that is that there’s an honest interest in being published, but not in having to do the actual work. Up until recently, these were almost entirely cases of  plagiarism, first by replacing the author’s name and then later by use of programs designed to “make it your own.” The latter often results in rather ham-fisted results like this one I received in 2021:

Sitting on its three years’ experience, the fittest Shell was originally the size of more android subliminal observations than any other single subject in the Grandma. Obey three hundred retorts can’t even a couple was issued for wages to the apparently that dropped the storage station.

These are the same sentences from the original story, “Human Error” by Raymond F. Jones, published in If (April 1956):

During its three years’ existence, the first Wheel was probably the subject of more amateur astronomical observations than any other single object in the heavens. Over three hundred reports came in when a call was issued for witnesses to the accident that destroyed the space station.

These cases were often easy to spot and infrequent enough that they were only a minor nuisance. Sometimes it would pick up for a month or two, but overall growth was very slow and number of cases stayed low. Anyone caught plagiarizing was banned from future submissions. Some even had the nerve to complain about it. “But I really need the money.”

Towards the end of 2022, there was another spike in plagiarism and then “AI” chatbots started gaining some attention, putting a new tool in their arsenal and encouraging more to give this “side hustle” a try. It quickly got out of hand:

Wow, check out that graph! WOW.

I am really baffled by this. I honestly don’t see the point in having a story published under your name, but one that you generated rather than wrote. I mean, other than the money. But the money in short stories can’t be driving that kind of logarithmic curve. This is like wanting bragging rights for having written a story, except without having written a story. And that just seems really weird to me.

I mean, do you expect this to occur with people who are writing fan fiction for the pure fun of it? Surely not. Because they’re writing it because they want to write it, yes? So there must be some motivation to try to get fake stories published that has absolutely nothing to do with writing stories. I’m trying to wrap my mind around this, but I just don’t see it.

According to the linked post, money really does seem to be a primary motivator:

I’ve reached out to several editors and the situation I’m experiencing is by no means unique. It does appear to be hitting higher-profile “always open” markets much harder than those with limited submission windows or lower pay rates. This isn’t terribly surprising since the websites and channels that promote “write for money” schemes tend to focus more attention on “always open” markets with higher per-word rates. … It’s clear that business as usual won’t be sustainable and I worry that this path will lead to an increased number of barriers for new and international authors. Short fiction needs these people.

Sounds pretty tough, especially right now as short-fiction venues scramble to come up with short-term solutions.

I’m suddenly betting that agents are getting swamped with AI-generated “novels.” Of course probably the majority can be rejected about as briskly as any other not-great submission. But suppose the handful of great novels in the slush pile are now submerged in a haystack ten times the size of any prior haystack? Or a hundred times the size?

Anyway, that graph just really caught me.

If you want to read Human Error by Raymond Jones, it’s available from Project Gutenberg here. That’s a really good intro paragraph, so I’m curious.

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3 thoughts on “Clarksworld Reports: A Concerning Trend”

  1. Maybe they think being a published author is a status thing? People do all sorts of weird things for perceived high status.
    Maybe they like the idea of getting one over on professional editors / publishers? Con artists sometimes seem to think deception is its own reward. Or I guess they could want the chance to do triumphant mockery on social media.

  2. I suspect it really is the money rathr than bragging rights or any such thing. There are online groups dedicated to finding low-effort ways to quickly amass a large number of small amounts of money; I don’t know if it adds up to much total money for anyone, but maybe?

    At my university our board used to strongly recommend that research subjects be given small token payments (say, $1-$10 for filling in a survey or doing a quick online experiment) to thank them for participating . Then suddenly studies that had been open for a week with a goal of getting (and paying) 50 or so participants were getting hundreds or thousands of speed garbage responses. My suspicion is that the groups that have been formed to track down and share research and similar opportunities are now flagging open submission forums. They’re probably offering more than $1 for a story, and the effort of generating 10 pages of AI text and a title may not be much higher than paging through a survey and putting something in every required box.

    Maybe prozines and research review boards can collaborate and share strategies for weeding out nonsense? Our studies are incorporating more consistency checks and so on to make sure respondents are actually doing the required activities…

  3. That’s interesting, Kristi. And also annoying.

    I can easily see going to a model where a magazine just solicits stories from real authors. Far from ideal, but so much easier than weeding out thousands of fake stories.

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