His Actions Were Far More Interesting Than His Story

, , , | Friendly | January 15, 2019

I am a committee member for a local writing group. The committee is fairly small, maybe 10 – 15 members including the chair and vice chair. We are all volunteers, so none of us get paid.

During our big annual writing competition, the committee pulls together to keep on top of the extra work it creates, including the influx of emails in the group inbox, as well as the general administration of the entries. We receive hundreds of entries every year so this is quite a hefty task, especially considering we all have day jobs and other various responsibilities to juggle as well.

Despite this, we usually have very few problems. One year, however, we had an entrant who was nothing but trouble. The day after emailing his entry, he contacted us, demanding to know why we hadn’t posted him a receipt to say we had received his story — all he got was an auto-reply email. For the record, all entrants receive an auto-reply. This acts as a receipt. The message in the auto-reply asks recipients to take it as such, and the website specifies this, too. That said, we’re always happy to respond to entrants who just want to double check or need extra reassurance.

Thinking this was such a case, I duly replied, assuring him that we had received his entry, and explained that we simply didn’t have the resources or manpower to offer personal receipt confirmations to every entrant. He replied almost immediately, threatening to withdraw his entry due to our “unprofessional behaviour.” According to him, email was unprofessional and lazy. How could he trust us to do our job right when we couldn’t even send a simple slip in the post?

I told him if he wanted to withdraw, that was fine; all he had to do was confirm and we would refund his entry fee, though I warned him he could only do so until the deadline. After that, he would no longer be entitled to a refund. I also explained we could only send confirmation by post if he provided us with a stamped self-addressed envelope. We’re a small, non-profit organisation, and small expenses like stamps can soon add up.

We didn’t hear anything more from him until the day of the results. He emailed us at four am demanding to know who had won. He pointed out that the website and social media pages said we would reveal the winners today, yet there was nothing on any of them.

I reminded him that the results would be announced today at 20:00 at our prize-giving gala, and then the results would be released online at 22:00. All of this information was available on our website and social media. I finished by inviting him to the gala, giving him the full details.

Unsatisfied with my answer, he continued to demand the results now. I knew he hadn’t won, but we were bound to secrecy until the official reveal at the gala. I couldn’t even hint that he had been unsuccessful. When I refused to tell him the results, he accused us of being a scam and threatened to report us. I didn’t have the patience to deal with him anymore, so I told him he was welcome to report us if he wished, knowing that even if he did, we had done everything by the book, so nothing would come of it.

Thankfully, he didn’t respond.

That evening, the gala went really well. Everyone had a great time. The winners were ecstatic, and those who didn’t win congratulated them graciously. Best of all, there was no sign of the difficult entrant.

The next morning, however, our inbox was full of emails from him, calling us scammers and shills. He claimed there was no way his entry could’ve lost, as he was a top graduate from [UK University known for its strong creative writing program] and had been published several times. He accused me of fiddling the results. As far as he was concerned, that was the only way his story could’ve lost. He demanded not only his entry fee back, but he also wanted the prize money that was “rightfully his,” as he put it.

This is when the committee chair stepped in. She told him she would not refund the entry fee because he didn’t win, that the results had not been tampered with or fixed, and that she most certainly would not give him any prize money. All entries were judged anonymously. The adjudicator had no idea who had written any of the stories submitted.

The entrant became nasty, hurling insults both at her and me – including questioning our competence due to our gender (we’re both female). The chair calmly wrote back and told him he was henceforth banned from future competitions.

The entrant then threatened to sue. This worried many of the committee members. A small non-profit like ourselves would struggle to afford legal action, but the chair dutifully wrote back, informing him he was free to seek legal advice if he wished. She assured him we would fully cooperate with his chosen legal representative, adding that we wouldn’t hesitate to provide ample evidence, including copies of the abusive emails he had sent.

In response, the entrant left several nasty reviews on various pages, claiming we had swindled him, were rude, unprofessional, and incompetent, as well as claiming we insulted him. He made up several fake accounts to make even more negative reviews.

We were worried this would impact future competitions. However, several members and entrants found out about this incident and immediately rallied to our defence, leaving shining reviews to combat his toxic ones. The following year, we received a record number of entries. Best of all, we didn’t hear from the entrant ever again.

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