This ticks me off to no end, and lately, people whom I thought were smart enough to avoid such tinfoil hat theories have jumped on the bandwagon, so I'm going to rant a bit.
The current theory is as follows: A cabal of authors ( fewer than 20 ) is engaged in the following practices, which give them an unfair advantage in the contests. Entering at the last minute. Voting and commenting on each other's stories as soon as posted. Maliciously choosing a category with fewer readers than the "proper" category. Adding an off-putting scene a certain distance into the story for the sole purpose of making all but the most hardcore fans back-click.
Let's begin with "Entering at the last minute".
This is the most recent example of me demonstrating that this is complete and utter hogwash. Throughout the entire history of the contests, there is a general parity of early and late entries placing. When asked to narrow the timeframe to the last five years, early entries actually gained a statistically significant advantage over late ones.
And no matter how you slice it, stories entered near the middle of the contest win more often than stories on either end.
There is a full week of voting following the end of the submissions period. Most of the voting on a story happens within the first two days. A week is more than sufficient for a last-minute entry to have the same pattern of voting as a day-1 story.
The secondary element of this complaint is that "Late entries avoid some of the sweeps." The problem with that is that few to no sweeps happen before the end of the submission period. Those sweeps that do occur may very well be related to other causes, such as toplist manipulation, author requested sweeps, etc.
This theory too is complete nonsense.
Now, let's move on to the cabal voting for each other to boost their ratings early. Most of the people making these allegations have in excess of 2000 people listing them as a favorite author. Considering this "cabal" has fewer than 20 members, it takes only 1% of the people who have listed them as a favorite author to exceed the number of members in this "cabal".
So, first and foremost, the "advantage" being decried is myopic. Authors with large fanbases can easily exceed the number of votes and comments alleged to be left by the "cabal"
Why would gaining early votes be advantageous? First, early five votes get you a Red H earlier, which attracts more people to your story. Because of the lag between when the story is live and it appearing on the new story list, it may even show up with a red H. This can be quite good for picking up more readers than you might have otherwise.
Problem with this theory? It's in direct opposition to another portion of this ridiculous nonsense, which says that the authors are purposely attempting to minimize the number of people reading and voting on their story. So, to subscribe to this, you have to believe they're cheating by trying to get people to read them, while simultaneously cheating to keep people from reading them.
Comments are the same thing. A string of positive comments may very well attract more people to your story. How does that jive with saying that the authors are attempting to limit the number of people reading and voting?
And discouraging people from commenting on stories by telling them that it paints a target on their back that may result in relentless slander? Fuck that. Every time I see one of these people complaining that people don't vote or comment, I want to tell them to enjoy their shit sandwich, because they made it.
Everything else is completely subjective. It's claiming that creative choices are actually manipulation. Every time I've looked at the story list of an author accused of this ( including myself ) I've found that the supposed "manipulation" is actually the author's normal style.
I was accused of entering Sci-Fi&Fantasy stories in order to score easy wins. It takes about three seconds to see that Sci-Fi&Fantasy is not only my dominant preferred category, it's also the category I started out in and didn't deviate from for quite some time.
I was accused of writing fluffy feel-good romances in order to score easy wins. It doesn't take much longer to see that this is likewise my preferred type of story.
By writing what I always have and daring to win, I was cheating.
The same has proved true of other authors accused of similar "tactics". One was lambasted for throwing a m/m scene into a story in order to make readers back-click. The author has m/m scenes in a large percentage of his stories, including those not entered into contests. One was accused of writing ditzy, cock-crazy, barely-legal teens as a tactic. His list has a lot of such stories. It's something he enjoys writing.
It's nothing more than repeatedly throwing everything including the kitchen sink on top of someone. People are badgered on a daily basis, across every thread where it can be shoe-horned in, or where that person dares to make a post on the topic of the thread. None of the individual pieces of the theory hold water when subjected to scrutiny, which means the entire pile is nothing but bullshit piled high in hopes of hiding what it is.
It's mob justice. Assholes with torches and pitchforks looking for witches to burn.