There’s been a current and very lively debate about writers who are bullied online over on Facebook by the talented author Dawna Raver. This is not the first time I’ve encountered this complaint. Indeed, I’ve experienced a few similar situations over the years, particularly where my paranormal novels are concerned. I admit my own post is a little snarky (and tongue-in-cheek), but then, this is who I am. The post as a whole represents an ongoing issue on the internet, and one that needs to be taken out of the closet and put in the light.
And that issue is this: You need to be aware that writers have been getting bullied by readers and other writers for some time now. Yes, I know, you’re going to say, “But writers should have a thick skin. They shouldn’t be getting all pretzeled up over a few negative reviews. They just need to walk it off. It’s just a review.”
Well, let me direct you over to Sarah Daltry’s site for one mo. Read her Open Letter to Bullies and then come back here. I’ll be waiting.
Back? K, that’s great. Glad you’re still with me. Sarah’s letter is especially important because it highlights an important and often overlooked fact: Yes we are writers, but we are also human beings. We are not soulless machines that exist to simply pump out wordage, semi-Internet-celebrities living in ivory castles who are deserving of all manner of criticisms. Sarah’s letter shows what can come of internet bullying, and even though the Internet is often cited as being virtual and “not real,” the pain certainly is.
If you’re reading this, you probably know some writers, or are one yourself. We writerly types may come across as fully armored with confidence, a snarky sword of wordage on our hips, but the truth of the matter is, we’re all human. All of us. And bullying hurts an adult no less than it does a child or adolescent. We may have better coping skills, but bullying still cuts as deep as a knife. Yes, we suck up bad reviews and unfair criticisms. Yes, we smile and pretend it does not matter to us, but seldom do we show you the mechanics of our life. Being storytellers–word-engineers, if you will–we’re well aware the reader is interested in the end product, not how it’s fused together. Writing takes months, even years, of hard work, rejection, rewrites, often endless frustration, and a tremendous amount of emotional and intellectual effort. Often enough, writers all but eviscerate themselves emotionally in order to piece together a work of literature meant to entertain the masses. It hurts us deeply, and it’s a financially unstable life, to boot. Real writers–and I mean the long-term wordsmiths who live off their writing, not celebrity writers–have lives fraught by feast or famine, secondary and even tertiary jobs, and families they depend on for emotional support. All the mechanics that most readers are never aware of–and, really, we don’t want you to be. Artists don’t want you seeing the tools they use to create their masterpieces. They just want you to look at it and, hopefully, “get” their vision.
Bullies, whatever their breed, steal enthusiasm and attempt to plague others with their own unhappiness.
Now, I’m not talking about badly written books deserving of criticism. I’m not talking about amateurish writing whose only grace was a single pass over by Word Spell Check. What I’m talking about is unfair, counterproductive criticism. I’ll talking about authors whose books are shredded by groups of online “readers” based not on how badly the mechanics of the book are, but, in fact, how well they are selling. The green-eyed monster is an insidious beast, and I think by now we all know the people behind these online antics are not really readers but other, less successful, writers. Often enough, such people will even out themselves on Goodreads by posting bully reviews clearly attached to author accounts.
But, you’ll say, some books deserve criticism. And yes, I agree, they do. When you buy a book, you deserve to get quality reading. You also earn the right to voice your opinion of the work. But the act of bullying writers is usually pretty obvious. These are not evenhanded criticisms–“I liked this, but not this.” The bullies normally attack the author’s character, or bring up issues that don’t actually exist in the book. The easiest way to spot a bullying review is on Amazon, when a book receives a hopelessly negative review, followed by several “friends” of the critic chiming in to validate his or her opinion, often with a suggestion to return the book, which is then universally supported by every other person in the same thread. These reviews seldom have the “Amazon Verified Purchase” next to the review, are worded vaguely since the person in question likely did not read the book and has no knowledge of its contents, and are heavily baited in order to get the author to respond to the critics. This last part is a deliberate trap to help illustrate how unprofessional the author really is. The author takes the bait (sometimes hostilely, sometimes not) or tries to explain him or herself in a reasonable way, and the bullies quickly begin to dogpile.
In every way it’s a scheme to demoralize the author. And, of course, there is no recourse. You can report the review, but unless there is a breach of TOS, Amazon isn’t likely to remove it. There is no way to discuss the issues or defend yourself without being taken down like a wounded elk surrounded by a pack of rapid wolves. For a short time, a less successful and more insecure writer gets to feel smug and safe behind his or her laptop while foolishly dreaming of clearing the playing field, even though the very notion of removing competition in such a way is ludicrous, at best.
It’s virtually impossible to stop this childish, online behavior, but I feel it’s important that other writers know it’s out there. It’s important that you, as a writer, understand it exists. That’s half the fight right there–recognizing bullying and being able to identify it. We can defeat this behavior simply by not giving up on ourselves or our projects. If you’re a new writer, chances are good you’ll encounter this if you reach even a modicum of success. If you find yourself the target of a bully, it means rather simply that someone out there in Internet Land considers you a threat.
Repeat after me: You are a threat. You are a force to be reckoned with. You make others with small minds afraid. You make them feel insecure about their own ability to create.
You hurt them in a way they can’t deal with except to lash out at you.
Is it fair? No. Is it power? Yes.
Don’t rise to the bait and respond to these unsavory, useless, jealous souls. Respond to others in the field like yourself. Network. Make connections. Build an audience. Host other struggling writers on your blog; ask them to host you. Please your audience. Hone your craft. Tell others when you spot a predator. Many bullies will band together to make their weaker selves seem strong. You must band together with others while these desperate wannabes are circling your wagons. Building a stronger community can counteract such poisons. Take an interest when others in your field are being bullied. Encourage them and let them encourage you. There is safety and power in numbers.
Most of all, never, ever, give up.