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Badly Behaved Authors

So this morning I had a rather "fun" experience. Last night, I read a post by a certain popular author who shall not be named about the mistakes self-publishers make in launching their careers. I wrote an off-hand comment about the things I was willing and unwilling to do for the sake of sales (e.g. I won't use Smashwords or sell through Apple, I won't write cookie-cutter stories to genre, etc.). I was generally just musing, diddling my time away before bed, and thought nothing of it.

Well, this morning, I received a personalized email from said author, condescending to explain why he rejected my comment (or, as he called it, my "post") and repudiating what he decided were personal attacks on his integrity as a professional. Here's an example of how professional he really is:

I initially let your post through and then took you apart in public, but decided my post wasn't a good idea and letting your post through wasn't either. (You never want to insult someone with a hundred more novels than you have written. I'm a ton better with words. (grin))

Now, there is only one reason why a person would decide not to respond to an innocuous comment by a complete stranger, but then take the extraordinary step of contacting that stranger to declare that he would not respond. That is that this person knows that he would not actually win any arguments—or, in this case, that there is no argument to win—and his raving response would expose his childishness to the world. But he still wants the childish satisfaction of lashing out, so he cloaks his egotistical barbs in pseudo-civility and sends it as a private message he believes no one else will see. Sweetie told me not to engage with such people, and on principle I shouldn't. But this time I couldn't resist. Here was my response in full:

Dear Sir,

You have narrowly prevented a tragedy of epic proportions, for I am certain that people would have interpreted your post based on my single ignorant comment rather than your divine and perfect prose. I am mortified that I, in my only-one-book-published naïveté, dared to dissent against such a distinguished man forty years my senior. To think that I interpreted "writing inside the structures of a genre so that readers will be satisfied" as advocating, well, writing inside the structures of a genre so that readers will be satisfied...The stain of shame shall never wash away from these keyboard-happy hands.

I am eternally grateful for your magnanimous decision not to "take me apart in public," given your unparalleled expertise and unquestionably superior command of the English language. And then, to take the time to let me know! Such kindness I never expected.

I have the honor to be, Sir, ever your obedient servant,
T. K. Marnell

P.S. Have no fear, for I have removed your illustrious blog from my Google Reader, and my shadow will never darken your WordPress-powered comment forms again.

That probably wasn't very professional of me either, huh? Originally, I kept the sarcasm out of it and just told it to him straight: it didn't even cross my mind that I might insult his genius, I based my comments on such-and-such passages, etc. But the best thing to do with passive aggressive, arrogant men is—as I've learned the hard way at least twice over—to leave them alone. Don't attempt to reason with them, because they will not listen. Don't stroke their egos by stooping to a response. I bent the rules a bit by sending off this odd non-response just because I'd spent too much time fuming over it.

There's a disturbing movement among some authors, both independent and traditionally published, to "assert themselves" by behaving like Neanderthals. I've complained about bad reviews before, in person and on this tiny blog read by my parents and the rare stranger, but I've never tried to discredit them on Goodreads/Amazon or "counteract" the low ratings. If somebody writes a comment on my blog I don't like, I just put it up and leave it alone (unless it's spam). Somewhere on my old food blog is a comment calling me a snob for disliking a particular restaurant, and somewhere else I'm a bitch...but honestly? These anonymous opinions on my dining preferences or, apparently, my species, mean nothing. They mean only that some person, somewhere, got it into their heads to strike a series of buttons, and two seconds later it was permanently recorded on the Internet, a.k.a. The Great Void of Viciousness.

I was floored when, a few weeks ago, I heard about a website dedicated to "stopping the Goodreads bullies." At first I thought it was just a site for authors to whine that they were being picked on by people who didn't even read their books and it's so not fair. Sometimes I'd like a place like that to vent too. But I checked it out and these people are out of their freaking minds. You have to be either sociopathic or incapable of moral reasoning beyond the level of a three-year-old to do what they advocate. They target users of Goodreads they consider "bullies," that is, people who write unflattering reviews, sometimes with some foul and hyperbolic language, and who maybe shelve these writers' titles under the tag "would-rather-stab-my-eyes-out-than-read-this-again" or some such. Then they post pictures, phone numbers, home addresses, and defamatory profiles of them. They call them drunks, gang leaders, bad mothers...and they encourage their friends to "avenge" them by making these poor women's lives hell. Their blogs and Goodreads accounts are bombed with vitriol. I read a prolonged attack on one woman over Twitter. A man repeatedly called her "retarded" for something she didn't even do; the bloke got his targets mixed up. Some have received threatening phone calls and are scared to let their children leave their homes.

But the truly disturbing thing? This handful of trashy tyrants has fans. People who vehemently defend their tactics as "giving the bullies a taste of their own medicine." Newsflash: giving a two-star rating to your novel is not bullying. Saying not-so-nice things about your storytelling skills is not bullying. Making phone calls saying, "We know where you live," and posting rants that meet the legal definition of slander is beyond cyber-bullying—it's stalking.

There is no debate to be had over whether it's justified because "they started it." I've seen people insist that it's only "fair" that they be outed because writers lead public lives. If people don't like what we write they can find us and make us miserable, so we should be able to make everyone else miserable too. They seem to think these people are noble vigilantes pushing back against the evils of society. But what they really are is a band of crazy women hiding behind the bushes and sending suspicious packages to the doorsteps of men who rejected them for dates.

After reading up on all of this, I've done a lot of thinking about how I respond to people who attack me or my work remotely. I will no longer be tempted to respond to reviewers and explain that, actually, if you hadn't skipped half of the book, you wouldn't have misunderstood so-and-so. If they want to skip chapters and misunderstand, it's their right. Heck, they're free to stack my stories up in a giant bonfire while singing an incantation to condemn my soul to Satan, if they please.

And as aggravated as I am by this other author who believed it was a good idea to email a newbie writer 2,000 miles away to say, "I have a hundred more IQ points than you do!" I won't name him directly. (Yes, he said "novels," not IQ points, but he does seem to equate the two somehow.) There are enough badly behaved authors out there without me joining their ranks.


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