Thursday, 15 April 2010

The curious case of bullying

Something happened yesterday involving an agent, a disgruntled writer, a bunch of people and twitter. The issue reached boiling point and people started taking sides, writing blog posts, pointing fingers, and demanding apologies.

At the earlier moments of its inception, I chose not to comment on it. But now that the whole thing seems to have died down a bit, I feel I should give my perspective on the affair.

Bullying is wrong.

Make no mistake; whatever you think, bullying does more harm than good.

However, as the wise Hogwarts motto goes, "Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus," or in English, "Never tickle a sleeping dragon;" if you decide to take up arms against someone you assume to be considerably weaker than you, and that person takes you down, you have only yourself to blame.

Here's a simple story that represents what happened between the agent and the disgruntled writer.

A wolf trots to a dark cave and spots a rabbit at the entrance. In a show of politeness, the wolf asks the rabbit for a piece of wood, to which the rabbit replies, "I'm sorry, Mr Wolf, but I can't give you my wood. It's the last one I have and I'm saving it for someone else. But please, do understand that there are many woods lying about the forest, and while I cannot help you, I'm sure someone out there will."

The wolf considers the rabbit's rejection, and after concluding that it has a bigger set of teeth, bigger paws and greater strength, the wolf devises a new tactic. It snarls at the rabbit.

Riled and unafraid, the rabbit accepts the wolf's challenge and steps out of the cave.

The wolf is surprised. Turns out, what it presumed to be a rabbit was in fact the nose of a giant bear.

The bear swipes the wolf, and yelping, the wolf retreats, defeated.

An agent received a query from a writer. She rejected the writer on professional grounds, though with fantastic words of encouragement. The writer didn't take it well. But rather than retaliate with the usual, "Screw you," the writer decided to put down the agent by employing gender prejudice (as well as attacking the authors she represents, among other things). The agent snapped and posted the writer's unbecoming replies and his name. People saw it, commented about it, and some took to twitter and began sullying the man's name.

Some other people saw this happening, grew disgusted, bristled in silence, got more pissed off, and finally – unable to cope with the itching – blogged about it. They pointed at the agent and accused her of bullying.

The short sequel to my awesome story goes thus:

A group of tourists are walking by. They stop when they see a wolf whimpering and seeking cover. Hot on its tail, a plethora of animals – snails, dogs, rabbits, kangaroos, et cetera – toss junk at the wolf, screaming abuses. The tourists are horrified.

Who's to blame? The wolf, the bear, or the animals who decided to attack the wolf?

What surprises me is how most people have taken this issue and made it entirely black and white, or victim and abuser – the victim being the man (or the wolf) and the abuser being the agent (or the bear). The agent has absolute power, they say, and as such is responsible for the campaign on twitter to destroy the poor writer's name.


The agent did NOT lead a campaign against the writer. She simply posted his replies along with his name on her blog. She was hurt and angry, and in the heat of the moment she decided to counter-attack the guy in public. Everybody does it. I've perused hundreds of writer, agent and editor blogs, and sometimes I see posts like, "Can you believe what this person did to me?"

The only contentious aspect in the agent's exploit is exposing the writer's name. Some believe she shouldn't have done that. Some believe she should have.

What do I believe?

I can only imagine what I would do if I were in her shoes. I'm not a woman. I don't know what it's like to be a woman. I know women take a lot of crap just for being women. It's almost like race. Now if I were an agent, and I rejected some guy, and he sent a reply demeaning me because I'm black, I'd be really pissed. I'd be so pissed I'd probably print his name and email replies on my blog.

Will I be justified in doing so? Hell yeah. It's my bloody blog. If I'm allowed to rant about mere books why shouldn't I be allowed to rant about something as serious as racial prejudice?

Does that make my doing so right? No. But still, I will neither judge the woman nor will I begrudge her, her right to defend herself on her blog if she chooses to.

What I've observed since I started using twitter and visiting a lot of agent/editor blogs is this odd opportunistic hypocrisy displayed by some writers (aspiring and published), a sort of weird insincerity. Please understand that this is not directed at any particular group, both those in support of the agent's conduct and those against it. This is general observation.

A bunch of people commented on the agent's blog post. Some of them went on twitter to attack the guy, because they chose to. She didn't send a mass email asking them to do what they did, but she didn't tell them to stop either. They did it anyway. Why? I don't know.

Maybe they felt disgusted and needed to air out their grievances. Maybe they felt a public show of annoyance would somehow gain the agent's attention and subsequent support when they send her queries. All I know is they, on their own, attacked the guy because he attacked a seemly popular agent.

Opportunistic hypocrisy.

Whenever an agent says something, people just ... agree with them without actually thinking, "Hey, you know what, maybe this dude is wrong."

Then there's the other group – those who disagreed with the whole thing. Most of them kept their mouths shut. They kept quiet and just watched. It took three or so agented/soon-to-be-published authors to come out and say, "Hey, this is bullshit," before they all came out of their nests, chests puffed out: "Yeah man, screw that agent. Who does she think she is? I applaud you. I'm proud of you. You're so brave. You're like Obama!"

Hannah Moskowitz said on her blog that as far as the industry goes everyone is equal; published/agented writers, agents or editors are in no way greater than aspiring writers, and vice versa.

That would have been true if this was an ideal world.

In this world we live in, the words of those who have at least one foot in the publishing industry carries more effectual power than those who don't, which explains why it took blog posts by agented writers to draw out the voices of dissent.

Even then, these so-called opponents fell short of accomplishing what I had hoped they would. All they did was repeat the same format – one agent says something; everyone jumps on her back without serious deliberation. One author says something else; everyone jumps on her back without serious deliberation. Let's all play Russian roulette – pull out our guns and fire, because she said it was that woman's fault. Or let's arm ourselves with snipers and shot that guy cos he hurt that agent.

First: they ignored the blatant sexism in the writer's emails (those who didn't ignore it failed to see the seriousness of it).

Second: they refused to comprehend that some people when confronted with something as upsetting as discrimination, be it on the basis of race or gender, almost always react the way the agent reacted, which was to blog about it. And they have a right to, damn it.

Third: they utilised the same let's-blame-it-all-on-this-guy bullying tactic by refusing to point out that though the agent may have published a blog post about the insulting writer, separate individuals attacked the writer of their own accord. Some of these individuals were agents, published authors and editors. I'm on twitter too. I saw them. I know their names. I followed the whole drama from start to finish. Yet – surprise, surprise! – None of the authors who blogged their disagreement aimed their crosshairs at the other guilty parties. They all made it look like it was a case of one mad woman grabbing a machete and rallying up supporters with the sole aim of destroying one poor, poor boy.

Call a spade a spade. If you want to take the moral high ground on this issue, grab the bull by its horns. Don't play double-standards. Point at everyone involved, not one woman.

As for me, this is simply a case of a bully who tried to bully someone else but got bullied instead. I have no sympathy for the guy. I don't give a fuck whether he needs an agent so badly to help him get published so he can pay his mortgage or hospital bills, or that he's mentally ill (and I'll bet my life he's not. Most people who behave this way aren't mentally handicapped), or whatever naive reason anyone can concoct; in my world, there is absolutely no excuse for sexism, racism or any form of gross discrimination. No excuse at all. I have zero tolerance for that kind of shit.

And while I agree that the agent should have left his name out, I understand why she didn't, and quite frankly, part of me applauds her for putting his name out there.

However, it's my hope that in the future the agent will exercise discretion when dealing with similar issues.

An eye for an eye makes the world go blind, but if history has taught us anything, it's that sometimes in order to get what we truly deserve we have to be prepared to fight in complete darkness.


  1. Interesting post.

    You certainly have said some things I agree with and others I don't, but to each their own. I've managed to stay out of this and watch as I sit back, and some of the things you've pointed out, I've seen.

    This happens all the time, not only when it has to do with bullying. Sometimes people don't want to say what their opinion is until they know someone else has the same opinion. I don't blame or fault them for this. It's human nature. I've been in the same situation before, many times. We all have, I'm sure. I applaud those brave enough to post their opinions, whether I necessarily agree with it or not.

    Hopefully this situation will blow over and everyone can get on good terms with each other and apologies will be given and accepted. Maybe. Hopefully.

  2. Also, I wanted to add that, in this particular case, I don't think staying silent is the same as condoning the behavior of any of the parties involved. I've seen some people say that, and I just don't agree with it.

  3. I´m sick of authors kissing agent´s asses. Honestly. And I´m sick of unprofessional writers who don´t know how to react rightfully to a rejection. As a writer, I despise it.

    So, in this story, both were very wrong. It was unprofessional from the author to snarl at the agent, and it was unprofessional of the agent to disclaim his name in public.

    The conclusion? I´d never go to the writer for advice or recommend him to an agent. On the other side, I´d never send a query to the agent hersef. Being a woman doesnt justify anything, we fought hard for equality therefore,(and yes, I hate it sometimes) we brought this upon ourselves.

    Both are unprofessional people to me.

  4. Which is what I'm trying to say, Clara. There is more than one guilty party, but most people have made this into "the agent is the devil. she attacked the poor man." Everyone who participated in shaming the bloke on twitter should be held accountable, not one agent.

    But I will disagree on your statement that being a woman doesn't justify anything. It does. And fighting for equality was the right thing to do. If someone out there treats you like trash simply because you're a woman then you're justified to defend yourself, as was the agent. She may have went too far with posting the dude's name (like I said), but I don't blame her for the way she reacted. I put myself in her show - I would have done the same thing, though I would have regretted the outcome after days of cooling down

  5. Definetly. As a woman, I´d do what she did. A man would too. It´s offensive that a person thinks of us less because we are women.

    BUT a professional, would never do what she did(as well as a professional writer would never do the madness the guy did.).
    Ultimately, from the many things that she is (Mother, daughter, whatever) she is also an agent, and she ought to have behaved like a professional. Which she didn´t. Both here were supposed to be the bigger part, and none actually was.

    I´d not have behaved the same way she did Glen, most definetly.

  6. A professional would be conscious of putting the writer's name out there - whether or not they would is up for debate. I've seen professionals crack under pressure and do unprofessional things. But as far as posting the email goes, no. That has nothing do with professionalism. Posting an email that details an attack on your womanhood or race and saying, "hey, guys, look what I got for doing my job," is not unprofessional. It's human. Everyone does it. Posting the writer's name, however, was not professional. On that point I agree with you.

    Either way, what I'm saying is there are more than two people at fault here, and everyone involved should share equal blame.

  7. I am sorry I missed this as it was happening in real time. Can you send me the link? If you do not want to post it, please E-mail it to me. My E-mail address is at my blog profile. I want to read it all so I can weigh in with an opinion based on what I read. You know I have strong opinions. Thanks.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. No problem Marjorie. This is the link to the agent's correspondence with the writer:
    (No need sending it privately. 95% of those who've read what I have to say know the agent's identity. The agent knows we're talking about her, and we know she knows. Sending emails or private IMs with the links won't change that fact. Plus it would feel a lot like gossiping, which as you can tell, I suck at Lol haha!)

    Here are a couple of blog posts that focus on the whole madness. Now, these posts are mostly spot on. They address bullying as it should be addressed. Couldn't agree more with these bloggers.
    But at some point they nail the agent to the wall as the perpetrator, throwing phrases like: "she launched a twitter campaign", almost as if those who participated in it were brain dead individuals, body-snatched against their will by the agent.
    Delving into the comments, the general idea is thus: "the agent is the villain. Let's forget about everyone else."
    My main issue with all this is everyone involved should be held accountable, not just one agent.

  10. Please go to my blog to read my entry regarding this matter:


Keep it clean and constructive. Thanks.