Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fellow Authors: How to Deal with Bullies

Okay, I was a nerdy kid.  Socially awkward, nervous, shy and a little behind the game thanks in part to the limited social circles available to me at my first school.  Needless to say I got bullied.  I've got some experience.  It didn't stop with middle school and there were even a few moments in college I look back at painfully.  I remember when a classmate approached me at our 10 year reunion.

"Rob," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder.  "I realize I was an A*****e to you in high school and I want you to know I'm sorry.  Really, really sorry."

"That's okay, dude," I said.  "I don't think about that stuff any more."

"No, no," he insisted.  "I was just watching Billy Madison the other day and I thought, 'Man, I should apologize to Rob.'"

Gee, thanks.

Okay painful anecdotes aside, I want to talk about some ideas on how to deal with the kind of bullying that is often feared by independent authors.  These are cases where a user leaves a personal attack as a review, sometimes going so far as to look up personal information to embolden the attack.  It can include a group that rates the negative review as "helpful" and all positives as "not" so as to push the vitrolic review to the top of the list.

It's frustrating.  It's annoying.  It's painful, especially when that one or two reviews knocks you out of an average that got your new work noticed.

But, there are ways to deal with it and ways not to.

First let's dispel with a common myth about Bullies.

Your typical after-school special will have you believe that bullies are the way they are because they're just looking for attention.  If you can engage them in some kind of act of kindness they'll go away.

This is, generally, false.

Bullies, generally, treat people like dirt because they can and because the enjoy it.  They like the feeling of power they get over others.  They like having people fear them because somewhere they learned that fear meant respect.  One or two gestures of respect can't undo that.  It might spare you for a moment but unless you're talking a bully of the age of 9, it's probably too late for you to redirect them to other ways to get respected.

Second, let's knock out another myth about bullies.

Bullies will not run away when you stand up to them.  They'll hit you harder.

They won't run away when people rally against them.  They'll just hit all of you in rapid succession.

What bullies will run away from is a bigger bully.  He can break your face open.  But a cop can break his.  Now this isn't true for all bullies and I'm sure that the advice dispensed at the end of GI Joe is probably accurate for some of them;  just not many.

So, writers, what do you do when you feel you've been the target of a bully, someone who has decided that thanks to the anonymity of the internet he (or she) can lay into you, make personal attacks on your spouse, or family, and trash you in the court of public opinion?

Solution 1:  Do not engage them.

When a bully takes a swing, he would love for you to swing back.  Not because it's finally a "real fight."  If he wanted a real fight, he'd go after someone that he did not perceive as weaker.  We don't call guys who want a fair fight bullies; we call guys who want a fair fight boxers.

They love the counter swing because it ~prolongs~ the abuse.  If you ignore them, yes, eventually, they will go away.  The difference between reality and those TV shows though?  You're going to get your face smashed before they do leave, but they will leave.

Here's the real reason: you can't win swinging back.  Unless you're a bon fide brilliant writer, any response from you will come off as weak, whiny and unprofessional.  Some people can pull this off.  Some people are experienced, talented writers who can take a few poisonous barbs and sling them back in a way that cuts deep to the bone.  These people are rare.  Remember the internet bully isn't beating up on you because he's clever; he's doing it because He Can and because It's Fun.  That's it.

So if you take a swing back, remember that you're as likely to look bad as you are to look clever.  Safer route?  Take a deep breath, turn off the computer and let it pass.

Solution 2:  Report it to the Site Management.

Every site has a terms of service or terms of use policy.  There are rules for how people are supposed to interact.  Some are very strict, some are very lax.  Some are enforced with fierce regularity, some as though it's all by the moderator's whim.  But this is a powerful resource you can use.

But use it quietly.  Don't post "I'm telling".  That never ends well.  Instead simply send a note to the site owners, and then go see Solution 1.

It is sometimes helpful to parse the negative post for specifics that are likely to get the comment pulled on principle.  While personal attacks are often allowed, threats of violence, profanity, reference to previous acts of violence, etc, are not. And by going to the site, you are free to let him believe anyone could have reported him.

Solution 3:  Comment to your friends but never issue a call to arms.

This is another fine line.  It's one thing to tweet "Man, got slammed with neg review #KeepCalm&CarryOn". It's a totally different to say "Jerk left horrid review, I need everyone to come vote it down".  Everyone knows and expects bad reviews to hurt.  How you express this makes all the difference.  Trying to rally a counter army of bullies to come blast them back won't end well and it reduces you to their behavior.

If there's any doubt how you're handling this, see solution 1.

Solution 4:  Be Professional.

Independent authors spend months, years, cultivating reputations.  But all that can be destroyed in a few moments by slipping down into the mud with the filth of the earth.  Ask yourself, constantly, what will this action accomplish?  If you don't get a positive response instantly, then you probably should just let it ride.

It's hard.  It's painful.  It's going to sting.  But that's the price of being an independent author.

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