Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Serious Side of Comedy: Online Etiquette

Social media seem to thrive on the ebb and flow of controversy. A recent cyberstorm made Apprentice Writer wonder about the nature of publicly being called to account for bad behavior, AKA shaming.

The Nutshell: A writer sent a literary agent a query. It clearly didn't follow guidelines, so a polite and even kindly form rejection was sent in reply. The writer took this rejection poorly, as expressed in two follow-up messages that were, shall we say, unfortunate on multiple levels. Whereupon the agent blogposted the correspondence, including the writer's name, resulting in a very long thread of blogcomments more or less universally deriding the writer. One commenter posted in haiku form which apparently led the agent to announce a haiku contest on Twitter, with a hashtag that included the writer's name, resulting in numerous mocking tweets and retweets. At least one author/blogger posted in a deliberately general manner (without any names or specifics that would allow identification) about discomfort with apparent misperception about a publishing hiearchy (unpublished writers below published writers below agents below publishers) and how this could cause writers to hesitate about speaking out when they see something with which they disagree. The agent posted a comment on expressed assumption that the author's post referred to her case, again specifed the name of the writer, and defended her choice to respond as she did due to (if AW has understood correctly) conviction that the writer's unprofessional responses constituted a direct attack on herself as well as her signed writers which justified counterattack.

OK, admittedly that was rather a large nut to fit in one shell. But here's the question:

What do you think of it all?

Here is what AW posted at the above-mentioned author/blogger's site:

"I'm still figuring out what I think of the whole thing, but chief among my reactions is - taken aback. There is no question that the response the writer made to the form rejection was unfortunate on multiple levels,


to me, his messages almost had something of a feel of the aspiring contestants in the audition rounds of reality shows that are not only deluded about the level of their talent, but give the impression they may have mental health issues going on as well. I have no knowledge about this particular writer, but my discomfort with how the online deluge mushroomed - haiku contest attached to a person's actual full name? - is because it feels like a colossally imbalanced situation if there is any possibility the rejected writer is dealing with health challenges. (I repeat: I have NO CLUE whether it's the case or not).

Wouldn't it be wise - or even, kind - to allow for this possibility before publishing names involved? Wouldn't the educational benefit (learning how NOT to correspond in the publishing world) have been achieved by sharing the messages without name attached?

I'm confuzzled about it all so I'd welcome thoughts."


Rachel said...

I think your descriptor "taken aback" is very apt.

What bothers me about this type of thing is that it makes the professional look very unprofessional. If you [the writer] put your name on something and you put it out there then arguably it's fair game but as a professional are you really going to allow yourself to be baited like that?

I think the writer obviously did something pretty stupid but they are not (at least at this time) a professional. The agent is and, therefore, should act that way. Part of being a professional is ignoring this type of stuff.

M. said...

Rachel - that was sort of how I felt too, in the sense of, Is it really ever all right to say the equivalent of 'he started being unprofessional so now i'm justified in being unprofessional too!'?

I was also a bit surprised at the reasoning of feeling a need to 'protect' the agented writers, because the writer's derogatory description of them seemed much less about what he thought of those writers, and much more a desperate kind of embellishment of his disappointment-based poor opinion of the agent herself.

Jenners said...

I'm taken aback too. I think Rachel said what I was thinking!

Wylie Kinson said...

I'm gobsmacked! Utterly unprofessional and in my world, correspondence (even if ridiculous) is confidential between the sender and the sendee, not the world!

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