Wednesday, October 5, 2011

In Defense of Writer Beware

The Internet is amazing. You can find facts instantly, socialize with people all over the world, and waste time much easier than in prior decades.

But sometimes it can be a petty, dangerous place.

Writer Beware is a site that watches the industry for scammers seeking to prey on green, hopeful writers. Their affiliation with SFWA, Bewares and Awares on AW, etc has helped many new writers (myself included) avoid predators seeking to take advantage of our inexperience. The level of research and professionalism displayed by the members of Writer Beware is both impressive and inspiring. And we youngin’s greatly appreciate their efforts.

Recently, however, Victoria Strauss, Ann “A.C.” Crispin, and AW’s kindly Uncle Jim MacDonald (among others) have been the target of a site called The Write Agenda. TWA (no affiliation to the defunct airline), has placed numerous other writers, agents, and industry professionals who support and are affiliated with Writer Beware on a ban/propaganda/avoid roster . The anonymous team at TWA has also expended a great deal of research and effort to defend allegations of shady business deals as well as level their own accusations against Writer Beware and the trio listed above.

And to be honest, that’s fine. Everyone has disputes and sometimes people are innocent of mis-informed accusations. It is certainly TWA’s right to “watch the watchdogs”.

The issue I have is the way in which they have conducted themselves. For starters, the “About Us” page is almost entirely composed of links dedicated to “attacking” the Big Three. There are tabs at the top of their website specifically for each individual and there have been screen shots (listed by Victoria Strauss on Writer Beware) of recommendations that TWAers ban writers who support Writer Beware. There have even been allegations of burning books written by Writer Beware supporting authors.

But out of all the links, the one that crosses the line in my eyes is the YouTube video (linked here in case it gets removed from the TWA site). The video is a “create your own animation” type made popular by the Android vs iPhone internet sensation or Helicopter Pilots vs Jet Pilots one (no link because each has strong language and we keep things clean here). Victoria (depicted in her undergarments, no less!) is being "interviewed" by a news anchor and much of it centers around the “I won’t answer that to prevent incriminating myself” repeats by “Victoria.”

Not only is the creation of this video childish, but it’s highly unprofessional. These videos are the kind of things my buddies and I might do to poke fun at one another. It’s a wonderful way to be snarky and humorous in a passive-aggressive way. But creating one to defend yourself or take a shot at an industry professional is sad.

Worse, it's not even funny! If you're going to go to the trouble of designing a ridiculous movie, at least expend a tiny bit more effort to make it bearable. 6.5 minutes of boring repetition is boring and repetitive.

Finally, and most alarming, is the last paragraph of their “About” page: “Bottomline? Keep an open mind, review all facts and above all . . .  be careful what you post . . .  it’s getting litigious out there! Lawsuits and Cease & Desist Letters against authors are on the rise. Loyalty to some self-proclaimed publishing “watchdogs” may have a price.”*

Honestly, I can sympathize with their mission statement of wanting to look out for writers who have been led down the wrong path by “helpful” writing sites. The concern, however, is that the above statement is a thinly veiled threat. For a site that watches the watchdogs, who places bans on authors that support sites like Absolute Write and Writer Beware, this comes across as nothing more than cheap intimidation tactics. Perhaps it’s a mis-interpretation on my part, but as an aspiring writer, that’s how I read it.

A lot of people have come to the defense of Writer Beware and its “owners.” John Scalzi wrote and excellent blog post, Write Beware had a very professional and well written defense, and my Twitter feed has seen a lot of ReTweets in support of Victoria, Ann, and Jim. Standing outside the boxing ring, it seems that Writer Beware is fairing the “PR storm” well.  

One final thought regarding this situation: I’m a writing nobody. I don’t have a single publishing credit to my name, no agent, no publishing deals in the wings, and nothing more than a computer with a lot of WIPs waiting to be polished. For someone like me, the publishing industry is a large, complex void of confusion that is navigated with a lot of hope and a ton of help from friends and mentors. There are thousands more like me and we’re all trying to climb the Big Hill together. We might not know all the ins and outs of the industry, but when presented with advice from a anonymous website that creates amateurish, offensive videos while dishing thinly veiled threats and one that conducts itself professionally and courteously, has big-name support behind it, and whose members openly defend themselves, well it’s easy math to which one we’ll heed.


*taken from The Write Agenda’s main page on 03 Oct 11. There is no link due to allegations of malware from their site.


  1. TWA, the airline, is defunct? j/k! Yeah. That whole website says "batshit crazy". To expend that much energy on a site that only wants to help writers... and to claim to be wannabe writers? It stinks of a single depraved individual.

  2. @B: You hit it on the nose. The site seems very focused on a handful of individuals, which makes me wonder if they really are "watching the watchers" or are simply targeting the most vocal, and effective, critics. What's interesting is that after Victoria posted the screenshots of TWA at Writer Beware, TWA's main page was drastically altered to remove most of the links (including the video and the "threatening" final paragraph). Maybe it’s normal site maintenance or maybe someone realized they went too far with their “defense.” Either way, a site that goes after people from behind a curtain of anonymity doesn't hold water in my book.

    @Junie: Hi! Welcome back to the writing world. We missed you at the Cantina!