Scammers, spammers, agents and reagents
Yes, I’ve been gone for a few days while we moved house and things always seem to happen when I’m gone :p This time, one of my favourite writing forums, Absolute Write (AW), went down and a whole soap opera erupted around the disappearance of the site. Now the thing is, when there is drama of any sort, there springs up all sorts of stories (and versions) based on the drama. This one was no different. Let me try to be objective and present the facts and you can draw your own conclusions :p
It had apparently all started with the SFWA s list of top twenty worst agents – this is a list of scammer agents that writers need to look out for, ones that will rip you off and not actually do anything towards you getting published. Apparently, one of the agents on the list, Barbara Bauer, was offended at the fact that she was mentioned in one of the AW postings and had made a call to AW’s webhost asking that her name (and e-mail address) be removed from the forums. It looks as if Ms. Bauer has been dealing in this kind of intimidation tactics for a while but in the case of AW, the end result was that the site was shut down.
That was when the drama began Now keep in mind that I wasn’t there when all this started and so my account of events might not be the true order of events. That said, it looks as if the AW community and friends rose up in outrage at what had happened to the Absolute Write forums. One of the most vocal gatherings on the Net regarding this issue has been this post by Teresa Nielsen Hayden over at Making Light. The AW "community" alleged many things in the process. But first, bear in mind that a "community" is not a single individual but one composed of many individuals with different ideas, opinions and reactions. Personally, I feel that online, a "community" tends to veer towards "mob" at times – just because of the anonymity factor and because the larger, unspeaking portion gets overshadowed by the smaller outspoken ones who say certain things on behalf of the "community" that might not actually be the majority consensus if put to a vote.
Whatever might be the case, hard things were said about both Barbara Bauer and AW’s former web hosts. The twist in the tale here was the fact that one of the owners of the hosting company had been an active member of the AW community and had apparently done a lot to help out with hosting issues, according to this post by her husband/partner. As far as the "community" was concerned, the damning evidence was this post by the lady in question herself. Some took this to mean that she sabotaged AW in order to promote her own writing forums. On the other hand, the only thing said by the owner of AW, Jenna Glatzer, about this whole brouhaha was this. Of course, given that it probably is a legal matter now, you can’t blame her reticence but people being people, this certainly can lead to further speculation and further unfounded allegations.
What do I think? I don’t really know. I try not to be so quick to jump to conclusions ever since Passepartout on the cartoon version of "Around the World in 80 Days" said "Don’t jump to conclusions or the conclusions may jump on you" :p We all mostly like things to be black and white, to know who’s the saint and who’s the sinner. But the problem is that in life, things are never that clear cut. Sometimes we do something with good intentions but it goes downhill or we do something bad but it ends up bringing good results. Without knowing what was in somebody’s heart (and that only the person involved and God would know …), it is difficult to say what a person’s motive for doing something is.
I agree that pulling the forums so quickly and with so little notice was a bad stunt. But then again, from a web hosting perspective (I work for a hosting company) it is not unheard of for hosts to react strongly towards spamming/abuse complaints. On the other hand, that usually happens when the host has no real idea whether the client was spamming or not. In the case of AW, since one of the owners was actively involved with AW, they obviously knew what was going on. So it goes back and forth :p There are things for (and against) each point of view and I cannot sit in judgement. Each person has to make up their own minds as to who might (or might not) have been guilty.
But what we do have to realize is that what has happened has happened. No matter how much of a hue and cry is raised, the fact remains that AW is down for the moment. All that we can hope for is that both AW and its former hosts will be able to work things out amicably and that AW can go back to providing the excellent service that it provided to writers before all this happened. What the writers can gain from this is more awareness of the fact that there are scammers out there who will try to gain your trust and relieve you of the burden of holding on to all that hard earned money :p Above all, keep in mind that the Internet is not always a fair place – sometimes those who do good are the ones who get persecuted and those who persecute others or defraud others get away scot-free …