IWSG: Fear of Author Harassment

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and cohosted this month by Tara Tyler, Lisa Buie Collard, Loni Townsend, and Lee Lowery.  If you’re a writer and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

Earlier this year, the Bookangel Club conducted a survey on author harassment.  The Insecure Writer’s Support Group posted an article reviewing the results of that survey (click here).  Those results were unsettling.  Depressing.  Given the kind of harassment authors report facing, both online and in real life, you may be left wondering if this whole writing thing is worth the trouble.

Now as a science blogger, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention something: the survey results are almost certainly skewed by selection bias.  This was an opt-in survey.  Authors who experienced harassment were probably more likely to opt-in to taking the survey then authors who’ve never dealt with harassment.  Therefore, we’re not looking at a truly random sampling of authors.

Still, what the Bookangel Club’s survey does show is that you don’t have to be particularly famous as an author before you risk attracting the wrong kind of attention.  As authors, we put our hearts and souls into our creative work, in the hope that others will read and enjoy what we’ve written.  Some people will take that for what it is; others will take it as an open invitation to say or do whatever they like to us.

In my own case, I write a blog about science.  So naturally, I attract the attention of Flat Earthers, Anti-Vaxxers, Moon Landing deniers, the One World Government conspiracy theorists, and so on.  I also get comments from religious zealots fighting against my “atheist lies” (I’m not an atheist, by the way).  These people can be… persistent, and when I don’t bow down to whatever “truth” they’re trying to spread, they can get mad.

These situations, thus far, have stayed on Twitter or in the comment sections of my blog posts.  They have not (yet) affected me beyond those online spaces.  I’m a pretty small-time author/blogger, and so the harassment I’ve faced has been proportionately mild.  But it’s not nothing, and that’s my point.  Even a small-time author/blogger like me has to deal with a surprising amount of unwanted attention.  And if my author platform starts to grow (as I hope it will), I fully expect the nonsense I have to deal with to grow as well.

Despite the selection bias issue I mentioned, I think every writer should read up about that Bookangel Club survey.  I think every writer should be aware of the risks we take when we put our creative work out there.  But I also want to tell you that, despite the risks, writing is still worth it.  Publishing is still worth it.  I have this blog, I’ve written a few articles for other websites, and I have a novella-length story published on Amazon.  Far more good has come from all this than bad.  In my experience, there are far more nice people on the Internet than there are Internet trolls.

Basically what I’m saying is this: you should know what you’re getting yourself into as a writer.  You should know what might happen.  But don’t let fear stop you from writing, publishing your work, and pursuing your dream.

24 thoughts on “IWSG: Fear of Author Harassment

  1. I’ve heard of plenty of stories about writer harrassment. I haven’t been harassed as a fiction author yet, but I have been at least harshly criticised as a pop culture critic. However, I know I was meant to write, I’ve been harassed as a non- writer several times since grammar school so I’m used to it. In fact, if there’s ever a situation I would prefer to be harassed in it’s as a writer because then I know that my, “message”, for lack of a better word, is getting out there. Still, I’ll look at the survey; we can never be too prepared! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As someone whose posts often attract passionate disagreement, I’ve been lucky that it’s never risen to the level of harassment. There are definitely people obsessed with certain topics who seem unable to stay civil, but they can typically be ignored or blocked, not that it can’t be stressful and maddening at times.

    I’m also painfully aware it’s often a very different experience for males and females. But, or course, as Scott Aaronson recently made clear, males are far from immune.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I welcome legitimate debates, and I do appreciate it when people point out actual mistakes I’ve made. But then occasionally I get one of those “the Moon Landing was fake” comments. I just delete those now.

      I’ve had exactly two people, though, who wouldn’t let up. These incidents happened years ago, and as I said, everything stayed on my blog or on Twitter and didn’t spread or affect my real life, but these people were persistent enough that I was a little worried.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You don’t have to be a writer/author to experience this either – at one point I would have said I made a lot of friends through blogging and YouTubing, but the frequency of this kind of interaction (and the inevitable pile-ons that seemed to amplify during COVID restrictions) have made being public in any way really challenging. It’s hard to summon the enthusiasm when you’re forced to see the dark side of people you once respected (though, in fairness, putting yourself out there in the public sphere is transmitting more about yourself than most do, and maybe readers are disappointed in me too!) Impressed at your ability to keep pushing on!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was a lot harder during the height of COVID. I try to keep it optimistic on my blog and on social media, but for a while there it was like nobody wanted to hear that. It was like people actually wanted to wallow in doom and gloom. It is hard to find the enthusiasm to do this—or anything!—in an environment like that.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post! I don’t know much about harassment, never experienced it, but I know that whatever we write, we can’t please everybody. There will always be those who would grumble. So the best way to write is to write for myself and hope, when I put my writing out there, that someone will like it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I hadn’t seen the survey James, so thank you for sharing it. I’ll be honest, this is the source of the block I’m working through with my business coach at the moment – the fear that raising your head above the parapet means you’re putting a target on it for anyone with a (metaphorical) gun to shoot you down. But as we can’t do what we love without being brave, I guess it has to be faced head on. In a bizarre way, the knowledge in the comment you made on the original post does help somewhat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s something I wish someone had said to me years ago, the first time I ran into trouble. I legitimately thought I’d done something to provoke this stranger on the Internet, and I felt really guilty about the whole situation. But as the other article said, it’s the harasser’s fault, not the person being harassed.


  6. I relate to being harassed for writing what you believe. I can only say, I’m proud that you keep going at it, despite its difficulties. More power to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I write almost entirely in fandom spaces right now, but I’ve been in music-adjacent fandoms where it just wasn’t wise to admit enjoying opposite genres, and video game fandoms where it really wasn’t smart to admit if you didn’t play the video game and we’re just in it for the story/characters. (For the record, I am just astonishingly shitty at video games. I once lost a game within one minute of starting because I couldn’t figure out how to put the hazard suit on, and something hazardous got me.) Sometimes people can be touchy about the littlest things, and the more niche those things are the easier it becomes to realize that it’s not really about the things, it’s about the people starting shit.

    With fandom spaces, there’s always that loud small percentage of people who will start shit. The bigger the fandom, the bigger that small percentage ends up being, and the louder they get. When it’s something less niche and more widely recognized in the “real world”? My god, I can’t even imagine. I can honestly see someday publishing a novel about the original lesbian characters that have lived rent free in my head since 2010 and getting labeled as transphobic for their exclusive attraction (or at least “apparently exclusive according to canon,” which, oh yeah, that’s a kind of conversation that happens) to cis women, when my husband is trans and we’ve been happily married for three years. I can also honestly imagine myself feeling really bad about it, and also wanting to argue with “that person who is Being Wrong on the Internet.”

    But I don’t know, if that ever happens I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. It’s not worth it to let the trolls intimidate me before I even get to the bridge; at the same time, I approach it with a watered-down awareness of what might happen that will hopefully help inoculate me against some of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m queer myself, and I have lots of friends who are various letters of the LGBT alphabet, so I’m familiar with the kinds of conversations you’re talking about.

      No matter what community you’re part of—a fandom, the LGBT community, the science communicator community—there’s always going to be some group of people who are just looking for an excuse to get angry. But it is a small percentage of the community.

      If you decide to write that story and put it out there, you may attract the attention of a few haters. But as I said, in my experience the good stuff outweighs the bad. It’s always a risk when you put your creative work out there, but it’s a risk worth taking.


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