Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
NOTE: Before writing this post, I thought a lot about linkage. I didn't want to increase traffic to propaganda blogs and websites by linking to them--but I did want readers to be able to see the kind of nastiness involved. So most of the links in this post are to cached versions.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I've been a member of Absolute Write since the early 2000's, and was a moderator there for several years.
Last week, I received an email from the owner of a website that, among other things, posts lists of resources for writers.
One of the website's users had objected to the inclusion of the Absolute Write Water Cooler (which, if you're not familiar with it, is an online writers' forum and community), pointing to a slew of blogs and websites with names like Absolute Wrong and Absolute Blight that purport to expose AW as a bully board populated by losers and wannabees whose main recreational activity is persecuting members and dispensing bad advice. The website owner wanted to know if there was any truth to these allegations.
This isn't the first such question I've gotten, and it made me sad. Sad at the volume of anti-AW propaganda (which has been proliferating rapidly over the past year). Sadder still that people might believe it.
The truth: AW is a valuable resource, one of the largest and most active writers' forums on the Internet. (As of this writing, it boasts nearly 60,000 members, over 8 million posts, and anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 users active at any given time--scroll down to the bottom of AW to see these statistics.)
At AW, you can discuss every aspect of craft and genre, learn about the ins and outs of publishing and self-publishing, share your work-in-progress, get your query letter critiqued, connect with beta readers and writing buddies, commiserate about rejection and rejoice about success, and participate in discussions about culture, music, art, politics, and just about anything else you want to talk about. AW members include writers at every stage of their careers--from just thinking about publishing to multi-published--along with a wide variety of publishing industry experts and professionals: literary agents, publishers, editors, illustrators, designers, and more.
So why the hate? Well, AW is a private forum, and it is strongly moderated. Flaming, shilling, spamming, sockpuppets, trolls--all the things that turn so many writers' forums into swamps of ugliness--aren't tolerated, and moderators don't hesitate to step in when discussions become heated or veer off-track. Members who engage in disruptive behavior are warned (often bluntly); those who don't heed the warnings may be banned. This active moderation policy helps AW to remain a good deal more relevant, civil, and supportive than many other writers' communities--but it also, as you can imagine, creates resentment among those who've been kicked out. If you Google ["Absolute Write" + banned] you'll see many of their stories.
Reason number two: the Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check forum. Here, writers discuss literary agents, publishers, editors, manuscript display sites, contests, PR services, and more. Most of the hundreds of threads in this forum consist of questions and sharing about guidelines, querying, rejection, staff changes, new imprints, closures, and the like. Who could object to that? Well, no one, really. It's the Bewares threads, where writers discuss bad business practices and expose scams, that generate the anger. An especially volatile aspect of this forum is the often-harsh analysis of new small presses, especially those started up by amateurs with weird ideas about publishing.
So that's where the anger comes from. But who is behind the smear campaign?
Some of the propaganda comes from individuals or groups who've been outed at BR&BC. Some, such as Absolute Wrong and the Absolute Write section of Blogination, are projects of angry AW ex-members. Still more is disseminated by groups with a general axe to grind, such as The Write Agenda, a blog that attempts to discredit anti-scam activists, and Stop The Goodreads Bullies, a site that bullies those whom it claims bully others.
Right now, though, the most concentrated attack comes from a group of anti-AW blogs: Absolute Blight, Absolute Banning, Forums Review, and Write Absolute Reviews of Bully Boards (the "s" at the end of "Boards" is cosmetic; the only board discussed is AW). If they seem similar--not just in format, but in the circular way they all reference each other--that's no coincidence: there's substantial evidence that they've been set up by the same individual, a long-time forum troll who has made trouble not just at AW, using dozens of sockpuppet accounts, but at the now-moribund WritersNet (a WN member set up this special forum to memorialize her antics).
These anonymously- or sockpuppet-run blogs (check out the origin story at Write Absolute, which includes lots of fanciful detail but neglects to supply any verifiable specifics) demonstrate not just an unhealthy obsession with the goings-on at AW, but a truly over-the-top level of venom toward AW owners, moderators, members, and supporters. They're replete with sockpuppet comments (the blogs' owner likes to talk to herself) and larded with misinformation, including mistaken guesses about the identities of AW moderators (I know this because I know some of the people involved) and libellous unsourced allegations about AW members and defenders (again, I know some of the people involved). More unpleasant pastimes include attempting to doxx AW's owner, her parents, and AW admins, and to interfere with their livelihoods (Absolute Blight is the worst offender in this regard).
The very nastiness of all this should be enough to discredit it. Unfortunately, when people receive anonymous emails or alerts and don't look closely at the sources, they may be fooled. I'm guessing this is the reason Piers Anthony, in his otherwise helpful Internet Publishing resource, cites some of the anti-AW propaganda.
AW is not a haven of sweetness and light. Discussions can be harsh; moderators are sometimes heavy-handed; feelings do get hurt. If you have a thin skin and are inclined to take things personally, AW may not be for you (nor may be most other writers' forums). But if you're tempted to believe the hate campaign, consider this: if AW were really the cesspit of evil that it's alleged to be by the anti-AW crowd, wouldn't members be fleeing in droves? Wouldn't they stop posting? Wouldn't AW be on its way to becoming moribund, like the unfortunate WritersNet?
That this is not the case should tell you something, not just about Absolute Write but about its obsessed detractors.
Amusing footnote: The troll messaged me on Facebook this week (using a fake account), so she could do this:
Here's the whole exchange. Note how the troll is unable to restrain her ire.
EDITED TO ADD: Predictably, the smear blogs have responded. Write Absolute Reviews of Bully Boards calls me the Tariq Aziz of Absolute Write" and Absolute Blight styles me "a totally paranoid wingnut and cyberstalker, hurling unfounded accusations around like Frisbees." Check out both posts if you care (and don't forget to scan the rapidly-proliferating comments on Absolute Blight's post).
EDITED TO ADD: Via Absolute Blight, the troll has admitted the links between four of the smear blogs: Absolute Blight, Absolute Banning, Forums Review, and one I neglected to include: Absolute Write Complaints.