On Friday author Kathleen Hale wrote an article for The Guardian about her experience being catfished. On Monday Twitter, and a number of blogs, got quite excited about this topic and lots of people had lots of opinions. I came upon the article when Jessica Alvarez mentioned it to me and before reading anything about it I went to The Guardian article. I wanted to base any opinion I had on what Kathleen Hale had to say rather than read the opinions of others first.
Even without reading what others thought I know that some people feel that Kathleen Hale was catfished, others feel she crossed a line herself and was not the victim or the only victim and still others wonder if the entire post was made up. After reading just Kathleen Hale’s post I do stand behind her in some respects. Not all, but some.
I’ve been in this business long enough to know the impact a review can have on an author. I’ve seen smart, successful authors completely lose all self-confidence because of one review or one comment on a writing loop or in a blog. In most cases authors who reacted this way were not the stereotypical “neurotic” or introverted authors. They are almost always people who are successful in various different aspects of their lives. They deal with high stress jobs, families and seem to juggle an entire life on top of a writing life. In other words, these are people who have faced adversity before and wore it well.
In fact, while I’m not an author, I’ve been one of those people. After six years of blogging about what I really thought it was bound to happen. And happen it did. Time and time again. There were times when the comments on the blog got so contentious I would stop sleeping. I panicked that I had alienated my clients, editors or ruined it for all of us. There were times I would have to shut down the computer and walk away for the day. But each and every time it happened walking away was always the best answer for me.
In Kathleen Hale’s case the only story we know is hers. As of yet, to the best of my knowledge, we haven’t heard from the reviewer she’s charging with catfishing. A term by the way I had never heard until reading her article. Whether or not she was catfished, in my mind, doesn’t really matter. Fro a variety of reasons reviewers and bloggers act anonymously. In some ways it’s one of the great things about the Internet. It’s also one of worst things. Being anonymous allows us to really say what we want to say and what we think. Something a lot of people wouldn’t be comfortable doing under their own name or couldn’t do (it might hurt a career or their own reputation in some way). True confession here, before starting the blog I used to comment anonymously all the time on writing forums. I acknowledged that I was an agent, but I was uncomfortable giving my real name. I didn’t want what I said to bite a new agency in the butt. Was I catfishing? I don’t think so, I was just giving an opinion. And certainly there have been a ton of anonymous publishing bloggers and Tweeters, people who just want to say what they believe without facing repercussions.
Did Kathleen Hale go to far? Probably. Personally I think any time you start tracking down someone in person you are probably going to far. But I get how someone can go there. Putting yourself out there, whether its by writing a book, an opinion piece in a magazine, or a blog, is a scary, scary thing. Sure you feel great about saying what you believe or finding others to read your work, but at the same time you know you’re going to face a backlash. That reviewers will hate what you write and have an opinion about it that differs from your own and you know they’re not going to be afraid to say something. Especially because they have the right to remain anonymous in any way they see fit. And when we or our opinion or our writing is attacked it’s hard. It often impacts our psyche in a big way.
Personally I’ve never gone to the lengths Kathleen Hale did to discover the truth about her naysayer, but I get it. Sort of. When someone says something really awful about you or your work you want a chance to discuss it with them. You want a chance to defend yourself without sounding defensive (which is often what happens when you start that discussion on comments). And probably you want the chance to discredit that person. To say, you are wrong and how would you know anyway because…. When someone posts anonymously she knows a whole lot about us, but we know nothing about her. It takes all the power away from us and gives it to her.
There were times when I have been attacked on this blog. Right or wrong, people came out to do whatever they could to discredit me and attack me and my professional integrity. I was scared, I was angry and I Googled. What I learned early on however, and what Kathleen Hale admits to learning in the long run, is that the best answer is to just sit quietly and, as they say, this too shall pass. Let the topic speak for itself or let the other readers comment and take care of it. Sometimes the biggest mistake we can make is saying something at all. What we’re doing in that case is exactly what the naysayer wants. We’re giving her attention. It’s sort of like when Buford grabs my slipper and runs around the office with it. I have the option to chase him, call him and feed him treats. To give him the attention he wants. Or I can sit and work and watch him slowly drop the slipper, confused about why he’s not getting the attention he wants.
I’m actually pretty impressed that Kathleen Hale wrote the article at all. Maybe she did it to finally get back at the reviewer, or maybe she just decided to put it out there and get rid of her moment of weakness once and for all. Either way it took bravery. Once again she’s getting hit with a lot of opinions from a lot of people who don’t know her. Sure its a choice she’s making, but as writers I think we all know how difficult it is to face the opinions of others.