Michael J. McDonagh

An established writer who recently went to work becoming an author, trying valiantly to make someone give a damn and chronicling the process.

Why I’m done with AbsoluteWrite (Or: the post that lets two dozen people say “LOL, told you so”)

It’s not like I hadn’t been warned about AbsoluteWrite before I signed up. I thought (and still think) that there are some great people there. Some of whom I’m so fond of that I do not take the decision to pull the plug on that board lightly.

But there are also some really weird things about that board. And when I started scratching beneath the surface, it got even weirder. Plus, when someone says “watch what you’re doing, or else” and the “or else” part is “you can’t keep providing free content to my website,” well, yea, fuck you. I’ll “or else” myself right out of there for you.

I joined my first internet bulletin board in the 1990s. Though they’ve almost invariably been about fly fishing, I’ve been a member and/or mod on one or more bulletin boards continuously since. As we say where I live, this is not my first trip to the rodeo. Warnings about bullies don’t do much to deter me. Bullies are trolls with homes, and the day I can’t hold my own in a written exchange with a bullytroll is the day I’ll hand in my interwebz learning permit.

Like any BB, AW had a lot of what I would consider bad advice. Plus, being as big as AW is, things were less cordial than I’m often used to. There’s certainly some truth to the clique complaints I’d heard about, and the groupthink observations were not entirely incorrect (though they aren’t entirely true, either). Those things said, there are also some pretty straight-up people on that board with good insights, and I think the onus is on anyone participating on a BB to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of advice. So I posted for several months, undaunted by the warnings I’d received. During that time, I also became quite fond of several AW members.

One thing that caused me a certain level of concern –well, annoyance is a better word – was the tendency of a couple of the moderators to both participate in the snark/drama/bullshit on threads and then delete posts and/or lock threads where they’d been participating. That does not happen on a well administered, well moderated board. In fact, the main reason I hate being a mod is because being a smartass is integral to how I function, and it takes an enormous amount of energy to turn that off if I take the job. But I also realize that you can’t do both, and not being a smartass or weighing very deep into disagreements is part of the job description. Such is not the case at AW.

The funny thing is, while I’ve since discovered people with legitimate horror stories about the same AW admin and mods, nothing particularly bad happened to me there. Certainly nothing bad enough for me to buy a domain and start a webpage decrying the place (yes, that’s happened). Or anything that would warrant rating about AW on a site about internet bullying of authors. For me, it’s much more like I went to a restaurant – my server was rude and the food was meh, so I decided I won’t be going back.

One incident that involved me directly was a thread about a legal question. A poster asked about public domain issues if a poem had been circulating as anonymously written for more than fifty years. The family of a dead firefighter claimed he wrote it, but nobody had ever asserted a right of ownership. Prior to any of the specifics, but having been told that the poem had been around as anonymously authored for more than fifty years, I said it would be public domain.

A rather snarky mod then told everyone that I was wrong about how public domain works, you can never lose your copyright to public domain by having something published, and that is not how copyright is determined.

Then she locked the thread.

That was annoying, since there is some truth to what she was saying under the current state of copyright law, although it is far from as cut-and-dried as she believes. In fact, the US Supreme Court heard oral argument earlier this year on a case addressing this question because the circuit courts are split on whether copyright can disappear under the doctrine of laches if you fail to publicly enforce your rights. But, since the poem in question had been published as anonymously authored more than fifty years prior the US Joining the Berne Convention in 1989, she was dead wrong about the applicable law with respect to the poem in question. A fact I pointed out in a personal message to said mod, who told me that the site administrator, Macallister was in agreement that the thread should be locked.

My response at the time was that it sucks a mod would rather keep the wrong answer out there and have the last word than get the right answer out, but – whatever. It was advice that incorrectly told the poster how to stay out of trouble, nothing that would get that person into trouble, so no big deal.

By this time I had noticed some (by no means all) of the AW mods had a propensity to lock threads after issuing decrees about how right they were, often in downright rude ways. It began to dawn on me that the “bullying” I’d been warned so much about wasn’t about people who posted on the boards, it was a warning about the mods running the place. Which is a shame, since it’s otherwise a fairly rich and interesting community. I also avoided the threads where these issues are much more frequent. My participation was limited to writing and grammar questions (well, and a cooking thread).

Last Friday it happened again, on a thread I hadn’t participated in at all. Ironically, the person singled out to be slammed before the thread was locked was the person I probably disagree with more frequently than anyone else on the interwebz. I also respect him, and there is no personal animosity between us – in fact, I’m fond of the guy – but we have ardently different ideas about writing.

Being snotty and locking threads doesn’t do much for anyone, and if I were an admin on that board, I’d probably want to know this was an issue. So I sent a politely worded PM to the site admin, Macallister, telling him/her (I had no idea what the person’s first name was) that, in my experience, mods generally do best if they stay out of the snark. If they aren’t going to do that, it’s usually a bad idea to have them participating, getting in the last word and then locking threads.

The next thing I hear is a super snarky response to a post from said mod,with a post of my own also deleted. I promptly (read: naively) forward it on to the admin, saying, “This would be the kind of thing I’m talking about.”

In response, I get the following (Cryptic? Nonsensical? I think it was supposed to be threatening, but it doesn’t make enough sense to feel very ominous) message from Macallister:

You seem to be making some assumptions about what happen when you’ve been corrected by a mod that aren’t going to bear out well for you, Mooky.

To which I responded, “What the fuck?” Well, I literally responded:

I honestly don’t know what you are saying. I assume it’s a threat?

I (still, literally) do not understand what that person was saying. Which is pretty rough, if you are supposed to be the person in charge of running a board for freaking writers.

At this point, I’m wondering who Ms./Mr. Macallister is, so I look at the profile and discover that Macallister is supposedly his/her first name. The full name is Macallister Stone.

Image

 Needless to say, it took the Google machine about three milliseconds to confirm that MacAllister Stone is not a real person. I also learned that when AW was legally registered to do business (which it no longer appears to be), its registered address was a storage locker (which is a big no-no). Somewhat disturbingly, the fictitious MacAllister Stone was the registered business owner (which is a huge fucking no-no), and MacAllister Stone had also been doing business with people under that name. People who were unhappy, because MacAllister Stone owed them money –which is why it’s such a big no-no to have your imaginary friend own a business.

At this point, I’m getting a pretty iffy feeling about AW. Which sucks, because the wealth of information provided by its members on the “Bewares & Recommendations” portion of the site is extremely valuable. It also sucks, because some of those people are fun, knowledgeable, engaging people who follow this blog and/or whose blogs I follow, and whose company I enjoy. Plus it was a great way to kill time when I was on conference calls, which are how I spend an inordinate amount time.

I don’t want anyone to think I’m storming out of AW, morally outraged. I’m not. I’m mildly annoyed. I just see no reason I should allow myself to continue being mildly annoyed, particularly when someone’s imaginary friend feels compelled to threaten me with…. Well, no longer mildly annoying me, I guess. 

Like all bulletin boards, AW functions on an implied agreement. The board provides a place for me to engage on a topic that interests me. In exchange, I provide page views and content, which happen to be the way boards make money. If Remington MacAllister’s human alter ego thinks she is in a position to threaten to take her half of that deal away, that’s fine. You win. I’ll stop providing free content.

Like I said, I went to a restaurant and the server was snotty. The food wasn’t terrible, but the owner was a pompous ass – and a touch sketchy. There are better places to find a sandwich.

The End.

Post Script (but it’s not an epilogue, so please READ the damned thing)

There are websites that loathe AW for all the wrong reasons. They are also full of information about AW and the whole sock puppet MacAllister Steele thing, much of which turns out to be correct. Some of those sites (not all) having correct information about this aspect of AW does not mean you can otherwise rely on information they provide. Some of their reasons for loathing AW may relate to how much good information AW members provide on the “Bewares and Recommendations” threads, and how well that section steers people away from being scammed. Other information from those sites should be a matter of significant concern and vigilance. It’s pretty easy to tell the sites I’m talking about from sites that may have concerns but not ulterior motives if you pay attention. Please, if you start wandering through these sites, pay attention.

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36 thoughts on “Why I’m done with AbsoluteWrite (Or: the post that lets two dozen people say “LOL, told you so”)

  1. I’ve met some great people on AW, four in total. The place is great for so many things and bad for others. I mostly head to the B and R threads, Query Hell (which is great!) and Research. You can find so much help there.

    I notice things go a bit oblong shaped (not even pear) not just when mods float around the boards, but long existing embers too.

    What put me off most, though, was seeing newbies get shredded. I don’t know what this is about. Survival of the fittest? Kill all competition now before it starts improving? I’m not sure, but there are ways to crit and encourage at the same time.

    Having said that, members who have clocked up their post count and been around for years know the ins and outs of how other members and mods work. I was once PMed by a long termer asking me not to get involved (in a polite I-know-how-things-can-get-around-here sort of way) in a thread I started, I believe.

    I also saw some double standards.

    I also don’t use AW that much anymore…

    • Thanks for commenting. A lot of this stuff is common to boards across the spectrum. There’s a fly fishing BB (it’s called The Drake — I’m not calling them out, they’re proud of this) where the initiation is worse than anything I’ve ever seen on a writing board. I just don’t get it, to be honest. I guess we all have different ways of finding our own self-worth.

  2. Nadja on said:

    I still frequent AW quite a bit (I joined in November) and was pretty shocked to read your post. It’s a real disappointnent that this sort of thing happens.

    I’ve had some good experience with AW (an ex-firefighter took four days and 7 detailed emails to tell me everything I needed to know about firefighting so that a scene in my story would be realistic enough to pass muster should a firefighter happen to read it (unlikely, but I was grateful all the same).

    I have also received some very poor writing advice. Thankfullly, in spite of the fact that I am an amateur with only a high school diploma, I seem to have an instinct that tells me when the advice is sound and when I need to ignore it. I came to AW so that I could hone my skills and get some feedback, to learn more about the craft and the process of editing…and am finding it extraordinarily difficult to find sound advice. I weigh every criticism to make sure the point is legit before I even think of making changes to my ms.

    I’ve critiqued a little for others as well (I only touch upon glaring faults, as I am, like I said, an amateur), and found that when they self-published, the glaring faults remained. Embarrassing mistakes, I would call them.

    Congratulations on your graduation…having found your critiquing partner, you most likely have no need of AW anyway and can just move on…

    • That’s funny, I hadn’t thought of it as a graduation. And you’re right — I wouldn’t trade my stable of CPs for anything (I have four, and they all come at things from very different perspectives, which is great). Ironically, none are from AW.

      To be honest, it was more a fun way to kill time than anything. But there are other ways to do that. I just wish I could draft while on conference calls — then I’d be the most prolific writer in North America. 🙂

  3. Sorry to hear that. I always enjoyed your posts and found your blog via AW. I’ve seen the same thing there. I lurk there mostly and don’t participate often.

    • Thanks for commenting (we need to meet up one of these days). It was certainly nice to connect with people’s blogs and things through them, but at least I was able to find a few (and have a few find me).

  4. Sorry to see you leave – I came across this blog through your posts on AW. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but for me those things are easy enough to ignore. Using your restaurant analogy – I don’t stay for the service or the food, it’s the other patrons that make it worth coming back. I’ve met some really good people and gotten information that’s helped me a lot.

    But I can totally understand why people would be put off by the behavior of many of the folks – even the mods. There’s a lot of arbitrariness, but I think some sections are a little friendlier (YA) than others. You can also pick up a lot of information without ever posting – I like that aspect of it.

    And while you might not want to stick around AW, at least you have to admit it did help connect with more folks through your blog 🙂

    • Thanks for posting, and I basically agree. I’m certainly not advising people to leave AW — there are very good reasons to stay. I’m flat-out bummed I won’t be connecting with some of the people I met there anymore.

      I’ll certainly admit it got my blog out there for me. It was definitely a two-way street.

  5. I keep trying to get involved in AW, but it just never works for me. I do lurke quite a bit, though, in the B&R sections, because there’s so much great info there.

    • I completely agree B&R is an invaluable tool. I’ve recommended it on this site a bunch of times. I doubt there’s a post under Shady Agencies without a recommendation to that part of AW.

  6. Terry Rodgers on said:

    I’ve been a member there for almost 5 years, although I don’t comment much. I’m not sure why I keep going back. There always seems to be fighting going on somewhere. Recently, I’ve just stuck to the agent area trying my best to post useful comments.

  7. …says a dude who’s tacitly mentioned in the subtitle of this post 🙂

  8. Oh Michael. I’m sorry to see you leave AW, and very glad you “liked” my post today so I saw this post before too much time elapsed. I recognize what you’re describing, and understand your reasoning. You’re smart and funny, I’ll miss seeing your replies on AW. I’ve been a member there for years, but mostly lurked until about a year ago. I’ve seen some really great, valuable members leave (or be banned).

    My board experiences have been similar to yours in many ways (actually, most of my friends on Facebook are those few I’ve really connected with from various boards–makes for an interesting and varied mix, lol).

    I’m going to stop here, before my reply turns into a post. If you’d like to be in touch off board, my email is msfringe123 @ gmail . com (spaces removed, of course)

  9. Fringe!!

    You were squarely in the group of members I was describing so fondly and will miss interacting with. Thanks for coming in, and I’m going to send you an e-mail right now so you can have my address handy, too.

  10. Great post! I left AW years ago for many of the reasons you cited here. Life’s too short to let cyber-bullies get you down. (Plus, I really dig having you on the QT forum!)

    • Hi Lisa — we’re getting pretty close to Essence being released! I am so excited for you.

      I’m glad you liked the post. “Life’s too short” is becoming my motto.

      And QT has always been my first and foremost writing home.

      • May I ask what the QT forum is? Never heard of it 🙂 Googling brings up a LOT of different results. Also interesting post. I am still on AW because I like the information. I keep hearing bad things though. So far I have not been affected. We’ll see…

      • Oh, that’s funny, I have spent so much time there, I just assume everybody else does too!

        QT refers to Query Tracker. It’s an amazing querying site, with good, up to date information and a well maintained database, plus tools for, not surprisingly, tracking your queries plus a great community in the forum

  11. More on “Macallister” & “Absolute Write” can be found here . . .

    http://thewriteagenda.wordpress.com

  12. Hi Micheal, Thank you for your informative post. I’d like to join in, not from the writer side, but from the side of agent and publisher.
    Ours is a long story. My wife and I, both writers, started a small literary agency in 1999, before Absolute Write was conceived of.
    Being tech savvy, we also put up a Web site and on this Site we had a place called Ask the Agent. To make a long story shorter, about a year went by and one day, on a site there was a comment by Anomalous that stated a certain powerful person had made a statement that our advice was wrong and they were doing to shut us down.
    From this moment, the war began. Accusations of being scamers were issued by a national writer’s organization followed by investigations by Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors said we were Not Recommended and Absolute Write began a tread on us on Bewares,,, When we went there (our mistake) we were thoroughly trashed–and for what–daring to open a business, daring to help writers get published, daring to be small?
    We were, all things considered and with no help from AW, reasonably successful in getting many first-time authors published.
    So I fast forward to today: In 2009 we decided, as did may smaller agencies, to leave agenting. Because we had also met many great writers who whose works were being repeatedly rejected for no good reason, we decided to open a publishing house. Not a month went by, however, when AW had a tread on us and bashing began anew. As anyone who has ever tried to run a business can attest, negatives about your business carry more weight than positives. This has double weight when you’re a publisher and especially when you do a Google search on that publisher and the second thing that comes up is AW.
    The bottom line here is that we are and always have been honest. We have never, ever scammed or taken advantage of anyone, but that does no good, does it. Once painted the the AW brush, in the eyes of writer community you are guilty as charged.

    • Hello and thanks for commenting. I don’t know your agency or house, and had to fight the knee-jerk reaction to research you before responding (nothing personal, I’m a research fanatic). But I realized my response should be the same either way, so I haven’t.

      You point to an aspect of AW that I find most problematic, but your post highlights a different aspect of the problem. The Bewares & Recommendations section of that site has mountains of valuable information from users who have had experiences, ranging from fantastic to being scammed and everything between, with scores of agents and publishers. In itself, it’s a valuable thing, and when you get enough opinions being openly shared by people of equal standing, a multi-sided and incredibly accurate picture can appear. BUT — when a few people who seem to be more interested in gratifying their egos than providing accurate information dominate the discussion — the quality of that information is impaired. Sometimes, a lot.

      On a different level, it’s fundamentally the same frustration. The admin and some (again, I stress some) of the mods seem so wrapped up in showing off their awesomeness that it trumps simply having a well run board that does not revolve around their egos. They are willing to hamper the ability of the board to function best for writers in the name of elevating their personal opinions above everyone else’s.

  13. The Scarlet Pimpernel on said:

    I was just discussing this very issue with a friend (we’ve both seen and experienced AW’s mod-abuse), so out of laziness, some excerpts from my emails and a few added comments:

    Every time I see someone marked “Banned” I read their final few days worth of posts. In not one single case was the banning due to being a twat. Always, it was for disagreeing with the prescribed groupthink, or for offending someone’s politically correct sensibilities (and some are hypersensitive indeed; I can’t see the offense even if I squint, even tho I am a member of such a minority). One guy notably argued his case very politely and with great respect for the people whose arguments he gently refuted, and guess what, he still got banned.

    While the commonly-referenced [anti-AW] sites are about equal parts nutjob and sockpuppet (though they do make some good points), here’s one that’s much better, and concerns two of the bannings I was thinking specifically of, both very reasonable posters:

    http://write2publish.blogspot.com/2011/06/ive-been-banned.html

    After seeing this one, and judging from AW’s overall tactics, I think I know what’s really going on: AW isn’t about helping budding writers develop; it’s about keeping them sucking on the teat of hope (but never getting weaned), and that atmosphere is deliberately stoked, so starry-eyed n00bs will keep coming back and produce ever more ad impressions:

    Each pageview generates about five cents, at an educated guess. That’s probably around $100k per year for the owners (each), after expenses.

    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/absolutewrite.com
    http://www.trafficestimate.com/absolutewrite.com

    That’s a significant pagerank. Mark my words, in due course the site will be sold to somewhere like Dice or Amazon, for a nice 7-figure deal.

    http://www.worthofweb.com/website-value/absolutewrite.com
    estimated worth, $ 1,064,800

    And everyone who discovers self-publishing is one less frustrated wannabe frequenting the forum and driving up that pagerank.

    As always, the smart question is: Cui bono?? aka “Follow the Money”.

    As to the fictitious name, there is no law requiring use of real names (you can call yourself anything you like so long as there is no intent to defraud) . But most states require that you file a “Doing Business As” statement, mostly so they can connect the dots for income tax.

    I’m an old hand online. I go all the way back to dialup BBSs and Usenet. I’m a veteran of flame wars the likes of which today’s forums have never seen, and my skin is imperviously thick. So it’s not a personal thing here; it’s an observation that AW operates by silencing anyone they disagree with, or who perhaps impacts profits.

    To which all my friend replied, “There’s a lot of bait ‘in switch too. Mods pick a fight, more mods and other members jump in, poor guy gets frustrated and lashes back, then–bam! Banned!”

  14. The Scarlet Pimpernel on said:

    PS. I should mention that I too have many years of moderator experience, dating back to the 1990s, and am still a mod on a couple international BBS echoes. (Did I just make you feel old? 🙂 ) And I was recently invited to be an official mod on a forum with over a million registered users (tho I turned it down as it was too much time commitment). Anyway, like yourself I do have a firsthand clue what moderators are supposed to be about.

  15. I’m getting fed up with AW too. Like yourself, I haven’t really experienced any outright bullying. But I find that anyone pursuing any publishing path other than: “Query big name agents. If you get rejected, that means your book is awful. Write another book. Query big name agents. Repeat. Sell book to big 5 publisher. Never give up anything but North American rights.” is sort of universally determined to be a failure… self-pub, small press, newer agents… all are looked down on.

    So they’re telling me indirectly that my book, and a lot of my friends’ books, are awful and don’t DESERVE to be published. It’s not outright bullying, but the general attitude around there is extremely hurtful, and it’s just not good for my sanity to hang around there. 😦

    Too bad, because there are some great people on there giving great advice.

    • Thanks for commenting. It really is unfortunate the “management” is so ego driven, because I agree that some of the people there are top-notch. I’ve stayed in contact with a few since leaving, but it wasn’t worth the aggravation to stay.

  16. You can add me to the why did I get banned list. Something is not right there.

  17. Michael, can you tell me, which websites “loathe AW for the wrong reasons”? I’ve been to every one of them and they are all saying the same thing. I believe a couple of them to be overly vindictive or nasty, but even they are saying the same thing about Absolute Write. I have witnessed innocent people having their lives dissected and destroyed by AW mods and owners. That is a fact. The only way to be soft on AW is to ignore the truth.

  18. Perhaps your way of phrasing it (“overly vindictive or nasty”) is more accurate than mine (“for the wrong reasons”). Ad hominem attacks have zero sway IMO.

  19. Michael, we’ve confirmed that AW is now infecting users with malware deriving from their rotating advertising banners on all the forums. We have all the details on the blog. There is no question. We used SpyHunter 4 and we encourage others to duplicate the results, but it means intentionally infecting your pc with a variety of harmful malware: http://writeabsolutereviews.blogspot.com

  20. Pingback: Getting The Hard-To-Get Information: Using FORUMS. Guest Post by Al Macy | Dan Alatorre - AUTHOR

  21. We’re talking about you and this post on QT, Mookie! 1) because we miss you (where have you been, btw?) and 2) because we’ve all noticed how nasty AW people are to each other.

    • I was actually lurking on QT yesterday, but didn’t want to post about this because showing up after a six-month absence to talk about a blog post of mine seemed too spammy! The real reason I went was because I thought (and was right) that Sarah’s book was coming out. Jenny and I ordered a copy! I’ll catch up with you over there.

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