Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Miss Snark is an anonymous blogger who claims to be a New York literary agent. I've had her blog on my sidebar for a few months because it's helpful for writers and amusing for everyone. I read it regularly and I'm not planning to remove the link — but this week, she deserves a rebuke.

The ruckus began when a group called Writer Beware published a list of 20 Worst Agents who were allegedly soliciting naive authors with empty promises and mysterious "administrative fees." This is a real phenomenon and a serious problem. After a couple of dozen rejection letters, despondent authors can become easy marks for a con because they want to believe that someone's interest is genuine. I can understand how, to a writer in that situation, a smooth-talking lowlife can make a "$500 reading fee" sound perfectly reasonable. The hope behind publishing this list was that, with the help of Google, young authors could find the facts before mailing a check.

It's a good strategy — which is probably why one of the listed agents, Barbara Bauer, reportedly bullied a web provider into yanking the plug on the website hosting the list. Word spread quickly, and Miss Snark responded by posting the list herself and highlighting Bauer's name. She followed up with a post detailing the evidence against Bauer and concluded by writing, "Barbara Bauer, you are a scam artist."

Miss Snark's evidence is easily verifiable. She's probably right — and her readership threw her a virtual parade. Her blog was flooded with comments thanking her for showing courage and integrity and chutzpah. All of it was praise for a public indictment delivered anonymously.

No one questions that thieves belong in stocks in the town square; and it's easy to understand why Miss Snark, a reputable agent, would harbor an acute hatred toward a woman whose predatory actions carry adverse consequences for Miss Snark's entire profession. I have nothing but praise and respect for those who stand up and speak out, for those who are determined to cast vermin into the sunlight for disinfection.

Let me say that again. I respect those who stand up — who stand up — and speak out. Where is the conviction, where is the chutzpah in firing sniper shots from an anonymous blog?

This isn't the first time Miss Snark has named her target. Last month, she published an e-mail from an author who wanted representation. She redacted the author's address and telephone number but left her full name and the title of her book, and then proceeded to dare her readers to suggest creative ways to give the author a brush-off.

Melissa Lafsky spent ten months publishing her anonymous blog about the soap-opera antics inside a high-profile law firm, and she never once used anyone's name. Even after revealing her identity in the New York Observer, she continued masking the identities of her blog's subjects by substituting initials and pseudonyms. Her posts are every bit as funny and clever as anything I've read from Miss Snark — but Lafsky's blog never attacked anyone.

I'm not going to condemn all anonymous blogs. I don't love the idea, but Lafsky proved it can be done with grace and still prove entertaining. But you have to recognize that there's a line to be crossed. If you're throwing someone else's public reputation onto the fire while concealing your own behind a curtain, then you're a coward. It doesn't matter whether your allegation is true or false. It's not about the other person. It's about you.


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