The Dark Side of Publishing: Bullies

See full issue for 2016 04-11

So, most of us left school a while ago. We’re done with the cliques and the jocks and the bullies… right?

No, we aren’t. In adulthood, bullying simply becomes more refined, and we have to deal with it in different ways, because you can’t get your mama to tell his mama what a dick her kid is being. You may live by the old advice to ignore a bully and they’ll go away. You’re a grownup now. Stop being a silly little pussy and don’t let it bother you. A bully won’t bully if he’s ignored. Sometimes.

More on that later. For now, let’s look at what a bully is. It’s not the loud mouth who criticized your book. That guy is often just a socially awkward dick. He doesn’t want to hurt you. He just wants others to pay attention to him. Sometimes he just doesn’t know how to state an opinion without sounding like an ass. It’s not the girl who has to one-up everything you do either. She’s not out to make your life difficult. She just feels threatened by you for whatever reason, and is trying to make herself feel better. Those people can be ignored. A bully isn’t someone who disagrees with your opinion. A bully isn’t someone who has a stronger personality. It isn’t someone who dares to take an unpopular path, either. A bully takes advantage of another individual that he or she perceives as more vulnerable or weak and intentionally inflicts pain on this individual. He systematically targets someone to make himself feel powerful, and there are a few types making the rounds of the publishing industry.

The Narcissist

Typically the most recognizable (and the most intimidating) type of bully, narcissistic bullies seem sadistic, lack empathy for others, and don’t appear to care about consequences. A narcissistic bully dominates conversations, belittles others, and perceives most people as inferior. They also feel entitled, and when they don’t receive special treatment or their superiority isn’t recognized, they get mean real fast. This type of bully has to be the best and have the best and will stop at nothing to achieve it.

Narcissistic bullies have trouble dealing with criticism and react to it by knocking the other person down in order to feel and “look” better. They expect be recognized as superior without doing anything to warrant said recognition. They often brag about their achievements and talents and are obsessed with success, power, brilliance and/or perfection. The narcissist demands constant recognition or admiration and expects compliance from everyone around them. They manipulate or take advantage of others to achieve their goals and believe that anyone who disagrees is jealous of what they’ve done or what they have.

The problem with a narcissistic bully is that his head is so firmly up his own ass, he’s oblivious to any attempt to stand up to him. He pokes and pokes and pokes, until you're ready to explode, but it seems like nothing deters him. This is intimidating to others, so the narcissist often gets away with his tyrannical behavior.

Knowing he really isn’t confident, and fears someone will reveal his faults might help to make it easier to deal with this bully, but don’t insult him just to knock him down a few pegs. That will ensure a prolonged battle. Instead, you simply stop giving him a reaction at all. Stand up, speak up, and don’t let the narcissist steal your thunder, but remember, every reaction fuels his campaign against you. This type of bully has to be in control. Defeat him by not letting him control you. Yes, in this case, I’m telling you to just walk away. Engaging a narcissist is giving him what he wants.

The Coward

The cowards, often in the guise of a troll, let their behavior be controlled by the social climate around them. They’re bandwagoners. They’re anonymous (usually). Cowards are bold and annoying, but only as long as they’re safely tucked away in Mommy’s basement, where they know they’ll never have to face the consequences of their actions. This type of bully also tends to suck up to more powerful bullies. They whine, tattle and manipulate. Their goal is to feel stronger or better than their targets.

How do you deal with a coward? Call her out. Point out how easy it is to be bold when one has the protection of being a nameless, faceless entity. Now, once you’ve told her she’s a cowardly douche-nozzle, treat her like the nameless, faceless entity she is and walk way. Don’t devote more than a moment of your time to a coward.

The Opportunist

The opportunist is kind of a lurker. His bullying isn’t thought out or planned most of the time, and more importantly, it’s not personal. You see, the opportunist likes to feel superior, but he may not realize it. His attacks are random and sometimes illogical. This is because he has trouble reigning in the need to step on a few heads now and then. There may not be a reason for his behavior. He just sees someone who he perceives as weak, and he pounces. Just as randomly, he’ll leave said person alone.

His behavior is purely self-serving. He wants to feel powerful, so when the opportunity to do so presents itself, he takes it. Guilt or shame may result, but he still repeats the behavior again and again. You may find the opportunist turns the tables now and then, making it seem like you’re bullying him by standing up for yourself. He’s manipulative and a brilliant actor. He can turn from tormentor to wounded bird in a heartbeat. Don’t let that stop you from putting the opportunist in his place. The sooner you show him you’re not weak, the sooner he’ll move back to his corner, where he resumes his lurking.

The Bystander

The bystander’s motivation for bullying is rooted in fear. He doesn’t want to be a victim, so he strikes first and aligns himself with the stronger force to protect his own ass. He doesn’t necessarily like bullying. In fact, a bystander often identifies with victim, but is too scared to help. Instead, a bystander ignores the bully’s behavior or joins in because he fears being the next target. Bystanders are mature, empathetic people, but they lack a backbone.

How do you deal with this type of bully? Confront him. Call him on the behavior. Let him know he’s hurting you and that you won’t stand for it. Most of the time this is enough to make a bystander stop his bullying behavior. Knowing he has someone on his side lessens his fear of the bully, and makes it easier for him to stand with you, rather than against you.

The Mobbist

Okay, the mobbist, in my experience, is a throwback from our high school days. She ensures that others perceive her as a delicate but superior little flower. Don’t be fooled. The mobbist is the queen bee, or the alpha male. This type of bully is in charge and is extremely adept at manipulation. When she finds a suitable victim, she finds a reason to be offended or angered by said victim’s behavior or words. Then she gets to work. She has a gaggle of followers or gang members (usually comprised of cowards and bystanders) who are there to protect her at all costs. They adore their leader. Worship her even. She’s so sensitive, easily offended, but she will cut a bitch for crossing her. Not only that, her gang will help her. In the publishing industry, the mobbist is most often an author who attacks a reviewer or another author for criticizing her or her books. Her gang is typically her fans, but sometimes it includes fellow authors.

This type of bully is a coward, but unlike the coward bully, she doesn’t hide her identity. She’s often a narcissist as well, but instead of hiding behind a massive ego, she hides behind her hurt feelings. Her wounded pride. Her delicate sensibilities. How could you, terrible brute that you are, attack her by…. Whatever you did. The thing is, mobbists don’t often have a rational reason for their bullying and are only as strong as their numbers. They attack as a group, and show no mercy. They don’t stop until they’ve drawn every last drop of blood from your battered corpse, and then they move on to the next victim. Often, social media sites like Twitter are their weapon of choice.

How do you take a mobbist down? You don’t engage immediately. It’s what they want. Document the tweets, blog posts, etc. Make screenshots. Don’t confront them yet. Don’t reply. Don’t defend yourself. See what happens. Just make notes. Then, if she doesn’t tire of poking at you, calmly and confidently call her and her gang on their misconduct. Post a statement on your blog, if you want. Show the world the true nature of the mobbist and her pals. Better yet, though, is to report their abuse to the social media sites they’re abusing. Not just once. Every time it happens, you report their conniving asses. Be a firm and annoying thorn in their side without direct confrontation until it’s no longer fun for them to abuse you. Who knows? Maybe you’ll diminish her numbers when you’re through. Even if you don’t, you’ve proven you aren’t a victim and it’s not as much fun for them to torment you.

The Berserker

The berserker has zero control over his emotions. He doesn’t really set out to bully a particular person or group, but he’s easily angered, so one misstep and you become a target for the purest rage and hate you’ll ever encounter. This type of bully lashes out fast and hits hard, often without forethought or reason. You’re often left shocked. What the hell is his problem?

He has zero self-control. That’s what his problem is. The berserker disappears as quickly as he appears and he’s never apologetic. He feels his anger is justified, as are his actions. If you let him see he’s hurt you, then he’s achieved his goal. This may cause him to move on, but more often it prolongs his attack. How do you deal with a berserker? You don’t. A simple, “Whatever, dude.” is often the perfect response. Let him be angry. Let him lash out. Don’t give him the satisfaction of reacting with the same level of intensity. You can ask him what his problem is. Often you’ll get a vague response followed by more vitriol. So just roll your eyes, look at your friends and be all “Do you see this guy? What a lunatic.” Shake it off. Good girl.

The Psycho

Okay, the psycho bully isn’t someone you brush off as harmless like the previous bullies. Sometimes a berserker might cross the line into psycho territory. This guy isn’t someone you can deal with in the same manner you deal with other bullies. You can’t engage, but you also can’t ignore them. Why? Because this type of bully is dangerous for a number of reasons. These bullies enjoy inflicting pain, particularly physical pain. Once they find a target, they fixate on it, obsess over it. They’re broken. Somewhere in their psyche they lack the piece that says “You’ve gone too far, man.” They’re the type that is most likely to track you down and strangle your cat or burn your house down. Online bullying in the publishing industry rarely bleeds into real life, but it has happened. Even if he doesn’t track you down in real life, the psycho will use the threat of harm, or physical domination through abusive dialogue to cause you emotional pain. Attacking him in return only serves to escalate the situation. Ignoring him, though, also causes escalation. Jesus. How the hell do you deal with a maniac like this? He may hack your email or social media accounts, send you threatening letters or weird shit in the mail. He may target your friends or family. The thing about this type of bully is you can never be sure he won’t cross the line and you can't predict when it will happen. You find yourself living in constant fear, worried that this might be the day you find him in your backyard, at your work, in a car in front of your home.

How do you deal with this shit? Get the law on your side. Every time. Document all abusive behavior online and make sure law enforcement is aware when it goes too far. That way, if a bully does move into psycho territory, you’ve got law enforcement available to stop him. Don’t be his bitch, but don’t discount his behavior as harmless either. Stand up and make sure you’ve got someone else standing with you.

Often the bullies we encounter online are a combination of these types depending on the situation. Sometimes as you stand up for yourself, the bully transforms into different types. This is why it’s always best to ignore at first. Don’t feel sorry for them. Don’t try to understand their behavior. They’re adults. Time to put on their big kid pants and suck it up. Being nice costs nothing and bullying a sign of weakness.

Now, let’s talk about how we’re always supposed to look the other way and ignore a bully. No one wants to back down from a fight. Most of us want to stand up for ourselves or at least make them see the pain they’re causing. But when you encounter adult bullies, it’s important to remember it’s not your job to change them or make them see the errors of their ways. Clearly, if they’re still carrying on like children, bullying others so they feel better about themselves, they’re not likely to change. They like making your life difficult. They thrive on your misery. And most feel justified in their actions. They don’t see themselves as wrong or cruel. So, how do you deal with their shit? What if you've tried to turn the other cheek, but the bully just won't relent? Well, there are a couple of things you can do.

First, just try to be nice. I’m talking being as nice as rainbow-shitting unicorns and sparkle spraying fairies. Think about all the negativity in a bully’s life and his mind. You be a ray of sunshine so bright he’s blinded by you. He’ll get angry. Of course he will. Who gives a shit? Kill that bastard with kindness.

Another tact, and often the most effective, is to simply be assertive. Allowing someone to take your power away is not okay and as I said before, ignoring sometimes doesn’t stop their bad behavior, so never be afraid to stand up for yourself when all else fails. Be confident, but not aggressive, negative or angry.

They need to know you’re not an easy target, but beating a bully is not about being a bigger, louder bully than they are. It’s about not backing down, and also knowing when to walk away. Advocate for yourself and for others. Speak up an speak out. Be heard, but be smart. Sadly, this means accepting that sometimes the only solution is to shake your head and move on.


Renee Miller

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