Nathan Bransford, Author


Friday, September 14, 2012

Agent Pam van Hylckama Allegedly Assaulted by Author She Rejected



Literary agent and author Pam van Hylckama was the apparent victim of an assault last night by an author she had rejected.

First off, I'm incredibly glad Pam's okay and it appears the suspect is in custody. I had the pleasure of meeting Pam last year and she's a great, supportive presence in the book world.

I got a bit of grief for this post back while I was an agent. Some people mocked me for being so wary of meeting unannounced visitors.

Even now that I'm out of the game I think that caution was very well-placed. I'm not sure that everyone quite can know what it's like to be on the receiving end of the sometimes unhinged vitriol agents receive on a regular basis.

Thank goodness it ended without anything more serious happening.






41 comments:

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

Wow, I never thought of a Jack Russel as being more ferocious than a bulldog! This guy sounds like a total whack job, and a reason not to check in with an app like 4-Square EVER. Happy to hear she is OK.

Isaiah Campbell said...

I think this story begs the question I've been asking for a while (and since you're a social media guru, you're well equipped to answer): Where is the line of privacy on social media? How do we maintain a viable online presence, let people see us as real people, and yet still keep ourselves and our families safe? I don't want to unplug, but stories like this make me wonder if being overly active on twitter, facebook, foresquare, etc. is irresponsibly putting myself and my family at risk. What do you think, where should we establish our boundaries?

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

That is terrifying :( I'm so glad that she's all right. I guess you just can't be too careful nowadays.

@Carmen Webster Buxton: It's hard to find accurate dog bite statistics because not all of them get reported, but I've heard that among the breeds that bite the most are Jack Russells, Dachshunds, and Chihuahuas.

Will Overby said...

That is terrifying! Glad she is OK. I agree with Isaiah. How do we as emerging writers balance our personal and online lives?

Charlie Rice said...

I understand the book he was querying was on dog training.

Anonymous said...

I just looked through Pam's twitter (what a frightening saga!), apparently the guy's been acquitted.

maine character said...

Yeah, she's saying, "my car jacking theory proves to be right. For those who asked, I love my job and have no plans to stop doing it."

What a brave spirit after all that. And wish I could send doggie biscuits to her Jack Russell.

Nathan Bransford said...

I think what she's saying is that she hopes that it was just a carjacking. Her most recent tweet is a continuation of the previous one.

Anonymous said...

This is a terrible thing for anyone to experience.

But I must admit that my own personal experiences, along with many other authors I know, have been less than favorable with Larson Pomada. We're talking HUGE attitude to people who are nice to them.

Brendan O'Meara said...

Glad she's fine and that her dog got a shot at this guy.

I'm not going to pretend to be in this guy's head, but he probably has illusions that his book or his writing will blast him into the stratosphere. Maybe if he read this quote by Seth Godin, he'd be better equipped for the tsunami of rejection all of us writers face:

"Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don't expect much."

Kristin Laughtin said...

Oh, for crying out--I'm glad she's OK. And I agree with the comment on the LA Times that she did not invite this by living so openly online, which was along the same lines of thinking as blaming rape victims based on the lengths of their skirts. You can take steps to keep yourself safe(r) in either scenario, but ultimately the blame is on the attacker.

I can't believe people would mock you for not wanting to meet unannounced visitors. (Well, I can, but that reflects something sad about the world.) We hear about crazy people doing crazy things because they feel rejected or slighted every single day. I'd be surprised if this was the first time a disgruntled writer went after an agent or editor.

@Isaiah: I think we just need to be careful with what we put out there, especially on public profiles. We have to ask ourselves whether we'd really want random strangers knowing that information, whether it's where we work or what our families look like. I think Foursquare is incredibly foolish for public accounts, and I have to approve it any time someone tries to check me in somewhere on Facebook (and that account is pretty locked down). (Of course, there could be exceptions. If you're going to a writer's conference and have been talking about it, people are going to know you're there whether you check in or not. But for the other days in the year...?) We can't ever make ourselves totally safe, but I think we need to have a more critical awareness of possible bad things that could be done with the information we put out.

D.G. Hudson said...

It's good that she had the dogs with her. Pity that women have to put up with always being on guard.

Most authors are more civilized.

Anonymous said...

A person doesn't have to have any voluntary online presence at all to be vulnerable. There are directories online that post people's information without their knowledge or consent. Also, your university, your workplace, the companies with whom you do business, may also have put your information online. I've seen a public database of death notices that lists people's Social Security numbers, not even password-protected.

Other Lisa said...

People are whack jobs. I hope that Jack Russell terrier got a filet mignon!

Beth said...

I'm glad the agent is okay. No one should have to take unwanted visitors. It's a choice, not an obligation, but it seems to me a bit of a double standard that the query process is compared to a job hunt until the comparison is no longer good for an agent.

Queries are expected to be perfect. It's our "resume." Agents don't have to reject a query, because employers don't have to reject an application (although, decent employers do). Yet, the writer is expected to notify everyone who has a query when they get an offer, even though you wouldn't do this with every potential employer you've applied to. And though it's like a job-hunt showing initiative is not only unimportant but unwelcomed.

Beth said...

Also, I think it's unfair to lump whack jobs in with other writers.

...And I do like that you're earlier post pointed out the person most likely wasn't a whack job.

TeresaR said...

I don't know what the percentage of psychologically unbalanced individuals is compared with those who won't go off the deep end, but my view is when you have to deal with the public, it's better to err on the cautious side. Those who mocked you were probably those who'd be likely to go off the deep end themselves.

I'm so glad that Ms. Hylckama is all right.

Bryan Russell said...

Russells are always very smart.

Laura said...

"The bulldog licked him" :P

Re: Isaiah Campbell "Where is the line of privacy on social media? How do we maintain a viable online presence, let people see us as real people, and yet still keep ourselves and our families safe? [...] What do you think, where should we establish our boundaries?"

A professional's online presence...is ONLINE. That seems like a perfectly clear boundary to me. She didn't advertise "come meet me in person here" or "feel free to drop by and talk about queries!" on any of her social networking sites. In no way did she imply that that would be OK. It is unfair to blame her for being too "open" with her social media -- as if she could have predicted that some nutjob would stalk her down. If someone can't understand that our online personae stay online, then there's something wrong with them, not with us. (But I'll admit I've always felt uncomfortable with FourSquare).

On a side note-- I might be overreacting, but I hate the use of language like "alleged assault" and "apparent victim." She *was* assaulted; she *was* the target of an attack. What the heck is alleged or apparent about it? :P Not picking on you, Nathan; I understand why such descriptors are used. I just don't like them.

Nathan Bransford said...

Laura-

I hear you. I personally feel like "alleged" and "apparent" are an important nod to the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

Pam said...

I think alleged and apparent are great words. Thanks for this post, Nathan.

Anon, I'm sorry you felt treated badly by someone at our agency. I personally strive to answer every email with respect.

Honestly guys, I haven't heard a thing from the PD since last night. I'm assuming I'll hear something by Monday the lastest. I think most writers are respectful and nice. If I get an update I'll put it here in Nathan's comments!

I feel a bit overwhelmed honestly by all of the attention, I'm spending a lot of time offline. I do think we need to be more careful about how lax we are online. We are the first of our species to be living entirely via technology and there are going to be lessons about the pros and cons of that.

Sara said...

I'm so glad she had the dogs there to protect her and to help identify the alleged attacker. Although LOL @ "The bulldog licked him." Aww...sweet bull dogs and yay for the Jack Russell! Little dogs (OK, all dogs) rock.

Who knows if this guy was stalking her though? It might have had nothing do do with her social media usage.

treeoflife said...

I'm glad to hear she's OK. It simply boggles the mind that someone would commit assault over a rejected book. Is there anyone in this game that doesn't know that even the best have to face rejections? How many times was Harry Potter rejected, or Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? How many rejection letters did Stephen King receive?

Sad to say though, there are probably just unstable people everywhere, and all anyone can do about it is be cautious.

chillcat said...

Well if were the agent, I HATE to think what my German shepherd would have done to that guy's arm. What stupid, loser behaviour. All writers know that they will be rejected and they have to move on from that. But with violence?! Nah!!

Anonymous said...

Good thing you were able to stay nice an safe in your office and let the receptionist take the risk, way to go.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Says the person who takes so much risk posting by anonymously. Haha...

Anne R. Allen said...

Pam has handled this with grace. I understand why she's spending a lot of time offline. I felt the same way when I got death threats from a nutjob who didn't like one of my blogposts last November. It's hard to tell if the craziness will spill over into real life. There's no way she could have known, but it is a warning to us all to be a bit more protective of our privacy.

Oh, and I should let people know I've been told the bulldog is a puppy, so he can be forgiven for his lack of protection skills.

Darlene Underdahl said...

And all I ever did was thank them, even when they rejected me… sniffle, sniffle.

I do question if people are more desperate. Years ago, they would say “Screw you,” and work a few shifts in a factory, until they calmed down.

Julie Sondra Decker said...

I think it's disgusting to suggest someone could have brought this upon herself by not being polite. In my experience, people can interpret any rejection as unnecessarily cruel or vicious, and turn to the victim claiming it was their rudeness, not the perpetrator's own inappropriate behavior, that was actually to blame here.

Getting rejected sucks. It stings. And there's no particularly kind way to tell someone "I don't want your work." But if agents accepted every manuscript they were offered, what kind of achievement would it be to earn representation?

Larsen-Pomada was the first agency to request--and eventually reject--a full manuscript of mine in 2006. It was all polite, though disappointing. Know what I did when they rejected me?

Wrote a sad blog post.

And none of it contained any vitriol for the agent. Just disappointment. A different version of my manuscript later did find representation, because I learned from the experience and the advice.

Mira said...

I'm so sorry this happened to Pam. How incredibly scary! I'm glad she was able to defend herself and she is all right.

I never thought you over-reacted to the person who came to your office, Nathan. You were an exteremely popular agent, and you had to disappoint scores of writers. I think you were wise to be careful. People can handle their disappointment and anger very badly.

I think people need to be careful!

G. B. Miller said...

Scary, although where I work for a day job, it sadly doesn't surprise me.

When you work with and deal with the general public on a daily basis, you learn to keep unknown people at arm's length until you can determine their intent.

I work for the State of Connecticut, and we have rules and security in place for our agencies, and for some agencies like mine (Children and Families) the presence is overt and in your face.

And the rules don't just apply to the general public, but they apply to staff members as well.

We usually get very upset in my unit (Payroll) when an employee attempts to visit us unannounced because that means security isn't doing their job.

And yes, we've had our share of nutjubs. About a couple of months ago, we had a bomb threat called into your agency, so not only were the local and the state police involved, but so were the FBI as well.

The point that I'm trying to make is that you should always keep your guard up, no matter if you're dealing with the real world or the online world.

Sometimes, being paranoid can keep you out of harms way.

Mark Darley, Author said...

Whether disgruntled author or not, I imagine there must always be some level of anxiety for an agent, having to hand out so many rejections and not knowing who is at the other end.

K. C. Blake said...

No matter what your occupation you need to be cautious. There are a lot of crazy people out there. I don't even like walking down the street by myself in the daytime.

Some people get crazy when they are rejected. Check out American Idol or X Factor and count how many times the judges are cussed at, threatened, or hit with a cold beverage in the face. If I was an agent (or a judge) I think I'd get a bodyguard.

Matthew MacNish said...

I've personally felt extreme disappointment at being rejected by an agent, heck even anger, but this ... this is unspeakable. I mean it's a tough business, and sure, it really hurts when someone doesn't love something you've poured your heart and soul into, but there is nothing that justifies violence against another human being.

Now as far as your old post (which I somehow missed) there is no way that person was just trying to be a dedicated submitter. If he had been, he would have removed his hat and sunglasses, and had a seat in the lobby. And ... also just not have been so creepy.

birdinabowler said...

Wow. That's such a terrifying experience. I'm glad she's not giving up on being an agent after all that.

I have an imaginary stalker, a person who I picture looking over all my online sites with a fine-toothed comb, and try to picture if there's anyway this imaginary stalker could possibly find information to use against me. It takes a little effort, but in the end I think I'm safer for it because it keeps me from posting things I shouldn't.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Absolutely glad she's safe. Was just having a discussion last night with some writers/actors/fans etc about how approachable some "celebrities" are, and how some aren't, and how we understand the reasons for both.

And the difference between being a "big fan," wanting some sort of "touching of the robe" of the great one sort of thing, versus stalkers, who seem to hope to gain celebrity, or feel they should be celebrities, because they stalk them.

We were specifically talking about writers, though. The thought someone might actually stalk or assault an agent, oddly, never entered our heads or conversation.

It's sad that anyone with anything to share that others might like, or disagree with, has to now take extra measures at personal security.

But I guess that's a warning to others: access is easier now, to everyone. And that means personal safety is more important than its ever been as well.

Fred said...

How else is a guy supposed to get an agent to love what he wrote if he can't terrorize the agent?

Lauren Monahan said...

Ugh. That sucks. I remember being stalked in college & how awful it was. I'm still a bit obsessive about locking doors and neighborhood watch, etc. It'll probably be a while before her nervous system calms down. Hearing about the madness brought up those awful memories for me and how much agent/writer match ups are like dating (even with the occasional psycho). I even just blogged about the dating/agenting comparison as a PSA on how to take rejection : http://thinkingtoinking.blogspot.com/2012/09/on-how-to-avoid-turning-into-stalker-or.html
Anyway...
Sorry to P.v.H. Always so rattling to have a brush with crazy. Thanks N.B. for reporting with careful candor.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to ring in on the stalking part of this, too. Maybe because a lot had been said (until what Lauren wrote) but a lot of it seemed kind of Outside or something. Having recently dealt with some stalking behavior, I wanted to say that just realizing that someone has been following you is terrifying. You probably wouldn't think it would be...and I certainly never really understood that feeling until it happened to me. But the thing is, someone--maybe someone you were very close to, maybe someone you've never met--has come unhinged and is very angry with you while seeming to covet your approval. They're not OK. Normal behavior...and behavioral norms...don't apply here. The person doesn't respond to cues others would get...and while that can be harmless with some perhaps, this person is Angry with you at least some of the time. Okay, so...

What Lauren said.

My point was to say that, even without the violence, Pam would probably be dealing with some PTSD-type stuff.

Pam-There are lots of us out here who understand some of what you're going through. Don't let anyone minimize the aftereffects. It was NOT your fault. In ANY way. Be gentle with yourself.

Stephsco said...

You never know what is really going on with someone. Maybe that rejection was the last straw after a series of upsets and disappointments in life. It doesn't mean the person is "crazy" but they were absolutely out of line. I work in healthcare administration among people with master's degrees and doctorates, and last year someone keyed the car of an executive director. I was kind of shocked that anyone at my office would do that but I suppose I shouldn't be. People get upset and act irrationally--sometimes to the point they threaten other people. Thankfully in this case the police were able to apprehend him.

I pretty much never feel safe, which sucks. I am always aware of what shoes I'm wearing--can I make a run for it?, who is around in a dark parking lot, if I go somewhere by myself at night anymore. I think for me it was having my apartment broken into, it's so violating.

Lauren Monahan said...

I agree Stephsco. Sorry for being so flippant about the "crazy" line. I did however want to strongly emphasize that it isn't a "within the realm of acceptable" reaction, and that the attack had nothing to do with the victim or her agenting. Something you seem to understand as well.

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