An #AuthorToolbox Crash Course in Owning Your Mistakes

A few weeks ago, I woke up and everyone hated me. Well, hate may be a strong word, and everyone may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there certainly were a lot of people who were extremely upset with me. 

Now, before I get too carried away, if you are hoping for a cringey, drama inducing, screenshot-worthy post, I don’t think this is the blog you are looking for. This post (as the #AuthorToolbox name suggests) is to share my perspective on a lesson well learned, and to hopefully help impart some wisdom on others in the process. 

Here’s what happened.

On Tuesday, July 3rd, I woke up like I do any morning. Rough. In between getting my life together and dragging myself to the coffee machine, I opened my Twitter to follow up with new notifications. (For those of you who don’t know, I am the host of a monthly Twitter game called #AuthorConfessions, which I run with my cohost,  Jessica Julien. Between our game followers, loyal players, and other Twitter friends, I usually have a decent amount of notifications, but this morning, my phone was LIT.

And the notifications were MAD.

Confused, my half-asleep brain quickly began waking up and shifting straight into panic mode. What happened? Did I miss something? Why are all of these people so ANGRY at me?

Panicked, I start scrolling through the mass amount of notifications and see tweet after tweet of people who I’ve never interacted with before who are shockingly and EMPHATICALLY angry. At me, my cohost, and for some reason, #AuthorConfession.

Now, normally I’m a very sparkly person and am all about positivity and building the author community so this sudden backlash hurt. A LOT. For lots of different reasons.

Head spinning, I messaged my cohost, who had been dealing with the situation the whole time that I was sleeping. (Here’s another fun fact: I currently live in Abu Dhabi, which means I’m on the opposite side of the world to practically EVERYONE and time zones are actually the worst). She told me a little bit of what happened and along with the tweets I’d read and some quick sleuthing, this is what I learned.

That morning (which was sleepy-time for me!), Jess tweeted another author in response to a tweet she posted using the #AuthorConfession hashtag to tell her that we use the tag for the game to help us follow the responses of our players. The author responded nicely, but it was obvious that she was upset. Several other authors saw the tweet and also became upset and clearly voiced that they felt it was inappropriate. Not only that, but that tweet launched a full on investigation on our game and we even had people claiming we were trying to trademark the hashtag itself (which wasn’t true, but still, just trust me-when you wake up to comparisons of #byefaleena, you know you’ve screwed up)!

Honestly, it was a nightmare. Reading the tweets, I knew I had more backstory than most; it is our game after all, Jess and I spend hours creating questions, graphics, and interacting with our players, no to mention the countless other things that come with hosting a Twitter game. And, I knew where Jessica’s tweet came from. #AuthorConfession is a popular game, and we’ve had to deal with spamming, content theft, and frustrated players. I also know Jess. I know she wasn’t trying to attack anyone. know she was 37 weeks pregnant, super stressed with baby health issues, and a few other personal issues that the internet does not know about (and quite frankly, doesn’t need to). I know that my beautiful partner was only trying to take care of our game and players, just like she would her brand new baby boy, and unfortunately, like most new moms, she made a mistake and said something in a way she shouldn’t have.

But that was all information that I had and the Twitter community did not. All they saw was a tweet that was, admittedly, poorly worded and jumped on it and things escalated (and boy, did they escalate quickly!).

Now, to be fair (since I’ve given you a bit of my perspective), I can ALSO understand why people reacted strongly. By this point, you have to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard of the Cocky trademark that’s rocked the romance writing word (and honestly, it DOES have some pretty scary implications for writers everywhere, so if you haven’t checked it out, it’s definitely worth a look).

(Very) Long story short, this romance writer filed a trademark for the word ‘cocky’ based off of the series title of her books. The trademark was granted and the author proceeded to send cease and desist letters to other authors with the words ‘cocky’ in their book titles, threatening legal action if they didn’t change their titles. (It has been a huge ordeal, and there’s SO MUCH more to this, but I will leave it for you to explore).

Needless to say, this author has opened a disastrous can of worms that has torn a rift in the writing world. After all, if someone can (and then proceeds to try to) stop other people using WORDS what does that mean for writers?

People are angry. And justifiably so. And in the middle of ALLLLLLL of this, we have a very badly worded tweet sent into the void.

The spark erupts.

Twitter catches fire.

We. Get. Burned.

(Now, I’m sure you’re wondering how this is getting from point A to point B, but the happy ending is coming–I PROMISE.)

So, I’m sitting there, about ten minutes into waking up in the middle of an ACTUAL disaster, mostly awake at this point, full-on nauseous, and feeling one wrong breath away from bursting into tears, and I do the only thing I can think to do.

I apologize.

Even though it wasn’t my tweet.

Even though I didn’t trademark a hashtag.

Even though there were lots of things that people were saying that just weren’t true, I apologized.

And here’s why.

I was wrong. 

It was our game that sent out those tweets. The tweets were NOT a good representation of our game or of us. And ultimately, our actions hurt people.

It doesn’t mater that we had the BEST intentions and that we never meant for any of that to happen. It did, and people were hurt because of it. And for that, we needed (and wanted to apologize).

I spent the next few minutes carefully responding to the posted thread demanding answers. I explained what happened, why it happened, and why I was sorry that it happened. I addressed all of the points that were brought up in the tweet as honestly and clearly as I could (which is tricky when each tweet only gives you 140 characters and you’re not very good at threads).

Then I waited. 

And then, something changed. Some of the people who were SO INCREDIBLY angry saw the apology and were not nearly so angry. They were actually quite surprised. And rather lovely. 

In fact, the turning point came when Dakota Cassidy (@DakotaCassidy, who is now one of my Twitter friends and gave me permission to include her in this post), one of the most vocal people towards our tweet, quoted my apology and commended it. After Dakota, several others noted the apology and the massive influx of angry tweets began to slow down. We still had lots of other people who were upset, and more angry tweets came in, but we also had people who were defending us (Not to mention our loyal Confessioners  who had our backs the whole time–you know who you are, and I love you so much for it).

After that, it still took things a while to settle down, but it calmed. It didn’t erase; there are probably still some people who don’t like us, and if you REALLLLLY want, you can still find angry tweets directed toward Jess and I (internet immortality is no joke), but overall, the situation resolved.

And I’m glad.

For obvious reasons, but also for a few maybe not so obvious reasons (and here’s where that happy ending I promised you comes).

  • I learned a LOT. Now, this is something I don't EVER want to happen again (and I strongly recommend against trying for yourself), but it is an experience that brought a lot of important lessons. I'm hoping that by sharing them here, maybe someone else will learn them NOT the hard way, and save themselves some heartache. I am also hoping that by posting this we can raise some awareness of the TMing issue and the heartache it is causing the writing community. We have people hurting. Good people. Good writers. All of them creatives who JUST want to share their words. Trademarking may seem like it has benefits--and maybe it does, but really it only does so by hurting other people. There HAS to be a better way to sell books.
  • I realized (even more) how amazing my friends are. During this event, I had a LOT of feels, but I also had a lot of amazing people supporting me. And even though I was wrong, it was amazing to know that I had people who still loved and cared about me enough to not only stick by me, but DEFEND me. These are people that I have never met in person, but they still supported me when it wasn't popular and they didn't have to. It showed me the importance and power of having a tribe and made me appreciate mine that much more.
  • I made some NEW friends. This may be the most shocking of them all. Even though it was NOT fun, some really great things came from the #AuthorConfession disaster. After our apology, I got to connect with some of the amazing authors who hated me (lol). Dakota (who told me I had to mention exactly how mouthy she got in her tweets) is AMAZING lady who is filled with grace and insight, and who I now consider a mentor of sorts. I've also been able to connect with several other authors who graciously accepted our apology and then stopped to chat and build more, positive relationships. Our game has even gained a few followers from the angry crowd! Who'd have thought?! Now, I am even more convinced that any social media can be a wonderfully positive and amazing place if you want to make it that way.

So, WHAT exactly have I spent thousands of words saying?

Be nice. The Twitter writing world is an AMAZING place to be, full of passionate, talented people. You can find your place inside by being kind and building people up. 

And, if for some reason, you do screw up, apologize. Own up to your mistakes and make a sincere, honest effort to make aments. You may not get forgiveness from everyone, but you will get it from the people who matter. And you will know that you’ve done the right thing.

And really, that’s what matters most.

JM Sullivan

Teacher by day, award-winning author by night, J.M. Sullivan is a fairy tale fanatic who loves taking classic stories and turning them on their head. She has a passion for the writing community and loves empowering and encouraging other authors on social media with #AuthorConfession. When she’s not buried in her laptop, you can find her watching scary movies with her husband, playing with her kids, or serving homage to her cats. Although known to dabble in adulting, J.M. is a big kid at heart who still believes in true love, magic, and most of all, the power of coffee. If you would like to connect with J.M., you can find her on her website www.jmsullivanbooks.com, on social media at @jmsullivanbooks, or by joining the fun at #AuthorConfession--she’d love to hear from you.

This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. You are an idol and such an amazing role model.

    I also went through a thing in the past where I accidentally upset an entire Facebook group (not fun) so I can relate to this a little. Trying to resolve and handle people who get upset over a misunderstanding is one of the hardest things to do, not only does it impact your own self confidence but it feels entirely unfair because you never intended to hurt anybody but they still got hurt.

    Something I really hate about the internet is that it only takes one person to blow something completely out of proportion and everybody will jump to conclusions once it starts, everybody will come for you without having the full story or doing their research, and they shouldn’t have to know every detail but it then becomes your responsibility to share every detail to resolve everyone’s issues. I think this is unavoidable and I think at some point, everybody who ever strives to make something of themselves will encounter criticism and make mistakes. That’s why I’m so glad you shared this post and I hope it helps people in guiding them on what to do if that situation ever comes about.

    The best thing you can do is be genuine, honest, and sincere, no matter how angry it makes you or how unfair it feels, and try to understand why the other person was hurt and always apologise. And if you have done that and they still continue to be angry, move on. It will only continue to hurt you if you let it, and you will always have people who support you. Those who don’t are never worth your time.

    1. Awww thanks Pagan. You are too sweet! It was definitely a tough couple of days, but I am thankful for all the things I learned, and you are right the best thing is to reflect, adjust as needed, and keep moving forward. 🙂

  2. What a nightmare! I’m so glad this had a happy ending though 🙂
    I haven’t run into any issues (thankfully) with my weekly writing prompt hashtag game yet, but I do worry about it sometimes. This is a great guide on how to deal with any upsets and make the best of a bad situation.

    1. Thanks Louise! I hope you don’t! But if you do, there are ways that you can make it through. Just be sincere and keep sparkling and things will smooth out in the end 🙂

  3. What a nightmare! I applaud your courage. The more I hear about Twitter, the more I think I would rather have another un-medicated childbirth than get on that platform. I’m scared of getting caught in a flamewar like that.

    1. Aww thanks!!! But I really hope I don’t scare you away! There are some parts of Twitter that can be intimidating for sure, but there are also a lot of really happy places to be too! I just find those pockets and make them my home and I have found a lot of really great friends in the process. 🙂

  4. I have had a similar experience on a much smaller scale. In my own excitement about announcing that I was accepted as a collaborator on a project, I got the wording wrong. Unbeknownst to me while I was at work, my facebook went a little crazy. ( I don’t have a cell phone, so I am not connected during my work day at all to the internet). I came home to find rules about how to word the announcements, what / what not to do and I was in a tizzy about how to fix the mistake I didn’t even know I had made.
    Like you, I apologized.
    I explained that I am very new to the author world, and meant no disrespect with my announcement. This cleared a path for resolving the issue.
    I asked what steps would be best to fix the mess I didn’t know I made, and because the people I was dealing with were gracious and kind, they guided me to the solution they wanted to see.
    I was then very nervous about submitting my work for this project.
    They were gracious and kind with their feedback, also and we have built the beginnings of what I sincerely hope to be a long-lasting professional relationship.
    Sometimes you have to be the person who apologizes. This is especially important if you care about the relationship you have with the person who took offence to what you said, did, or wrote.
    About 16 years ago, a supervising colleague told me that it was a sign of maturity when a person asks for help.
    I still remember that conversation, and when I apologized, I asked for help.
    It was the right thing to do.
    It was the only way to fix things.
    It was upsetting, and very confusing before I made the decision to write that apology, but I am glad I did.
    I was not willing to apologize when I first saw the messages, but I thought about the outcome if I didn’t, and realized that my pride wasn’t worth losing the opportunity.
    We can all learn something from making mistakes, even if we don’t know what they are when they happen.
    I haven’t been involved with #authorconfessions yet. I hope to join in the fun soon!

    1. Oh Tish, I am so sorry to hear that! It’s awful coming into a load of angry notifications and not knowing what caused it. I am glad that you were able to get your situation resolved as well and it just reinforces the message: if you do make a mistake, apologize and do your best to amend the situation. You are right- pride does its best to get in the way, but if you can push through and not let it, I think everything turns out better in the long run.

  5. Wowowowow. I had no idea this happened recently, and I’ve seen #AuthorConfessions in my Twitter feed. How crazy! I’m glad things ended well, and am still on pins and needles waiting to see how Cockygate turns out — hopefully… as well as your lovely blog post. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Oh gosh! Well hopefully the #AuthorConfessions you have seen have been positive! I am glad things resolved as well, and I hope things do turn around with Cockygate too! That whole situation is such a mess right now and it really makes me sad. I am glad you enjoyed this post, I was a little nervous about writing it, but I decided if anyone can learn from this, it was worth sharing. <3

  6. Wow, I’m glad everything ended well. I have to admit, I did catch a glimpse of some of this as it was all going down, only without the context. It’s taken me years to open up and be a little bit more myself online. I feel that I am, every day. But a huge fear of mine is saying something I intend to be funny or merely sarcastic and end up offending someone who doesn’t understand my joke. I like how you summed this up with a simple message to be kind and genuine. It’s comforting to know that a sincere apology can work wonders on these situations.

    1. Oh my! I hope that some of the context helps! I am glad that things have settled too! It is intimidating to think that every word you say can be dissected and taken the wrong way, but I have learned that even if something does come across wrong or is poorly worded, an apology really does go a very long way.

    2. Christy, tell your jokes. Be yourself. If it falls flat move on. If someone gets upset, apologize and explain what you meant. As long as you follow those simple rules, you will be fine. It has taken me the better part of 44 years to learn to stand up for myself and to believe that yes, I really am funny. Not everyone “gets” my jokes. If that little voice in your head is clanging a warning bell, maybe rethink it. Otherwise, go for it, and own your sense of humour!

  7. Wow, what a nightmare. So glad I have never owned a twitter account.

    1. It was rough for sure, and I can understand the apprehension, but please don’t let this scare you away! Twitter is honestly one of my FAVORITE places as a writer. There is negativity everywhere, but if you can find the happy places, it makes it amazing. Even though #AuthorConfession had this hiccup EVERY other interaction I’ve had has been positive. It is a wonderful community that is so welcoming.

    2. Beth, if ever you do want to join Twitter, joining in on Julie’s #AuthorConfessions is honestly one of the best ways to get started. You’ll meet other authors, find people to follow, and a lot of people will follow you back. Also try #OnThePorch, which is a hashtag authors use to shoot the breeze.

      1. Thanks Raimey!!! I feel like my next months’ post should be all about Twitter ‘happy places’ actually….yep. I’m writing that down. LOL

  8. OMG, I was totally on the edge of my seat while reading this (“What happened? What happened?”) Good on you for handling a difficult situation with grace. I will note that people served you up with a bit of a double standard, because there are some author-related hashtags out there with some very strict rules that the community is pretty serious about enforcing, keeping unrelated or non-rule-following tweets off of. Many a time, I’ve seen people reply to people who are using the #MSWL hashtag, which is only “supposed” to be used by agents/editors. It sounds, in this case, like the people who got angry weren’t perhaps familiar with Twitter terminology enough to realize that #AuthorsConfessions is technically a game. They saw the words “our players” and fresh off the cocky controversy, they made an association with about ownership and rights. They assumed, and I don’t blame them for assuming, the “our” was possessive, when in this case, it was a term of endearment. Running author events can be hard, and people have put me to the test, too. Those of us who run these things know what happens behind the scene, how it isn’t always sunny. We’re not perfect, but we try to do better. I’m happy you shared this. If ever you want to commiserate or bounce a problem off me, feel free to.

    1. Thanks Raimey! It was definitely an experience! And it’s true! There is so much to running events that you’d never even realize until you actually try! But it’s worth it in the long run I think. And YES! Thank you so much for the offer! I will definitely hit you up in the future (and the offer stands here too if you ever need/want to chat! <3 )

  9. I’m sorry this happened to you Julie, I know how hard you work on #authorconfession. While I agree with everything you’ve said I do believe that people these days are far too quick to get defensive over things and read things in a negative way, it seems to be happening all to frequently. I miss the days where you could say something and it wasn’t immediately taken to that dark and negative place:(.

    Hope you and your co-host have found some peace from it now.

    1. Thanks Emma! It has definitely smoothed over and things are back to normal now, and I intend to keep it that way 😉

  10. I love this post. Thanks for sharing such a touch experience and for sharing how you dealt with it. Good on you!

  11. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I can’t imagine the kind of panic that waking up to that would feel like, and you handled it so well. I’ve seen Author Confession around, and I haven’t ever tried to play, but I’ll have to check out future challenges 🙂

    1. You’re welcome! It was definitely not my favorite experience ever lol. And thank you! You should definitely check out #AuthorConfession, we’d love to have you! 🙂

  12. It’s so crazy how something can explode into something you didn’t intend it to be. Your advice is great though. Being kind and apologizing if you do make a mistake is essential to building good relationships. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You’re welcome, and thank you! Hopefully it helps someone else later on down the road too! 🙂

  13. So I haven’t ran into any traumatizing uproars yet, at least not in the public eye!, but I can imagine how stressful and upsetting such an event can be. Especially if you have to take the blame for someone else. Great job handling the situation and I hope that if it were to happen to me, I could handle it as well as you did.

  14. Oh no, I’m so sorry that happened to you! I’ve seen the # around Twitter but never taken part, now I think I will join in sometime, you’ve obviously built a pretty awesome community if loads of your players jumped to your defence – Twitter can be such a scary place, it’s nice to have a supportive crowd around you 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience, it’s something I worry about if I ever get published, tweeting something that someone takes offence to and it catches fire. I’ll definitely eat humble pie if that ever happens, I’m not the confrontational type, so reading this had my anxiety flaring up! I’m so glad everything turned out well and it was a learning experience, and didn’t put you off posting online in future 🙂 And you made a new friend, which is amazing and what social media is all about at its core, isn’t it?

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