On Thursday, one of the literary agents I follow on twitter, Pam van Hylckama, was attacked. At first, she thought she was a victim of an attempted car jacking. (Her dog bit the man and he ran away. I've never been a huge fan of dogs, but I've gotta admit, that dog is kind of my hero right now!!) - But when she called the police to report the crime, they didn't think it looked like a random car jacking. Upon further investigation, including a look into her email, the police determined that the attacker was probably a disgruntled author she had rejected. He'd responded to her rejection with an "I hate you and want you dead" email, but apparently, agents receive this kind of horrendous response from whining authors a lot, and so she had ignored it. She tried to explain to the police that this email didn't mean anything, but they insisted on investigating. Sure enough, they found the man at the address he'd included in his query letter, and he had the dog bites on his arm to prove he was the one they were looking for.
I wasn't on twitter much that day, so I missed the drama as it unfolded, but when I came back online on Friday morning, I was horrified! It's no wonder so many literary agents these days don't want to respond at all to submissions they aren't interested in. How many of them would have thought that this would be such a high risk job? The saddest part of all was that she ignored the threat when it first came in, because literary agents get such hate mail all the time!
According to Ms. Van Hylckama, it appears that her attacker found her via her status updates on social media sites, as she checked in to various locations and updated her status to let people know where she would be.
Of course, any sane person would agree that this attack was not her fault. Merely letting friends and co-workers know "I'm going to such and such book signing tonight at XYZ bookstore" is NOT inviting an attack from some wacko, but as she said, "We all have to be careful about telling the world where we are all the time in this age."
The sad truth is that the world is full of crazies, and we need to be careful. It's one thing to let your close friends and family know where you'll be and when you'll be there. It's another to publicly share real-time vacation photos and travel itineraries that scream "My house is empty for the next 2 weeks, just in case you want to burglarize it!"
In the last few days, I've been going over my online presence, trying to find any security lapses in my own judgement. I used to be more diligent about not letting things slip, because I remember the fear of hiding behind the couch while my stalker went from window to window, peering in to determine whether or not I was actually home. (I was never actually assaulted by this guy, but it was still terrifying to realize he wasn't going to take "no" for an answer!) I'm not a celebrity, I don't have a high-profile job that keeps me in the public eye, and I have to admit that I'm not nearly as cute as I was seventeen years ago, when I was being followed by a nut job, but it doesn't hurt to be careful, and letting your guard down might be a mistake you can't afford to make.
I'm not saying you have to completely go off the grid. Use the tools you need to stay in the loop with your friends, family and co-workers. But pay attention to the things you're making public. It's better to be safe than sorry!