In the discussion on Monday regarding the person stopping by the office, an anonymous commenter chimed in with what I thought was an interesting point of discussion about boundaries in the Internet era.
Have been thinking a lot about the writers who choose to keep their privacy, such as Salinger and Pynchon and those who are all out twittering hither-nither.
I have very mixed feelings about the personal publicity writers are encouraged to develop, even agents. It seems like we are auditioning for “America’s Next SuperWriter” and the fifteen minutes of fame required.
…The photos do connect people. But then where is privacy given a boundary?
As I wrote in a post late last year, the days of being “Just An Author,” if they ever existed, are basically over. Everything is out there on the Internet, and authors are really expected to put themselves out there to find their audience. Publishers want authors to be Facebooking, Tweeting, blogging, and everything they can do to get out there. It’s really tough to do that without using at least part of your personal life and picture to make that happen, even if you’re using a pen name.
What do you think: Is this the price the modern author has to pay if they want an audience? Is there a way to balance Internet presence with privacy?
From my own (limited) perspective, it seemed that children and teens were a social phenomenon on their own networking site. Adults were not wanted. But they seemed to push their way in anyway. Then it got crowded with wannabe and established musicians, twenty somethings, etc. until sixty year olds are now showing their hips there.
I went on a couple of the new (for adults too) networking spaces briefly at the urging of a writer friend.She believes in this as necessary for a writing career, but she exhausted herself and even quit writing her novel. It was quite a good novel–WIP anyway–that now may never be finished. On these social networking sites, I found large numbers of would be "experts," and many "wannabes" and nothing enough of substance to keep me coming back, so I abandoned this route. For me, anyway, it wasn't a way to connect.
Even after quitting, I continue to get e-mails from complete strangers who "want to be my friend."
That, to me, is a lot like a stranger showing up at my office. I don't know them.
I much prefer blogs. They, to me, serve my needs better and can become communities and formats where like-minded people can hold meaningful or interesting conversations,learn things pertinent to the career of writing, etc. and can engage, named or unnamed. There is more control by the administrators and less snarking. There is a reason to these I can appreciate better.
Fawn Neun says
There are social networking sites that are just for kids that you might want to look into. You could even blog as "Jacob". 🙂
As may be obvious, I'm a little concerned about how much of myself makes it online. My nom-de-web serves to allow some privacy, while still allowing me to connect with readers. The time may come when I want to introduce those on-line readers to an author whose name is decidedly NOT Ulysses. When that day comes, I'm not sure whether "Ulysses" will survive, or be relegated back into the pages of myth that spawned him.
Anonymity is easy when you wish to remain obscure. When you don't… the whole thing gets tricky.
I've often thought about having the author photos on my books being somehow non-identifying. "Ulysses lives and works in Ithaka with his wife and children. This is a photo of his left elbow." Or "This is his cat, Agamemnon." Or maybe, "his bald-spot as seen from space."
Funny, maybe. Effective marketing tool? Mmm… nah.
Thank your for your apt comments, Nathan. There's no one way to be an author online.
I know of a literary agent who is on-line and he is professional, polite, and cooperative. His blog has 3022 dedicated followers at the moment.
And, dang, he's an author, too.
Professional, polite, and cooperative might just be a most excellent way to be an on-line presence.
J.M. Lacey says
The use of the Internet, Blogs, Tweeting, etc. has provided a wealth of marketing advantages to writers today. And used with care, they can help us get our names and reputations out all over the globe. Unless we are the next Salinger, we can’t hide ourselves away and hope people buy our book. They don’t know we exist!
But with anything we use for good, we still need to exercise caution. So we wouldn’t want to write anything on the Internet that will allow certain undesirables (yes, there are sick, crazy people out there) into our lives by posting home addresses, names of our family (note Kiersten White’s comment), photos or anything else that is simply no one’s business. People forget that once IT is on the Internet, IT never goes away, whatever that IT is.
We also have time to think about and absorb what we’ve written before we hit that “post” button, so consider: how could what I’m about to put out in the open be taken by someone who hasn’t known me for the last 10 years?
Best thing to consider when posting: write for your audience, not for you.
Wanda B. Ontheshelves says
Pet peeze, I mean, pet peeve: I hate going to a website and there are no names or faces attached, no physical location…no physical address…but then, I don't include any of that info on my websites either – a friend went to my website and said she liked it a lot, but it seemed impersonal, without my name…sometimes I wonder if I should get one of those myname.com websites…but that seems horrible to me – my name + com, as in commercial, like I'm a brand, I myself as a person am also a brand. I think they need a new category – .author, so all the authors, wannabee authors, whomever, can have a website "myname.author" – seriously, why not? I'd pay extra bucks for a domain name if there were an .author extension. Get to work on it, Curtis Brown 🙂
Barbara's Spot on the Blog says
I think having some self imposed rules and guidelines for posting are a good idea. I'm careful in what I share, how much detail. I've committed to not doing negative rants over things that have upset me and I try to keep my personal politics and religious beliefs off the airwaves.
I do love blogging though and I'd enjoy doing it whether I was a published author or not.
blah blah blah. Thanks Seamus for bringing up the introvert/extrovert thing. I'm 50/50 on the scale, and by the time I've read HALF the posts on your blog, Nathan, I haven't got the emotional energy to post a comment, never mind write my own blog or manage all the other social networking media. What bits of extrovertism I get I have to ration on my real-live people – friends and family. I completely relate to what Munk said about the random noise. If what so many of the energetic, 20-something, internet savvy extroverts are saying is even HALF true, then too bad for me. To succeed as a writer I'll do what I have to do, and no more, but I can't possibly compete with those people. Privacy is almost beside the point. In fact I have to go and lie down now.
I'm going with a pen name.
Oh, that was just silly and unnecessary. But it was fun. 🙂
I had one last thought about this. J.K. Rowling's blog. She doesn't interact with her readers on the blog at all, but it's fun.
And yes, her books sell themselves, but my point is that people enjoy her blog despite her virtual absence. So, for authors who are very shy or socially uncomfortable, there are still ways to market oneself on the web.
Sarah Aiglen says
In the Age of Google, writers definitely need to have a Web presence. There are challenges, but who's complaining? A career in writing is all about finding your audience. E-resources such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs are perfect for connecting with readers.
Daisy Whitney says
I think it's vital to be online and like Kiersten White said, you need to have your own guidelines and rules about what you will and won't share publicly. That's how you find the balance.
If privacy is what one wants then a life in arts is the wrong choice. The writing life is about public adoration. That doesn't mean you'll invite them all to dinner. I've been fortunate enough to meet a few of my favorite authors and get such an invitation. Facebook can be a good venue for forming alliances too.
Molly O'Neill says
I started pondering this question from a slightly different angle on my blog this week, under the header of "On Resonance & Responsibility". I definitely don't have the answers, but it's spurred some interesting conversation in the comments.
My level of privacy is so important to me that I actually left a semi-public role in a specific subculture in my previous job. Granted, I was also giving way to nesting instincts, but another priority was to give myself more time for writing.
It's the Catch-22 that I faced of wanting to reach my audience/making my message known, and still protect the amount of space needed to have the clarity to write. I did establish relationships w/in that subculture who can market me so that's good, but I also quit Facebook, share my blog w/ the most intimate crowd possible, in addition to staying home. And the question begs, were I to have something significant published, and it be requested of me to "go public," could I do this? Well, I'm not there yet, so it's not something to get worked up about.
But the point is, I left a lot of that public mumbo jumbo to leave the distractions that interrupted the parts of my life that I want to protect that enable clarity of mind to write. So if I then try to push myself out there, how much would that lend to becoming a better writer and writing subsequent, more challenging works? B/c I know what it's like to sacrifice that precious anonymous time, I think that the biggest devastation for me is to feel kept from a life that nourishes and enhances my writing; a private life that supports mental clarity and focus. So I would stick with my own established boundaries. I hated Facebook when I had it, see Twitter as a useless source of self-gratification, and that wouldn't change if I were pressured to sell work by selling myself.
However, I have spoken in front of audiences/workshops, and know that if I published a work that draws others to invite me to speak on the topic, then I would entertain that option, while still respecting my family time. I would have to be the one setting the boundaries to be happy, and to maintain the future of my writing.
Lucy Coats says
Some really good points here. I write for children, and it's difficult to walk the line between my readers (5-teen) and parents/teachers/librarians who are going to be the people who actually buy my books. So–I put a certain amount of info out on my website (which is almost entirely for kids), I have a FB fanpage, I tweet (hopefully in an interesting and amusing way), and I blog about writing and how I do it. Privacy is important–so I take a leaf out of Robin McKinley's book and give family, friends. places aliases. I try never to put my birthdate up–and I write under my maiden name not my married one, which I never ever use online. That way I can create an author persona which has truth to it and authenticity, but am still able to keep my family and the things which really matter private. It's surprisingly easy to do.
Lucy Coats @ https://www.scribblecitycentral.blogspot.com
Sarah Duncan says
I started blogging and Twittering, because my publisher wanted me to. I concentrate on writing techniques/craft and how to get published – I'm a creative writing tutor as well as a novelist so that makes it easier.
I'm careful not to put anything up that would impinge on my family and friends and try to remember that anyone could be reading it – including my agent and editor. But at least I control the content.
Far more intrusive are journalists who are keen to interview you IF you're prepared to wash some dirty laundry in public, but aren't interested otherwise.
There's a real pressure to trade your private life – which usually means sex life – for media coverage.
Shame mine's so boring!
My concern in all of this is actual privacy. For example, what happens when readership builds and fans want to find out even more about the author than they should have a right to know? All they have to do is go on Intelius or any of the other people finders, pay a small fee, and find address and phone number (along with such personal info as age, divorce, income, names of children and spouse(s). It's all out there, right now, whether or not you ever used the Internet yourself). I know someone who has received unwanted phone calls. Writers need physical privacy if they are to produce; good writing takes time and it's hard work. Reaching the public is great, but what happens when the public starts reaching into your ACTUAL private life? What does the savvy author do about that?