Anonymity and Privacy

With the recent revelation that J.K Rowling wrote and published a book under the pen name Robert Galbraith, I’ve been thinking once again about the whole issue of anonymity and maintaining one’s privacy in a public field.

I’m fortunate in my day job because no one cares who I am.  Nobody wants to meet me.  Nobody is going to recognize me on the street and say, “Oh, you’re the one who wrote that great report last year.”  (Although I did reach the point with my first employer where people were making a point of introducing themselves to me at our annual conference.  That was weird.)

But if I do well at this writing thing that could all change.

As a writer, I want people to enjoy what I write.  I want them to rave about it and tell their friends.  I want people to read my stories and love them.

As a human being, I don’t want anyone to care who I am.

Because if a million people love and adore you and all they want is “one quick photo” or “just a moment of your time” or “just a quick signature” all those moments add up.  And you suddenly find yourself without a life.  Or having to live that life behind walls or in private spaces with other people like you.  Or you become a rude person who won’t stop for anyone.  Or you live your entire life in the open with no private moments left.

None of which interests me.  So, I look at someone like J.K. Rowling and I envy her success as a writer and I pity her for it as a human being.  And, now, I’m not even sure I envy her success as a writer, because all she was trying to do was write a new book in a new genre, but in this “everyone must know everything and everyone must show how important they are by sharing what they know” world, she can’t even write a book under a different name without the truth being revealed within less than a year.

At least Stephen King pulled it off for a few books before he was discovered.

And that’s just an annoyance.  There’s the other side of this. The danger side.  The side where people become obsessive about someone or their ideas.

(I have to say I even find it a little creepy to see writers talking about rejections they received from editors as if they know them.  “Well, John, rejected another story of mine…”  Have you met that editor?  I understand that you’ve submitted twenty stories to them, but if you’ve never had a personal back-and-forth interaction with them, how can you talk about them like you’re close personal friends?)

People may read what you write and think they know you.  That you share something in common.  And maybe you do.  And genuine friendships have developed between people who met through an appreciation of one person’s work.

But so have crazy, stalker, one-sided situations that threaten the safety of the family pet.

It’s something to consider.  Some of the blogs I follow, the authors talk about and share photos of their children.  I would never do that.  (Not that I have any.)  But I would never forgive myself if someone used that information to target my child.  Positively or negatively.

The fact of the matter is, there are a bunch of crazy people out there.  And they have just as much access to the internet as anyone else.  And what would seem inconceivable to a normal, rational human being is just standard fare for someone who is unbalanced.

That’s all one long build-up to sharing a post from Rachel Kent at Books & Such:

Basic Safety Techniques for Authors

She makes some excellent points, like getting a P.O. Box.

I hate how publicly available addresses are.  And in some settings you can’t use a P.O. Box.  Fortunately for me, the addresses associated with me are not ones I actually live at.  But what if they were?

What if you buy a home under your own name?  And that’s a name that’s associated with your author persona (either directly or through interviews)?  Well, how hard is it for someone to Google that name and find your house?  Most authors aren’t successful enough to live in gated communities, so what are they going to do when that obsessive fan comes knocking on their door?

(I’m reminded of a recent newspaper article that showed a picture of George R.R. Martin’s house.)

I’d also say that there’s further danger with public appearances.  I can’t even think through all the potential issues with it, but if you use a pen name it isn’t on your driver’s license or credit card.  You don’t sign your contracts with it.  Your hotel room won’t be booked using it.  Nor will your airplane ticket.

Basically, anyone who really wants to can probably find out your real name.  And using that they can probably find you.  Now, for most of us, that won’t be an issue.  But for others it could be.  And it’s better to be aware of that possibility now rather than only realize it when it’s too late.

And on that depressing note…I should really work on the novel now.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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4 Responses to Anonymity and Privacy

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    Well, that was depressing. Still, I can avoid all these issues by writing mediocre fiction and not attempting to promote it.

    Also, I find it ironic that the byline on this article says the site is for those who want to find out more about you.

    • mhleewriter says:

      Good point. At the rate I’m going also not a concern for me since I’m not likely to be published anytime soon. 🙂

      As for your second point, I think there’s a difference between showing people who you are–how you think, what matters to you–which is my goal with this blog, and having them know your date of birth, address, and favorite restaurant. (And then hanging out at that restaurant in hopes of seeing you.)

      So, I try to talk about me without being so specific that someone can show up on my doorstep some day or track down my friends and family. If that makes sense?

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