Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Can a writer set some privacy boundaries and still get published?

Your compassionate, thoughtful, and informative response to the person with depression (1.6.18) inspired me to break through my fear and ask you my own questions about being agented with a mental illness, albeit a different one.

Being a writer is my passion, and becoming a published (YA) fiction author is my dream career. I also have PTSD (from childhood trauma). Though therapy has helped greatly with many of the symptoms, PTSD has also left me with a great need for privacy. While I do engage with people online (and offline in real life, of course), I don't post pictures of myself on the internet, nor do I share any personally identifiable information about myself publicly online. I don't have Facebook account, Instagram account, etc.

If I become so fortunate to get a literary agent and, eventually, a book deal:

1. Will not having an author photo be a deal-breaker? (This has nothing to do with my appearance. It's simply a matter of privacy.)

Quick answer: no

1a. Further, will avoiding certain literary events as to avoid having a photo put online be a deal-breaker?

Quick answer: no

2. Will using a pseudonym as my author name and even, perhaps, putting the copyright under that pseudonym be an issue for an agent and/or publisher?

Quick answer: no

3. I would enjoy engaging with readers of my books through goodreads, my own website, or tumblr but not twitter.

Quick answer: no problem

4. When would I tell my (future) agent about the limitations on my internet presence? During "the (initial) call" so that the agent can have a choice whether to represent me/my work based on those limitations?

Quick answer: yes

These fears/questions have been holding me back from querying and moving toward having a writing career. Again, I would love to have a career in writing, but I would also be grateful for some hope that my books are, ultimately, what would be marketed, not me. My personal life and professional life must remain separate as much as possible.

(I know I sound super stiff and formal in this email. That's not my personality at all, but these are serious questions I've been frightened to ask. Your sense of humor is one of many aspects I adore and appreciate about your blog.)

I'm glad you screwed your courage to the sticking place and asked.

I'm sorry this has held you back from querying because these questions are just ones of knowledge (how publishing works) not fear.

You can present yourself to the world with the name you choose and the image you choose. Obviously you don't want to choose "Madonna" and use a picture of The Material Girl, but I've gotten along just fine with a jpg of a shark and QOTKU.

If you want to query with a pseudonym, the time to start building a public presence under that name is NOW, rather than later. I know several writers who use pseudonyms for a variety of reasons. It's not a problem.

You don't owe the world, or your readers, your life. You owe them your best work. Readers in the YA community tend to want more personal relationships with authors, but that doesn't mean you have to oblige.  Your first obligation is to your sense of safety in the world. No one gets to take that from you for the price of a book.

I will encourage you to speak out as much as you can about how you dealt with trauma. For every person like you who can bring themselves to say the words, even if by asking this question, there are a dozen more out there who have never said a word, and will benefit from learning they are not alone.

Some years ago when I worked in book publicity, I escorted Truddi Chase to media appointments when she was on tour for When Rabbit Howls. I will never forget readers clustering around her, saying "I showed your book to my doctor and said 'This is me'. Until then I didn't know what was wrong with me. I didn't know anyone else felt like this."

It was a singular experience; I've never forgotten the looks on those readers faces and the intensity of their gratitude for Truddi Chase's bravery.

Do what you can and then one thing more. It is of those small steps that great journeys are created.


Unknown said...

Too much pain in the world. OP, good luck. Let us know if you need help finding a pen name. I'm sure this crowd could come up with some real doozies.

Kitty said...

For what it's worth, OP, as a reader I appreciate when an author divulges personal info, but I don't care if they don't. It's not a big deal with me.

Btw, I read Trudi Chase's book after I saw her on Oprah and it haunts me to this day.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Wow, but this reef continues to astound. The bravery of the questions asked, and the wisdom of the reply. Thank you, OP, for asking your questions, and thank you also dear QOTKU, for such succinct yet thorough, practical answers. I love that idea: "No one gets to take that [your sense of safety] from you for the price of a book."

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Opie, best of luck in your writing career. What great collective courage, wisdom and compassion there is here at this Reef. Thank you, Janet, for this blog.

Colin Smith said...

I'll never forget a similar question posted here some years ago from a writer with some kind of facial disfigurement that made them uncomfortable in public. They asked if it was possible to be published without author pictures and public appearances. Janet's answer was similar: yes. Just make sure you discuss with your agent. Having a high social media profile is obviously very helpful, but there are plenty of writers who build successful careers from the shadows, so to speak. Let your work be your voice, and make it loud and powerful.

All the best to you. Opie!

BTW, I have updated the Writing Contest Spreadsheet in the Treasure Chest with the results and winners from the holiday contest. I hope you all approve of how I've represented it. ☺

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

When Rabbit Howls is a good book but oh wow was it rough. And I'm not one who thinks that often. It must have taken her a lot of courage to go to media things, after writing it and releasing it into the world. It's hard for me to imagine, and I have a lot of admiration for her.

While I do have an Official Author Photo™, I think it's only been used for the anthology, and now for the issue of Mythic Delirum I'm in. (OH yeah, Reiders, I'm in issue 4.3 of Mythic Delirium. I, uh, feel crappy self promoting after commenting on that other book, but my story will be live on the site in February, and if you can't wait that long it's on Amazon and Weightless books)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OP, you stepped forward today. You are brave.

Bravery is like wearing a badge. Sometimes the pin-back sticks you but sometimes it quietly tells the world who you.

Jessica said...

Ah, OP, I'm so glad you asked this question! I've been wondering this too. I don't want to get into the gritty details, but childhood trauma also makes me reluctant to post any pictures of myself online (though not for privacy reasons. It's more of a self-esteem thing). I hope you always feel safe no matter what you do, and I'm so glad Janet gave you a good solution. Take care of yourself first and everything else will follow. Don't worry--readers like good books, and if you deliver on that, everything else is noise :)

Jeannette said...

OP, thank you for sharing this.

Just to give you a different perspective, I actually don't like knowing anything about an author of a book I'm reading/a favorite book. It really bothers me when I see an author's comments on twitter about mundane topics, or politics, or (worst of all) their work. To me, the book stands on its own and I like to forget the author exists. I don't even like seeing their picture in the back of the book. Maybe this isn't a typical perspective but I'm sure other people feel this way too.

Steve Stubbs said...

OP: you can try EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) if you still have stored negative energy from childhood trauma.

It was discovered by a psychologist named Roger Callahan, who wrote about it in a book called THE FIVE MINUTE PHOBIA CURE, but was EXTREMELY unpopular with therapists for a long time because it works and works very fast. The business plan in the therapy business is to get as many session fees out of a client as possible, so (1) works and (2) works fast make a modality unpopular. EFT is mostly done by people in the alternative health community. Search on the net.

Callahan used to charge humongous fees to teach his methods. Then a fellow named Gary Craig attended one of his seminars and repackaged his ideas as EFT and gave them away for free. You have to be open minded. Instead of asking you about your childhood, EFT practitioners work with your body's energy system, which is the most profound level on which you function.

Good luck.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

OP, I should not think your want of privacy should detour you at all. I always thought that one of the perks of writing. The author can hide behind their art. Of course, there are some real glory hound writers out there that share the same kind of fame as performers in music and screen. That’s not for me either. For different reasons.

I do believe book promotion for fiction can be done without self-exploitation. So you are good to go. Heaven knows there have been scores of reclusive writers over the ages. Good luck, OP.

Claire Bobrow said...

OP: thanks for asking the question. There are always others who want to ask the same thing, but just can't raise their hands. I'm so glad you raised yours. Good luck with your writing, and all that you pursue.

Unknown said...

Thx Colin.

Colin Smith said...


I have added this and the article about querying with depression to the "Gems from Janet's Blog Archive" page in the Treasure Chest

Please please please:

1) Make use of this resource. Janet loves to answer Reider questions, but you may not see your answer for days. Check the Treasure Chest before you ask to see if your question has already been answered.

2) Let me know if there are any pages in the archive you think I should add to the "Gems" page, or if there are any other writer resources you know of that would be worthy additions to the Treasure Chest. You can contact me directly via email (my address is linked in my Blogger profile).

Thank you!

Sam Mills said...

I have some great friends online who I would never spot in a crowd...but I know their avatars quite well! XD The lack of a photo, location, or personal family details has not stopped us becoming affectionate and supportive web buddies.

This is a great opportunity to come up with a brand (Janet's own sharkiness is a fantastic example!)--or, in less starkly business terms, a fun and accessible persona for your fans that doesn't share more than you feel comfortable sharing.

MA Hudson said...

In terms of my personality, rather than any trauma, I’d love to be anonymous too. But without any valid reason to be so, I’ve accepted that I’m just going to have to put myself out there. And already I’ve received glimmers of the benefits. People are much more likely to do a favour for someone they know, or someone their friends know, than for a stranger.
OP, in your case I think people would understand and, barring super-fame like Elena Ferrante, they’d probably respect your boundaries. And if you do hit the big time like her, well, hopefully the pro’s will outweigh the con’s. And at least you’d be able to buy yourself a castle with a moat to hide away in.
Good luck OP. Just go for it. X

Anonymous said...

OP, I've wondered about some of these same questions, albeit for different reasons, and I appreciate you asking. And you for answering, Janet.

I think we hesitate to ask, sometimes, because we don't want to be known as "that difficult writer" who balks at doing certain things that are expected of us. It's encouraging to get answers like these and realize that (at least some of) our quirks aren't the impediment we thought they were. And very comforting to hear -- for the millionth time, perhaps? -- that it really is all about the writing.

Lennon Faris said...

Hey, OP, *high five!* Great question. Thanks for posting, too, Janet!

Jeannette - me either. When I see the author pic on the back cover, I hear their m.c.'s voice through (what I imagine to be) the author's. It's much harder for me to immerse myself in the story; it's more like I'm reading a good writing exercise rather than experiencing a reality.

Jonathan Levy said...

"You can present yourself to the world with the name you choose and the image you choose. "

Could we dive into the specifics, here? How would this work, exactly?
I choose a pseudonym. I set up an email account with that name. So far so good.

Now, what?

Do I query from that email account?
Do I sign my emails with the pseudonym?
Do I answer phone calls with the pseudonym? Work lunches?
At some point I will have to reveal my real name to the agent, right? What is the right time?
At some point I will have to reveal my real name to the publisher, right? What is the right time?

Is the copyright registered in the pseudonym?
Contracts have to be signed with my real name, right?

"If you want to query with a pseudonym, the time to start building a public presence under that name is NOW, rather than later."

I'm not sure how well this fits with the outlook of the OP, and with the outlook of those who want to follow a similar policy, but for different reasons. What sort of public presence could be expected?

Facebook? I'm not going to post pictures of myself, if I value my privacy.
Twitter? If I'm an introverted person, I'm not going to find it easy to keep up an endless stream of tweets to attract followers. Every tweet reveals something about the writer, and a long series of tweets can reveal quite a bit. The same is true for blog posts, to say nothing of youtube channels.

Practically speaking, it seems to me that if someone wishes to use a pseudonym to maintain strict privacy, you cannot expect them to have much of an online presence when they start querying. Will this be a problem?

Terri Lynn Coop said...

I seem to remember you getting a question a while back from a writer who was on the verge of making "the deal," but she was having some anxiety about these same matters, mostly engagement at cons and photos, etc.

Her issue was that she had been physically disfigured in an accident and, as a result, led a very closely-held life.

The advice was pretty much the same, disclose, because, OMG, you do not want your agent on a conference call with someone putting your name out as a potential moderator for a panel for new authors at MegaCon because she didn't know. But, that you can craft an online persona to satisfy the reader's expectation of engagement.

Don't let it stop you from querying. If there is a problem when you have "the call," then you know you aren't talking to the right agent.

You've got this. Terri