How much is too much? If the subject is food or alcohol, we probably all know the answer to that. But if the subject is Web exposure, do you know the answer to that?
As writers, we reach a certain amount of semi-celebrity. It’s not “real” celebrity, because the paparazzi don’t follow us around (at least they sure as heck don’t follow ME around), and usually we don’t have entire Web sites devoted to us, and we don’t show up every week in the tabloids, but it’s still a form of celebrity.
And also as writers, we have to promote, and that means blogs, and interviews, and pictures…. All of which means you are OUT there. So how much information is it safe to post online?
My daughter’s dance teacher–and my good friend–just got a Facebook page, and she has the most darling pictures of her kids on the page. Lots of them. And since she befriended me on Facebook, she wanted to know why I don’t have any pictures, save the cover of my book, on there. And I wasn’t quite sure what to say. Because, see, I really don’t POST pictures of my kids or family online. If I do, I usually blank out the faces, or post pictures where you cannot identify them. Also, my kids have their own pseudonyms. I write about them as Chatter Child and Dancing Daughter. A little research would probably unearth their names, but why make it easy?
Above is an example of a picture I would post to my site.
Now you are probably thinking “easy for who?” Or is that whom? At any rate, easy for ANY of the many crazies, sickos, stalkers and whackjobs that peruse the Net.
All it takes is about two seconds in any kind of spotlight, no matter how dim, to know they are out there, and they want YOU.
I have had some very serious issues with a genuine stalker, who made my life pretty miserable for a while. How did she find me? The Web. She decided we were going to be GREAT friends, based on what she read about me. And then she proceeded to hunt me down. Almost literally. I finally had to get a criminal stalking injunction against her.
I’ve also been harassed by the weenies that are Web stalkers. They live to make you uncomfortable, to raise havoc, to try to make you look like an idiot. I just banished one of those from my blog this week. I try to make it an effort never to censor anyone, but, uh, I finally woke up and went, “Wait a minute? This is my blog? I write about my life here. This is no public forum. I don’t HAVE to let someone go on and on about how stupid, mean, selfish, and idiotic I am.”
At one point, a few years back, I had a guy that was being so foul and crude–and scary–that I shut the comments down entirely. And then I thought, WHY? That was his purpose. He was trying to scare me. He gets a KICK out of it.
So I opened them back up and deleted the annoying ones.
Now, most of these people are not a real threat, but just WHEN can they become a threat?
When they track down my address, home phone number, and CALL me? That was–and is–a start.
Through these experiences I have learned caution, even though I must promote on a daily basis. I am always cautious about what I say, or how much information I give out.
My point to all this is that I think EVERYONE should be cautious in this respect. Even my daughter’s dance teacher. Because you simply don’t KNOW who is out there. We must promote, as writers, but we also must have lives, and be safe, and identifying your friends or family members by name probably isn’t a way to do that.
Some suggestions I have for keeping safe, are listed below. These are from experience, and just my two cents, so take them for what they are worth.
1. Do not use children’s names, family member’s name, or cities or towns. You can write about them, but use “other” names for them. For example, when I write about my youngest niece, I either call her LittleNiece or Fluffy, which is the way she used to say her real name. Her older sister is RubySue, which is not even close to her real name. I would probably use this in interviews, on blogs, on your Web site, etc. Anything that is easily accessed.
2. Keep in mind that EVERYTHING you are writing is now public record. I have a “cousin” (distantly related) who regularly reads and comments on my other blog. He will often make comments like “I need to call your parents.” Hmmm. Since I sometimes write about them, I have to be careful what I say. Yes, people HAVE been fired for blogs, and people’s lives HAVE been destroyed by blogs, so keep this in mind when you are writing.
3. Promotion does not mean you have to open up all access to your private life. If a subject is too sensitive or personal, don’t address it.
4. Know when a “fan” is taking it too far. As writers, we live for reader mail. But sometimes, as in all aspects of life, we attract the not-so-nice or not-so-mentally-sound. Remember to distance yourself from this. You do NOT have to respond to weird mail. In fact, it is best NOT to respond. In my severe stalking case, I responded with a kind but firm no thank you. I might as well have been whispering, because it was ignored. It would have been better not to respond at all.
5. If you are a reader, please know we love hearing from you, but if you don’t know us personally, please don’t send us flowers, or candy, or call our publisher to chat. That kind of thing freaks us out a little bit. Paris Hilton might be used to that kind of behavior, but as “semi-celebrities,” we are not. There aren’t gifting lounges everywhere we go. I wish, but no, not the way it works.
6. Do NOT post your personal details on your Web site. This is something I do see with self-published authors, because they often don’t have an agent or publisher that will front mail. I know it’s hard to not do this, but it’s a huge mistake. Trust me.
7. Karin and Officer Friendly gave me a REALLY good piece of advice, back when I was having some issues with my stalker. Whatever you do, DON’T engage. It’s really hard, especially if someone is saying rude things, or crossing personal boundaries, but it’s just not worth it. It does nothing but ignite them, because YOU are showing interest.
So, that’s some of the things I have learned over the past few years.
How about you? What suggestions do you have for staying safe while promoting? Any experiences like mine?