Janet Reid wrote about it yesterday in her post, Fan mail. Jody Hedlund also wrote about it yesterday, asking How Personal & Vulnerable Are You In Your Writing? Nathan Bransford wrote about it last week: Can Authors Balance Publicity and Privacy in the Internet Era?
I think most of us wish we could switch our privacy on and off, like that latch in the airplane lavatory. We'd like to be available for our friends and family and fans... and maybe not-so-available for the naysayers, the people who pretend to be your friends so that they can ask an inappropriate favor, and, of course, the bill collectors. But with all the social media out there, it just doesn't work that way. More's the pity.
Janet pointed out that today's writers will likely not have the luxury of choosing not to read any of their mail (as J.D. Salinger did), and asked "How do we... help these young authors with this modern burden?" My gut response to this is pretty cold: DEAL. If you're old enough to write something provocative, you're old enough to handle the reader response. As a child actor, I started dealing with the weirdness of low-level celebrity at about age 10: among other things that included signing autographs, being recognized on the street, getting free stuff because I was famous (yeah, because the kid who was in a movie is really the one who needs a free ice-cream cone), and having a kid I'd never met call my home phone to invite me to her birthday party (I guess she thought I'd be the entertainment). I managed. Now I get emails and find myself talked about or pictured on the internet, and, yes, a very small percentage of these emails and internet references are overly-familiar or creepy in some way. I still manage. So can authors. Deal.
Nathan asked whether sacrificing privacy is the price an author has to pay for reaching an audience. Maybe... it depends what kind of audience you hope to reach! And, of course, how wide.
I think Jody hit on something when she said:
What I find ironic about the privacy question, however, is that regardless of how much of ourselves we expose in cyberland, by nature as writers we’re already pouring out our deepest, most intimate thoughts into our writing. In other words, our books disclose much more about us than we share in short bursts on Twitter and Facebook, or even on our blogs.
I think this must be why readers crave more details about their favorite writers... and it's also why some fans reach out in inappropriate ways. Because they think that, on some level, they know the author. They understand that something very intimate happened in the writing of the book... and either they want to learn whatever additional information the author is willing to share (good) or they start thinking they have a right to more information about the author based on their existing "connection" (bad).
I think we're in a transition stage, where we're all still learning the depth and breadth of our internet communications, and that makes things difficult. (That photo's going to be in Google's cache forever? CRAP!) We're also learning that in some situations etiquette has changed more than we thought... and in other situations it has changed less than we thought. (This is why I'm less worried about the younger authors, in fact... a greater percentage of their lives has included the new etiquette. They know the difference between being a real friend and being a Facebook friend.)
But we'll muddle through. Respect and courtesy are still the same, even if our social interactions take new forms.
And, just FYI, if someone ever calls your home phone with a death threat, don't dial *69, that's caller ID, which doesn't reach blocked numbers. You want to dial *57, which does a full trace of the last incoming call.
New technology. Ain't it grand?
What are your hopes for internet interactions with your readership, and how do you plan to protect your privacy?