July 28, 2021

Private Life, Public Following

Exisle Academy students have the opportunity to send in their questions to be answered by our team of publishing experts.

This month, we are answering an interesting question from Lauren, who has been learning with us for three months.

Q: As a teacher, a parent and an emerging author I am pretty private about my personal life and do not share a lot of information about myself or personal details online. How do I create a public following while maintaining my privacy?

We’ll be answering with a blog post to cover all possible solutions to achieve a private life, yet have a public following. 

Pseudonyms/Pen Names

The best way to separate the writer’s life from the writing is by using a pen name. Pen names have been used to hide the writer’s true identity for a myriad of reasons. It could also be used to stand out when one’s real name is hard to differentiate in the crowd (Think: Dan Smith).

Pen names allow the writer to indulge in the fantasy of being someone else, so they can write a book in a genre they normally don’t write in, for example. Like film credits, it's worthwhile looking carefully at announced names. Who, after all, is the real author behind MOO, Exisle’s forthcoming book for lovers of cows? 

Women used male names so they could have a better chance of their writing being read by everyone, not just women. You read that right. Even in our present time, male readers prefer male writers. 

In a Guardian article by MA Sieghart, she writes, “For the top 10 bestselling female authors (who include Jane Austen and Margaret Atwood, as well as Danielle Steel and Jojo Moyes), only 19% of their readers are men and 81%, women. But for the top 10 bestselling male authors (who include Charles Dickens and JRR Tolkien, as well as Lee Child and Stephen King), the split is much more even: 55% men and 45% women.”

Interestingly enough, J.K. Rowling used a male pen name after publishing her Harry Potter series, using that pen name to write crime novels. Word got out and soon her real identity was revealed by a colleague’s wife’s best friend (the way news spreads!) and then blasted in the newspapers. In 2016, Elena Ferrante, who achieved stardom with her brilliant Neapolitan novels, had an Italian journalist determined to reveal her true identity, but there isn’t confirmation that he’s right. 

In an article by Laila Lalami, a Moroccan-American novelist, she explores the public writer versus the private self. She writes, “The greatest surprise for me has been how curious people are about the person behind the work.”

Pseudonyms can offer space between you and your writing, allowing the writing to stand alone, but there is a chance for curious readers to dig deep and expose who is really behind the writing. 

Using pen names also leaves out the possibility for social media. Elena Ferrante, as mentioned before, is nonexistent on social media. She lets her publishers do the marketing and stays completely out of public view. 

Public Figures

When we think of public figures we imagine movie stars and famous singers, but writers are also viewed by the public eye. When a writer shares their personal views online, there is a chance of excluding readers who may see the book as synonymous to the writer’s identity and beliefs.

Some writers like Neil Gaiman, fiction writer, or Terry Tempest Williams, nonfiction writer, are comfortable sharing their personal lives with the public, sharing their political opinions or pictures of their children online. Their writing personas have melded with their private selves. But that’s not for everyone. 

Lalami shares that “there is greater curiosity about the personal life of a woman writer, and about connections between her private life and her work.” 

Many writers create and find a boundary between themselves and their writing, despite outside attempts to join the two. Lalami continues, “But I have also learned to deflect personal questions, which blur the lines between public and private. So I talk about my books, I sign them for readers, I pose for pictures. Then I can go home, reclaim my private self, and return to the work I love: writing.”

When thinking of your virtual presence as a writer, it is useful to consider how you want to present yourself to the world. If you prefer to highlight your writing career rather than personal details, then your social media should be used to share your publications, reading events, and any other writerly news. 

You can think of your social media as a marketing strategy, selling your writing rather than yourself. 

An example of this would be Exisle Publishing author, Karen Fischer. She has multiple instagram accounts, focusing on keeping her private life, private. As seen below, Karen redirects her book fans to her public account on her private profile. This ensures that her private and public life don’t intersect. 

Her public profile is completely focused on her author persona, using Instagram as a way to promote her books.

Karen’s public profile is available for her to interact with her followers (and readers), ensuring the conversation is about her expertise and not the personal details of her weekend, for example.

Online Presence

Separating a writer from their work requires using social media as a marketing tool. Posts should be about the book and any media events surrounding it. To see how different writers use social media, you can check out our previously published post, “Navigating Social Media as a Writer.” 

Setting up profiles, such as an “Author Page” on Facebook, to focus on your writing career will allow you to create a clear boundary between your personal life and the public writer persona.

For Terry Tempest Williams, it makes sense to share her political beliefs as she calls herself a conservationist, melding the private and personal due to the topics she is writing about. This works to boost her presence in not only the literary community but with other communities that share her same values.

It is ultimately your decision how you want your followers to view you, but by interacting with the online community, the followers you’ll have will know they are following You, a Published Writer. And they’ll (hopefully) leave it at that. 

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