Having published six novels in as many years, I’ve had the chance to work with many excellent publicists, both in-house and out.
One strategy that savvy publicists often suggest is to have the author (me) write something like a guest blog post, op-ed piece, or article in order to get my name “out there.” The approach makes sense: if a piece is accepted for publication, it provides free exposure. But more than once, my proposal of a topic for such an article was met with a response from a newspaper or magazine editor asking for something more “personal.” It seems that for the article to actually place well, it typically has to give insight into not just the writer’s work or views, but her life as well.
This is one facet of the increased exposure of writers to readers. When my first book came out in 2007, I had a Web site with a bio and an e-mail link for readers to contact me. Now I communicate with readers on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads—and would also do so on other platforms if I had the tech-savvy to use them.
Don’t get me wrong. I consider the ability to have relationships with readers one of the great benefits of the Internet age. The dialogue with readers sometimes spans years, and on the rare occasion when I get to meet one at an event after corresponding, it is like a reunion with a long-lost friend. But it does raise questions: if I’m going to have readers as Facebook friends, do I still post photos of my kids? Will readers be offended if they are relegated to limited views or a fan page?
Some writers share everything, even the really hard stuff like addiction and abuse (and they have my utmost respect for their courage in doing so). Others I know are uncomfortable with letting readers beyond their public persona at all, worrying that it might make them vulnerable or take away from the books themselves. To me, some sharing of myself seems the price to pay. It would feel hypocritical to seek recognition for my work without expecting to put myself out there, even if the idea of doing so makes me cringe. So I reluctantly pull away from the novel I’m writing to come up with an article topic that makes me sound like the woman on my book jackets—someone much cooler and more composed than the mom of three preschoolers who just pulled that piece of cereal bar from her hair and ate it for breakfast.
At the end of the day, I’m happy to share lots of myself. For one blog, I wrote an emotional guest post about the sudden loss of my dad and the effect it has had on my writing. Recently, for a newspaper in the U.K. (where personal pieces seem to be particularly popular), I decided to write about another painful subject: my uncle’s confession that he committed the high-profile murder of a local rabbi’s wife, and the effect it has had on my life. But I did so after much soul searching and consultation with my family—and I decided not to promote it on social media in the United States, where those closest to the event might read it.
And still I struggle to find the line. There’s one piece I’d actually like to write, but it is on a topic so personal, distressing, and controversial that I’d never dare. Or would I? Would it sell books or alienate readers? More importantly, what effect would it have on those close to me, like my kids when they are older (since once we put something out there, it is never really gone). I could write it under a pseudonym, but that would destroy the purpose of seeking publicity for my work. Maybe I’ll just fictionalize it in one of my novels.
To their credit, the publicists have never pushed me to share more than I was comfortable with. As one who communicates for a living, though, the internal pull is always present to dig deeper and give more of myself in hopes of making those all-important reader connections. But at what cost? As our digital presence expands, the relationship between writers and readers is only likely to intensify, and each of us must find the line for herself.