Authors used to be able to hide behind a pleasant air of mystery, but that won’t get most writers very far with readers nowadays. They want to know your true self, not a persona. In today’s busy world, we ask a lot of our fans. We want their time to interact online, read our books, and help promote us. Are details of your personal life too much for readers to ask?
Maybe, and maybe not.
Author Privacy — How Much Should Your Share with Readers?
What your fans want matters, but so does your privacy. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to share personal revelations with someone sitting across the table, let alone with people I don’t know well or haven’t even met. I need to feel safe to pour out my heart. I say this as someone who shares deeply with fans on a monthly basis in my e-letter. Others have described me as reserved and a private person, and I’d say that’s correct. For me, revealing so much of myself is the hardest part of being an author. I don’t do this randomly but to provide a perspective on life or an example to illustrate a point. In writing this paragraph, I’ve done the same thing for my writer friends. You now know something more about me that you can relate it to your own experience. If I hid myself from you, we’d both miss the opportunity to be real about an important issue.
Provide the personal insights you are willing to disclose on a need-to-know basis. I’m sure we’ve all met someone who, minutes after your introduction, tells you all about the upcoming divorce, a recent surgery (complete with details), and/or an email flame war at work. I’d advise that person to retain a little more mystery. Something I read a long time ago has guided me through the years: “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is counted wise. When he shuts his lips, he is thought to be discerning” Proverbs 17:28; World English Bible.
Stories from your life are the most authoritative that you as an author can write. Tell the simple truth and no one can refute your experience. Use personal stories to pave the bridge that leads to a deeper relationship between yourself and your fans.
I must confess that when my writing first started drawing fans, their interest in me seemed a little disconcerting, even creepy. I did mention that I’m something of a private person, right? Your reaction might (have) varied (I’m looking at you, extroverts). I figured out pretty quickly that my perception was faulty. The possibility of picking up a stalker (heaven forefend) exists, but for the most part fans are gentle creatures who only want your friendship. Most of us could use more friends, so that’s a happy thing.
I’m convinced that readers follow writers for the way our books make them feel. If you touch a reader deep down where they live, they’ll naturally want to know more about you. How much you divulge depends on your willingness to step outside your comfort zone. I always have to stop and have a little talk with myself before I share something personal. For example, telling you that I found fans’ interest creepy at first inspired an evaluation. My thought process went like this. Am I willing to divulge this? (Mostly.) Would revealing this embarrass someone? (Only myself.) Can anyone relate? (I can’t be the only writer who ever felt like that.) Does it add anything of value for readers? (It validates feelings that aren’t always acknowledged.) In this case, I decided to include my personal experience. Other times, I’ve determined that an article wouldn’t gain enough value to justify sacrificing my privacy.
Life is too complicated to allow blanket rules on how much to share with your fans. All any of us can do is strike a balance.
Final Thoughts from Janalyn
Like it or not, becoming an author turns you into a public figure. That doesn’t have to take you over. It’s possible and healthy to respect your personal privacy. That said, give generously to those who look to you for encouragement and they will reward you with undying devotion.