Monday, June 9, 2014

Secrecy? Privacy? How do authors protect themselves?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne


After a recent situation in which a friend of mine found some of elements of her books reproduced without her permission, I started thinking about the issue of secrecy and privacy for authors. As far as I'm concerned, I follow some pretty straightforward guidelines and don't tend to get too het up about 'secrecy' when it comes to my ideas or works in progress (then again, I haven't had anyone nick any of my ideas either...) 

Basically, when it comes to my work, I don't tend to publicize details of ideas or formative WIPs online or in social media - and least not until they are manuscripts out on submission or accepted for publication (or, if I was going the indie route, available as an e-book) and even then I tend to stick to just 'blurb' style summaries. I certainly don't post or publicize online passage/extracts while I'm working on them (though I think that's probably more out of embarrassment!).  I am, however, fine with chatting to my friends (both author and non-author) about what I'm working on - so I guess in my mind I have a dividing line between what I consider 'private' friends who know me on a personal level and 'public' friends who know me in my professional guise and who I may have met in person or only online via social media. 

My friend's recent experience was a little unnerving, however, as it sounded very much like this 'dividing line' had become blurred - which also got me thinking about how in this Internet and social media era it is becoming increasingly hard to maintain privacy and secrecy (just look at JK Rowling and how her author pseudonym Robert Galbraith's anonymity was undermined by a leak).

As a corollary to this, I started to think about just how hard it is to separate out the 'private' me and the 'public' me when it comes to social media. I also have rules regarding what I will and won't post in this regard too - especially when my kids are involved (e.g. I don't put photos up of them on Facebook). But it seems to me that the way the Internet is heading, even when you try to separate out these aspects of your life (personal vs. professional) on-line it can often be very hard to stop one bleeding into the other (just Google yourself and you'll see what stuff ends up out on the Internet!).

So TKZers, how are you navigating the online and interpersonal landscape when it comes to your writing? Are you secretive about your work? Have you been burned by someone who used your ideas or took some of your fictional elements and incorporated them in their own work? Do you have your own guidelines for how you post things on social media or what you will/won't say online? How do you keep the 'private' you and the 'public' you separate - or is this just an old-fashioned division which, in this day and age, is impossible to truly maintain (especially if you want to achieve a connection with your readers)?





18 comments:

  1. I'm not well-known enough for anyone to steal my stuff, so it hasn't been a problem. Like you,. I never post pictures of my family , though I would not do that even if I weren't a writer. I will occasionally post an excerpt from a WIP for feedback (I'm actually planning to do so relatively soon), but most of my blog posts are interviews with other writers, and observations on craft. Not the kinds of things people would want to steal.

    That being said, I agree and think about everything you mentioned. If my profile is ever elevated, this subject will have to occupy more of my thoughts. Thanks for reminding me.

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    1. I'm not well known enough either:) But I think it's wise just to be wary of what you put out on the internet. I'm more concerned about starting flame wars and encountering internet trolls - which often means I don't voice an opinion on an issue on social media and am wary of what gets posted online.

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  2. I have pulled back from Facebook almost to nothing. Mainly because it's a time suck and it's boring. (I like it just to keep track of a few real buddies, not the faceless crowd of "friends."). I never got involved in any of the other things like Twitter et al. Mainly because everything I have read says the payoff for authors is nil. On the personal side, I am also increasingly wary of privacy intrusion, though I suspect that cow has long left the barn for all of us.

    As for being the victim of plagarism: Had it happen once when I was a dance critc; some radio reviewer cribbed my opinions verbatim for his on air stuff...which I just happened to hear. Wrote him and his boss a nasty letter with a copy of my review. With books, I just make it a point to never talk about a WIP or ideas. Although as one person once wisely said, "Ideas are cheap, execution is everything," I do believe you can set yourself up for heartbreak by flapping your lips too much. But the bigger sin is that by talking about your book too much you sort of talk the passion out of it. There are times when it is good for a writer to live only within her head.

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    1. Totally agree! I often don't talk about WIPs for simply that reason - until I have it down the way I want it I'm afraid talking about it will destroy the magic of the idea (that's in my head anyway!). As for privacy yes...I fear that door is now wide open!

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  4. I'm certainly not well known enough to steal from, but I learn well from others. I do separate my private life and writing life. I write under a pen name. Everything writing goes through that name.

    Stealing your work is only one attack. A few years back, I had a notorious troll attack me for being critical of his work. The person I ran into scoured the web to find anything they could about me and twisted it in every forum possible. Not fun.

    Now I limit my posts to positive comments and withhold my true opinion from the web.

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    1. That sounds horrible - but one reason why I tend to keep my opinion on some things to myself.

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  5. This has been a subject of conversation with writing friends of mine in the distant past, so it's an ongoing thing. When someone takes your words verbatim, I'd be suspicious. Other times, though, it seems that ideas or plot twists can practically float through several creative minds at once. I've often found my titles co-opted by friends who didn't know what title I was using. The same has happened with story lines. It's frustrating to turn in a novel, then catch a Netflix show where the very plot twist I used was already used months earlier by someone else, and I knew nothing about it.

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    1. Hannah - I think there can easily be something floating in the ether that means (like with baby names) suddenly everyone is thinking similar ideas or using similar titles!

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    2. SO true!
      I find myself strangely consoled by the fact that I am not alone in this concern.

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  6. I'm not well known either. I started writing almost two years ago am publishing my books under a male name because I heard that creates more sales in the mystery genre and I think my own name is pretty boring. I would yawn at it on a bookshelf..
    I follow Alison Brennan on FB and Twitter, not so much as a fan but to observe her marketing techniques. I have my author's FB page and it's hard to separate it my personal account.
    Recently on all my author pages and bios, I have come cleaned and admitted that Alec Peche is a female.
    I attached the prologue for my WIP to the book I just published. I am just so obscure a writer at this stage I can't imagine anyone stealing my work.

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  7. I don't like social media, so the few accounts I have are strictly for my "public" self so there's no blurring of lines. I think it's easier to keep things separate if you don't have a personal online presence. I also don't post WIP info, excerpts, passages, etc anywhere. The only people who see any part of a WIP before it's published are those on my editing team. Once it's published, I'll share very short excerpts for book tours, but that's it. I agree with what someone else here said--sharing too much takes away from the "magic" of reading the story for the first time.

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    1. It's hard when the public and the personal are both up online - sometimes, I wish, there was only one of 'me' out there!

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  8. All this marketing and posting I do is about attracting attention to the book. Check out the book. Read a sample. Buy it if it sounds good. I'm in the final throes of book birth now. I've been juicing the website and the social media for all I'm worth in anticipation of the "big day." I get notices every day that someone new is following me. Whoa! Why? I haven't a clue. Only they really aren't following "me." They're following one of my pseudonyms. ALL of it is made up. The "publishing" company, the writers, the editors are made up. Fiction. Hellooo. Nevertheless, I'm sure I (the guy beneath the masks) will have to come out at some point.

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  9. I actually sued someone in federal court over using the web as an invasion of privacy. This person took emails, edited and cherry-picked them and did two things: She posted excerpts on her website and forwarded the edited copies to anyone who was mentioned in said email.

    That said, I am open and social. I don't have a family and in my town unless you have kids or are attached to a church, there isn't much social life. But that is a conscious choice on my part.

    I don't reel in my political opinions, but I go to political places to express them. One friend said she purposely follows me into the forums because she knows it will be good.

    I was trolled hard during the #yesallwomen hashtag project on Twitter. I attracted a troll gang that was so stupid that they were reduced to "and she's married to a Chihuahua!" (My profile says "and I have Chihuahuas.) I fought it off with a combination of logic and blocking. Again, this was a conscious choice on my part. (My blog has a very gutting post about the aftermath of the Santa Barbara shooting and the evil places that spawned him.) I do plan on creating my own version of Silence Dogood for future political battles just because it is so annoying, not that I feel threatened.

    I decided that the good things I do will do me no good unless I claim them to my name. My blog is starting to gain traction and I've made some amazing friends and social connections by being brash enough to ask. I'm selective, especially on Twitter and am just about to tip the following/follower ratio. I am hoping it will be a signal boost when I do release something into the wild.

    I think it is finding a comfort level and going with it. Because of the family business, conducted entirely on the net, I was exposed a long time before I adopted it as a lifestyle.

    Terri

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  11. I think it's a shame that writers must be paranoid about their work. I know it must be harder and harder with the social media. I know when I first started writing, I worried about copyrightig everything. Then I learned how silly that was!

    The bottom-line for me is that few people can be inspired to write a full novel from an excerpt from my work. If they do, my hat's off to them. Furthermore, if they do, it will certainly be different than what I write.

    We have to be careful, but let's not get too paranoid!

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  12. I do discuss some things with those in my circle (i.e. crit group) and sometimes I'll post snapshots of a story that may or may not turn into something, really there just pieces of fiction inspired by a photo. I'm very careful not to post pics or alert people to where I am or where I live, I've dealt with personal stalkers, I don't want a cyberspace one or more. So, I guess what I'm saying is just be careful with what you share.

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