Achieving the private/public balance of being an author

Is an author who publishes books, by whatever route, entitled to a fully private life? Yes, and no.

Publishing a work – fiction, non-fiction, academic – makes that work and its author’s name available to the public. A fiction writer may use a pseudonym, of course. Readers will read the work – let’s call it a novel – and perhaps leave a review on a retailer site. The novel may get selected by a critic, a blogger or a book group who write reviews and/or discuss it. The ripples of publicity are starting.

Social media picks it up, perhaps from the author’s own blog, their Facebook account, a post on Google+ or a Tweet. Other bloggers ask the author for an interview, the author starts to attend events, to carry out book signings, to speak at events. Photos are taken for blog posts, reports in magazines. Perhaps the event is streamed live on Facebook, photos posted live on Instagram.

The author is acquiring a degree of fame. And fame, reviews, interviews, appearances, etc. sell books. Readers talk to authors at events, interact on social media, read their newsletters and blogs and send them emails.

Many authors love this, many are very happy, some will do it because it has to be done, others will feel nervous, embarrassed or even dislike the public side of publishing their work. But if you make your work public, i.e. publishing it, you are making yourself public. And if you want to sell books, you need to tell people about them and about you.

With Diana Gabaldon(!)

With Diana Gabaldon(!)

It’s the old adage – people buy people. As a reader, I love to know about the author of a book that has engaged me. Why did they write it? What happened in their life?  Do they have another occupation? Where can I go and see them speak? These days I read their blog, Facebook page and follow them on Twitter. I love to read about their research, their motivation, their passions, even their cat. Actually, especially their cat. And if I can meet them and get a signed copy of their book, I’m in Elysium.

So, reversing this…
Readers will want to know the same about their favourite authors including you. Depending on your inclinations and opportunities, you may write articles in magazines, appear on radio, on other people’s blogs. You may write your own blog, keep up on social media and make appearances. Part of your life has become public.

Keeping a balance
How much of your personal life you disclose is entirely up to you, but talking exclusively about your books is a tad boring, even on a Facebook author page. Some nice photos of your book signing, or places you’ve visited for research are interesting, but it’s the slightly more personal posts and blogs that interest people. Not your messy divorce or deep family grief, but your garden, (aforementioned) cat, cooking disasters, quirky facts from daily life attract a good following. I always get a surprising number of likes if I have a glass of wine in my hand!

But… (You knew there was a ‘but’)

Anything you disclose on social media or in a newspaper/magazine will be out there forever, whether stored digitally or in a newspaper archive. You cannot retract Tweets, photos will be viewed and shared. You therefore need to decide where you set the line. I would caution posting photos of young children on social media for obvious reasons, but fellow authors and other adults are fair game. The smartphones are everywhere. The only way to ensure you do not appear drunk on social media is not to get drunk in public.

You are ‘on duty’ all the time you are at an event, mixing with the public and even with colleagues. But other times when you are out privately with your family, doing your shopping, going on holiday, you are entitled to privacy. But if you choose to talk to a fan/reader in a social situation, then you are back on duty as an author.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before every

6 comments to Achieving the private/public balance of being an author

  • Simone Zammit Endrich

    Excellent post.

  • It is a sword-edge balance, you are right. A good post, Alison. I must confess I’m one of those readers who loves reading about writers’ lives because I gain an insight to the person. And I confess I’m one of those writers who rarely talks about her books, but rattles on ad nauseum about dogs, gardens, embroidery and the sea!

    • Alison Morton

      I’m glad I’m not the only nosy one! You should mention your books from time to time as they are lovely books. But it has to be a judicious mix. I tend to post photos, especially sunsets and wine, plus rants on my personal profiles and books, publishing and Roman stuff on my author pages. This is why I have two blogs now so I can have one about the books and Rome for readers and the other about writing for hosting guests and opinion pieces.

  • lesley2cats

    Very good post, as always, Alison. I just wish I could put myself out there a bit more.

    • Alison Morton

      Thank you, Lesley. I think you have to do as much as you feel like doing, whether virtually or in the Real World. I do have to fight off the time I spend on marketing in order to write, I admit, but being out in the public is necessary these days. But it should never intrude on time you have set aside for your personal life (she says!).

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