Spent the day Saturday at the Deadly Ink convention in Rockaway, New Jersey. It's my home state's only mystery conference so it's always nice to go and see other Garden Staters who like to talk about crime fiction. Yeah, it's a little tiring to spend a day being borderline charming to people--all of whom were legitimately lovely--when you're recovering and yes, being cancer boy in a gathering of people can get old in a hurry, but it's nice to see old friends and catch up on things. No doubt my trip to Malice Domestic next April will be less exhausting and I'll have hair then so that's a plus.
But it did open up a question I'll admit I haven't given tons of thought in my 15-year crime fiction career: How much access to an author, even a decidedly midlist one like me, is too much? At what point should I be guarding my privacy ahead of trying to promote my latest release or my next one? Readers aren't a nuisance and I'm certainly not afraid of them, but where should the line be drawn?
First, in the interest of full disclosure: Nobody at Deadly Ink even came close to violating any personal space I might own and there were no suggestions of privacy issues. It was not a specific incident that got my head running in this direction--it was more the feeling of being back among a crowd of mystery fans after an unusually prolonged absence and the crime writer's sense of a decent murder possible at any moment that might have prompted this train of thought.
There is a push-pull effect in being a writer who needs exposure as opposed to someone like Stephen King, who can draw a crowd just by going outside or James Paterson, who can sell millions of books no matter who else's name appears on the cover usually below his own. We midlisters need the help. They need their privacy because there are millions of people who know who they are and at least three of those people are crazy. (In King's case, probably at least four.) We have to decide how much privacy we need because there is a need for exposure in order to sell enough books to keep this job, but there might also be the occasional reader who crosses the line.
For us, the tricky part is figuring out where the line is before it gets crossed.
It becomes a question when, for example, we might be running a contest that gives out free copies of our books to the lucky readers who answer the question or ask quickly enough or whatever. Lord knows we could certainly get rid of a few of the books in boxes around the house, and we're happy--no, ecstatic--to give them to loyal fans despite the fact that we're probably cutting into a tiny slice of our sales by doing so.
But when we have just a home address and we need to put it on the envelope, is that a problem? Do we want readers to have our home addresses? (By the way, the fact that the reader has to give us THEIR home address doesn't bother us at all because we know we pose no threat to anybody.) Should we get post office boxes and put that address on the envelope? Are we being paranoid? (Do we really have to pay for a PO Box and check it for the inevitable junk mail we'll get there?)
When I see a reader at Deadly Ink especially (because it's a local conference) and they ask where I live, I'll tell them the name of the county I live in. I don't mention the town. Too easy to track down an address that way, even if you have a name as absurdly common as mine. (Hint: Not Copperman.)
If a reader wants an email address I'll certainly give that out. It's on both of my web sites and email doesn't help someone find out where you live. My cell phone number? No. Nobody's getting that and it's just because I don't need any more calls on my cell phone, as well as the fact that I'll probably ignore a call from someone not in my Contacts file anyway.
Does all this sound a little nuts? A little Gene Hackman in The Conversation? Maybe. I don't want to overestimate my place in the minds of my readers or their intentions. I've never--ever--met one that scared me. But I do wonder about the privacy question. How much does an author need, and where is the line drawn?
I have no answers.