Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Anonymous Author

I’m opinionated. My mother has used words like harsh, judgmental, and critical to describe me in the not-too-distant past (last month), and sometimes she’s right, I’m a snob. I like good books, books that don’t read like a fifth-grader’s first draft, books that don’t make me wonder if the entire world is illiterate. I like good coffee, not weak decaf, gas-station pumpkin spice, or burnt beans. I try not to be harsh about my preferences, but sometimes - like when people claim Dunkin’ Donuts has good coffee, or that The DaVinci Code is a “smart, smart, book,” I do get vocal.
    Jenna recently sent me this article, by an author I’ve never read, about the affect the public persona of an author has on the reader. It’s not something I’ve thought much about before, but I realized that I do judge authors by the way they present themselves. I can forgive a good deal of disagreement on politics, religion, life-in-general, but I have stopped reading author’s whose tone is condescending, who doesn’t seem to respect the reader, or who doesn’t seem honest in relating to the public. And sometimes, I’ve stopped reading an author because I can’t get past the bad back cover photo (if that isn’t harsh I don’t know what is).

There is a danger in becoming too public as a personality, devoting too much time to blogging, tweeting, interviewing, and entertaining. ‘Being an Artist’ can take up all the time that used to go toward creating art. Camus has a fun little story “Jonas, or The Artist at Work” about a man who becomes overrun by the distractions of Being an Artist. There’s something off-putting about back-cover photos - they always fall short of the image I’d like to have of the author, and if he goes online to discuss his opinions of the election, praise writers I’m convinced are bad, and update me on his daily weight-loss regime, I might lose the ability to see him as anything but a sweaty jogger in obnoxious t-shirts. In short, writers should think before they build a public image. They should be honest in blogs and interviews, but the sort of honesty you bring to a first date, not the sort you share with old friends on a drunken weekend. Because they are crafting an image - and it shouldn’t be completely unattractive, right?


  1. I shudder at author public image. I would avoid it altogether, if I could. And I've often wondered, if I publish a book, do I HAVE to have a picture of me on the back cover? I know I prefer books where the author remains a tiny, neat printed name, cloaked in the voice of a brilliant story.

    But I'm a private person. And I like stories to speak for themselves.

    Good food for thought.

  2. P.S. A photo of Shel Silverstein kept my cousin/godson from reading _The Giving Tree_ until a week ago. I gave it to him last Christmas.

  3. It was this one:

  4. Wait, here's an unblurry one:

    And the spamming, STOPS.

  5. I like gas-station coffee, though. I also like really good coffee. To me, those are like two species that aren't in competition at all. My Pilot Exclusive Pumpkin Spice powder-box "cappuccino" and my local dark roast are equally well suited to their respective niches.

    And even though it is fractally badly-written, it's probably possible to come up with a plausible account of The Da Vinci Code as "a smart book" (however, "It has some names from history in it" doesn't count :( ).

    But being a snob about coffee and The Da Vinci Code seems essentially harmless.

    You might be missing out on some good books, though, if you can't get past the author photo. Some people are just not well served by photography, but they have been heckled by agent or publisher or whatever to Sell The Face!! and that is not their fault; they're just trying to tell you this story and don't want to make their own lives harder by getting a reputation as a Troublesome Crazy Author Who Is Too Neurotic and/or Narcissistic To Approve Any Photos. Tape a piece of brown paper over that author photo and carry on.

  6. I love that you mention author photos. They are almost universally disappointing, for various reasons, and yet I like them somehow. Though sometimes they're definitely better left out, and not just for homeliness; when your pen name is Madeleine Brent and your real name is Peter O'Donnell, for instance. ;)

    I like to know a little about authors, but not if they're going to demean people who disagree with their opinions. It's hard to imagine anyone hating you for dissing pumpkin spice coffee from a gas station, though. ;) Anyway, I'm from Seattle. I like good coffee.

    Great post! My response is currently over 1400 words long. We'll see if I can edit that down, but I don't know. I have strong opinions on this subject. :P

  7. P.S. Christie, HAHAHAHA. That is not how I pictured Shel Silverstein. He looks like an angry biker... I can see why your godson might've hesitated. ;)

  8. I'm with Laura, I do like gas station pumpkin spice coffee . . . who told you? c;

  9. I like The Experience of drinking gas station coffee. On roadtrips. Late at night. I don't like the coffee, and if I drink it any other way - outside of The Late Night Drive, I feel kind of depressed..

    If there are ever back cover photos of me, they'll be altered to fit the mood of the whole book, artistic representations that give nothing away..

    Jenna, please tell me Madeliene Brent/Peter O Donnell is a true-to-life example! I love that!