The writing profession starts off as a private venture. Creating ideas and stories in the privacy of your own home. But those of you who become serious about the work and slowly become more visible need to address the issue of personal protection.
These days, the danger of identity theft and cyber-stalking is real. I cannot emphasize enough that you must take precautions. In the early 90s I began working as an editor for Bethany House, but I worked from home. I never considered the need to keep my home address out of the public eye until I had three separate writers show up at my front door, with manuscript in hand, asking to see me. Very quickly I secured a box at a local mail service, changed my business cards, and have never made that mistake again.
I thought it appropriate to discuss a few of the simple steps you can take to protect yourself from your adoring public. Much of this may seem like common sense, but each idea comes from the need to shut a particular door somewhere.
I asked Ellie Kay to write down some of the ideas she has used. She started writing and speaking twenty years ago as a stay-at-home mom. Since that time her platform has grown to national proportions.
“Be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” As many of you know, I’m on national, mainstream media weekly (both radio and TV) and I’m so thankful I have these safeguards set up. Before I did this, I was stalked a couple of times!
I would encourage writers to do a few basic security checks:
1) Set up a PO Box – Or use a mail service (like a UPS store) that has a physical address where you can received packages. You should never list your physical home address on any materials.
2) Set up an Online Contact Form — This uses code that the person will have to enter in order to send your office (or you) a note. Never have your email address listed openly on a website as there are cyber-spiders that crawl the internet, harvesting these addresses and sells them to spammers. [Google Forms makes it easy to set up. But you must have a gmail account first.]
3) Set up an Assistant Account — This should be where your online contact form sends mail. Even if you cannot afford a assistant, set up this account. Then, if you feel compelled to respond to fringe people, your assistant can do it first and there’s another layer of protection.
4) Consider having a separate phone number for your business. Imagine your personal cell number getting out into the wild. That opens you up to texting from strangers and any number of other stalking activities.
5) Do Not Engage — Chuck Swindoll says he never reads an anonymous letter, I take his advice. He said, “If they don’t have the courage to put their name on it, then it’s not worth my time.” The same applies to email, you don’t have to respond or engage a looney. If you get a bad feeling about the person, then do not feel you (or your assistant) has to respond to the fringe. Pray for wisdom and act accordingly.”
Thank you Ellie! Those are excellent ideas.
Other ideas include:
1) Be careful what apps you download on your cell phone. If they can share your ID, location, etc. your privacy is at risk.
2) One way to keep your cell number private is to create a Google Voice phone number. This is a number that can be made public but you control what phone number rings when it is called. It will also transcribe the call and send the text to your email address if you like.
3) Discipline what personal information you share, especially in social media.
4) Consider having a private family Facebook account for sharing things among extended family. Then set up an author page which can be accessed by fans. Do this early in your career as it is hard to switch later.
5) It has been suggested you use a disposable email address for your online forms or use an email alias. I have a separate email just for online transactions and another just for newsletter subscriptions or registrations. This keeps that sort of stuff out of my business related in-box.
In addition, consider setting up your writing business under an LLC (limited liability corporation). This will help separate your personal income from your business income. I did this for our agency at the very beginning and also did the same when creating The Christian Writers Institute. Ask your tax accountant for advice on how to set it up and use it. The easiest book to digest on this subject is Limited Liability Companies for Dummies by Jennifer Reuting (3rd edition). The process varies by state so ask for help if you don’t understand how it works.
A couple of our clients have gone a step further and incorporated by creating an S-Corporation (This is when you can add the Inc. to the business name). This is a much more complicated procedure but has distinct advantages and protections, especially if you get sued. Again, consult experts in these areas before doing anything on your own. The best book I’ve read on the subject is Inc. Yourself by Judith McQuown. Make sure to buy the Eleventh edition (published 2014) as the laws continue to change.
If you plan to sell books from your home or office don’t forget to obtain a sales license for your city and state (each city and state have different laws and procedures on this). Why? Because if you sell books to anyone in your state you must collect state and local sales tax. Even if you don’t want to charge tax at your book table, you are still liable for those taxes. Again, this varies widely by state. Just make sure you are doing the right thing where you live.
In the near future the law in your state will probably change with regard to selling your books out-of-state. Before you didn’t have to pay sales tax on inter-state commerce but a recent Supreme Court decision could change that where you live. Pay attention so you don’t get a surprise tax bill some year.
If there are other idea you have or questions on these issues feel free to post below and I will try my best to help.
[An earlier version of this article was posted in July 2010.]