Writers Beware! Protect Yourself

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.

Your Turn

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.]

32 Responses to Writers Beware! Protect Yourself

  1. Catherine Hackman October 6, 2016 at 5:38 pm #

    I had started following your website about a year before that. I guess I need to do more thorough reading since this post dates to 2010. Reading it would have saved me a lot of trouble.

  2. Annette Whipple July 9, 2018 at 4:22 am #

    Because I enjoy connecting with other writers in Facebook groups, I have a FB author page, personal FB account, and then a second FB account for writing friends and groups. Others just deny friend requests, but I often learn about conferences and great books through these friends.

    • Andrea July 9, 2018 at 5:38 am #

      Be careful. I have heard of Facebook deleting accounts as you are only allowed to have one per person. I don’t believe there’s a limit to pages though.

      • Linda Riggs Mayfield July 9, 2018 at 8:21 am #

        Andrea, I think you’ve been misinformed. I’ve had three Facebook accounts for many years–one personal, one as a writer, and one for my business as a research and writing consultant for doctoral scholars and editor for authors. I can choose whether to link them or not. My author posts are linked to my personal account, but my business account is stand-alone. I receive automated weekly reports from FB about contacts on the account. I just wish I had time to work and write and post to my web site and post more often on all three!☺

      • Steve Laube July 9, 2018 at 9:34 am #

        From Facebook’s web site:
        “Facebook is a community where people use their authentic identities. It’s against the Facebook Community Standards to maintain more than one personal account.”

        https://www.facebook.com/help/975828035803295?helpref=uf_permalink

        But you can have multiple business accounts. I suggest looking up the various bits of advice found in a search for “Can you have more than one facebook account?”

        https://www.google.com/search?q=can+you+have+more+than+one+facebook+account&rlz=1C1CHFX_enUS575US575&oq=can+you+have+more+than+one+facebook+account&aqs=chrome..69i57.6526j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

        • LindaRiggsMayfield July 12, 2018 at 7:40 am #

          Thanks for the details and links, Steve. My two FB accounts (pages?) in addition to my personal one are actually blogs for my two business endeavors–(1) writing and (2) consulting/editing for doctoral scholars (That one is named “Dr. You”– my name isn’t in it.) I followed FB guidelines when I set them up years ago and just assumed I’m still in compliance, but I will make sure I’m fully following the current FB rules. It wouldn’t have crossed my mind. I may need to move one to WordPress. Thanks again!

  3. L.G. McCary July 9, 2018 at 4:24 am #

    Military wives get drilled on OPSEC all the time to the point that some of us use aliases on our personal Facebook and never put anything military-related on the house or car. I am very careful what I share online and where. My personal blog has never used my children’s names, and I rarely even mention their genders! I don’t talk about where we live until we’ve moved. I also don’t friend just anyone from writer’s conferences. I’m sure it has hurt some new acquaintances’ feelings, but I value my privacy (and my children’s privacy) too much to allow just anyone into my personal life. It’s a good mindset to be in! Loose lips sink ships!

    • Steve Laube July 9, 2018 at 9:29 am #

      A perfect comparison. It may be of interest that our guest in the post, Ellie Kay, is married to a retired Air Force pilot. She speaks on military bases around the world.

  4. Sharon K. Connell July 9, 2018 at 5:23 am #

    One important point is to never put anything on a social site that you don’t want going out to the world. Whether that’s you address, phone number, email address, or pictures. Once it’s out there, it’s available to anyone who wants it and knows how to use the system to get it. Use wisdom. I know a rare thing today. LOL

  5. Melissa Henderson July 9, 2018 at 5:40 am #

    Great information. Thank you. I learned a lot.

  6. Kate July 9, 2018 at 6:01 am #

    Valuable advice. Thank you all for sharing your views and experience.

  7. Renee Garrick July 9, 2018 at 6:11 am #

    Steve, thanks so much for providing this list filled with wisdom. It’s especially helpful to me this week as I look forward to my second writer’s conference. I’ll print it as part of my to-do (and in some cases my to-don’t) list.

  8. Pearl Allard July 9, 2018 at 6:58 am #

    Good advice. I don’t often hear this topic talked about in writing circles and have wondered why. Thank you.

    • Steve Laube July 9, 2018 at 9:27 am #

      Pearl,

      It is something that should be taught to beginning writers, especially in our current tech society where mistakes can be easily made.

      Too often a writer tries to close the barn door after the horses are already out.

      Steve

  9. Loretta Eidson July 9, 2018 at 7:32 am #

    Wow. That’s a lot of information to absorb. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 9, 2018 at 7:51 am #

    A few suggestions –

    1) Don’t use an author photo that looks like you, and photos that you post online should not be recognizable; use a hat and sunglasses, turn your head, anything to prevent someone from carrying a picture and being able to say, “Yes, that’s her.”

    2) No pictures of your family, your pets, or your house, inside or out.

    3) Don’t give out the name of your favourite restaurant or coffee shop.

    4) Don’t say when you’ll be vacationing.

    5) Don’t say where you’ll be vacationing

    6) Shred your mail after reading.

    7) Be situationally aware; get to know the cars and passers-by near your home, workplace, and in-between.

    8) If you walk or jog, vary routes and timing, and don’t go alone. There are few things more unsettling than having a van pull up next to you, side door opening. This comes from personal experience and it ended badly, though not for me.

    9) Learn krav maga, and carry pepper spray, at a minimum. Carry something more effective if you can.

    10) Wait for parking spots in clear view of your destination, and under lights. Check the back seat and under the vehicle before getting in.

    11) Never, ever trust the motives of a stranger.

    12) Pay attention to your intuition; if something makes you uneasy, act on it by going to a public place, aborting your trip, or calling for help. Our minds and bodies are wired to give warnings; heed them.

    Sounds paranoid, yeah? It’s not a safe world, and the things that can happen are way worse than the things you might do to prevent them happening.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 9, 2018 at 8:06 am #

      A couple more –

      13) Dress appropriately; shoes in which you can run, or easily kick off. Carry a clutch, not a handbag, or at least use a hidden wallet for personal information and credit cards. Consider not wearing tight skirts, or any tight clothing; loose and limber can win your safety.

      14) Be wary of come-ons; while one person engages you with a tale of woe and a request for help, an accomplice may be coming around behind you.

      15) Who dares wins; if you feel a trap closing, run if you can, or scream and fight, using anything you can grab as a weapon.

    • Steve Laube July 9, 2018 at 9:25 am #

      Andrew,

      All good suggestions.

      However, the use of a realistic author photo is one where a major publisher would disagree.

      If your book is going to go out to the media for interviews (TV, speaking, radio, etc) your Publicity packet will include an author photo.

      If your image is intentionally obscure there needs to be a reason. Under witness protection? Stalker in your life? (I know of a writer who moved to a different state to escape from a stalker, from a time before she was married. She will be careful about where her image appears.)

      But those are the exceptions.

      Bottom line? Use your common sense and take reasonable precautions.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 9, 2018 at 9:35 am #

        Steve, you’re right, of course.

        I would amend my comments on the author photo thus – in your daily life, don’t look like your author photo. Change your hair, wear clothing of a different style, wear a hat, wear sunglasses when outside…do the small things that distance you from the needed image.

        Marilyn Monroe, at the height of her career, could walk Manhattan unrecognized, because she dressed and acted like Norma Jean, and, significantly, because she thought of herself that way.

        During the 1950s she took classes at Lee Strasberg’s acting school, and there’s a wonderful anecdote about her.

        A male classmate received a phone call one evening, and on picking up the receiver, was greeted with, “Hi, this is Marilyn…would you have some time for a few read-throughs?”

        Recognizing the famous voice, the man said, faintly, “Marilyn?”

        “Sure. You know, Marilyn from school.”

  11. Paula Rose July 9, 2018 at 8:31 am #

    As of June 2018: Online sales must collect sales tax for all states…..

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/06/21/supreme-court-rules-states-can-collect-sales-tax-for-online-purchases-nationwide.html

    • Steve Laube July 9, 2018 at 9:17 am #

      Paula,

      Yes, that is the Supreme Court ruling I mentioned. However, each state will comply in different ways at different rates.

      The point is that one must be careful to understand the rules for their situation when selling books.

      For example, what if you travel to another state and sell books off the back table in that state? Your state’s tax law will determine how you handle that reporting and taxation.

      • Steve Laube July 9, 2018 at 12:23 pm #

        I did some reading on this today. Note that the Supreme Court’s decision is not final final. It has been sent back to the South Dakota court to address the concern that the policy may discriminate in some way.

        Note also that the Supreme Court’s majority opinion already refers to a feature of the South Dakota law that the Court determined reduces the burden on interstate commerce, including this gem:

        The statute’s “small seller” exception from sales tax collection (i.e., companies with annual sales less than $100,000 and sales transactions of fewer than 200 are not required to collect).

        In other words…it may not affect any author unless they are very successful selling online!

  12. Linda Riggs Mayfield July 9, 2018 at 8:40 am #

    Steve, I think it is extremely difficult to find the balance between implementing all these security walls and also following the oft-repeated caveat that the successful writer or blogger is the one who reveals who she really is, shares her personal joys and struggles, and allows herself to be vulnerable in her online and published writing. The theme of the September issue of Writer’s Digest (already received) is Be Bold, and is specifically about that. One piece is entitled, “How to Bare Your Soul…” A great deal of discernment is required!

    • Kate July 9, 2018 at 9:07 am #

      Very true. May the Lord our Shepherd always guide us.
      Thanks Linda.

    • Steve Laube July 9, 2018 at 9:19 am #

      Linda,

      No question. The tension between being “out there” and “protecting yourself” is very real.

      The point of this post is to create awareness of some simple protections one can put in place. Protections that are scaleable, meaning they are there in the event your work becomes “famous.”

      It doesn’t mean going into a cave. This is just a suggestion to be aware and intentional.

      Steve

  13. Sheri Dean Parmelee July 9, 2018 at 1:03 pm #

    Thank you SO much, Steve. I have done some but not all of these things and I really appreciate your sharing these ideas.

  14. Jennifer Haynie July 9, 2018 at 2:31 pm #

    Steve,

    This is a very timely post. The other thing I can add is to be very sparing in what goes on social media–period. Especially if you have kids. I know lots of people have varying opinions about that, but I hold firm to the fact that nothing, even a “friends only” account is truly private on FB or Twitter.

    And on Twitter, as I’ve expanded my following, I can’t number the times when someone has DM’s me wanting to chat, etc. The key is not to engage someone unless it is someone you know.

    And one last valuable piece of wisdom from Edie Melson, who shared the above, is not to friend someone on FB who you have not met. I truly stand by that one.

  15. Mark Moss July 9, 2018 at 8:10 pm #

    Thank you. I am at the beginning of my writing career and am doing some of the things you suggest. I will strongly consider some of your other ideas.

  16. Tisha Martin July 11, 2018 at 11:46 pm #

    Great advice here. Regarding a separate phone number, I use Uber Conference when I do my client coaching calls. It’s really nice because both parties call into a main number and enter a PIN, and then your call is timed, noting how many minutes you speak and how many minutes the author speaks.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Mind Sieve 9/12/11 « Gloria Oliver - September 12, 2011

    […] the Steve Laube Agency blog – Writers Beware! Protect Yourself! Kinda scary really. Good, sensible advice […]

  2. Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 07-12-2018 | The Author Chronicles - July 12, 2018

    […] Steve Laube has some great tips for safeguarding your identity and privacy as an author. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *