The picture on the right is borrowed from Deborah Elizabeth Finn’s blog and is used in accordance to her Creative Commons license.
My friend, Rebecca, who will soon be published by Harper Collins US as R.J. Anderson, has been going through her online life, adjusting old web pages and setting up a Facebook account, in order to put her best foot forward as she promotes herself as a new author.
I first met Rebecca online when, as editor of DWIN’s fiction magazine, Myth Makers, I stumbled upon her website and was most impressed by her fan fiction, and some of the fan fiction she highlighted (it was through her website that I first met Cameron Dixon). She is a respected writer within the Doctor Who and Harry Potter fan scenes, and now she has graduated to a two book deal with a major publisher. Couldn’t happen to a nicer lady.
I’ve been curious about something. If you’re a published or soon-to-be published author with a background in online fandom, would you mind telling me what you decided to do with that background once your deal went through, and why?
If you chose to separate your fannish and professional identities, for instance, what factors influenced that decision? Was it your agent’s recommendation to hide your secret Bat-identity, or did your publisher require it, or was it just something you felt would be prudent? If the decision was mostly yours, did you make it because you were embarrassed by the thought of people digging up your old fanfics, or because you worried about possible legal repercussions, or because you feared that your fellow pro authors would despise you if they knew? Or was there some other reason?
I am a recently-published author with an Internet history as along as my arm. I wrote my first e-mail back in 1993, and sent my first post to a newsgroup soon after that. The Internet has had a major influence on my life and I’ve decided that I’m not going to be turning my back on it.
One reason for this is because it would be so hard to do. I can’t even begin to think of how I could possibly erase my posting history, much less my earlier web ventures on archive.org. Anybody who does a groups Google on “James Bow” will encounter lengthy debates on rec.arts.drwho and misc.transport.urban-transit. I think they will find that I used to be quite a hotheaded young man. They will certainly discover that I edited two fanzines, and have been deeply involved in Doctor Who fandom since 1984.
It helps that I’m able to back up most of what I wrote back then, or am able to plausibly put it off by saying “well, I was younger and wilder then,” and most people, I think, will forgive that. Very early on I realized that the Net was archiving what I was saying, and that I should be careful about what I said. Everybody should act in a similar manner. In any event, my online activities are only marginally relevant to my current writing projects. Indeed, rather than being a liability, it has been used by the local media to back up my credentials, saying “see, this man is actually quite an experienced writer, since he has been writing for fun for over twenty-three years.”
But while I haven’t denied my fannish history, I haven’t gone out of my way to mention it, either. The website which promotes The Unwritten Girl and Fathom Five focuses on the books themselves since that’s what I assume most visitors will be interested in. If they want to know more about me, then they can visit my personal website, and if they want to read some of my fan fiction, they can do that as well. The real danger is not embarrassing yourself with your past, but swamping interested readers with too much information.
So I’m not ashamed of who I was — who I am — and Rebecca doesn’t have to be worried or ashamed, either. Judging from what I know about her online history, she comes across as a thoughtful and talented writer who got into writing for the pure enjoyment of it. And that’s certainly no liability.