Basic Safety Techniques for Authors

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

When your book is published, you are a public persona. You suddenly have fans, and people from all over contact you. Your publisher expects you to put yourself out there as much as possible on the Internet and through speaking engagements and book signings.

You might also end up with a group of people who dislike you or your book. Most of the time these people limit themselves to negative reviews or pointed emails, but a person might try something more personal. Being an author could make you a target for identity theft. You can protect yourself and your family by following these simple steps.

1) Get a P.O. Box. This will keep readers–friendly or not–from showing up at your front door, and it will give individuals a way to contact you that isn’t your home address. Making your home address readily available allows anyone to see what your home looks like through Google Maps, and everyone can access basic details about your house’s value of your home. Often they can see photos of your house through old real estate postings. Best to keep this information as private as you can by obtaining a P.O. Box and only sharing general information about where you live. Some authors don’t give their hometown in their bios but simply name the state they live in.

2) Help to prevent identity theft by autographing your books and hand-written letters differently than you do checks and legal documents.

3) Keep a tight reign on things like your birthday, your mother’s maiden name, your driver’s license number, your school mascots and any other information that might be used by a bank as a security question. Many fans want to know everything about an author, but it can be dangerous to share too much through a variety of interviews.

4) Don’t allow yourself to become responsible for another person’s property. Some fans will ask if they can send copies of your book to you to autograph, or they’ll ask if they can send something they’ve written for your endorsement or just because they believe you’ll enjoy it. It’s not a good idea to allow anything to be sent to you that has value to the other person in case it is lost or damaged. You can offer to send a signed bookplate to the fan instead of mailing the book. Consider making it a policy that you do not accept manuscripts or books from anyone other than the publishing house after a formal endorsement request. Posting this policy on your webpage will also give you something to point to if a package is lost on the way to you.

5) Remember to protect your family as much as possible as well. Really think about what you’re posting online.

I don’t want to freak you out, but I do want you to think about these things so that each of you is doing what you can to stay safe.

What safety tips have been helpful to you?

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50 Comments

  • Thanks, Rachel! This is a wonderful checklist to go through now and to keep handy!

  • Thanks, Rachel. Great information to think about.

  • Mindy says:

    So good to know, thanks! Since I’m still in the early stages of my manuscript, I feel like filing all this information away for when I do need it; you guys do a wonderful job sharing pertinent information and I don’t want to forget a thing. :) Have a great weekend!

  • Sarah Thomas says:

    I’d been debating getting identity theft protection. I think you just made up my mind!

  • Excellent information, Rachel. I’m all for protecting my identity. We’ve had two scares in the 13 years we’ve been here; and though it turned out being just a hassle to deal with, you simply can’t be too safe online.

    One of the changes I’ve made is to delete my address and phone number from my business cards. There’s no real reason anyone other than an agent/publisher needs that information. An email address to contact or simply a website link is fine in most cases.

    Thanks for these safety tips. Hope you have a great weekend.

    • Excellent advice, Cheryl, I’ve been pondering what to put on a business card, and now I know.

    • Cheryl,

      You’re absolutely right about the business cards. I just did the same thing. No address or phone number. Just the email address. And the email address is exclusively for the business. It is not my personal email. Unfortunately, you can’t be too cautious.

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      That’s a great idea for authors! It’s true. Email addresses are sufficient and a person can contact you by email to get you PO Box address if he or she needs to mail you something.

  • Here’s one example of how living in a different country will be to my advantage. Maybe I should have all my publicity shots taken during a blizzard?
    “Visit Jennifer anytime in February, where it’s -35, in the sun.”

    • Actually, this year, you could take a picture in the blazing hot sun. I understand it was around 100 degrees Fahrenheit there recently! (Sorry. I don’t know the Celsius.) As you might remember I have a relative who lives in your neighborhood (neighborhood being a relative term) for half the year. She and hubby have no a/c so they’ve spent a good deal of time in the basement recently.

      With the unusual heat you’ve been having, I hope you didn’t have flashbacks to Oklahoma. ;)

      • Yes!1 Over 100F on a few of those days! Yes, we do have A?C, thank the Lord!
        I definitely remember that poor woman! Ohhh, the humidity was awful, JUST LIKE Oklahoma!

      • I’m glad you have the a/c. And at least it’s cooler today. Down here, it’s about 90 degrees–but I’m in a nice air conditioned house so life’s good.

        More poor dear relative goes up to your neck of the woods to get away from the heat we have down here and from the hurricanes. For the past couple of years, the hurricanes have followed her up there (although they were just bad storms by the time they reached her house) and now the heat has followed her too. Honestly, I think you natives are way too nice. Obviously my relative is bringing trouble with her and you should chase her out of town! ;)

        Seriously though, she and her husband just can’t wait to go to Canada each year because they love their neighbors (their down the road ones; they live in the country and go into the “Big City” for groceries). They considered becoming full-time residents and eventually applying for Canadian citizenship, but the -35 degrees in the sun changed their minds. :)

        Have a great weekend!

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      lol! I think you’ll be safe. That’s pretty cold!

    • Jenny Leo says:

      I’ll be visiting friendly Manitoba next week. Almost afraid to check the forecast.

  • Love this advice. I refused to put my kids’ pictures online for years (except in group settings w/low resolutions and unclear faces)… now that they’re big enough to fend for themselves and to make a ruckus, I a little more liberal with that.

    When offering those signed stickers, I have some policies:
    1. Require a self-addressed, STAMPED envelope.
    2. Add a busy background that can’t be easily removed (light graph paper, or over a smiley face, or stripes or something… ) Don’t sign a blank sticker and send it out.
    3. Take your email off all your social media, including your blog. Use forms instead.
    4. And my biggest personal social media regret: have a FB page, not a FB profile. I am bombarded with direct messages on my FB profile and can’t get to them all. FB pages don’t have this feature…

    Appreciate you taking care of us, Rachel. :D

  • Rachel, excellent advice! Definitely some things I hadn’t even thought of here (and I have a suspicious mind!). Thank you!

  • What an excellent post, Rachel! Thank you for these tips. I already do some of them (for example, on Facebook I am listed as living in Florida while on Twitter I’m “in the USA”). Also, I rarely say anything online about my family other than that I have one. It’s sad that we now live in a society where we have to worry about identity theft and stalking, among other things.

    I found #2 interesting as well as helpful. I never would have thought of it.

    What you said about Google Maps is absolutely true. I love using the street level view on Google Maps to do research for my novel. The descriptions of my fictional human town of Baile Eile and my woodland faerie world have sprung from Google map street level views of places in Ireland (I can’t afford to go in person). While this is a phenomenal (and free) tool for my writing, I’m also aware that anyone who knows my residential address can not only find out how to get to my house, but can see exactly what my house looks like. It’s kind of spooky. I have a UPS box. The advantage with this over a PO box is that it’s address looks like a residential address since it is the address of the store plus the box number added to look like an apartment number. For example, 7192 N. Westmore Street, # 327, Golden Palm, FL 33297 (fictional address, of course).

    No matter how hard we try, though, it is still fairly easy for people to get our private information. Even though I give out the UPS box as my address most of the time, there are times when I have to give the residential address. For example, I had to renew my driver’s license this year. The woman who processed me said that the computer system will not accept “a PO box,” so it apparently came up on her computer as a box number despite the way it’s written. Also, there are a number of sites online where people who are willing to pay for it can get information about me–addresses for the past five years, jobs I’ve held and I don’t know what else. Over a year ago, I reported to my bank that I had not received the checks I had ordered. Before they would send out a new shipment, they had their securities services call me and ask me a long list of questions, such as, “Have you ever owned a four door white 1973 Pinto?” There was one question that the woman told me I got wrong and I realized later that there was another one that I also had answered incorrectly because, in my early twenties, someone had given me a car that I soon sold. I had completely wiped that car from my memory. When the security woman had asked me about it, I had said I never owned such a car. Later, I remembered that I had. The scary thing was realizing that this woman (and whoever else has access to such information)knew more about the personal details of my life than I did!

    With that cheery thought, have a good weekend! :)

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      I had a similar experience at with my bank! Freaked me out. I only vaguely remembered the address they said I lived at while I was in college. If I didn’t get the right answer they weren’t going to let me access my account info. Lol.

  • Thank you for the terrific tips, Rachel! I took my location off my FB page a while back, and I don’t comment on my blog about my location except that it’s in the Midwest. But I’m active in the Indiana chapter of ACFW, so that’s a giveaway. I live in a small suburb, so I’d thought of getting a PO Box in the large metropolitan area nearby, thus eliminating the small town city on the address. What about an unlisted phone number? With yellow pages and white pages available online, just about any phone number can be found. You’ve given us plenty to mull over this weekend.

    • Meghan, that’s a good idea. We live in a small town, so if the PO Box is here, they won’t have to search long to find me. But there’s a huge city half an hour away. And I get up there frequently enough to make it work.

      Actually, doesn’t the UPS store let you know when you actually have something in your box? That may be a good option to look into so we’re not driving up to check an empty mailbox.

      Rachel, I’m sure this number varies, but, really, how much fan mail does the average author get? Clearly I’m not the type to contact writers very often.

      • Hi Sally,

        I have a UPS box. The store contacts me when I receive a package, but not when I just have mail. It works for me, though, because I don’t get a ton of mail, so I just go to the UPS office either when I have a package or I’m in the area. There are both a restaurant and a grocery store right next to the UPS place, so I can make picking up the mail worth the trip.

        I think you’re right that people could locate you in a small community. Getting an mailing address outside of your actual town is a good plan.

        Unfortunately Meghan is right. With the white pages online, it’s not that hard to locate someone.

    • Linda Taylor says:

      Re: the white pages
      I just found all my info there, including a map to my house. If you create a free account, you can claim the name and address, click on edit and say that you don’t live at that address. Voila! It goes away! Now to find my house you have to know the address. So glad I read this.

  • These are excellent!!! I have a friend who does cyber-security and she suggests keeping ANY personal info or family pictures off the web completely. She says it is lots easier to access–even when “secure”–than any of us really know. I especially love the idea of setting boundaries upfront on your website.

  • NLBHorton says:

    Another suggestion: have random e-mail addresses, like obsolete old ones. (And I agree with Bill about the professional FB page, as opposed to the personal profile. Very wise.)

    You’re giving good advice here, Rachel.

  • Great advice, Rachel! I’ll have to think about how to protect myself more. I tend to be an open book. :( I especially will need to think about what to post and not to post when we have kids. That brings the scary factor up a bit in my mind.

  • Great post with great advice.

  • Love this post! Good to see I am already doing 1,2,3, and 5. I never thought about #4. Very good idea not to!

    Another privacy tip is to not post any pics on Facebook you don’t want reposted. As soon as you post a pic, it is my understanding you give them the rights to use anything you share.

    Absolutely love this post!

  • Jan Thompson says:

    Thank you, Rachel. Good advice. Esp #5. Use an author Facebook page to keep personal page private. Be careful what you tweet re: private life, e.g. where you went for dinner, what your children’s daily routines are, your personal medical issues, etc. I think authors need to conduct themselves professionally on social media.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Another thought is not to post when you go on vacation or a trip. If they know you’re gone and have figured out where you live, then your house becomes a target.

  • Andrea Cox says:

    Great ideas, Rachel! Thanks for sharing them and keeping our safety in mind.

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • Is it okay to tell my readers the names of my dogs and cats?

  • Linda Taylor says:

    GREAT post, Rachel! Immediately googled myself and found my name, address, age and a map to my house! I got rid of that quickly. Everyone should check the White pages listing. Except for my dogs, I rarely mention my family. Have to move some of the photos off Facebook, though. Thank you so much.

  • I’ve never mentioned anything about my family online, and I don’t put my home town on social Networking Sites. However other people from my area sometimes mention that they’ve seen me and I’ve “Liked” some local businesses. I guess as long as I also like some from other areas that’s safe.

  • A couple of years ago, I had a short piece published in Guideposts Magazine. They printed both my name and my hometown on the byline. Shortly after, I received a phone call from a sweet old lady who noticed I lived in the same town and decided to look me up in the phonebook. Now my husband teases me about my “old lady stalkers.”

  • Laura Jackson says:

    Great information. I hadn’t thought about that. I live in a huge city and have a common name, so I’m not too worried. But, I do need to watch things. These are great suggestions.

  • I shared this post on Twitter. Great information.

  • Sherry Kyle says:

    I know I get lax about protecting myself. I want to think people are good, but I know better. They steal, harass, and can make life horrible. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Alex Chediak says:

    Rachel,

    What do you think about having a personal Facebook page versus an author page? I created an author page when my book came out in 2011, but all my “fans” kept asking to join my personal page. I found it very difficult to maintain two pages.

    Thanks for your great blog.
    Alex

  • LeAnne says:

    Great advice Rachael. On that note, do you think that a pen name is helpful? Or does it hurt you in the long run?

  • Thanks so much Rachel! This is a little talked about aspect of publishing and I believe will help a lot of new authors who might be posting too much information without realizing the potential for problems. Great post!
    Patti

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