Author Safety

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. 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. I remember a story from 2012 about a San Francisco-based literary agent who was stalked by a disgruntled author–the agent had rejected his book via email. He found her and attacked her while she was in her car. She suffered some injuries, but was all right.Β It’s hard to believe something like that could happen, but it can. So please be careful!

Do you have any tips to add to the list? What safety tips have been helpful to you?


43 Responses

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  1. Rachel thank you for the reminder. Everything you said above is spot-on accurate and timely. Some of it was eye-opening for me, things I’d never even considered. Thank you again for kind-of gently elbowing us to get us to consider things we’d not really thought of.

  2. Thank you so much for this helpful advice! My 1st book has recently gone to the publisher for publication a year from now. It’s good to start taking these steps early.

  3. It’s an important topic, Rachel.
    * I would like to add some suggestions specific to public events, such as lectures or book-signings.
    1 – Ensure that you can’t be recognized from your ‘author headshot’. Especially in the case of women, crazies are likely to fixate on a certain ‘look’. Change your hairstyle and makeup, and dress down from what you have in the photo.
    1A – Wear clothing in which you can run, and, if necessary, fight. No heels (no you can’t kick them off in time), and no tight skirts. Say yes to pantsuits.
    2 – When going to a venue, ask for a parking pass that is close by, if that option’s available. If not, arrive early and park as close as you can (especially important if it will be dark when you’re done).
    3 – Go with a friend or reliable family member (a son who is a linebacker on the varsity football team will do nicely).
    4 – If you have to go alone, don’t take more ‘table dressing’ than you can comfortably carry from and to the car in one trip.
    5 – Make sure your cell phone has a full charge.
    6 – During the event, maintain situational awareness. If one individual seems to keep popping up in your field of vision, make a note of it – literally. Writing down a short description will help you keep that person’s appearance in mind.
    7 – Beware the friendly chap who drops by the table during slack time at a signing, and ‘keeps you company’. He may be charming and entertaining (and totally innocent of any nefarious purpose), but he may also be drawing out your personal information and habits. It’s very easy to say more than you intend when someone makes you comfortable.
    8 – If you have a security concern, alert the management.
    9 – At the end of the event, especially after dark, don’t accept help from a ‘friendly stranger’ who’s had you sign their book to carry things to your car, or who gallantly offers an umbrella.
    10 – If you feel uncomfortable going to your car alone, DON’T. Tell management, and insist on either a uniformed security or police escort.
    11 – Learn to use your car keys as a weapon. A key that sticks out from between the fingers of a closed fist can make an assailant ‘see’ the situation from a different perspective, if you get my drift.
    12 – Never fight fair. Gouge the eyes, and kick the groin. If the assailant goes down, make sure he stays down. Then run.
    13 – Scream and shout. Attract all the attention you can, if you’re attacked.
    14 – Do NOT get abducted. Your chances, if taken, are not good, since the kidnapper knows he’s already facing Federal hard time…and you are the main witness against him. Better hurt now than dead later. Or better dead now than tortured and killed later.
    15 – Learn to disable a firearm pointed into your face. An automatic pistol, for instance, can be jammed by hitting the muzzle hard and straight-on with the flat of your hand. It will half-cycle the action and very possibly cause a jam. If you know a local police officer, talk to him or her about this.
    16 – Pepper spray and tear gas are fine, but they can be kinda like bringing a knife to a gunfight. They don’t have the same effect on everyone, they can be hard to aim over any distance, and it’s easy, with some dispensers, to spray yourself, which would be embarrassing. My advice is to get a carry permit and carry a sidearm. And stay proficient. Think you wouldn’t be able to shoot someone? What would you say to your family in a hypothetical post-mortem message? “I didn’t come home that night because I spared my killer’s life?”
    17 – Be paranoid. Someone IS out to get you. If you leave an opening, sooner or later someone will use it.
    * Sorry for the length and seriousness of this comment, but personal protection’s something about which I do know a bit.

    • As a woman who lives alone, travels internationally alone and lives in the fourth largest city in North America, i just can’t get behind the whole “be paranoid” thing. I love wearing heels. I love wearing form-fitting clothing. then again, my country has quite different gun laws. so maybe that is the difference? i have sixth sense, i exercise common sense; but i don’t live my life thinking “someone is out to get me.” there are some good points here; but also a few that might straddle a heightening of unreasonable fear for women of sole agency.

      • Rachel, you raise an excellent issue, that of creating unreasonable fear. That’s not my intention.
        * It’s apparently not really a matter of gun laws; sociologists lay the blame on things like societal fragmentation and a sense of malign anonymity, whatever that means. I’m not a sociologist, so I can’t address that.
        * When I was teaching, I was the target of a stalker, an unbalanced student. I was the very last person anyone would expect to be stalked, and I had to deal with the situation more harshly than I would have liked; the point here is that if it could happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
        * Having both sixth sense and common sense are the best defenses; they will let you see a bad situation developing, or, far better, let you avoid the situations in which those situations COULD develop.
        * Again, my apologies.

      • I would not classify Andrew’s vantage-point as paranoia. There is a substantive difference between paranoid and preparedness. Like Andrew, I have been in threatening situations (FM Disc Jockey) and had to be prepared, and escorted by law enforcement officials. Never forget that the stalker or threatening person is not thinking as clear-mindedly as you are

      • @Damon: I was responding to this: 17 – Be paranoid. Someone IS out to get you. If you leave an opening, sooner or later someone will use it.

        But I very much appreciate Andrew’s embroidering of his personal experience and perspective. It helps to understand why this is such a passionate subject for him….

      • @Rachel – Ah, fair enough. I see what prompted your response.

      • Rachel, one thing I might add is that the ‘be paranoid’ bit also comes from my wife’s experience. When she was a young and very attractive and vivacious woman, she found that there were people – men and women – who wanted to do her harm for that very reason. Something about youth and beauty and good nature created a vile and demonic resentment. Back in the day when you needed to show good cause to carry a concealed weapon – she had a permit.
        * And she still IS very attractive and vivacious!

      • >> * And she still IS very attractive and vivacious!
        Nice recovery there, Andrew. πŸ˜‰

      • Damon, it’s my instinct for self-preservation.

    • Good advice!
      When my daughter was starting university, a friend of ours who knew a bit about self defense MADE her learn to fight back using a variety of methods. He asked our permission, and we gave it. Her sweet world got busted up, but to this day, she can take care of herself.
      Our friend was adamant that she was well versed in #12.

      • OOPS! That was supposed to be a reply to Andrew’s comment!

      • Yup, one of the ladies at my home church teaches women’s self-defense classes in the fellowship hall. It’s just smart to be prepared.

      • Carol Ashby says:

        My tae kwon do instructor in college taught a free weekend session for women on how to deal with an attacker. Among other things, he taught us how to take out a knee with a kick to the side as the safest way to disable someone to give you time to run. I pray I never have to use my knowledge, but someone who attacks me might do even worse to another who knew nothing so I would use it for the future victim’s sake as well as my own,

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Good to see you here, Andrew.
      *i didn’t know that about a pistol. You’ve not only given a safety tip. You’ve given a plot element.
      *It’s terribly sad that our world is so fallen that we even have to plan ahead for such things, but reasonable caution is part of wisdom. I say it mostly as a joke but just because you’re paranoid,that doesn’t mean they really aren’t out to get you. When I see a potentially dicey situation, I crank up my awareness and add on prayer.

    • Ok, this is a funny question. But I was told once that if one were to poke their finger into the barrel of a gun, that the gun would explode in their attacker’s face, as well as blowing up their hand. That perhaps losing a hand would be better than getting shot. Is this made up, or a genuine strategy?

      • Kristen, in theory, it could work. but practically, I think probably not. The finger would have to be wedged in very tightly so that it would stay in place as an obstruction through the burning of the propellant, which would retard the bullet due to increasing air pressure in the barrel, and which would cause an overpressure in the chamber – that’s what would kill the gun. Less likely, I think, would be a barrel rupture (though they are not infrequent in shotguns with mud-clogged barrels, but the barrels of shotguns typically have a much thinner wall than those of rifles or pistols.
        * I don’t think it would be a practical strategy, too, because most fingers wouldn’t really fit! I might be able to jam my thinnest finger into a .45 caliber barrel, but that’s about it.
        * One thing you CAN do is evade away from the gun hand if faced with a miscreant holding a revolver. Most revolvers have a fairly heavy trigger pull when used in double-action (one pull of the trigger both cocks and releases the hammer), and a right-handed shooter will, automatically, move his hand to the right and down during the process. So if you are facing a right-handed shooter and know he’s about to fire, dive to your right – you may get a ‘golden second’ to have a chance to do something else.
        * This wouldn’t work if the hammer’s already cocked, because the single-action pull is light enough that almost anyone can stay on target. Likewise, if your assailant’s trained, he’s already compensated for the movement-during-trigger-pull.

      • Thanks so much, I’ve always wondered.

    • Andrew, great list. Thank you for this. I don’t go out at night if I absolutely don’t have to. Sometimes I do have to, but I always try to have my girls with me, someone with me. It probably sounds crazy, but I’ve always said that I have no business out at night by myself. πŸ™‚

      • Peggy Booher says:

        It doesn’t sound crazy; it sounds smart. I don’t like going out at night either, and only do so when I have to. I particularly don’t like going out after dark in the winter, when it gets dark earlier.

    • Peggy Booher says:

      Thanks for the tips, Andrew.

    • Mary Kay Moody says:

      Thanks, Andrew, for being so detailed. (Glad to see you back here, too.) Saved me a lot of typing! I can ditto just about everything you said. And would stress ~ do NOT ignore that uncomfortable “feeling” one can get. (women tend to ignore it so they don’t treat someone rudely). Also situational awareness. Cannot overstate the importance of it.

      • I’m so glad I could help, Mary Kay. And yes, do not ever ignore that feeling that something’s not quite right.
        * The sixth sense is doing a ‘background assessment’, looking for the absence of the normal and the presence of the abnormal, which in military parlance comes under the heading of ‘combat indicators’.

  4. Katie Powner says:

    A few years ago I read an excellent book called The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker. It changed the way I thought about safety, for myself and my kids. I highly recommend it to any woman, especially if you have kids. I appreciate what Andrew said and often mentally walk through potential safety situations and escape routes when I’m out alone, not because I live in fear but because being prepared gives me confidence. Also because it’s hard to think on the spot when disaster strikes, when there’s panic.
    *My husband and I also have a habit of discussing our strategy for a disaster strike when in a crowded public place with our children. Such as, “If there’s a fire/shooting/whatever, you take (childA) and (childB), I’ll take (childC), and we’ll meet at (location).”

    • Mary Kay Moody says:

      Agree, Katie. excellent book. Have recommended it for years. Very helpful for how to teach our kids. The story of his speaking to the teen girl on the plane is so powerful. Your kids are blessed.

  5. Yikes! Thankfully, even with our address, people always get lost trying to reach our house! The look on peoples faces is priceless when they find out that GPS doesn’t always work and Map quest and Google Maps are occasionally unreliable. I love living in the woods, but it does mean giving out directions myself instead of relying on a phone.

  6. Rick Barry says:

    You remind me of one of my first writing conferences. A newer writer happily handed out her business cards around the dinner table. Her cards included a head shot worthy of Glamour Shots–and her street address and home telephone number! I was stunned at the vulnerability this created. (Even if you trust the individuals who receive the card, can you trust the janitor who finds one on the floor after the conference?) When I offered kind advice to include less personal info on her cards, she stunned me a second time by saying, “But my husband helped me design these.” Yeah, maybe, but we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!

  7. Daphne Woodall says:

    And I thought I was adamant about safety. One thought I didn’t read here is if you are driving from the venue you should pay attention if you feel you are being followed. Then change your route, make a stop at a drive through so you can determine if a specific vehicle is following.

    And get a friend on the phone so you can share a description, your location etc. You can also pull into a fire station or police station.

    While at venue be sure your friend you brought along is not sharing personal information. As a southerner I have to refrain from being so friendly I forget safety.

    You are also protecting your family, agent and friends if you are on your toes.

    Google your name (immediate family) in variations and see what comes up. Then you may
    know needed actions.

    • Daphne, good point about driving. One thing you can do to lose a tail is to cross an intersection at the last second, on yellow. If the dude following is laying back – most do, in the mistaken thought that they are less conspicuous – he’ll have to either run the red or, more likely, will sit and fume as you disappear. And if the police stop you, you can tell them straight off tht you’re being followed.
      * If you ARE being followed, and have a manual transmission, keep to the lower gears. You can accelerate faster. Never use a ‘cruise’ gear, like 5th or 6th. You can’t accelerate worth beans with those.
      * Unless you can practice them,leave handbrake turns to the professionals. A live situation is not the time to learn. Drive smoothly, to the limits.
      * Also, don’t wear earphones while driving. They dull situational awareness.

  8. What a scary world we live in! At least authors don’t have to worry about being followed by paparazzi like movie stars are. I’ve never posted anything about my family on the internet – not even their names. And I was glad I’d not given my true birthdate when I signed up for Facebook when my account there got hacked a few years ago.

    • Jan, it’s scary for us, but anyone who harms my wife will find that life will become downright terrifying.
      * And short.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      I worked for >30 years with a top secret clearance, and that made me very careful about releasing info about myself. It was a “need to know” world, and the only ones who need to know my birthday are those who might be buying me presents. (That list is open to additional members, by request and with proper vetting before being added.)
      *It used to be that all thoroughbreds were regarded as aging to the next year on Jan 1. Perhaps all authors should have January 1st birthdays as well.

      • My official resume had me graduating from college in 1894, and I was told that, when queried, I should just smile and say that I have aged gracefully. My actual birthday and age are out there somewhere…but, hmmm…are they correct?

  9. Wanda Rosseland says:

    This is a very important subject, and one not talked about. Thank you, Rachel for bringing it up. Unfortunately with the internet today, it is almost impossible to keep your address or home hidden. But it was specifically for this safety subject that I use only my email address for readers to contact me.
    Thank you for your mini class, Andrew. I’m going to print it out and give it to my family.

  10. As a realtor, safety is my top priority. Being aware of your surroundings and the people around you is key. Even during the day I’m conscious of what type of vehicle I am parking next to and always have my keys in my hand so I can unlock the door quickly. I lock up as soon as I am inside too–not unusual for people to check their email or listen to voicemails in the car.

    Can’t say I’ve ever thought of using a different autograph, but I like that suggestion.

    • Whenever I sign anything, I make sure the R in Jennifer is totally different than the R in Major.
      And I read somewhere that a very famous person stopped signing “lots of love” or “your friend” to anything, because it opened a door to unstable people making a claim on her.

  11. Peggy Booher says:

    I used to work alongside teenagers. Often I worked nights with one or more high-school/college-age kids. As I was talking with one of the girls, I said that when driving home from work at night, I made it a rule to take the main roads. She asked why, and I told her that in case the car broke down, I wanted to make it easier for help to find me. She saw my point. I also felt safer with more lights around, rather than on dark back roads.

  12. Paula Richey says:

    Here’s a tip I didn’t see yet: if you have your own website or domain name – great! Owning “yourname dot com” can prevent some jerk from buying it and leading people to believe he’s you.
    But now, you also need to spring for domain privacy. The name and address of whoever owns a domain name is public info unless the owner pays an additional fee to the hosting company to use their address instead.

    I recently did this for my site and extra domains that redirect to it πŸ™‚

  13. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Thank you, Rachel, for this important topic. I’ve work for years in 3 different lines of work that put safety high on the awareness/preparedness list. And our culture makes it even more important a consideration now for everyone who puts themselves out before the public eye. I had not thought of your suggestion #4 though; it’s a good one.

    I can also testify to Andrew’s suggestions and stressing situational awareness. AND recommend Gavin deBecker’s book, The Gift of Fear. It increases your awareness, but is empowering not paranoia-inducing! Stay safe out there, friends.