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 the issue of personal protection needs to be addressed.

I cannot emphasize this enough. Eighteen years ago 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 mail 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. I asked Ellie Kay to write down some of the ideas she has used. She started writing books for Bethany House in 1998 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 FEDEX and UPS packages. You should never list your physical address on any promo 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. If you do list your email, have your webmaster put a space in it somewhere and indicate to the reader that they will have to adjust the script when they mail it. I.E. assistant @ elliekay.com or [assistant at elliekay.com].

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, then your assistant can do it first and there’s another layer of protection.

4) Set up Caller ID – Our phone won’t accept blocked calls. The caller has to leave a message and wait, if their ID is blocked.

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. The one about the email is very important unless you want to be deluged by s.p.a.m. I made that mistake in the early 90s and had to change my email address to escape the flood.

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. 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.

A couple of our clients have gone a step further and created and S-Corporation (Inc.). 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 Tenth edition (published 2004) as the laws changed a few years ago.

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.

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.

13 Responses to Writers Beware! Protect Yourself

  1. Timothy Fish July 26, 2010 at 6:34 am #

    Setting up an online contact form works. Trying to confuse the spiders by adding spaces to e-mail addresses doesn’t. The people who write the spider code aren’t stupid. They simply have the spider remove the spaces, convert [at] to @, etc. If you’re going to list your e-mail, you might as well provide a link to it, so that people can use it easily. If SPAM is a major concern, an easy option is to just have people use the e-mail form built into Facebook.

  2. Christeene Fraser July 26, 2010 at 7:59 am #

    Thanks for this article Steve! I ran into this very problem after I recently won a poetry prize. I started getting threatening emails from a fellow entrant if you can imagine that! I am definitely going to take Ellie’s tip in setting up an “Assistant account” for online contact.

  3. Steve July 26, 2010 at 8:01 am #

    Timothy,
    Thank you for your comment. The suggestion we offered above has worked in the past. It may be that it is now outdated.

    As for the email form in Facebook? I personally do not like it since it creates yet another in-box to maintain. I use Outlook exclusively for my office management since I can better keep all communication in one place. Tried to use gmail as an alternate but their use of “threads” and their inability to easily drag and drop conversations into client folders prevented the switch.

    But that is just me. The beauty of technology is that each of us can adapt and adopt whatever program works for us. None is “better” than another.

    Steve Laube

  4. Steve July 26, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    Christeene,

    That is great! Each little tip we learn helps us move to another level of professional competence.

    Steve Laube

  5. Kyle Duncan July 26, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Excellent, practical advice for every writer–from beginner to multi-published. Thanks, Steve and Ellie, for such sound advice.

  6. Wendy Delfosse July 26, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    In response to the email address one – this may not be the best way but like Timothy said, I think the bots are smarter. The address I list on my website is not my main address. It forwards to my main address. If I start seeing spam from it I can delete it and add a new one.
    I like the idea of a form, and maybe when books come out that would be a good idea, but for now I like it be accessible.

  7. Steve July 26, 2010 at 11:53 am #

    Wendy,
    The idea of using a throw-away address is very good. But remember to take care not to reply to one using your permanent address. Otherwise that private address is out into the wild.

    Our agency uses a couple of different addresses for the general agency in-box. This can help to also identify where that person got the address in the first place. It is not scientific data, but interesting nonetheless.

    I have one client who create a Very-Important-Person (VIP) address which is given only to their agent, editor, and closest business associates. The author then set up a “rule” in an email system to pull those notes into a special folder that is at the top of that list. Those of us in this inner circle know to never share that email with anyone. This helps the author keep priority business associates all in one place.

    If you own your own domain web address your hosting service likely gives you up to 100 email addresses as part of their service. If you are strategic about it you can use these addresses to your benefit.

    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.

  8. Michael K. Reynolds July 26, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    These are outstanding suggestions. Unfortunately, in the age of the Internet, any information you share online has a sense of permanency to it. Once the search engines get their claws onto it, it can be available to everyone for a long period of time.

    Even for those just entering into the market, these are wise words to heed.

    The question you should ask yourself with every Blog, Facebook or Twitter post, am I okay with this being available to everyone and out there forever?

  9. Jessica July 26, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    Wow, great advice! Thanks so much!

  10. Michael Joshua August 12, 2010 at 7:47 am #

    My wife just told me she wants a PO box on my business cards – she’s always a step ahead of me – thanks for the info.

  11. Coleen Sosa December 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    In response to the email address one – this may not be the best way but like Timothy said, I think the bots are smarter. The address I list on my website is not my main address. It forwards to my main address. If I start seeing spam from it I can delete it and add a new one. I like the idea of a form, and maybe when books come out that would be a good idea, but for now I like it be accessible.

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