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sandysocks said:
If I call myself John Robert III and say that I'm writing this steamy gay romance from my beach house in California where my husband and I farm succulents with our four freakin' poodles but really I'm just a lady from Saskatchewan, who's snowed in, living a silly fantasy to get her through the winter, how does that effect literally anybody?
And when snowed-in lady gets reader emails, will she keep up the pretense? How far can she go before she steps over the line into conning? The real world doesn't conform to the simple demarcations you assume, as JR Tomlin says above; it can get ugly.
 

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WHDean said:
And when snowed-in lady gets reader emails, will she keep up the pretense? How far can she go before she steps over the line into conning? The real world doesn't conform to the simple demarcations you assume, as JR Tomlin says above; it can get ugly.
Quite frankly, not everyone responds to readers. I don't. Even then, a simple "thank you for reading my book!" should suffice. It doesn't need to go further than that and honestly, when readers want to ask you personal questions, like you're friends or something, it creeps me out, like a lot. So I just don't entertain that. Fans get weird and entitled.

So here's my question... is your problem with the persona, is your problem with making a little author blurb or are you taking it one step further and having a problem with conning and interacting with people while using that persona?
Because I think those are two completely different things.

But I actually really don't have a personal problem with any author responding to readers in that persona. I don't think you're conning anybody by pretending to be John Robert III by answering superficial questions about your story or about your persona because that's who the reader is asking. If you take it further than that and are like 'hey I'll let you into the mind of John Robert III for $15 a month', then I do think that's scammy, but I do also think it's an entirely different issue.
 

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This may be off topic, but I spent my childhood in a dictatorship. A good friend of my parents was an author. He wrote science fiction that could have been interpreted as being critical of the regime. One day, he just disappeared.

I live in a free country now, but even after all these years, sharing anything about myself online makes me sick with fear. Especially in this age of misinformation, every little thing that's freely and innocently shared can be turned against you in a variety of ways. To me, using a pen name is not about hiding, or deceiving anyone. It's pure self-preservation, and it's so deeply ingrained that I don't think I'll ever be rid of it.

So to anyone who thinks using a pen name is somehow unethical or scammy, I want to gently point out that perhaps you're speaking from a place of privilege. Just a thought.
 

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JRTomlin said:
You are pretending that all authors act like you.

If you blog for years under this persona, frequently interacting with readers on it presenting yourself as something that you are not, and I don't mean just snowed in, is that all right? Let's say you pretend you are a black man from an underprivileged background and much of your blog is about your black experience even though you're a middle-class white woman living in Orange County, CA, have you stepped over a line? I say yes. At the least, every single one of your sales was made under false pretenses, and if you think it won't get ugly WHEN you are found out (and you will be), I promise it is going to get ugly. And you will lose fans.
OK. Point made. But how many authors go to that particular extreme?

Most of the fake bios I've seen (at least the ones that look fake) are in top selling categories, where the fakey looking bios seem to be a non-issue to the readers.
 

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JWright said:
I don't think fake personas - notice I said persona not pen name - are in any way necessary to succeed, so yes to me it's unnecessary lying and people convince themselves they need to lie to succeed.

I agree with Usedtoposthere that it contributes to an erosion of trust and an increase in cynicism and I don't want to contribute to that. Not everything online has to be fake. Some of us can be real people and still protect our privacy in ways that we need to and still sell books.
Trust? That seems to be reaching a bit.

Unless you're writing non-fiction, what is there to trust?

No one cares who I am. I'm just a name on a cover of a book of made up stories. I could change the name every other book and it would probably make no difference, except to those few who may enjoy my writing style and look for the name in case there is another book that matches the style. They're not looking for me the person. They're looking for a similar reading experience. The name is about as important as the brand name on a bar of soap.

In your world perhaps it is important, but for most readers? I doubt they give two whits about the author. You're just a name on a cover. A bunch of pixels on a screen. That's all.
 

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sandysocks said:
Quite frankly, not everyone responds to readers. I don't. Even then, a simple "thank you for reading my book!" should suffice. It doesn't need to go further than that and honestly, when readers want to ask you personal questions, like you're friends or something, it creeps me out, like a lot. So I just don't entertain that. Fans get weird and entitled.

So here's my question... is your problem with the persona, is your problem with making a little author blurb or are you taking it one step further and having a problem with conning and interacting with people while using that persona?
Because I think those are two completely different things.

But I actually really don't have a personal problem with any author responding to readers in that persona. I don't think you're conning anybody by pretending to be John Robert III by answering superficial questions about your story or about your persona because that's who the reader is asking. If you take it further than that and are like 'hey I'll let you into the mind of John Robert III for $15 a month', then I do think that's scammy, but I do also think it's an entirely different issue.
So, you don't see an ethical problem, not because there isn't one, but because you think it's unlikely to happen to you. Not very convincing. You could get famous, even in a minor way, drawing the attention of, say, a gay romance blogger. He emails you asking for an interview because he loves your stories and you say what, exactly? "I don't do interviews"? Huh? Doesn't that sound a little out of character for the outgoing persona portrayed in the author's bio? Yes, it does. The act of posting a personal bio in pubic invites attention. And this is where people get into trouble by trying to get out of the trouble they put themselves in by doing something they should have known not to do in the first place.
 

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jb1111 said:
Trust? That seems to be reaching a bit.

Unless you're writing non-fiction, what is there to trust?

No one cares who I am. I'm just a name on a cover of a book of made up stories. I could change the name every other book and it would probably make no difference, except to those few who may enjoy my writing style and look for the name in case there is another book that matches the style. They're not looking for me the person. They're looking for a similar reading experience. The name is about as important as the brand name on a bar of soap.

In your world perhaps it is important, but for most readers? I doubt they give two whits about the author. You're just a name on a cover. A bunch of pixels on a screen. That's all.
If it doesn't matter then why do it in the first place?
 

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Glis Moriarty said:
Would you think it was OK for a beggar to claim to be disabled and homeless if that weren't true?
It wouldn't hurt anyone. Just a false bio.
Here's the key difference: People make decisions about whether or not give money to beggars based on this sort of information about the beggar, and this is a reasonable way to make such a decision (because it's essentially a decision as to whether or not the individual deserves help).

When we're talking about fiction books.. people are generally making decisions about whether to buy a given book based on whether they think they will enjoy the book based on its contents. The author's demographic information is not, or should not be, relevant. I'm sure some people make book buying decisions based on information about the author, including "I will/won't buy this book because the author's race is [whatever]." But that's a bad, and unfair, way to make decisions about book buying. I don't think authors are ethically obliged to help readers make biased choices about reading material - which is why I see no problem with using a fake persona.

JRTomlin said:
. . . if you think it won't get ugly WHEN you are found out (and you will be), I promise it is going to get ugly. And you will lose fans.
Public service announcement for my fellow fibbers: Naw, you totally won't be found out, don't worry ;D Not if you use common sense and understand some basic online privacy practices, at least. The main thing is... don't tell anyone. Some people find this surprisingly difficult. If you feel compelled to share, then trying to maintain a fake persona is probably not for you. Otherwise, it's really not that difficult. The truth does not float to the surface as if by magic.
 

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JWright said:
If it doesn't matter then why do it in the first place?
1. The same reason I don't put my SSN on my books. Anonymity.
2. Branding. My own name is not memorable.
3. The name may fit the genre better.
4. It can be a form of advertisement. Some names fit the cover better. Some names are too long to show up clearly in thumbnails.

There are a gazillion valid reasons to choose a pen name.

And perhaps you didn't get my actual point. They may care what the NAME is -- whether real or fake -- when searching out your next book.

They do not care who YOU are.

Unless you are one of those rare authors who becomes famous enough that someone decides they want to write an article on you, they don't care.
 

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jb1111 said:
Trust? That seems to be reaching a bit.

Unless you're writing non-fiction, what is there to trust?

No one cares who I am. I'm just a name on a cover of a book of made up stories. I could change the name every other book and it would probably make no difference, except to those few who may enjoy my writing style and look for the name in case there is another book that matches the style. They're not looking for me the person. They're looking for a similar reading experience. The name is about as important as the brand name on a bar of soap.

In your world perhaps it is important, but for most readers? I doubt they give two whits about the author. You're just a name on a cover. A bunch of pixels on a screen. That's all.
**Note I am not talking about pen names. I have a pen name, largely because my real last name is unpronounceable and unspellable. It starts with three vowels in a row. (My first name is the same; my last name is an Anglicized version of my real name.) I am talking about making up a persona and interacting as it.**

In romance, many readers DO "get to know" the author as a person through her books. That is actually pretty common in such a character-driven genre, where the whole book is about two people's journey to be a better version of themselves. When a romance author sells well, many readers DO care who she is.

I was surprised also, after I published, that people wanted to interact with me on Facebook and so forth, that they wrote to me. I didn't start a newsletter for a couple years (pretty dang stupid of me), partly because I couldn't imagine they'd really be that interested in whatever I'd put in there, beyond "New book's out." But they are. They (not all of them, but a fair number) feel a connection through what I have written. This is not at all uncommon in this genre.

The best part is that those are the readers who will follow you across subgenres. They are not looking for a generic fix of HEA. They are looking for the way *you* write about people, for *your* insight and *your* humor and *your* compassion. Which makes lying to them about who you are in order to draw them deeper into a sort of cult of personality and take advantage of that desire--well, kind of a dick move.

That doesn't mean you have to share all of yourself, or all the details of your life. It just means that whatever you share is authentic.

It is like knowing anybody, I suppose. If you find out that your neighbor's whole story, under pretense of which she has conned you out of time and sympathy and groceries, is a lie--that's a betrayal. And if you find out that somebody you've come to like a lot online is somebody else entirely, that they've been concocting a persona and interacting with you as it in order to sell you something, especially in order to sell you on their worldview that focuses on kindness, generosity, etc.--that feels crappy. The person feels stupid.

I suppose there are two kinds of people. The kind who would feel awful about doing something like that, and the kind who puts the blame on the "buyer." "They shouldn't believe everything they hear about somebody online." "I'm doing them a favor, really, opening their eyes." I can't spin it that way. It's still wrong, even if the person was too trusting. You're taking advantage of their trust, and that's just WRONG.
 

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jb1111 said:
1. The same reason I don't put my SSN on my books. Anonymity.
2. Branding. My own name is not memorable.
3. The name may fit the genre better.
4. It can be a form of advertisement. Some names fit the cover better. Some names are too long to show up in thumbnails.

There are a gazillion valid reasons to choose a pen name.

And perhaps you didn't get my actual point. They may care what the NAME is -- whether real or fake -- when searching out your next book.

They do not care who YOU are.

Unless you are one of those rare authors who becomes famous enough that someone decides they want to write an article on you, they don't care.
Ugh, here we go again conflating pen names with personas. I've been very clear that I have no issue with pen names. Only one person in the entire discussion has.
 

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Usedtoposthere said:
**Note I am not talking about pen names. I have a pen name, largely because my real last name is unpronounceable and unspellable. I am talking about making up a persona and interacting as it.**

In romance, many readers DO "get to know" the author as a person through her books. That is actually pretty common in such a character-driven genre, where the whole book is about two people's journey to be a better version of themselves.

I was surprised also, after I published, that people wanted to interact with me on Facebook and so forth, that they wrote to me. I didn't start a newsletter for a couple years (pretty dang stupid of me), partly because I couldn't imagine they'd really be that interested in whatever I'd put in there, beyond "New book's out." But they are. They (not all of them, but a fair number) feel a connection through what I have written. This is not at all uncommon in this genre.

The best part is that those are the readers who will follow you across subgenres. They are not looking for a generic fix of HEA. They are looking for the way *you* write about people, for *your* insight and *your* humor and *your* compassion. Which makes lying to them about who you are in order to draw them deeper into a sort of cult of personality and take advantage of that desire--well, kind of a dick move.

It is like knowing anybody, I suppose. If you find out that your neighbor's whole story, under pretense of which she has conned you out of time and sympathy and groceries, is a lie--that's a betrayal. And if you find out that somebody you've come to like a lot online is somebody else entirely, that they've been concocting a persona and interacting with you as it in order to sell you something, especially in order to sell you on their worldview that focuses on kindness, generosity, etc.--that feels crappy. The person feel stupid.

I suppose there are two kinds of people. The kind who would feel awful about doing something like that, and the kind who puts the blame on the "buyer." "They shouldn't believe everything they hear about somebody online." "I'm doing them a favor, really, opening their eyes." I can't spin it that way. It's still wrong, even if the person was too trusting. You're taking advantage of their trust, and that's just WRONG.
If it has happened in your own situation, point well taken, but I still don't think it applies across the board. I don't equate an author on the internet selling eBooks to my next door neighbor. I get your point -- I just don't agree with it 100%. I think it's a different thing.
 

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jb1111 said:
If it has happened in your own situation, point well taken, but I still don't think it applies across the board. I don't equate an author on the internet selling eBooks to my next door neighbor. I get your point -- I just don't agree with it 100%. I think it's a different thing.
It's an ethical question, and people draw ethical lines differently. I'm older than a lot of people here, and I think that makes a difference. I think trust is a fragile and precious gift, even if it's just trusting that somebody is telling the truth about who they are. I also think that readers can tell, that genuineness comes through. Not that you'd think, "This person is lying," but something would feel "off."

But then, I write a particular brand of romance--a realistic brand. My readers are reading maybe not so much for escape per se, that is, not going to some fairyland, but for more--affirmation, maybe? To have that jolt of recognition, that sense that you're talking about their life. So that author-trust is perhaps more important for what I do than for an author writing something more fantastical.
 

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JWright said:
Ugh, here we go again conflating pen names with personas. I've been very clear that I have no issue with pen names. Only one person in the entire discussion has.
You can apply the same reasoning to personas. Why do authors have bios in the first place? To sell their persona, and to sell their books. It's another form of branding for many authors who don't have obviously fake bios, but still have over the top phrasing and comments in them to try to sell their persona to sell books.

I myself do not have a faked bio (my bio is actually pretty boring). But I can see why someone would. I just don't see where trust needs to be part of the equation.
 

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Well one minute you are telling me they matter then the next minute you are telling me they don't matter.

Anyway, I don't lie about anything, unless someone takes the extreme position that I cannot use the common nickname for my legal name. I also don't reveal my deepest most private secrets either. Not even close.

I think people justify and do all kinds of stuff that they don't need to do in the first place. If you aren't going to have much interaction with readers then I think a fake persona is pretty pointless (notice I didn't say pen name). If you fabricate beyond that then you do have reasons for doing it, so I think it's b.s. to say it doesn't matter, because people obviously have a reason for doing it.

I think most writers could go much farther having genuine connections with their readers, along the lines of what Usedtoposthere describes, and it can be done while still protecting your privacy. Then again, some people have made tons of money off of making everything up - until they get caught.

jb1111 said:
You can apply the same reasoning to personas. Why do authors have bios in the first place? To sell their persona, and to sell their books. It's another form of branding for many authors who don't have obviously fake bios, but still have over the top phrasing and comments in them to try to sell their persona to sell books.

I myself do not have a faked bio. But I can see why someone would. I just don't see where trust needs to be part of the equation.
 

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WHDean said:
So, you don't see an ethical problem, not because there isn't one, but because you think it's unlikely to happen to you. Not very convincing. You could get famous, even in a minor way, drawing the attention of, say, a gay romance blogger. He emails you asking for an interview because he loves your stories and you say what, exactly? "I don't do interviews"? Huh? Doesn't that sound a little out of character for the outgoing persona portrayed in the author's bio? Yes, it does. The act of posting a personal bio in pubic invites attention. And this is where people get into trouble by trying to get out of the trouble they put themselves in by doing something they should have known not to do in the first place.
Not very convincing of what? I don't see an ethical problem. At all. Not even a little. Everything I do is made up. I create entire worlds of entirely fake, not real sh*t. My characters aren't real people. Where they live is not a real place. The situations they're in are not real situations. Not only that, but I don't think that there's a single romance blogger out there who thinks that a pen name and a bio is representing a real, actual living person. So, a little open secret for you... the bloggers are in on it...shhhhhhh.... It's pretty naive to think anything else, really.

There definitely are a lot of people who are very honest. Too honest. And to them honestly all I have to say is "yikes". The obsession of some fans borderlines on stalking behavior and I would never put myself in that situation. Even if it means "lying". I don't owe people myself. But people want something so I give them something.

Doing a silly little interview isn't conning readers. Nor is answering reader emails (though I wont for other reasons as I stated) in your persona.
The reader, my customer, bought my product as it was presented and they were entertained. I don't owe them anything else.
I'm not a beggar on the street asking for money in exchange for nothing. They bought a product. And successful products get marketed.
The pine-sol lady didn't make pine-sol, she was just the face of pine-sol. I have a face for my products, too, they're just not real people and why should they be? Someone else has a better face? Slap it on there. I don't have money to hire someone else's face though, so I'm just going to have to make up my own. Maybe someday, though. ;)
 

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It is not one or the other. You can draw boundaries while still telling the truth. You choose what you share. I do not share my husband’s first or last name, for example, or my real name. I do not share my address, obviously, or personal, intimate things. I do see authors oversharing (to me), but presumably they are comfortable.

Personally, if it feels like I am sharing in order to make somebody feel sorry for me or sell books, I back off. That is uncomfortable. That said, I try to make my online presence consistent with my brand. I write feel-good books, so getting ugly on social media would be a bad idea!

Everyone draws their own ethical lines. It has been an interesting discussion.
 

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BlossomBubblesButtercup said:
It's better for me to think of it from a reader perspective.

How would I feel if I found out my favorite author lied about being a POC so they could write about the experiences of POC?

I would feel like they deceived me for money and no matter what they put in their fake public apology I would still feel that way.

I don't want to acquire a fan base through deception. These people pay my bills, they rave about my work, they suggest it to their friends, they wait patiently for my next release. They've been good to me so why repay them with deception?

Pen names all day long because privacy is important but creating a whole fake person is not something I would do.
Very well said!
 

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JWright said:
Well one minute you are telling me they matter then the next minute you are telling me they don't matter.
You seem to be overthinking what I said. But it's not that difficult a concept to grasp. The packaging on a bar of soap is attractive to catch a customer's eye. And often it induces sales. The slogan may be an exaggeration, but it still may help induce sales. That doesn't indicate that the packaging, or slogan itself, has any real meaning to it.

Authors put bios on their books and pages as a form of advertising, PR, and marketing their product. It's part of the packaging, just like the eye catching covers they use. If it wasn't useful for selling their product they would have no bio at all.

Some authors perhaps put bios on their pages because they have big egos -- or it is a combination of ego, PR, and marketing. To the average reader it goes in one eye and out the other. But now and then if it's made catchy a bio may induce a sale, or all that PR would be worthless and no one would engage in it.

You may personally feel that what is in a bio is a profound thing, that it has some meaning, and maybe in your case, and the case of a few others it really is. I get that. But for the most part a bio is merely another tool to try to get someone to buy your books.

So, being that a bio -- for the most part -- is nothing more than a marketing and PR tool, I can understand why false, overblown, edgy, sketchy, artsy etc. bios are used -- even though I don't participate in that sort of thing. I don't find such bios or personas necessarily immoral as some here have intimated. Extreme cases like the white person posing as a POC is probably less than 1% of any of the authors faking up their bios. I'm referring to the ones that are more commonly seen, where you can tell someone probably exaggerated and faked up a lot of their blurb about themselves -- making themselves appear larger than life in some way for the sake of selling their product.

(edited for a little more tact)
 
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