What happened to the elusive writer? It wasn’t that long ago – thirty, maybe forty years ago – when writers could be mysterious, anonymous, hidden behind pen names and pseudonyms. There was a certain mystery to some authors, like Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger. Familiar names, but most everything else about them was unknown.
Nowadays, a writer or artist can’t easily get away with something like this. Well, there’s Banksy, but I think he (or she) is an outlier. With everyone walking around with a smartphone it’s amazing that anyone can remain anonymous.
But the elusive writer, the mythical writer, I’m not sure they exist. Now everyone has social media accounts, YouTube channels, we have book trailers and readings. It seems to me that writers used to publish and their reputation alone could sell it. I don’t recall ever reading about Hemingway or Plath hanging out in bookstores and doing signings. Hell, Salinger kept his face and his personal life out of the public eye for his entire career.
It makes me wonder what changed. I mean, sure, social media and a connected world has something to do with it. But maybe it’s also a change of society, of social norms, or what’s expected from writers. We also have a celebrity-worshipping culture now, and many people are trying to ride that train. They’re either obsessed with knowing everything there is to know about a celebrity, or trying really hard to become one and get their fifteen minutes of fame.
I sort of miss the way it used to be. Not that I’m not happy with the opportunities I have now as a writer, but there’s something to be said for having a bit of anonymity, to be able to let your writing speak for itself, sell itself. Nowadays, it sometimes feels as if we’re inundated with input, media coming at us from all sides. It can be exhausting.
But I don’t want to come across like some old man yelling at the kids to get off his lawn. First, I’m not old, thank you very much. And secondly, the world evolves and we simply have to go along with it. Nothing lasts forever. Things change.
It would be interesting, though, to see if it could still be done. I think the last time anyone pulled it off was when Stephen King wrote under the pen name of Richard Bachman. If you don’t know the story here, he published several novels under a pen name to see if it was his writing or his name that was selling books. Bachman’s novels did well, but no where near what King’s books sold.
Do you think a modern writer could remain anonymous and still be successful? Perhaps a sociological experiment. And maybe I can get a government grant to investigate…