Blog 35: Coming out as a writer – the truth about your friends and family

I must say it always amuses me when new (and indeed not so new) writers are encouraged to publicise their books to friends and family in order to create interest in their work – as in my experience that only actually works in a small percentage of cases, and can even cause significant damage. Yes, it’s probably different if you’re published with the mainstream press as people are then dazzled by what they imagine to be ‘fame’ (ho ho). However, the majority of writers aren’t taken on by mainstream publishers, and are either with the small (and therefore unknown) presses or are self-published.

In that situation, I’d be very reluctant about sharing anything with friends and family who have known you before you started to write. This is, I think, partly because they feel let down if you’re NOT in the bookshops (which you probably aren’t) and partly because it’s hard for people who already know you to accept a big change in your life. And writing is as big a change as any.

When I first became a published writer (self-published and small press), I obeyed all the instructions given by so-called writers’ guides, and so told all and sundry around me about what I was doing and where they could get hold of my work. Most of their reactions were polite surprise, promises to buy books in the future (NB this never happens so don’t stress it) and confused embarrassment. Possibly a mixture of all three. Yes, a minority loyally bought copies and sometimes still do (for which thank you …), but on the whole my impression was that my friends and family would rather the problem of me being a writer went away. All the more so in view of my ongoing lack of success.

This might also be because I write about sex, and more often than not about gay men, when I’m an English woman and we (apparently) ‘don’t or shouldn’t do that sort of thing’. I also write about crime, depression, murder, child abuse and a huge variety of other aspects of life that they had never associated with me before. So it was very hard for my old friends and most of my family to understand it. In fact, some of the older or more strait-laced members of my family asked me to stop writing or stop talking about it to them as they didn’t want to know about it on any level – which was of course very upsetting indeed, but I’ve done the latter and we’ve all moved on. Kind of … These days, I don’t really ‘do’ family or as little as I can get away with, anyway.

Because the issue I’ve found is that my concept of myself as a writer (however rarely read) is a key one, and drives a great deal of who I am and how I see myself in the world. It’s almost like ‘coming out’ if you like, though obviously the last thing I want is for that phrase to be insulting to anyone at all. If I can continue the analogy, however, once I’d ‘come out’ as a writer, it was difficult – if not impossible – to take it back. And over the years, I’ve noticed that those friends (and family) who found it hard to accept ‘the new me’ have become gradually more and more distant, and now I rarely see them at all.

Instead, new friends have taken their place. These friends might or might not like or even read my books but at least they know who I am and what I do. And it’s that which makes all the difference.

So, my advice is when you become a writer, be prepared for a negative response from those who’ve known you a long time. But, above all, DON’T look for or expect readers amongst your old friends and family. Instead look for readers elsewhere if you want to keep your long-term friendships or even your family intact. Good luck …

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