The Allure of the Reclusive Author

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I wish I could be like J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon, a famous author who stays completely out of the public eye. No interviews. No social media. No website. Retain an air of mystery about myself. Build a mystique. It’s an alluring idea, but I’m not sure if it’s possible anymore to be both a famous author and a recluse.

With the advent of the internet and self-publishing, there is too much competition. Anyone can publish a book. There are nearly a million books available on Amazon. An author today is not only dealing with modern best-sellers but with every dead writer in the history of literature (Salinger included). You can spend your entire life just reading the classics and die before you finish them all. There are too many great books in the world, at least for any one person to read.

If an author today tries to stay obscure and out of the public eye, no one will find their book, no matter how good it may be. If you’re lucky, someone might eventually discover your genius and you’ll enjoy success posthumously like Kafka, Melville, Lovecraft, Poe, and others. I’m sure those writers would be thrilled to learn that their work endured—they can live forever through their books. But I’m also sure every one of them would have liked to see some of that success and admiration during their lifetimes. Instead, they all died thinking they were failures. Just imagine how it would have felt for them to see how much people loved their work.

Then again, Salinger was alive to see the success of The Catcher in the Rye, and he couldn’t handle it. I can relate to his desire to keep his later writing private and unpublished until after his death. Avoid having to deal with the public reaction, be it positive or negative. Sometimes the praise, no matter how overwhelming, is not worth the criticism, no matter how faint and few.

The internet has made it easier than ever to publish a book but harder than ever for that book to stand out. As alluring as the idea of a mysterious reclusive author may be, the only option today is to put yourself out there and hope others find you and like your work. If you try to stay hidden, you will be—to everyone.

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