Old Money and Notoriety

I wrote for six years, with no positive response from the publishing community. Then, a friend introduced me to an editor, who knew a lawyer, who knew an agent…the same old story that happens in a myriad of ways.

Today, I’m a household name (depending upon which house you’re in) and occasionally strangers call me out on the street. More often than not, the recognition comes when I pay for something with a credit card and my name raises an eyebrow, a smile, or an expression of gratitude for the books I write.

That’s quite enough for me, thank you very much. The ‘overnight success’ arrived and affected my friends more than it affected me, to be candid. I had a demanding writing and promotion schedule that left me with little time to really savor that sweet smell initially.

My friends, educated and hard-working people one and all, were a little intoxicated with the reflected glory of being a ‘close friend’ of a ‘famous writer.’ Then they got burned by people…who only spent time with them…in hopes of getting to know me…in hopes of selling me something: an investment (usually), a private jet (really?), or a great idea for a novel (again, really?).

Most of it, I’m sure, is that the new simply wore off. Before we reached that point, however, I did have to consciously steer the conversation back to what was going on in their lives, not just my career. After a couple of stories about meeting a celebrity or a book being optioned for a film, the dish is a little warmed-over. I don’t want my friends hanging on every word I say. I want my readers hanging on every word I write. 

A tradition that my friends and I held onto strongly: we all throw in a 20 or a 50 dollar bill for our prorated share of the meal or drinks or whatever when we get together., depending on the damage. (I’ve only paid for everything twice, both times when I invited everyone to celebrate a big publishing deal and a film deal. Those were special moments that have value far beyond the final tab for food and drink. I had accomplished something, and my friends were there to celebrate it with me.)

Another constant I’ve maintained is the way I dress. I have always wanted to ‘look nice’ but without attracting too much attention. When I met with agents and publishers, I needed to strike a balance of looking professional enough, in a ‘literary’ kind of way: discreet enough to convey modesty, but not so impoverished that someone might think they could low-ball me in negotiations for my services.

Like many writers, I stuck with the basics that had served me well in college. The khakis, the tweed blazer, the Mercer shirts. The psychology of this sartorial choice is fascinating: people can intellectually know that I sell several million books and get hefty royalties from the sales, but if I don’t show it with obviously expensive clothes, they sometimes have difficulty in connecting that fact in their heads.

This puts a buffer on their behavior. Sometimes. They can be less eager in expecting me to pick up the check for a lunch (one in which they invited me.) They can be less demanding in their requests for contributions to their charity. They can be less outrageous in their requests for a cash loan.

So I remain, anchored with my preppy wardrobe, my old friends, and the unforgiving, blank white page that awaits. That’s how I’ve handled things, Byron. Best of luck in your endeavors.

  • An Anonymous Author with a Measure of Notoriety

 


14 thoughts on “Old Money and Notoriety

  1. Reminds me a little of John Updike and John Cheever, although they would have said “in myriad ways” not “in a myriad of ways”. Wink,nod.

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  2. In such position, I wouldn’t bother about salesmen or opportunists. Whether it’s a vacuum cleaner or a jet, the answer is the same. And as soon as people start expecting free dinners or loans, it’s time to reconsider the relationship.

    I’d spend more time and money on meaningful causes. Great literature provides joy and cultural value; that’s a lot, but it’s only that.

    “Plus est en vous” was the motto of an ancient family. One has an intellectual obligation to act according to one’s full capacities. What that means about how to deal with one’s money, is for each one to sort out.

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  3. Having been around high profile people to the point of having to go through armed guards my advice is: besides maintaining an old money persona, “don’t let yourself get famous or draw any public attention to yourself ”. If you are pursuing a field like acting or writing go to a security consulting company and pay for a couple hours of consulting about “locking down your real identity”. Even the proper way of exiting a social situation so no one knows you are gone until well after you have left. Walking up to someone you don’t know and asking for their autograph or starting a conversation is “not right” no matter how you look at it.

    Example: Let’s say you become an internet youtube star (I think they are called memes.) People will notice you on the street and note where you live if they follow you or they query tax accessor databases. Then one day you are enjoying a cup of coffee and look out your front window and lo and behold a strange person is talking to your child who is just kicking a a soccer ball around. Now you are high profile without the resources to protect vulnerable members of your family.

    About two years ago I went through an internet rebirthing process. I gave up all social media and had my info removed from that awful Voter Records database. My posts are always under a fake name as well as email.

    My wife and I made the mistake of buying a very high-end car and there she was face to face early one morning with someone trying to break into the garage to take it. Old money low-key behavior keeps you safe!

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  4. Wonderful insight Byron.

    My generation overall is too focused on ‘overnight success’. Less emphasis placed on actual merit (academic, realistic career). As a result, anonymity has become less valued.

    I remember when I went to college years back. There was a huge debate if college was worthless.

    Many made the argument that they could spend their funds saved for college to:

    1) Buy designer clothes
    2) Upload selfies to Instagram dressed in these clothes
    3) Gain Followers and ‘Likes’ for money

    A big difference between being recognized for noteworthy success (being an accomplished author, voluunteering in the community) & instagramming your daily life for ‘likes’.

    Have a great week everyone!

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  5. I work at a large public university. The students are encouraged to set up social media accounts such as LinkedIn as part of their job search and professional career development. It is becoming increasingly difficult to remain private whether famous or not.

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    1. There’s a world of difference between a career oriented website such as LinkedIn and instagram. As long as the content your students post on LinkedIn are professional and discreet I’m sure they’ll be fine. Have a great afternoon Janet =)

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