“I’m pretty nervous,” said Melissa Lafsky, a now formerly anonymous blogger who this week joins the ranks of those who have come out to become a public commodity. “I’ve been planning this for months”—she paused—“not actually, but running through the scenario in my head: ‘What would happen if I put my name on this? Would anyone care? Would everyone care?’ I don’t know.”
For the last 10 months, Ms. Lafsky has been known to her reading public only as Opinionista; on her blog she published wearied accounts of the punishing culture at big law firms.
She is now, thanks to her fellow bloggers at the media-gossip Web site Gawker, revealed to be a comely 27-year-old Dartmouth and University of Virginia Law School grad with a fondness for the French manicure.
In recent months, Ms. Lafsky has been fluffing the pillows for her landing, a sort of “soft opening” phase for her product launch. Profiled but not named in The New York Times in November, she posed so that her face was obscured; in this month’s The American Lawyer, she hinted that her identity would soon be revealed; and her blog plugged an interview with The Observer minutes after the interview was complete.
Of course, prior to this week’s non-spontaneous self-disclosure, Ms. Lafsky had already procured herself an agent—ICM’s blog-adoring Kate Lee—and worked up 100 pages of a manuscript loosely based on her life as a lawyer-blogger. (“It’s not a roman à clef,” she said. “It’s not The Devil Wears Brooks Brothers!”)
All told, she has taken great care with the calculations for this now-common postmodern butterfly moment: The Reveal, that increasingly strategized full disclosure of a buzzy anonymous blogger’s true identity.
In the best case, this sort of I.P.O. helps publicize a fledgling novel or paid writing gig, or at least helps garner interest that might lead to the above. In the worst case, it engenders coy reprisals or unreadable “go-girl!” enthusiasm from fellow bloggers alternately annoyed or enraptured with the lifestyles of the newly non-anonymous.
“Is there some sort of internerd law that dictates all anonymous bloggers must eventually reveal themselves through a contorted ritual of self-referential blog posts and media publicity?” went the line on Gawker in the post where Ms. Lafsky’s reveal took place. “We thought that crap always came after the book deal.”
Or, on Jolie in NYC, a blog that identifies its writer as a “pop-culture obsessed (former) beauty editor in the big city” (but who was outed as Nadine Haobsh in 2005), moments after the Gawker post:
“I absolutely cannot wait for the book, the TV series, the movie, everything. Unlike some (most? all?), she’s really earned it.”
The buzz lifecycle is depressingly short; anonymous bloggers are many. Pity the unprepared—but not Ms. Lafsky!
Last month, she signed with Ms. Lee and resigned from her law firm. Last week, she posed in a nightgown for a spread on female bloggers for a future issue of Fashion Week Daily. When she’s not working on her novel, she’s been furiously preparing her blog for a relaunch—complete with her name and professionally taken picture.
Earlier this week, she removed some ticking legal time bombs, such as her posts about law-firm characters like the Ogre (a sadistic male partner) and the Queen Bee (a tough female partner who rules with “nasal proclamations”)—undoubtedly litigious folks who might recognize more of themselves in her characters than they like (most recently, Ms. Lafsky worked at the labor and employment firm Littler Mendelson, but she said she was a summer associate at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and worked as a paralegal at both Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Proskauer Rose). She also contacted a publicist and more than one reporter.
“In five years, I don’t want to be known as a blogger. I’d like to be known as a writer,” said Ms. Lafsky. “A blog is a means to an end.”
“THERE’S A ‘LET ME BE ANONYMOUS FOR TWO MONTHS and as soon as someone comes at me with a book contract, yes, I’ll come out’ mentality among bloggers,” said Alex Balk, the blogger behind the formerly anonymous media satire blog The Major Fall, The Minor Lift. His own reveal came quietly, in a tagline attached to an article he wrote in the Arts and Leisure section of The New York Times, a little more than a year after he launched his blog. “It was a lot less strategic than the way people do it nowadays,” he said.
“I’ve thought about it and what it means, but I have no desire to do it anytime soon,” said the still-anonymous author of WaiterRant.net about a reveal of his own. “There are a couple of things to anonymity: Just from a purely mercenary point of view, if you want to pursue this for money—which every blogger wants to do—then you have to consider whether putting yourself out there too early sabotages the mystique that you’ve put out there or the mystique that has grown up around you.”
Timing is everything—just ask David Lat.
Before Ms. Lafsky, the latest big public offering has been Mr. Lat, the former prosecutor who made federal judges seem juicy and scintillating on his Underneath Their Robes blog and scored an unmasking in The New Yorker. Mr. Lat described his unveiling as actually “very messy”: He hadn’t gotten his boss’ approval for the interview, and he didn’t yet have a new job or book proposal to flog. His big new assignment—co-editing Wonkette.com—is somewhat less big and less establishment than some expected. He is working on a book idea.
Mr. Lat is, in fact, the perfect example of the reveal by crisis—rather than quit his job, he chose to have his exposure force himself out of one; a self-engineered “crisitunity,” to use the Homer Simpson portmanteau.
Mr. Lat admitted that before he agreed to go public in the care of Jeffrey Toobin, he had fielded e-mails from reporters for the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
“Their timing might have been unfortunate for them; I wasn’t ready or willing to reveal myself. Toobin’s timing was very good,” said Mr. Lat. His site had been up for about year and a half when Mr. Toobin came calling. (“I did urge her/him,” said Mr. Toobin of soliciting the would-be femme fatale of legal bloggers, though “at this point I knew it to be ‘him.’”)
“It was a very exciting time, because it was around the time of the Harriet Miers nomination—Harriet Miers was such a fat target for blogosphere commentary,” said Mr. Lat. “I was just a very active blogger. I was getting a lot of buzz. I began to feel more confident in my ability to use it as a calling card for future opportunities.”
Said his agent, David Kuhn, via e-mail: “What will matter most to publishers in terms of any book he writes is the quality of the proposal or manuscript.”
Sure, no doubt.
MUCH LIKE MR. LAT, JEREMY BLACHMAN, WHO WRITES the Anonymous Lawyer blog in the voice of a fictional law-firm partner, also had decided that he wanted to do something besides practice law. So he grabbed for that little brass ring by dropping an e-mail to a Times reporter who had interviewed him on a prior occasion.
“I knew that I wanted to write, but I wasn’t sure how to find those opportunities. I was definitely eager for someone to write a story about me,” he said.
Deciding to take the step to come out from behind the e-mail anonymizer is fraught for at least some bloggers. Mr. Lat recalled meeting Mr. Toobin for a preliminary lunch at the Condé Nast cafeteria. “I was very nervous,” he said, and had insisted that Mr. Toobin not identify him by his blogging name—“Article 3 Groupie”—if they ran into anyone he knew. The alibi was that they were two former Harvard Crimson editors meeting to talk about journalism.
Mr. Lat told Mr. Toobin, “I felt frustrated that I was putting a lot of time into this and was unable to get any credit for it.”
He clarified later: “That quote came off as a little self-aggrandizing, but really what I was trying to say is that anonymous bloggers put in a lot of time and effort into their projects, and they don’t get that very human need for recognition,” he said. “At a certain point, you want to step forward and take a bow.”
“Being anonymous has in a way bothered me for a while,” said Ms. Lafsky. “I want to put my name on what I’m saying. I believe what I’m saying. Anonymity, while it is valuable—and it has allowed me to stay employed—is also very limiting, because there’s so much I can’t say, because then people will figure out who I am. And also, it really limits my credibility.
“For example, there’s a huge contingency on the Internet that insists I’m a man …. In that sense, part of me just wants to be like, ‘Screw you, I’m a 27-year-old girl, and there are plenty of other people just like me—let’s cut the gender-stereotypical bullshit’ …. I stand behind all the things that I’ve written. I’ve written about a lot of women’s issues, and the implication that I’m a man is pretty insulting.
“I’m proud of what I’ve written on this blog,” Ms. Lafsky continued. “I believe in everything I’ve said. Not every post has been War and Peace, but I think I’ve said a lot of things … that resonated with a lot of people, affected some people. I’d like them to know that I’m a real person—that it’s not just some teenage boy in his parents’ basement.
“I don’t see it as a grand debut; I just see it as an announcement. Once I put my name out, I’m really forcing myself to really make a career in writing work.”
Still, Ms. Lafsky acknowledged the useful role that she hoped her outing would play in a future book deal: “Any media mention, any media interest in your blog—anything to set it apart from the nine million other names that come into publishing offices.”
Like everyone else, the anonymous author of WaiterRant.net is also working on a book proposal but hasn’t yet settled on an agent. He also may not—shocker!—make his identity known. “It may not be in the best interest of book sales to let everyone know who I am,” he said.
Still, after the reveal is over, some don’t feel like scaling those bleak literary heights at all. “I haven’t written the $300,000 novel,” said Mr. Balk, of TMFTML, of his post-anonymous existence. “I’ve got a book review in Time Out coming out in a few weeks.”