09/06/2012 02:11 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2012

The Real You: Online or Off

How much self-promotion is too much self-promotion?

It depends. If you're a reality star, of course, too much is never enough. If you're a politician, the sky's the limit. If you're a movie actor with a new film, then of course you do as much as possible without seeming to come across as too accessible and removing the mystery from your public persona.

But what if you're an author? Ah. Now there's a bit of a problem. It's a fine line between promotion and self-aggrandizement. Although the British crime novelist R.J. Ellory has had bestselling books such as A Quiet Belief in Angels, he, like many people today who are active in getting the word out about their works online, perhaps overstepped a bit when he took to pumping up his own writing and dissing that of others, under a pseudonym.

Now, we all know that the reviews on Amazon are often those of the author's friends. I myself was surprised to find a positive review of my latest novel, The Rectory, from someone I didn't know! I had asked my friends to write reviews but, alas, no one stepped up. So it was up to actual readers.

But what Ellory did was also what many people do whether or not they're professional writers: they go undercover online and let it rip. When people aren't themselves, that is when they use aliases to express an opinion, they are hiding behind the mask of anonymity, one that they may feel protects them, but one that also gives too many people license to feel they can be uncivil. I'm not saying Ellory was uncivil -- in fact, he apologized for what he'd done, and for making disparaging comments about the works of others -- but it's easy to believe that because you're "unknown" under a false name, you can do whatever you want.

You can up to a point. But do you really want that? Do you really want to be taking a flamethrower to everyone else's opinions? Or do you want to be known for the person who is forthright, well-spoken and who stands by what he or she writes under a true name?

The trouble for writers today is that it's both a wonderful age -- the ability to self-publish has leveled the field for many aspiring authors -- and a difficult time, given that fewer newspapers devote space to book reviews, more books are published than ever before and it's increasingly difficult to get a multitasking public to pay attention to anything for more than a few seconds, let alone a book.

So self-promotion is necessary.

But so is being open. It's better to comment with your own name and take whatever incivility comes your way from those who hide under pseudonyms than to engage in snarl-to-snarl digital combat with another digital entity. And as a writer, it's better to try to build an audience through a platform of your own, through your writing and, yes, through the online encouragement of your friends and that audience, than to assume a fake name and say how great you are.

What do you think? Is it ethical to interact with readers under the guise of a pseudonym?