Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Writers and Politics

I did a post a while back where I talked about the need to stay on target with what we're trying to do.  I mention this because events over the last few weeks - from the IRS scandal to the cases in front of the Supreme Court to the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case - have caused emotions to run high on all sides, and this has leaked onto the pages of several writer blogs I've come across.  Folks, this is a very bad idea.

First, as business people - yes, we're businessmen and women - we risk alienating at least 40% of our potential audience by wading into political battles.  I say that because it seems like, in our highly polarized climate, 40% will always be on either side, with roughly 20% in the middle.  Although it may seem to us that everyone should agree with our position, that's just not the case in a nation as divided as ours.  And with this polarization comes the potential to limit our reach because a large number of people nowadays will buy or boycott something based not on the quality of the product, but whether or not the company expresses the views they want.

Second, when I go to a writing website, I want to see stuff about writing, just as I want to read about sports if I go to a sports website or movies if I go to a movie website.  I go to these places to escape the constant drumbeat of bullshit I already get from the daily news, and it pisses me off to no end when I go to a site hoping to find one thing, only to have the author's self-righteous views thrown in my face.  In fact, I've stopped reading some websites that don't understand this, no matter how wonderful their insight into whatever I was searching for has been.  Websites should run what they advertise, not suddenly decide to become platforms for political views held by the particular writer.

Remember, most of us have no particular expertise in politics, international diplomacy, practicing law, or economics, no matter how well read we think we are.  A site that purports to be about writing and books that decides to throw in a line or two about Sequestration or the complexity of the tax code comes off as lecturing us about how much better than us they are, no matter what view is expressed.  Again, we're talking about issues that nearly half of your audience will automatically disagree with you on, and very strongly at times.  Stephen King or Dean Koontz can do this at times and still generate sales, but the rest of us don't have that kind of cache yet.  If you want to write a political blog, that's fine, but be honest about it.

Don't get me wrong - I'm very passionate about my views, and I talk politics lots of places, most notably on Facebook.  However, I accept that means some people will get so pissed off that they might never speak to me again.  I've literally lost over a dozen friends on Facebook as a result of my loudly expressed political views, and several more aren't as chatty as they used to be.  We can be all high and mighty on our views, but that doesn't mean it's good business sense.  Some of you might say, "Well, I have principles, and they must be expressed."  Good for you, I say, but then don't get upset when someone of equal passion who might otherwise like your work decides not to buy it.  Remember, you're not paid to be a political commentator, but to be a fiction writer.  That doesn't mean being less passionate or sure of what you believe, but it does mean that some discretion in where those views are expressed might be in order if you don't want to lose half your potential audience.

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