authors and political expression

Should Novelists, Poets, et al, be Visibly Political?

As a novelist for a considerable number of years I realize that the conventional wisdom is that authors other than journalists (I’m a journalist too) steer clear of being seen by the general public as being political or of jumping into the nasty political frays during election years.

In the current year, the nation is so polarized  that even being seen as mildly supporting one candidate or the other can earn you the undying contempt of some of those who hate your candidate. And I guess it follows that such people would never buy your book because they hate you and your candidate. People who support Donald Trump know this condition well.

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I am a Trump supporter. Wait! Did I just lose half of my readers? There is something sinister about this hate thing and how one’s support for a candidate can sink book sales.I have been intrigued by this question of writers expressing their political views for some time now. It seems somehow unfair that they should take a back seat when politics is so central to peoples’ lives these days. So I Googled the question and came up with some interesting articles and points view.
Here’s the first one I reacted to: https://thefeistywriter.com/2017/02/17/walking-the-tightrope-where-do-authors-draw-the-line-in-expressing-political-views/ 

Right away I was confronted with that tired conventional wisdom. The article is entitled, “Walking the Tightrope: Where Do Authors Draw the Line in Expressing Political Views?” (February, 2017) The author, Pamela Margulies, says in her  opening paragraph: “I’ve always recommended that authors refrain from discussing religion and politics in their social media and branding. In today’s fiercely competitive book market, aligning ourselves one way or another on political or religious issues can lead to lower sales, mainly because if a percentage of the reading population disagrees with our views, they most likely won’t follow us on social media or purchase our products.”
My naturally rebellious instincts tell me to shitcan this wisdom. even though I know it is likely sound advice. I’m a political person. Why should I hide that simply for book sales? Well, the answer is likely obvious.
Anyway, Margulies – after stating the conventional wisdom – says that Trump’s election may have changed the dynamics regarding authors expressing strong political views – the result can be an alienation of some readers but picking up some like-minded readers for surprising reasons.
“Margulies writes: “Where before the Trump presidency it was judicious to maintain distance and equanimity concerning politics, the climate has changed to such a degree that we’re now finding that taking actions some view as political (as with the retailers who dumped Ivanka’s brand) can benefit sales. Those retailers who dropped the line claimed they did so because the line wasn’t selling. It was risky to drop a contentious and outspoken president’s daughter’s brand–these retailers must have known that the president, who seems to have little control over his responses to adverse situations, would react publicly (which he did by tweeting his dismay at what he considered to be unfair treatment of his daughter). But the stance by these retailers paid off in ways that many did not expect–sales lowered initially and then skyrocketed when anti-Trump Americans decided to show the retailers support for their decision by buying at those stores.
“So, given that being political can now influence sales, what does this mean for authors?” she asks. “And how do we in the publicity business advise our clients now that there’s a new normal for how consumers react when sellers share their views? How do those who feel strongly about the current administration express their views without driving off potential customers? And is it even a problem to lose those customers who don’t agree with our politics?”
Good questions – ones that any Trump-supporting author or radical Democrat Trump hater who jumps into the political frays on social media would, I suspect, like to know the answers.
I spend hours every day posting news articles from all aspects of life – not just politics – and responding to friends who comment. Literally – maybe it is excessive as it intrudes into my writing time – I spend about eight hours – sometimes more – per day on social media. Last week, one of my former FB ‘friends’ who apparently did not like an article I re-posted – one that cast President Obama in a mildly negative light – commented that my books might sell a lot better if I promoted them on my FB page instead of posting all the ‘crap’ she claims she saw.
This, I believe, is a perfect example of how expressing political opinions, or, as in this case, simply posting a slightly negative article on a political person, can land an author in a reader’s FB Hell. Who knows whether or not she influenced others to place me in their FB hells.
But I don’t really care if I lose books sales or FB friends. They are important of course but I do not let books sales dictate my life or how I behave. Someday, maybe, the sales will go through the proverbial roof for totally unforeseen reasons.
I must say that I hate seeing celebs like Madonna weighing in and using their Hollywood platforms to bash Trump although I just read an article yesterday that claimed Madonna said she regretted not voting for Trump now, and that she intends to do just that in 2020. Anyway, I hate it when celebs exploit their platforms and followers to push for a political candidate or bash someone they hate.
My reaction seems always to be “shut up and stick to acting.”
Well, that attitude makes me think that some of my readers might say the same about me – “shut up and stick to writing!’ My reaction to that: No, I won’t!
True, you cannot please everyone and it’s not even worth trying.
Anyway, here is the link to the above article – definitely worth the read even if you stubbornly adhere to a position on this issue and there is no way anyone is going to change your thinking. https://thefeistywriter.com/author/pmargulies/

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A September, 2017 Publisher’s Weekly article by Karen Springen takes an even stronger position, it seems, on writers expressing their political views on social
media. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/74914-to-tweet-or-not-to-tweet.html 
Entitled, “To Tweet or not to Tweet,” the article discusses how writers feel the need to speak up at what one writer she quotes says may be the most critical time in human history. “Like Rowling, whose Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix contained 257,045 words, a growing number of YA authors are using just 140 characters or less to share their political thoughts with their Twitter followers. Their subjects: healthcare, immigration, transgender military service, climate change, and yes, President Donald Trump.

The power of the pen? Try the power of the post. Today writers like Cory Doctorow, Ellen Hopkins, Rainbow Rowell, Brent Hartinger, Jenny Han, Daniel José Older, and Saundra Mitchell, among many others, frequently tweet about political issues. Why? “It’s a potentially civilization-ending moment that we’re living through,” says Doctorow. That’s a common sentiment among YA authors. “It feels like we are fighting for the very soul of America and the existence of American democracy,” says Hartinger. “I feel like if there was ever a time to speak out, this is it.”

I like Hartinger’s take on the subject. The world is in such a critical moment that writers – who are often represent the conscience of humanity – should come forward with their thoughts. “I feel like if there was ever a time to speak out, this is it.” says Hartinger. Who could argue with that?

Later in the article, Springen discusses how many YA writers are joining in the political fray in a public way. “Though many YA authors’ thumbs are typing faster during the Trump administration, some writers were tackling contemporary politics earlier—on #BlackLivesMatter, which began trending in 2013 after George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, and about the We Need Diverse Books movement, which began in 2014 after Prophecy author Ellen Oh and Ash author Malinda Lo tweeted their frustration with the publishing industry. But political posts by YA authors, most prominently Rowling, appeared more frequently as Trump gained momentum on the campaign trail. In December 2015, Rowling linked to a BBC story, which had the headline of “This is why people are calling American businessman Donald Trump Voldemort” Then she tweeted, “How horrible. Voldemort was nowhere near as bad.”

“Some authors let their voices be heard more quietly and less frequently.” noted Springen who stated, “Since the last election, I’m occasionally so outraged that I’ll post something on Twitter,” says two-time Newbery Medalist Lois Lowry. “[But] I don’t want to fall into the pit of argument and invective.” continued Springen. “On June 14, after a shooter injured House majority whip Steve Scalise at a baseball practice, she tweeted, “Could we now have a serious conversation about gun control in this country?”

But Springen says many authors don’t care about the potential “blowback,” and I can say I believe that this is true, partly because there has been a huge shift away from ‘political correctness’ in Trump’s America.
“Though Lowry takes a cautious approach to political tweeting,” Springen says, “fewer authors seem to care these days about potential blowback to opinionated posts. Mitchell previously ran what she termed “the most neutral, boring Twitter in the entire universe,” she says. “The election of Trump was what “really what tipped it” for her. “We knew that he was a sexual predator, we knew that he was racist. We knew that he was interested in lining the pockets of his friends. We knew that the Russians were interfering during the election. How do you not speak against somebody that egregious? It felt like there was also a sea change in Twitter.” Mitchell is non-binary and her wife is transgender.”

Well, it seems that these two articles alone crystallize the debate about whether or not novelists, poets, etc., should ‘throw caution to the wind’ and forget about losing book sales over being too politically charged on social media.

Here’s another thought about authors expressing their political opinions.  By examining and keeping abreast of people and events on the political landscape, you are actually informing your writing in ways probably not seen. And writing blog posts such as this one helps the writer to gain self-awareness and to connect with potential readers. Stay sharp. Don’t sweat the book sales.  They’ll come or they won’t.

Life is too short to cut yourself short. Let you fire burn brightly.

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I found some interesting reader responses on Quora to this subject and borrowed a few for this article. The first is by Gregory Rivera:  
All responded to the question “
Should you read fiction by authors whose political views you disagree with or even despise?”

Rivera: “I have read many, many novels, a select few more than once. Updated Jul 23

First, I do not despise anything. That takes up too much energy pointlessly. There are simply views, political or otherwise, that others have that I do not share. Second, here is China Miéville.

He is an author whose work I wrote about in a recent answer:

Gregory Rivera’s answer to What would be the most difficult science-fiction novel to adapt into a movie?

China Miéville is a communist.

I, myself, am not a communist.

Yet China Miéville is one of my very favorite novelists, certainly my single favorite science fiction/fantasy writer up to now.

I would read his grocery list if he published it.”

#2 Jose Bustamante, studied at University of Houston

“I am going to depart from the growing consensus by saying, “No, you should not”, but I must get specific in order to avoid making a hypocrite or fool of myself in the process.

First let’s look at our terms here. The question specifies “authors whose political views you disagree with or despise”. But it doesn’t say how you know this, i.e. how it is manifest.

Let’s say we have novelist Jack Sprat who writes delightfully funny romantic novels about everyday people thrust into silly but realistic life circumstances. Sounds nice. Now to keep our illustrative example unambiguous, let’s also assume that our Mr. Sprat is a hermit, a total recluse as far as the wider world is concerned. He makes no public statements, gives no interviews, supports no causes. His only interaction with people outside his own small circle of family and friends is via his career as a novelist.

In such a case, it makes no difference what his private political views may be. He could be a rabidly antisemitic, misogynistic, Scotch-hating, polka-music fan… in short the most evil being imaginable. That would still be a tree falling in an empty forest just the same. His views have no relevance because they do not intersect with our own reality at any point. So by all means, we should feel free to buy and read his books if we find them enjoyable.

Now let’s look at Jake Drake, an author of equally delightful novels who prefers to stay engaged with the world, the community, and with politics. He hates and loves the same things as Mr. Sprat, but he takes them much further. He spends his own considerable funds lobbying to ban Scotch whiskey worldwide and to make polka music compulsory in our schools and shopping malls!

At that point he has crossed over from merely being an evil of strictly academic interest to a force actively trying to destroy the foundations of decent society! And worse, he is using the royalties we paid him in order to pursue this hideous agenda.

That is the point at which one’s own responsibility becomes invoked. If you are enabling and even funding the very things which you oppose, then you are acting irresponsibly. Being responsible requires that you make yourself aware of how your own choices affect the world around you, and that includes knowing when your pleasurable indulgences are negatively impacting people, values, and causes you care about.

This is the root of why I came to stop reading the novels of Orson Scott Card some years ago, despite my respect for his writing talent and skills and despite having enjoyed numerous works of his in years prior. It came about because he began actively funneling his own funds, funds I helped him acquire through my own patronage of his books, into causes I felt were harmful to American society. I don’t for a moment begrudge his right to choose his own causes and spend his own money supporting them, so long as he stays within the law, which so far as I know he faithfully has. On the other hand, I am also fully within my own rights not to give him any more of my money with which to do it. And of course not being a thief, I refuse to steal his work just so that I may enjoy it myself while denying him his rightful earnings.

So in the end it is a two-step process. I don’t stop reading an author just because I disagree with his politics, no matter how strongly. I stop spending money on his works for that reason, true, but I only stop reading his works because to do so without paying would be stealing.

That said, I bought and paid for my copy of Ender’s Game years before OSC began his anti-gay-rights campaigning, so I have no qualms whatsoever about reading it as many times as I like for as long as the binding holds up.

#3

“If they have a good story to tell, absolutely.

Most of the time (with good authors), political views rarely creep up in their works in any kind of domineering, dogmatic way.

I disagree with the VAST majority of Hollywood Celebrities on most issues, but I still enjoy there movies if they are professionals first, pseudo-pundits second.

If your beliefs can’t handle coming into contact with opposing beliefs, maybe your convictions don’t sit on the solid ground you believe they do.

Not to mention the fact that change is only possible when each side can analyze the other’s viewpoint rationally. That is why politics are so stagnant now — because merely being in the proximity of a political opponent causes rage.

As a specific example, I absolutely love the Harry Potter books. World class storytelling. Recently J.K. Rowling has taken to Twitter and resembles an unprofessional, childish, and vindictive little girl throwing tantrums at random people on the internet.

Does that make Harry Potter less enjoyable?

Hell no. I’m still expecting my Hogwarts letter any day now.”

Please comment on the article. Thanks.

 

 

 

 

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