Today was supposed to be when my Self-Publishing 101 with Mama Bitchstress posts were to start, but with the recent kerfuffle about an article in Romance Writer Report (associated with RWA)–which you can see some screenshots of here–it seemed like something to remark upon, because every so often, we hear a repeat of this sort of thing. “Don’t talk about ___. You might offend potential readers.”
First, it’s so fucking stupid because it always, always comes from a position of privilege. Gay marriage is only a “polarizing” issue if you’re not gay. If you ARE gay, it’s an issue about human rights and basic decency. Similarly from the above example, black children being murdered by white people is only polarizing if you’re white and don’t live in fear of your kids being killed by police. Telling gay writers to remain neutral, or black writers to remain neutral, about the issues that affect their lives, is douche move.
Second, it makes me tired because I can’t think of anything more boring than a bunch of writers terrified to talk about important issues because they might alienate some readers. You are writers. You are helping to shape our culture with your words. Of course you have opinions that have value. Of course you should be leading by example and not remaining silent. By the sheer fact that you write, no matter WHAT you write, you are not remaining neutral on things. You cannot please everyone.
And yes, you might alienate some readers.
So the fuck what?
Look, I am pro-equal marriage, pro-women’s rights, anti-racism, anti-sexism. I am a Big L Liberal, vegan, animal-loving, loudmouth feminist who cusses a lot. Do I turn off potential readers by what I talk about publicly? Of course I do.
But what the fuck do you think my books are about? Yeah, vampires and werewolves and demons. But they’re vampires and werewolves and demons who reflect my values. If you can’t handle me talking about being in favour of gay marriage on Twitter, you won’t be able to handle my book where a bisexual quarter-demon hooks up with a lesbian vampire (that is literal, not a joke). If you’re turned off by me talking about women’s rights, you are not going to enjoy the feminism that is at the core of everything I write.
Hell, there are people who likely get bored with me talking about my cats. Well, guess what? One of my heroines has a pet saber-tooth cat! Who acts all cat-like! So you’re not going to like his shenanigans either. I don’t exist on social media to accommodate everyone.
You have to decide if the juice is worth the squeeze.
Is this thing you want to talk publicly about worth it if you alienate readers?
On a more serious note than cats, you know what else I talk about openly? My bipolar disorder. I have talked about self-harm and suicidal thoughts. I have talked about the scariest mixed episodes I have been through. I have also talked about intimate partner violence, rape, and stalking. These are subjects that make many people uncomfortable.
You know what else they do, though? They can potentially save lives. If I can show myself as someone living with mental illness and surviving, if I can expose a raw nerve and show the darkest moments I’ve been through, I can let people out there like me know they’re not alone and they can make it too. That is 100% worth any readers I might alienate.
This does not mean I talk openly about everything all the time. When I am very sick, either mentally or physically, I stay offline and do NOT whine. I might be a snarky bitch, but I try hard not to be a whiny one. Alienating readers because I feel the need to vent my bad day to 1200 people and ask my fans to validate me is not worth it. So before I talk about something, I ask myself, is this going to help or be useful to anyone? and Is this going to harm anyone?
Further, not talking about issues is going to alienate readers as well.
I have GLBT readers. If I remain silent on issues like same-sex marriage or trans rights, they are going to notice. If I pretend publicly I’m neutral about something that negatively impacts their lives instead of supporting them, besides the fact that it would bother my conscience, it is going to tell my readership that I don’t care about them.
I am always going to err on the side of human rights, to hell what anyone thinks of that.
So that’s what you do, writers. Is this topic you have an opinion on a juice that is worth the squeeze?
Here are things to consider.
- DON’T GET PISSY WITH PEOPLE WHO UNFOLLOW YOU. If you decide the juice is worth the squeeze, you have to accept the consequences. One of them will be people will choose to unfollow you. Others will flat out tell you they’ll never read your book. Get over it. (Other people who DO like what you have to say will follow you instead.)
- ACCEPT THAT IT WILL CLOSE CERTAIN DOORS TO YOU. When I worked in acquisitions, before I got to the full read stage on a manuscript, I’d google the book and author, mostly because we didn’t take previously pubbed (or still in print) books and I wanted to double check before I took time to read their book. Twice that I can recall, I ran into author websites that were terrifyingly right-wing. Like, Fox News types. American flag wallpaper and guns all over the homepage with links to political conspiracy theories. I decided those were not people I wanted to work with and I would likely find things I didn’t want to read about in their books. And that’s okay. Some other editor probably saw the author waving around a rifle and didn’t care.
- BE EDUCATED. Don’t talk about politics and shit if you are uneducated. Know how to get educated? Read the opposing view of what your first inclination is. Know how to argue your points. Do not open your mouth if you’re not sure about something (and if you do, and someone corrects you, be open to change instead of rigidly digging your heels in).
- DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE. Adam Baldwin comes to mind. There are plenty of Republican actors whose politics I don’t agree with but who are pleasant human beings who treat others well. And then there’s AB and I don’t even know what’s going on in his head but I can barely stomach watching Firefly anymore. You do not need to punch down and send your followers after someone who disagrees with you. Remember, you are evil writers, not mean ones.
- YOUR JUICE IS NOT SOMEONE ELSE’S. You can’t force people to care about the same things you do. I try not to get my panties in a bunch when authors I follow remain neutral on issues that are important to me. If they’re civil and pleasant, I try to focus on that. So, for example, I am not going to unfollow every meat-eater I know, but if one actively makes fun of vegetarians and jokes about hurting animals, I am fucking done. Similarly, there are topics you might not think are worth talking about, but others do. GET THE FUCK OVER IT. Other people do not exist to accommodate what you do and do not like. If it bothers you, unfollow or mute.
- TALK ABOUT A VARIETY OF STUFF. This is sort of Social Media 101, but whatever. More people will listen to what you have to say if you talk about a variety of subjects. If all I did was talk about mental illness, people would tune me out. If all I talked about was my books, people would tune out. So even readers who disagree with my politics will likely continue following me as long as I don’t make my entire feed All Politics All The Time.
- YOU ALSO WON’T NECESSARILY ALIENATE EVERYONE. If you are a decent human being who cares about others, plenty of people will still dig you regardless of differences of opinions. Look at us here at the Evil League of Evil Writers–there are eight of us, all from different backgrounds, different religious beliefs, and likely different politics. I’m sure we disagree on a great number of topics, not just politically but with regards to the publishing industry. But when one of us is down, the others will gather and pick them up again. We still value and exercise compassion for others.
So. Juice. Squeeze. Awareness. Don’t be a dick.
That about covers it.
Urban Fantasy Writer of Unlikable Female Characters™. Feminist. Snarky Bitchstress. Graphic Designer. Editor. Fifth Generation Cat Lady. Most Beloved Minion. Singer of “The Stabbity Song”. Evil.