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Honesty, Diplomacy, and Platform

Most publishers and writers are in agreement about an author’s need to establish a platform, that is, a significant network of relationships in which to broadcast their work and cull potential readers. How one builds said platform is another story. Of course, blogs and social networking are at the forefront, and the bigger the better. But what of the voice that defines an author — the stylistic stamp; the candor, curiosity, cynicism, introspection, hipness, frankness or fickleness? Aren’t these as much of an attractant to like-minded souls?

Yet for some time I have wondered if openness and honesty should be part of a writer’s platform.

Please don’t misunderstand that to mean that dishonesty should be part of a platform. What I mean is that winning friends and influencing people usually means backing off potentially divisive statements, controversial opinions, and inflammatory rhetoric. In short, if a writer wants readers they should do as little as possible to turn them off. Which immediately puts me at a disadvantage.

You see, I have this problem of speaking my mind.

I ran into this while pastoring (which could be one of the reasons I no longer pastor!). The Bible commands us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and, early on, I did my best to exclude the “love” part. But as I matured (?), I attempted to turn down the rhetoric and temper my comments. Sometimes, it meant simply shutting up. Nevertheless, being honest about people, programs or events — even if it’s executed “in love” — inevitably turns some people off.

And that can’t be good for someone hoping to get published, right?

Kevin Lucia, fellow writer and part of The Midnight Diner editorial team, in a recent post entitled Humble Pie and Learning Curve, wrote:

…I’ve fully come to believe over the last year that how people perceive you in the writing industry is just as important, at times, as the writing – although in the long run, quality writing always trumps.

It’s somewhat consoling to know that quality writing trumps personal perceptions. Even an obnoxious ass like me can stumble their way into print. But is it true that “how people perceive you in the writing industry is just as important, at times, as the writing”? Kevin goes on to say that, in response to his observations, he laments some of his public comments and now avoids forums and “snark blogs” that draw too much attention and incite “flame wars.”

Man, I can totally relate. I once had to email the moderator of a website and ask her to remove a comment I’d left earlier that day. Of course, it was not before I generated enough resentment to chill Chernobyl.  But if discretion is the better part of valor, then maybe keeping my sentiments to myself is actually an act of courage. Funny, but when I abstain from opinion — especially as it relates to getting published — I feel less like a diplomat and more like a suck-up.

It leaves me wondering where the “truth” part of being a Christian author is. Is it just me, or are lots of writer / reviewer blogs nothing but propaganda machines? If we’re not pimping ourselves we’re pimping someone else.  I understand that this is a business. At some point, I should believe in a product enough to not feel ashamed endorsing it. But, c’mon people — every CBA book does not deserve a five star rating! Sheesh! Are Christian writers so hard up to get published that we’ve lost all objectivity?

See? There I go again.

Okay, so maybe honesty and diplomacy can coexist. I mean, I can be honest without being rude. But if perception is a key to publication, then the outspoken writer runs the risk of being perceived as a malcontent or agitator. Alas, maybe being a suck-up is a better career option. Either that, or I can build a platform of malcontents and agitators…

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{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Michelle Pendergrass May 13, 2009, 1:04 PM

    I'm with you on this one.

    As for the reviews, I'll highlight books on my blog without reading them because there are people out there who like all the stuff being published in the CBA. But I only post actual reviews of works I like and would personally recommend to others.

    I do it this way because I don't waste my time reading books I don't like. I don't see anything wrong with highlighting them with a book cover and a link to a first chapter.

  • Nicole May 13, 2009, 2:29 PM

    It is rare to see anyone in the position of being pre-published dare to take a shot at the industry. I've done it far too many times but, as you suggested, have tried to elude being "rude" in the process. It's just that there are several things in the industry that make zero sense to me. If it were any other business, they would've folded their tents or boarded up their windows and been long gone. For example: from the professionals themselves at writers' conferences and on blogs, they admit that only a small percentage of published books earn back their advances. What??!! Oddly enough the onus is placed upon the author: lack of marketing, etc., when it was the pub board who selected the book in the first place. There have been some good books, too, that haven't received enough exposure and failed to ignite sales, but mostly it speaks to general lack of appeal. The "mistake" falls squarely on the pub board in my opinion.

  • Nicole May 13, 2009, 2:35 PM

    (Sorry, it wouldn't take my full comment.)
    I agree with Michelle's approach. Why trash what someone else loves? I'm just one opinion. If I received a book from the CFBA, I will review it, and if I don't like it, I'll say so and why without being snarky. If I read it privately and don't like it, chances are I won't review it at all.
    I've challenged some of the business practices of the industry on my blog, but, as you suggested, I've tried to avoid being rude or snarky. Mostly we see fawning and praise on the professionals' sites from the spectators. The suck-up approach doesn't work for me either, Mike.

    • cirdog May 14, 2009, 1:57 AM

      Nicole, I always appreciate your candor. It is amazing to me (and pretty disgusting) how much "fawning and praise" occurs at some professionals' sites. No, this isn't unique to Christian authors. But if anyone should be above it, you'd think it would be Christian authors. Perhaps sucking up is as much a violation of Christian virtue as is speaking the truth in a rude or unloving manner, huh? Thanks for your comments!

  • Kevin Lucia May 13, 2009, 2:42 PM

    I do agree in many ways, but also feel the need to clarify a little bit. I apologize for the length ahead of time, and it's really not a rant – just long.

    When I said:

    "“how people perceive you in the writing industry is just as important, at times, as the writing”

    I was more concerned with how a person conducts themselves, both online and in RL, than about what they believed and how they express it.

    For example, the comments I wish I could take back are all related to writing and the industry, naive things and plans I may have made back when I had NO idea what writing and publishing really entailed, back when I planned on taking over the writing world by storm, when I thought getting a story published in a magazine that looked like it was printed at Kinkos was hot stuff. In some ways, I'm more worried about the way I USED to pimp myself for things not worth "pimping", than I am about my positions on this or that matter.

    Okay. Blog has instructed me this is too long, so I've split up.

  • Kevin Lucia May 13, 2009, 2:43 PM

    So, part two:

    As for how we are percieved in the industry: again, this could have some connections with what you're talking about, but it was less about whether or not I'm a conservative or moderate, believe in homosexual marriage, or that sort of thing. It was more my concern that when people in the industry itself, (publishers, editors, agents, other authors) – not necessarily fans – heard my name, they'd think the following, based on my behavior/conduct online or in RL:

    – hardworking
    – committed
    – disciplined
    – peaceful
    – a "team player" – in regards to PUBLISHING
    – willing to learn
    – most importantly, professional

    Another example: though it absolutely killed me, I purposely DID NOT run around and beg Mort Castle, F. Paul Wilson, Gary Braunbeck or Elizabeth Massie for autographs or photo ops when I was at the Borderlands Press Writers' Boot Camp. I determined from the very start – I was there to learn how to be the best writer I could be, and be a professional.

  • Kevin Lucia May 13, 2009, 2:45 PM

    Okay, last one…promise:

    So, anyway – the perception I was concerned about was my perception as a writing professional, not necessarily as a Christian or a moderate. It also helps that I'm a very private, reserved person who's not politically motivated, really, at all. That's just a personal trait, not anything I can claim credit for.

    Oh, and this last bit: "every CBA book does not deserve a five star rating!"

    The problem? I believe that, largely, the CBA and many of its authors can't decide what it is they're about: the business of skillfully crafting enjoyable, engaging fiction, or evangelism. Some take it as an attack on their personal evangelism. I experienced this firsthand – from an email that came out of the blue, "from" a bigger CBA author "through" someone else, (you know, that whole: PSSST! Pass this note to Mikey and tell him he's a big stupid head!), who expressed their dissappointment that I'd "let them down", as if, because of my low review, I'd personally damaged their cause for Christ.

    • cirdog May 14, 2009, 1:50 AM

      Kevin, I appreciate you expounding on your thoughts. I related to them mainly from the "Humble Pie, Learning Curve" angle — for I've eaten some and am on the low end of the other. Though what an author believes and how they conduct themselves are two different things, both of them seem to come into play when seeking publication. I am personally not concerned with being perceived as a Christian or a moderate. Although, in some cases, either might get you blacklisted. My greater concern, hopefully expressed clearly in this post, is how this blacklisting (okay, let's say off-putting) occurs just as much in Christian circles. Maybe it's me, but I would've thought Christian authors and publishers would not be as easily offended, especially if the "truth in love" formula was followed… and a good story was involved Anyway, thanks so much for visiting!

  • Elaina May 13, 2009, 6:38 PM

    There's a lot to comment on here. I guess it all comes back to this: I have no idea how to be anymore when it comes to the world of Christian publishing/blogs/reviews.

    I too have asked comments to be removed. Hmm…maybe even on this blog? Do I want to be a person that causes division for division's sake? No. Do I believe that sometimes it's necessary to challenge the status quo and be disliked for doing that? Sure. Where do I fit in to that? No clue. I've pretty much come to the place where I realized that IF I should be published some day it won't be within CBA. So what good do I do raising a stink? No one is listening to me anyway. Haha!

  • Kevin Lucia May 13, 2009, 9:40 PM

    *So what good do I do raising a stink? No one is listening to me anyway. Haha!*

    That's pretty much why I've hardly blogged in the last two years.

  • Michelle Pendergrass May 13, 2009, 9:46 PM

    Ah see Kevin–I don't care if people read my blog or not. It fulfills a need within–just like writing. LOL

    • Kevin Lucia May 14, 2009, 1:16 AM

      A lot of it is a time issue for me, now. The only time I really have that's truly "mine" is from 2:30 AM – 6:30 AM, every day. I figure if I have to choose, I'm going to pick writing things I know people are going to read – reviews for Shroud – or fiction. That's the stuff I really want to right. The blogging is really just when I get the whim.

      • Kevin Lucia May 14, 2009, 1:17 AM

        "want to write" See? Sleepy, already. Night!

    • Elaina May 14, 2009, 5:28 AM

      Well…I've FINALLY come to the place where I don't care either. I've done this
      since 2004 before I was even working on my fiction again. I knew nothing about
      the world of Christian publishing. And I certainly didn't
      start the blog to get something out of it. Like, Michelle, if fulfilled a need. And
      with the realization that no one really cares what I think anyway (ahahahaha)
      was a great feeling of freedom that I could go back to the love of blogging I
      felt when I first started writing it (my 1st post was about my dog) when one person was reading it (my mom). But for the longest time, that love of blogging
      was lost in the cacophony of voices. And rules about how to get published and what you need to do and say and blahblahblah. I I finally silenced them and went back to doing it because I enjoy it. Whether anyone reads or not.

      And speaking the truth in love is needed. I'm just not sure I need to be that person when it comes to CBA World. I think I'm carving a niche for myself where I feel like I'm using my talents and gifts. And I just don't think my voice is useful. Although, I do believe there are others that are. So ya'll should rock on. 😉

  • Glynn May 14, 2009, 3:44 AM

    I agree with Michelle — I only post reviews of works I like and would recommend to others. I once did a critical review of one work — and I actually like the writing, I just didn't like how the thing was structured. You have no idea of how quickly (some) outraged Christian friends of the author turned quickly into stormtroopers. It was ugly. And it wasn't just me — anyone who raised an objection got clobbered. The experience made me rethink what differences they were and weren't between Christian and secular publishing.

  • RebeccaLuElla May 13, 2009, 11:30 PM

    Well, I probably won't be published in the CBA either, but I still care about the industry. I care about Christian fiction because I care about the association with Christ's name.

    And yes, I say things that conflict with the status quo. I've taken on some of the highly respected professionals, and in at least one case made a friend as a result.

    I guess I don't think speaking the truth in love is debatable. It's a Biblical command, so if I'm going to speak, it better be the truth (to the best of my ability) and in love (ditto).

    The bad thing with the internet is the sudden association with people I would never have had such consistent access to in the past. I mean, I can leave a comment to Michael Hyatt. I've even received an email from him. Imagine in days gone by getting a letter from the CEO of Thomas Nelson.

    As to the five star reviews … well, one of the drums I beat is the need we Christians have for discernment

    Becky

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