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Novelists: The Ban on Talking Politics is Officially Over

Shut up and writeIf you’re a novelist, there’s good reason to keep your politics to yourself.

Then again, some authors are very vocal about their politics and seem to do just fine.

So what gives?

In an interview with Time Magazine, John Grisham cautioned,

One thing you really have to watch as a writer is getting on a soapbox or pulpit about anything. You don’t want to alienate readers.

But does talking politics always “alienate readers” from a novelist?

New York Times best-selling author Brad Thor might disagree. A brief perusal of Thor’s Twitter stream will reveal a novelist wired for politics. For instance, this:

Twitter-16or this:

Twitter-15or this:

Twitter-14

Thor’s outspokenness doesn’t seem to be costing him many readers.

I’m beginning to wonder if Thor’s approach isn’t the more prevailing one.

Early last year, Christy-award winning author Lisa Samson, whom Publishers Weekly hailed as one of the “most powerful voices in Christian fiction,” wrote a piece for Huffington Post entitled:  Confession From A Christian: I’m Not Trying To Change My Gay Friends. Samson concluded her piece:

I look at each of my gay friends, who are now just friends, and I am thankful that after all they’ve had to put up with from Christians these days, they even let me love them at all.

Oh, and by the way, “Love the sinner, hate the sin?”

Really?

How about we just love our friends and be thankful they don’t hate our sin? Do any of us, gay, straight, tall, short, black-haired or blonde and any shade in-between deserve any less? Maybe if we spent less time doing the job we think God should be doing, we’d be doing the job God actually is doing. And maybe, just maybe, we’d learn to love like Jesus.

By the looks of the near 1K comments, Ms. Samson has won — not lost — readers by her commentary.

Yesterday, the interwebs were alive with debate regarding the so-called anti-gay bill that was vetoed by Arizona governor Jan Brewer. I waded into a couple of these exchanges. But perhaps more surprising than the heat generated by the issue, was the number of novelists and industry professionals beginning to chime in. Like THIS LITERARY AGENT whose comparison of the AZ bill to Nazi Germany’s discrimination against Jews unleashed a torrent of give-and-take.

On the other side of the aisle is someone like novelist Larry Correia who is equally up front about his political stance. Like in THIS FB UPDATE where he wrote:

I love how whenever I write anything political, some Majestic Concern Troll always blunders up and warns me about how I’d be more effective if I was *nicer* (as in, be a snivling passive-aggresive pansy), yet they never seem to realize that the reason they have seen my political stuff at all is because thousands of people share my political writings because of my aggresive, over the top, honest style. Duh.

So, Majestic Concern Trolls who CARE SO HARD, if I want advice about how run a fry cooker or pour a latte or wtf ever it is you do for a living, I’ll ask. Until then, kiss my ass.

Again, Correia doesn’t seem to be hurting for readers.

Apparently, that advice you got as a novelist about keeping your politics to yourself is defunct.

Listen, whenever you voice a political opinion, it will have a plus / minus effect. I mean, I liked Anne Rice a lot more before I knew her political and theological opinions. And now… ? Let’s just say it’s less likely I will read one of her novels.

Anyway, the closer I’ve followed other novelists and industry reps online, the more it seems the ban on “talking politics” is lifted. In fact, nowadays, talking politics may win you readers.

Your thoughts?

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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Adam Graham February 27, 2014, 7:14 AM

    I think it depends on the novelist. Plus I think Grisham’s point is less about the idea of getting on a soapbox in general and more about getting on a soap box in the novel. He’s a former Democratic legislator so he’s probably gotten on plenty of soapboxes. And plenty of other writers have had a vibrant political novel outside of their novels. Rex Stout was a very successful author of the usually non-political Nero Wolfe books and also a political activist with the world federalists and others.

    My approach as a writer is that I’m pretty free with my political opinions outside of fiction, inside the book I try to keep them appropriate. My Adventures of Powerhouse stories have very little politics at all. Though I riffed on gun control a little in actually a couple scenes but was funny about it and also poke fun at Bloomberg’s soda ban in my WIP.

    In Slime Incorporated which is a political thriller, I don’t try to score a ton of political points, mainly focusing on media irresponsibility and letting characters voice their views.

  • Randy Streu February 27, 2014, 7:21 AM

    I’m with Adam. It really depends. Politically speaking, for example, Stephen King is a pompous douchebag. But I love his work.

    OTOH, many, many people with whom I completely agree politically are terrible authors.

  • Tim George February 27, 2014, 8:18 AM

    I think authors who are looking to be tradtionally pubished, have to be very careful early in their career. Successful self-published authors (yes there are some) probably be a bit more free with their personal opinions. What amazed me about Chip McGregeor’s remarks on Facebook was that agents are the first to tell authors to avoid anything that might alienate a segement of readers. In one paragraph he likened anyone who favored the AZ law with Nazis and Jim Crow favoring southern red necks. Nice use of a broad brush there Chip.

  • Heather Day Gilbert February 27, 2014, 8:42 AM

    I love this post, Mike. Honestly, I figure our politics is a huge part of who we are as writers–what informs the issues we address. I’ve personally tried to keep more mum on my blog/FB author page, but on my personal FB page and twitter, people know where I stand. I don’t inundate them with posts, but when something interesting comes up I’m concerned about, I will retweet or share. Honestly, my reader demographic will probably feel the way I do about many things (often our reader demographic reflects US, since we’re writing what we would want to read).

    I stopped following Anne Lamott b/c her tweets were so hostile toward my beliefs, and I can say it didn’t endear me to her writing (not to mention Anne Rice). No prob–I’m not their reader demographic. I’m not part of their mission, if you will, because I’m diametrically opposed to a lot of their worldview. I prefer honesty and I’ve been pleased to see some literary agents becoming more open w/their views. It actually helps would-be clients choose more deliberately–I don’t want a liberal agent if, say, my writing will never lean liberal. That agent is, most likely, going to either a) not like my writing in the first place, or b) try to change it.

    • Mike Duran February 27, 2014, 9:36 AM

      Heather, I believe I read somewhere how Brad Thor dealt with his political opinions and social media by using only his Twitter account for politics. His website and FB page are free of political stuff. I could be wrong. And I’m with you on Anne Lomott. Got tired of her constant politics and stopped following.

      • Heather Day Gilbert February 27, 2014, 9:41 AM

        Makes sense to me–I’ve long thought I will tweet my politics since twitter seems to be comprised of many people who are NOT my demographic. So why shouldn’t I let my voice/opinions be heard there, if even to make a tiny difference and “represent,” so to speak? I just don’t have time to maintain 2 twitter accounts, so I figure readers will see my opinions over there once in awhile. I won’t beat them over the head with it…but I will probably be tweeting during presidential debates…

  • D.M. Dutcher February 27, 2014, 9:00 AM

    The thing though is that this is telling their audience what they want to hear. Brad Thor can say that because he writes technothrillers and that audience trends conservative. Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International series is pure “redneck paranormal,” and he has sort of the same audience. Lisa Sampson is telling Huffpo readers what they want to hear, too; a Christian ragging on other Christians about gays and gay marriage.

    There never was any prohibition on that, but you don’t want to tell your audience what they don’t want to hear, ala the Dixie Chicks.

    • Mike Duran February 27, 2014, 9:44 AM

      I was pretty bummed about Lisa Samson’s piece. I know plenty of Christians who differ from me regarding gay marriage. I just thought that airing it on HuffPo and ragging on fellow believers was pandering.

  • Bob Avey February 27, 2014, 9:27 AM

    Perhaps novelists are yet to be silenced, but these are dangerous and scary times we’re living in. Jay Leno was the only comic brave enough to laugh at Obama and look what happened to him. And remember the poor rodeo clown who wore an Obama mask?

    There’s a bill now being proposed that would require all news stations to have electronic monitoring devices installed. A government committee would then review anything they did not think appropriate. What? Is this the U.S.A., or mother Russia?

    For the time being, we should all thank God we can still voice our opinions.

    • Tim George February 27, 2014, 9:48 AM

      That actually was not even a bill but rather a carte blanche power grab by the FCC. For now, such a plan has been tabled but it will be back, probably more quitely this time.

  • Jessica Thomas February 27, 2014, 10:17 AM

    I’m keeping mine to myself for now, unless I feel extremely compelled. Anyone who pays enough attention to me online can probably figure it out, regardless.

  • Lyn Perry February 27, 2014, 11:59 AM

    If you’re going for niche readers, then sure, spout whatever you like – the segment of society who gravitates toward that niche will find you. But if you bash a particular group, you are in essence telling that group you don’t want them as readers. Plenty of authors I used to read in ignorant bliss until this social media explosion exposed them as anti-me. So why would I read them now?

  • Jill February 27, 2014, 5:19 PM

    I find it bizarre that people would stop reading authors they enjoy because of the author’s political opinions. Frankly, I don’t give a flying fig what the author’s political leanings are. As far as I’m concerned, this is more of the same “divide and conquer” that goes on constantly in this country. If you’re a liberal, you hate conservatives, and if you’re a conservative, you hate liberals. It’s idiocy. And, frankly, when these topics come up, I’m generally annoyed at the world for allowing men to be more aggressive in their opinions than women. Just look at the difference between the male and female quotes Mike found. The men are direct and crude; the woman simpering. Couldn’t you find some better female political opinions than this: “I look at each of my gay friends, who are now just friends, and I am thankful that after all they’ve had to put up with from Christians these days, they even let me love them at all”? Yeah, I’m surprised that THAT is considered a political opinion at all.

  • Suzan Robertson March 10, 2014, 2:03 PM

    Ah, this is a tough one for me and hits a nerve, as I have strong political opinions and grew up in an extremely political household where we discussed politics ad infinitum. (I should have saved those old campaign buttons, lol.)

    But I rarely discuss politics online anymore. Here’s why:

    I’m a very opinionated person in general, and over the years, I have had to work on quieting myself down online, where people can be very mean and rude – and polarized. I don’t often long for “the old days,” but I do wish people were still able to engage in lively and polite political discussions – even if they disagree with one another.

    People tend to judge the whole person by their political view and feel they must immediately lump people into categories. Is that accurate? Fair? I don’t think so. I have friends with political views from far left to far right, and some with none at all. Their political views or lack thereof, are only one small facet of their entire being.

    I was deeply involved in a political campaign a few years ago and saw some awful behind-the-scenes stuff from all sides of the political spectrum. I was often verbally abused online for my frequent opinions. I opined so often, I was actually recruited to comment (for pay) certain views on political blogs. No thanks! Way too much ignorance and hate going around on the interwebs. (Yes, those nasty, horrible comments you read on mainstream media blogs are often by people who are paid to post comments.) I grew fed up with the verbal abuse, and quietly withdrew from most discussions.

    My fiction for the Christian market doesn’t contain any political views. I primarily use social media for writing/reading-related things, not political conversation. I want people to like my work for the stories, not for my political views.

    It’s easy to provoke people into anger and hurt feelings when one brings up politics because many people no longer know how to be in disagreement without growing offended.

    Around the time of the Ender’s Game movie’s release, I remember reading hateful things from some in the sci-fi community who wanted to boycott the movie because of Orson Scott Card’s views (on gays.)

    Then there were others who said they were gay and didn’t agree with Card, but they didn’t care what his personal views were, they loved the book and couldn’t wait to see the movie. Kudos to them.

    For me, it’s not what an author may tweet, but rather, how they say it. If an author whose work I read politely expresses his political views, I’m fine with that, even if I don’t agree with them. But if any author is extremely hateful and abusive, and engages in ongoing ad hominem or straw man attacks, I may think twice before buying their future work, because being a bully goes deeper than mere political opinions.

    Frankly, discussing politics has turned into a circus online. Many folks don’t think for themselves politically – if their parents, spouse, church, school, news pundit, etc. all believe one way, they will follow that herd. Many regurgitate talking points from media gurus and politicians in their chosen party and don’t bother to educate themselves fully on the subjects. I have often had to steer discussions away from politics because of nastiness and ignorance. It just wasn’t worth the hurt feelings and losing friends over.

    Social media affords almost everyone the opportunity for their 15 minutes of fame, and being loud, snarky and sarcastic generally attracts more attention than being thoughtful and polite.

    However, I also write dystopian fiction for the general market under a pen name, and those novels contain philosophical and political themes. There would be no question where I stand politically after a person reads those stories. After I publish them, I might occasionally write a political thought or two online because that type of fiction is thought-provoking and hopefully it will provoke thoughtful, polite discussions.

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