Friday, March 22, 2013

Controversy Doesn't Sell

The old adage, controversy sells, may work for newspapers (or did in a bygone era) but it works just the opposite for writers. Take a stand? Fans complain. And they boycott. Think of the flap our ubiquitous social media recently manufactured regarding Orson Scott Card's position on gay marriage.

Readers of all stripes, it seems, prefer their favorite authors bland - keep silent on political issues, stay mute on abortion and climate change and gun control, say little or nothing about your personal beliefs in God or NotGod. Otherwise we'll stop buying your books. (BTW, Dean Wesley Smith advises: "Never, anywhere (except with your closest friends), talk about politics or religion. Anywhere. Just will cost you a ton of readers.")

Oops. Maybe I should stop now...

But this topic is so interesting! It's interesting to me that, having enjoyed a novel by So-And-So, the moment So-And-So says something publicly that we disagree with, we get offended and no longer enjoy/want to enjoy their work. (And yes, pronoun police, I just used a plural possessive as a generic singular, deal with it.) I have to admit, I've made this same judgment (proving DWS correct in my case!).

I think there's a difference, though. I won't read someone who "blasts" my beliefs, but I'll read someone with whom I disagree. Personally, I don't mind knowing the political/social/religious positions of an author - it doesn't affect my encounter with their work. But I do get a little put out when they tell me I'm an idiot for not agreeing with them. That's offensive. I chose to de-friend a couple people on FB who just had to prove me wrong about one particular issue; they simply wouldn't allow me to agree to disagree.

Maybe I've been de-friended and don't even know it. I'm a fairly conservative follower of Jesus, after all. It's pretty clear that life begins at conception. That marriage has already been defined. That nothing in this universe makes ultimate sense without a loving God who is in all and above all. That's what I believe; it's pretty clear to me, at least. But I recognize that others disagree on one or all points.

It's weird. I'm running into/becoming friends with a lot of writers online who are not theists. Hugh Howey lists that he's an atheist on Facebook. Simon Kewin echoes a lyric with, "We are our only saviours" (he's from the UK and can't spell properly ;). Another writer, whose series I'm reading right now, indicated in an email that he is not a theist but said, after reading a story of mine, that there were themes in it that would resonate with everyone. I hope to have some great conversations with all of these friends in the future.

And with you, if you choose. But I won't cram my beliefs down your throat. I won't mock you if you disagree. I won't belittle you for sharing your beliefs with me. In fact, I'm open to dialog. The trouble is, many "progressives" are not. The sentiment is, if you're not progressive like them, then you're a hater. I don't consider myself a hater.

You know, it's funny. Some people predicted that President Obama would get some political push-back for openly supporting gay marriage last year. I predicted the opposite - that those who publicly opposed gay marriage - even if they did so with a rational voice and for valid reasons with malice toward none - would be ostracized as haters. Mr. Obama simply tested the wind, saw which way it was blowing, and set sail. But that's the nature of politics. The majority rules. And people like me are now in the minority.

My friend, Mike Duran, stated it this way [the 'we' referring to Christians]: "We’ve reached the tipping point. The liberal intelligentsia’s control of academic institutions, state-run education, the courts, the entertainment industry, and the mainstream media has become insurmountable. We may nurture a strong remnant, but be advised, we will never, ever, control the national conversation. Again. We are the minority. We are the dissidents."

And being dissidents doesn't endear us to readers. Controversy doesn't sell books.

Another friend, Kat Heckenbach, recently worried about how her reviews as a reader of fiction affected her reputation as a writer of fiction. It's an important consideration and should be discussed. But my point may be flip-flopped - how do we writers express our views in ways that won't turn off our readers? For some fans, it will come down to how the writer presents him or herself. If So-And-So is a jerk about his/her beliefs, they'll bolt. For other readers, any public statement they disagree with will be enough to turn them off.

If so, I just lost a boat load.
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