Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Without Fear of Punishment... or Publication

Do editors worry when children’s book authors post political trash talk on the internet?
I’ve seen some pretty offensive comments on Facebook and other forums; as a result I’ve passed on purchasing several titles over the last couple of years. I don’t believe in banning books, but I just can’t bring myself to personally contribute to authors I find offensive.
Well, editors are busy people and may or may not find the time to look into what a potential (or currently signed up) author is getting up to on the internet. So perhaps not-- ignorance is bliss.

But I would hope that if any of my authors held political views that they knew would offend major segments of the public (if aired publicly), they would take that under advisement. I don't mean to say that they should necessarily say nothing about their views-- I'm a big believer in free speech, and I doubt that any one of us doesn't hold some belief that would set someone else's hair on fire.

Sane people know that however true and irrefutable their beliefs are, there's no point in bringing them up just anyplace, and in front of any audience. Respectful, reasoned discussions of current topics are a wonderful thing, but there's no point in them if the audience in front of you just isn't listening. And if it's not a respectful, reasoned discussion, but rather an angry, emotional screed, most people will respond by not listening and getting angry about it. Sane people know this.

Crazy people don't know this.
I don't want to work with crazy people. Nobody does.

I don't want anyone to be quiet when they feel it would be untrue to themselves. But I also want my authors to remember that they are ambassadors for their books, just as their publishing house is.

If they aren't interested in being ambassadors for their books, then they shouldn't be surprised if their publishing house loses interest in that, as well.

52 comments:

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Good post. I agree that people should have the right to say what they want to say, but along with that right ought to be a healthy dose of common sense. :)

Scott Bryan said...

Well said.

Unknown said...

Agreed, and well put.

Anonymous said...

It's not just in the writing community. Many careers have been ruined by someone saying the wrong thing. There are lines a person shouldn't cross without considering the cost.

Sam Hranac said...

Good points and true.

But... I have to note that I'm glad I never met some of my favorite authors for fear they would be completely obnoxious. I just finished reading Page Freight, a collection of details about authors and their quirks. Can't say I would want to hang out with most of them, but I enjoy many of their books.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Huck Finn and me don't believe in soap. So there!

Haste yee back ;-)

Unknown said...

The problem is that most people are perfectly sane, until the discussion turns to politics.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Brilliant advice.

Offensive Jen said...

What's the OP considering offensive here?

I'm vocally pro-choice. I'm also vocally in favor of equal rights, including gay marriage. Some people are going to find these things offensive. I don't care. They probably won't like my books anyway...

Since the OP seems to have issues with a lot of writers, my suspicion is he or she is too freaking uptight.

Kate said...

Without knowing the details, this makes me sad. It reminds me of the people who stopped buying Clay Aiken's music when they learned he was gay, or the way some people boycotted Tom Cruise movies for his criticism of antidepressants (and for half a minute I was one of them.) Technology has allowed us to know too much about each other too soon; we haven't yet learned to distinguish a person from their work, to distinguish matters of opinion from good and evil, and to acknowledge the possibility of learning something valuable from someone we don't agree with. So yeah, as long as our paychecks depend on it, we need to tread carefully.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, guys, but this smacks of McCarthyism or the former Soviet Union, where the only allowable political party for authors is the Party of Shut Up and Sing.

Writers tend to be passionate folks, and whether that passion led some of them to join the Communist Party in the 1930s or the Tea Party today should not kill their careers. Yes, it did for the Communists, but not many people nowadays consider the McCarthy era the proudest moment in the history of the United States. Kill the careers of your most passionate writers, and what are you left with? Soulless, write-by-numbers, lowest common denominator work by those eager-to-please folk who know exactly how to toe a party line.

If you don't want to know that your favorite author is a socialist or a homophobe (or a socialist homophobe like a character in my WIP), don't friend him or her on Facebook, and don't subscribe to his or her blog.

I have a lot more trouble with authors who are bullies, who build themselves up by taking opportunities from others or breaking the spirits of others, than with those who, say, post Glenn Beck's latest pronouncements on their Facebook pages. Good people can disagree on political issues, and democracy only works if people can express their disagreements without fear of losing their livelihoods.

Steve said...

It reminds me a little of the fifties. If you were uncooperative with anti-Communist investigators such as Sen.
Joseph McCarthy, or the House Unamerican Activities Committee your employer could receive a visit from the FBI telling them you had failed to co-operate. Many in the entertainment industry were put on an industry-wide blacklist for refusing to name others who had attended "Communist front" meetings with them.

But, in the modern world of now today, if good Americans take the lead in enforcing good American views on potential business associates, the government can stay out of the process. Better system, no?

(Sarcasm not aimed at the blog owner, but toward unreasonable people)

-Steve

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to address my question, EA.

In response to Jen:

The list of offensive comments made on Facebook is a mile long, but calling Christians “morons” seems to be the most popular. And then there are the religious fanatics who go on tangents about gay rights and how it’s wrong, etc. I sit in the background mystified by this type of behavior because in their next breath, they’ll post a link for one of their children’s books—and some of these authors have young and impressionable fans on their friends list. This type of banter isn’t exactly good public relations considering the population of Christians and gays on this planet, wouldn’t you agree?

It’s a free world to discuss anything on the internet, but if an author truly wants to promote his or her work to the masses, this is probably the wrong sales tactic.

Anonymous said...

I'm a children's writer and know other children's writers. In my experience children's writers all tend to sit on the same side of the political divide... the same side you'll find most of the publishing world on. There are exceptions. Not many.

I was also confused by the idea of "political trash talk", because I couldn't imagine what that might be.

It sounds like you're talking more about hate speech. Hate speech is obviously wrong. But having political opinions isn't.

Anonymous said...

"some of these authors have young and impressionable fans on their friends list"

If we're talking about a picture book or middle grade author on Facebook, the people who should be paying attention are the parents, not the author. Once we get to the high school level, though, kids need to learn important lessons about questioning authority and speaking out for themselves and others. Most powerful would be a teenage fan commenting on an author's Facebook post, saying "I've read your books and I'm a Christian (or gay, or an immigrant,...). I find your comments offensive (uninformed, insensitive...) because..."

If the author then responds in a cruel or irrational manner, that's an issue of behavior rather than speech.

In a democracy, one fights uninformed and/or hateful speech through speech, not censorship or blacklisting. Teenagers are old enough to understand and apply this lesson.

Steve makes a very good point, however. In the United States today, private industry has the potential to take over the censorship duties carried out in other places by governments--or given the right circumstances work effectively in tandem with government. For example, the current debate over net neutrality highlights the power of certain corporations that have the capacity to censor Internet speech with which they disagree as effectively as the Chinese government does.

Mark Herr said...

Feel free to discuss anything you want online. Be prepared for some people to disagree with you. And depending on the topic, it might cost you readers. I think that is the main thing Ed Anon is getting at. It’s not McCarthyism to say “mind your manners” and “remember, there are children present”.

The internet is a very public unfiltered place. Just because you have a soapbox available to you doesn’t mean you should resort to grade school insults and sweeping generalizations.

Eilonwy said...

For me the distinction is between strongly held opinions and insults. I want to air my beliefs about choice, gay rights, wars on terrorism, gun control, and a host of other topics. And I can do this without calling the people who disagree with me morons. As long as I am putting my energy into articulating the logic and equity of my views, I expect to be free to articulate them. If I start putting my energy into vituperative insults, then maybe it is time for someone to point out the problems with my approach to public relations. But this would be true if I were ranting about anything, not just political issues.

Asking authors to steer clear of hot button topics in their personal lives is only a short step from asking them to steer clear in their stories. At the same time, I do recognize EA's points about sanity. I wouldn't bring up abortion in a booktalk with third graders. But if the parents of a few third graders (or the kids themselves) find my posting about the value of Planned Parenthood on my Facebook page, I will not apologize for it.

I have more faith in my ability to attract readers by speaking with clarity and integrity about my views than I have fear about losing readers by asserting my world view. If my publishing house doesn't see it that way, then I'm probably working with the wrong people anyway.

And good writers don't write "for the masses"(in response to the original poster). Good writers might hope to attract large audiences, but they write with a clarity and specificity that makes a story original. Aiming to please everyone leads to tedium and pablum.

Anonymous said...

Here’s an excerpt from a recent post on the CYNSATIONS blog:

“These days, when a tween or teen finishes a book they enjoy, the first thing they do is Google the author or series title. They're looking for author websites with cool downloads, fan sites with forums they can chat on, videos on YouTube to watch, Facebook pages they can "like," and secret inside information about what's coming up next. In short, they're looking to become a part of the world in any way they can.”—Mari Mancusi, Author

Teachers and librarians do this too!

Read the full article here:

http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2010/05/guest-post-author-mari-mancusi-on-kids.html

Merry Monteleone said...

Freedom of speech isn't actually free - it never was. While you can say whatever you like (provided it's not slanderous), there are, and have always been consequences for words... I'm pretty sure that's one of the main reasons we all fell in love with writing. I don't know about you guys, but I want my words to have impact, otherwise I'd just yell into the wind and be done with it.

Impact means consequence. Do I think you should lose your job over your political or religious beliefs? No, but I do think it can happen... Life's not fair and you can't regulate the human factor out of humanity. You can't infuriate people and expect them to sign your paycheck.

I think as authors we may have the right to say what we believe, but we should weigh the consequences of our words against the need and good in saying them. Pick your battles. If you believe in something enough to take whatever consequence, whether fair or not, then good for you - that's awesome and I fully admire that kind of courage. But if you're just spouting off all over the place to amuse yourself, you really can't complain when it comes back to bite you.

The original poster is right when he/she says it's a terrible marketing plan. Whether you think that's fair or not is kind of besides the point. Publishing is still a business and alienating large percentages of your demographic is not a great business model.

Offensive Jen said...

Anon 7:34:

Thanks for clarifying. I definitely agree that people should treat each other respectfully. I don't see that as a political issue, though. One can have strong political opinions without being a jerk. Adults should behave like mature adults, especially if kids are watching.

I see that as a seperate issue, and agree with you completely about that.

Jen

Anonymous said...

Leaving one last comment here and then I’m moving on.

The name calling I witnessed on Facebook was a result of political discussions gone sour, or I wouldn't have brought up this topic to begin with. There's something about politics that brings out the dark side in people, and it’s dangerous to jump into these conversations without careful consideration. It boils down to common sense.

Note the list of celebrity casualties because of off-the-cuff remarks that offended the public. Networks and sponsors care about their image and I’m willing to bet publishers and agents do, too.

Anonymous said...

Yes to what Merry Monteleone said!

Anonymous said...

Authors are seperated from their books more so than actors are seperated from their projects. You really can like a book without liking an author. It's not a big deal.

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