Using your platform: Speaking out on issues as an author

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, and I believe the opportunity is nigh. Should authors use their platforms — blogs, social media, panels and signings, whatever — to opine regarding the issues of the day? Apparently, the Romance Writers of America, in a recent magazine piece for members, advises against taking “extreme viewpoints.” Exhibit A:

What? No. Just no.

I firmly believe that anyone and everyone should feel free to speak out on the topics that are important to them. I live in the U.S., and freedom of speech is enshrined in the Constitution. Hell, I made my living via the First Amendment as a journalist with The Associated Press. I’m rather fond of freedom of speech. Advising people to bury their consciences and keep their mouths shut is just bad advice — period, full stop.

As is their wont, both John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig wrote about this quite eloquently, so I would direct you to their posts. To summarize both: Speak out if you’re so inclined. Your conscience isn’t worth keeping a book sale.

Here’s where I tend to trip up: I’m rarely so inclined. And I’m gonna tell you why.

The first time I opined on anything remotely controversial was when I talked about my impressions of my first WorldCon a couple years ago. In that post, I suggested that the major publishing houses were missing excellent marketing opportunities to reach their core audiences. Angry Robot had a booth in San Antonio, so why didn’t the others?

Now, I’ll readily grant you that my understanding of fandom and fan-run conventions was limited at the time, and publishers have traditionally shied away from having a presence at these out of respect for con culture. I may continue to disagree with that, but so be it. Opinions, we all have them. Although I will agree that my opinion was informed by limited experience, and that I grok things better now, I didn’t think I was being all that controversial.

This post got a lot of traffic because a senior editor at one of the big SF/F publishers — who will go unnamed here — disagreed with me vehemently on Twitter with regard to booths and marketing. In fact, said editor resorted to name-calling and derision, and doubled down on this when I tried to politely engage. So I politely disengaged.

Was I intimidated? Dude, I’ve had former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer rant at me six inches away from my face — while he was eating. *shudder* I’ve interviewed senators and generals and Fortune 500 executives, cops and criminals and even a Roman Catholic cardinal. I’ve worked for people who seemed to believe self-expression in the office should involve throwing chairs. This was bush league in comparison.

And yet, as you may surmise, it bothered me, and still does, because it was so bush league. I’ve already told my agent that no matter what’s dangled in front of me offer-wise, I will not work with that editor. I treat people — online and off — with respect, and I think an expectation of the same from a fellow professional is entirely appropriate. That particular editor failed, and I don’t have time for folks like that.

So here’s where opinionizing comes in.

If you feel strongly about something, then by all means, speak out. But when you do, understand that there are people out there who hold diametrically opposing views and, more importantly, are willing to invest immense amounts of time and pixels into confrontation with you. I’ve seen it with some of my fellow authors, and it’s breathtaking in its scope and intensity. Sometimes, when it’s important to you, then it’s still worth doing. Brace for impact and do it. And set aside the time to reply to things you feel need replies.

For me, it’s not as though I don’t have the stomach to stand my ground in the face of trolling. I do — I simply don’t have the time to waste. With few exceptions, I feel like arguing on the Internet is a bigger waste than emptying my wallet and setting the contents on fire. At least the fire produces warmth, whereas the Internet-arguing produces much, much less. I have a family and a career outside of SF/F. I don’t need this.

Furthermore, I don’t feel I’m going to sway those who so vehemently disagree with me, because they’ve found their own little issue-bubble online, full of prefab arguments and talking points and various shades of research and “research.” Those who troll will always be able to fall back into their echo-chambers of agreement, and will never feel any need to compromise. The words civility and Internet rarely go together, and we’re all worse off for it.

And yet, there are still times when you gotta speak out anyway. For me, those are few and far between, but they’re there, and you’ll know it when I have something to say. When I don’t have something to say, well, that’s OK too. Do not equate silence online with a lack of passion on a topic — I’m free to choose how I address the world, and more often than not, I choose to do so by volunteering my time, donating my money and raising my kid with a solid moral framework. Actions, man. I dig ’em.

Anyway, I think what the RWA said was pretty dumb. I think if you’re an author — or just a general denizen of the Interwebs — you should by all means speak out when and how you please. Ideally, you’ll be civil and polite about it, too. And if you opt out of the argument, that should be respected and not judged.

And that’s all I got to say about that.



Filed under Publishing, Writing

2 responses to “Using your platform: Speaking out on issues as an author

  1. Mango Heroics

    It seems clear to me that the RWA was concerned about book sales. But I agree with you. Both that the importance of selling a couple more books pales in comparison to the importance of following your conscience. And that you need to pick your battles. Save the ammo for fights you can win, or for fights that matter so much that winning doesn’t.
    (with apologies if I misunderstood).

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