The Gloves are Off
by Amanda S. Green
Over the last couple of years, I’ve warned authors to be careful what they write on their blogs, post on Facebook and send out on Twitter. After all, the internet reaches far and wide and that means you can never be sure who will see it. I told the story of an author who was so upset with his editor that he went on a profanity laced tirade against her on his blog. He didn’t care that he might be burning his bridges not only with the editor but also with his publisher and readers. He became the poster child for what not to do.
I’ve also warned folks about not talking politics or religion. Part of that is because I grew up where it was just a given that you stayed away from those hot buttons around the dinner table and most definitely in company you needed for your livelihood. When I first applied that particular part of the warning to writers, we did still rely on legacy publishers for our livelihood. Times have changed but old habits die hard. It wasn’t that long ago when I repeated that warning, reminding you that you need to remember that your peers and potential editors/publishers would still google you and find you. Besides, you didn’t want to upset your readers either.
I can hear you now saying that I’ve been moving away from that prohibition of late, especially when it comes to my feelings about those who consistently claim that Amazon is the cause of all publishing’s woes. To a degree you’re right. But I’ve continued to mainly hold my political beliefs close to the vest because they really aren’t anyone’s business but mine.
But something happened yesterday that showed me how wrong I’ve been. Not just wrong, but how I’ve been falling into the trap that those who don’t have my best interests at heart want me to. And, as that light bulb lit up, so did my understanding for the frustration so many authors have felt for years.
Also, so did my level of rage. Rage because I’ve been foolish enough to fall into their trap and foolish enough not to remember that we live in a country where free speech is something to be valued and not stifled, something they seem to agree with only when you accept their political stance. But no more.
I don’t know about you, but for the last fifteen or twenty years, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to read most authors getting push from their publishers. This has been especially true in science fiction and fantasy. The why I found it hard is easy. I could see the political and social agenda these books promoted. You know what I’m talking about. The big business is evil, the earth mother must be protected no matter what the cost to society, men are evil and here only to dominate and subjugate women, if women ruled there would be no war, humanity is a plague upon the earth, etc., etc., etc., etc.
I found myself feeling like I was being beaten over the head by these books and wondering where the great stories of my youth had gone. Were they no longer being written? That was the only thing I could figure because why else would publishers be putting out books that most people I knew had no interest in reading?
Then I started trying to break into the business. Now, I’ll admit I am not the best writer out there. But I’m also not the worst. I work hard at my craft and I do my best to write stories that will entertain my readers. If my personal beliefs creep into my work, it isn’t to try to convert anyone to my way of thinking and it sure isn’t to prove to them how wrong they are because they aren’t as enlightened as am I.
I didn’t worry too much about the rejections I got back in the early days. Sure they hurt, but I didn’t know enough about the industry to read between the lines when I got rejections saying how so-and-so liked my writing but my novel just wasn’t for them. Sure, some of those rejections were from agents or publishers that didn’t really work with books like mine. I was new, remember. But there were those that did and where my book should have fit perfectly with what they were publishing.
So I started doing my homework. Not only did I study the industry, but I also studied the books those agents sold for their clients as well as the books those publishers put onto the market. What I soon discovered was that while my novel fit the genre, it didn’t fit the agenda. It didn’t crucify men because they have all the power and want to keep women subjugated. It didn’t make my female characters paragons of virtue, worthy to rule the world and remove men from the equation. I didn’t figuratively castrate big business, especially big businessmen. I could go on, but I think you get it.
But I still didn’t really put it all together. I didn’t understand that feeling of disconnect so many writers feel from the major publishers or those vocal members of the profession who have appointed themselves the enforcers of proper thought. That changed over the last year and it came into focus the last few months as I’ve watched a small group of authors charge in to attack their fellow authors on facebook or twitter whenever someone goes against the party line. It doesn’t matter if it is saying agency pricing isn’t good for authors or readers or saying that Amazon isn’t the root of all evil in publishing. Worse, it has flowed into politics, making it feel like any moderate or conservative in the industry has to hide under a rock to avoid the public stoning from these few self-appoint monitors.
Yesterday was the final straw. It started with an innocent post on Sarah’s facebook page. She shared a quote from Heinlein: There is no worse tyranny that to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.. Instantly, the responses came in, bringing the current cause of the day into the discussion. That cause, the so-called Republican “war on women”. The justification for finding offense with the quote? The fact that Heinlein used the word “man”, not “human” or “woman” or “man/woman” or whatever. But he used the M word. How dare he!
Sorry, guys—or should I say fellow sentient beings? Although, I’m not sure sentient applies to a lot of those involved—but that is just flat taking PC to the extreme. Those condemning Heinlein and interjecting their political agenda into the discussion not only failed to take into consideration the time when that quote was written, they refused to consider it. Just as they always do when trying to discredit Heinlein.
In this instance, the person starting the attack should have known better. Even if the commenter felt Heinlein’s ill-phrased quote was all sorts of evil, she should have realized Sarah wouldn’t sit still for her shenanigans. You’d have to live under a pile of rocks a mile high not to have realized how Sarah feels about both Robert A. Heinlein and Ginny Heinlein.
So Sarah did something she doesn’t often do. She posted as close to a political rant on her blog as I’ve seen there. It was well-thought out and well-written. But there was a problem. She didn’t adhere to the “right” position. She didn’t jump on the bandwagon of the sisterhood. Suddenly folks who had never been to the blog were there, calling her names, suggesting she leave the country and engaging in behavior that would embarrass playground bullies.
It didn’t matter that people tried to respond to their posts with logic or reasoned comments. No, it was dog-pile time. And that is when it really dawned on me. This is the same sort of behavior I’ve been seeing in publishing and, I wouldn’t be surprised if, behind those aliases they used, we’d find a lot of the same authors who condemn those of us who don’t jump on the I Hate Amazon bandwagon.
For all that Sarah needed to write her post, she had concerns about it as well. Like me, she is from that time when you don’t air your politics or your dirty laundry in public. But push had come to shove and she had to do it. Afterwards, she began to worry that she might have lost some of her fan base as a result.
What I saw as I read the comments weren’t her fans suddenly upset that she’d not stayed loyal to her gender—and, yes, that was one of the accusations thrown at her. No, I saw that those making the accusations and calling names had never read her before. However, others who had followed links to the blog from other sites like Instapundit were now going out to buy Sarah’s books because they had found a kindred soul. They suddenly had before them an author who shared their values or beliefs or even just gave them something to think about.
As for her regular readers, they were there in full force, either agreeing with what she said or respectfully disagreeing. There was respect there, even if they didn’t share Sarah’s feelings. That was something sorely missing from those drive-by trolls.
It is also something that seems to be missing with regard to those same vocal authors who refuse to accept there may be those of us who don’t agree with them about where publishing is going, about Amazon or about agency publishing. It’s bad enough that those writers are still who with legacy publishers have to be careful to couch their political or social beliefs in such a manner that they don’t conflict with the so-called progressive view of society so many editors seem intent on cramming down our throats. Now they have to suffer the attacks by fellow writers when they don’t agree with them politically and actually have the gall to speak out against some political stance.
But what these authors and editors forget is that we no longer need the legacy publishers to get our work out there. For the first time in who knows how long, writers have control. They can choose how to get their books into the hands of readers. Traditional publishing is no longer the only route. The upside—or downside depending on where you stand—is that writers no longer have to worry about toeing the party line.
So, what does that mean with respect to my earlier advice about not airing your politics or religion or dirty laundry in public? It means you can do whatever you want. Yes, you have to consider how it will affect those who read it. You can’t do the internet version of yelling “FIRE” in a theatre. And you have to have a thick skin because you will get naysayers and you will be attacked for what you say.
However, there is one thing about these attacks the mob mentality hasn’t figured out. It causes publicity for the post. People start talking about it. They link to it in their blogs and on Facebook and Twitter. That brings people to the original blog. And guess what? those newcomers will look at what the original post was. While your politics may lose you a few readers, it may also gain you some.
So, if you feel strongly about something, write about it. Talk about it. Just remember a couple of things. One, make sure you are writing what you mean to. Two, make sure your post is well-reasoned, or at least well thought out. Three, set the rules for the post and adhere to them. Four, respond to those who will drive by to pile on and then run away feeling morally superior with logic and reason. It drives them crazy and they can’t respond to it. Finally, and in many ways this is most important, decide if you want to lay yourself out there so the world can see how you feel or think about a hot topic.
Does this mean I’m going to start talking politics on MGC? Only insofar as it relates to publishing. This is a writing blog after all. However, it does mean that I’m not going to pull my shots with regard to those who come driving by to attack simply because I’m not toeing the Turow stance on Amazon and the Department of Justice’s investigation into Apple and five of the big six legacy publishers.
It does mean that on my blog and Facebook, you very well may see more political posts. In fact, I hope more of the silent majority of writers follows Sarah’s example and start speaking their minds when it comes to the hot button topics either major political party bandy about in order to play smoke and mirrors with what the real issues are.