Sunday, February 19, 2017

Should Authors Comment on Politics?

This photo didn't come out in focus - too dark - but I'm sharing it anyway because the moment of this full supermoon rising through clouds in Santa Fe during a penumbral eclipse was absolutely incredible to see. My wonderful friend, Anne Calhoun, was visiting. We climbed up onto the roof and watched the sun set and the moon rise. Neither of us got great photographs.

Too much magic, maybe,

But you're not here to listen to me talk about friendship, moonrises and magic. Or maybe you are. If you know me or follow me on social media, you'll expect this sort of thing. If you clicked on a link because you found the topic interesting, you're maybe wondering when I'll get to the point.

Eventually, my new visitor!

Because this week's subject is Hot Topics & the Author's Social Media Voice, it seems the perfect time to point out that the these three things - voice, social media, and an author's response to hot topics - are inextricable. Let me unpack that a bit.


The best explanation of "voice" that I've ever heard - that is, the one that made me understand what an author's voice is - is that it stems from our beliefs.

In the writing world we spend a lot of time discussing voice. Readers recognize it, even if they can't articulate how or why. Industry folks will almost uniformly agree that it's an author's voice that keeps readers coming back for more. Authors, especially beginning ones, work to refine their personal voice. Which isn't easy, since it's not simple to explain, define or teach. Daunting for an element so critical to being a successful author.

One thing is clear - voice cannot be faked. It takes sometimes years of writing, and likely publishing, to refine that voice to its purest form. I saw paintings the other day by a 78-year-old artist. Her recent work is distinctly hers, but she completes in a few brushstrokes what she did with thousands in her youth. I saw that and thought, wow - look at how she's honed her voice. I did a post a little while back that talks about voice more. (In looking it up, I'm amused to find a photo with it of another Santa Fe landscape. See? My voice.)

It was Jayne Ann Krentz who, in a workshop, said that voice arises from our beliefs, from who we most essentially are. She's interesting because she's reinvented herself as an author several times, and has written under several names, including that one, Jayne Castle, and Amanda Quick. Each name indicates a different genre, but many of her readers (including me) read all three because we love her voice. Many love "all three authors," not realizing they're the same person.

Hot Topics

Which leads us to what we each believe in. In talking about "hot topics," I'm not referring to the clothing store (though I totally bought the Loki dress) or about the latest celebrity gossip, I'm talking about the tremendous political upheaval we've been going through all around the world, but most pointedly for me, in the U.S. with the 2016 presidential election.

The standard social media advice for authors is to stay away from politics. And I have several friends who follow it assiduously. They never post anything publicly on which way they stand. The argument is that politics shouldn't enter into what is essentially a conversation with your readers about books. I can see that. In fact, I often follow it. For the most part I'm not all that interested in debating politics anyway.

But this last election put me to the test. I kept coming back to Edmund Burke's quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” That's something I believe to be true.

In a typical election, I'm not going to say much. I'm not an economist, so I don't have strong opinions on the federal deficit and so forth. To a great extent, I don't think it matters greatly if the Democrats or Republicans hold the White House, because they tend to balance each other out. I take a long view on these sorts of things. I still do.

However, I do have strongly held beliefs that are impacted by what's going on. I believe that women are people first and female second, and that the key to women having personal and financial independence and equality is access to birth control and abortion. In fact, I believe all people are people first, and the rest - gender, sexual orientation, skin color, social status - all comes after that. I believe all people deserve to be treated as people, that some people don't get better perks than others, simply because of what family or set of genes they were born into.

I also believe that power and the pursuit of power corrupts.

If you've read my books, I suspect you'll know all of this about me because my beliefs come out in my work. That's my voice.

Social Media

The thing about social media is, we're trying to do two things at once: be our authentic selves and also promote our books. So, the theory that authors should stay away from controversial topics comes from the concern that offending readers could impact the perception and sales of our books.

Which, it could. It happens all the time. I do it myself. If I fundamentally disagree with an artist's beliefs and actions - Woody Allen comes to mind - I won't support them with my money. That's my vote and I get to do that. We all do.

Particularly in this day and age, social media is one of the primary avenues for authors to reach readers. However, as one smart literary agent, Jennifer Udden, says, "Social media is for promoting authors, not books."

And that brings us back to the sticking point. If social media is about the author, and the author's books are about their voice, and voice is about our beliefs - how can our social media presence NOT involve our beliefs?

It can be done, sure. As I said, I know some who can do it. One author friend of mine who steadfastly refuses to reveal her politics online commented to me, "Anyone who reads my books should be able to figure out where I stand." Some people, like her, are able to maintain a greater division between their public and private presence.

After long thought on the matter, I finally came to terms with the fact that this isn't me. I started out as a writer of personal essays and I've long had a greater degree of sharing my personal life and thoughts through my work. That's who I am. And it's important to me to be honest about who I am - which includes my beliefs - in a congruent way. That means in public or in private. I'm not willing to disguise those beliefs, which is what not ever commenting would amount to for me, particularly in favor of marketing my books.

In standing by my beliefs, I also accept that some people won't agree, and that they'll express that with their monetary vote. Perfectly legit. Ultimately it all comes down to personal choice.

It's probably something that's obvious by now, but - Personal choice is something I strongly believe in.


  1. Good post, Nonny J. I bet some weeks the other authors wish you didn't get to go first.

    Also, 10 times fast: "Other authors, other authors, other authors...."

    1. They HAVE made such complaints, to which I reply "Pish tosh!" as all good Nonny's do.