Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
These days authors are expected to have a “platform” and engage with others in the public space, which typically means online in social media, blogs and podcasting. In our current cultural climate — the first half of 2020 — the public space is noisy and combative with people sharing conflicting views on racial issues, the politics of the pandemic, and the President. The question for authors is: should I weigh in?
The question is especially difficult if the social issues are entirely unrelated to the books you write and the persona on which you’ve built your platform. The old-school idea was that authors needed to avoid speaking into these issues, and “stay in their lane” so as not to offend their book-buying audience. But these days, more people are realizing that if they have a platform, they can use it for good in ways besides simply selling their own books. They can advocate for marginalized voices and speak up for important causes. It comes at the risk of losing followers and readers, so this is a choice each author must make.
There will be conflicting opinions on the answer to this — one more opportunity for online arguments! So I’m going to share my thoughts based on years of experience working with authors, and I invite you to share your thoughts as well.
- The short answer is that it’s up to you whether to share your opinions on the issues of the day — nobody else can decide that for you. Follow your conscience. If you think it’s important to speak up, then go ahead.
- That said, I recommend you be thoughtful, not reactive, when you decide to speak publicly about social issues. Be the good writer that you are, and express yourself in a way that’s deliberate and well-thought-out.
- If you’re expressing an opinion with which others will disagree, go out of your way to be respectful. Avoid name-calling. Avoid shaming. State your case without unnecessarily denigrating the other side.
- Ask yourself if you’re speaking up just to be part of the fray, or if you feel your voice can lend something important to the conversation. Be intentional with your words. Don’t post in a frenzy of emotion. Don’t waste your precious platform on ill-formed ideas or gut reactions. Use your platform wisely.
- Accept that if you choose to state your opinion, you’ll lose followers. That’s just the way it is, so make the decision your conscience dictates. I have a client who chose to address recent social issues, even though her Instagram was decidedly unrelated. She lost 2,000 followers in one day, which amounted to 7% of the total. That was a hit she was willing to take, because it was important for her to be authentic and not “pretend” for the sake of a platform.
- Your agent and your publisher will have an opinion about this. If the opinion you express goes enough outside what they expect of you, then you could lose them both. Plenty of authors have been dropped by their publishers for publicly expressing personal opinions their publisher didn’t deem appropriate. I know more than one author whose agent regretfully dropped them because of the opinions they publicly shared. Make your decision with full acknowledgment of the risks. I’m sure your agent would be willing to discuss it with you ahead of time.
This is a question with no easy answers, but as you can tell, I don’t think it’s crucial we all “stay in our lane.” There are hugely important issues being publicly debated, and our responsibility as citizens is important to take into consideration, even at the risk of our career success. I’d venture to say, the social issues at hand are *everybody’s* lane.
Stay in your lane, or not? It’s your choice.
But what’s your opinion?
Photo by Richard R. Schünemann on Unsplash
Kristen Joy Wilks
This is such a helpful list, Rachelle! I think that if more folks shared with kindness and grace and using their writing gifts with gentle skill, the conversation would look much different. I tend to avoid “jumping into the fray” as it were, but there are moments when my silence can contribute to the problem. I think that it is at this point, after much prayer and thoughtful consideration to how my words are woven, that I should share. I was very impressed with the post that Phil Vischer made recently. He used himself as the example and expressed his thoughts with clarity and grace. So well done!
Wendy L Macdonald
Wise words, dear Rachelle. Thank you for caring about our black sisters and brothers. I’m glad some authors don’t stay in their lanes. Their brave and careful social media posts helped me learn and understand what my friends of color are going through. They helped me understand more of where my potential new family member is coming from and how I can come alongside her.
Love doesn’t stay in her lane, she leaves her comfort zone, she listens, and she speaks with gentleness and respect.
What would Jesus do? The Bible shows us God often asked and empowered people to switch lanes for the sake of His will to be done on earth. What is His will? Love.
Yes, I got way less likes than usual on my recent blog post about racism despite the fact my stats showed way more visits. But the one reader who commented is an award winning writer whose friendship means more to me than numbers. If I disappear for awhile, she messages me to check up on me. Yes, I want to be there for her too. Love matters most.
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac
This is such a great discussion topic, Rachelle!
I typically stay away from topics that people are taking sides on, but every once in a while I feel like I’m supposed to speak up. When I do put my opinions out there, what I share usually flows from my experience rather than strong views, so maybe that helps me avoid upsetting readers. My goal is always to be respectful.
One thing I’ve learned through this 2020 Year of Strong Opinions is, we don’t just need to be careful what we say publicly but also how we say it. People are so reactive right now that it shocks me! But we can only control our own behavior, right? So I used that as an example of how not to behave. I never want to leave a reader thinking, “Wow! I had no idea she could be this way. She seemed so nice when I met her at that conference last year.” My rule is, if someone were to base their impression of me on my social media interactions, would they see me as someone they could trust?
I must confess that I made the rule above after seeing a friend’s online activity and thinking, “If I didn’t know her well and love her already, I would not want to be friends with her.”
So as I used to tell my son, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it. You need to work on your delivery.”
I love this, Jeanette! Maybe the question isn’t “if” or “should we”…but rather, “if we feel led to, then how?” What’s the posture…of our heart? 1 Corinthians 2 offers a fantastic framework, & much to chew on. Paul says the spirit in which our message is offered is paramount. His letter to the Corinthians…offered “with great fear and trembling.” Nothing about his delivery was meant to reflect back favorably on his own intelligence, morality, eloquence, or wit.
Thank you for this timely and helpful advice. As an unpublished writer trying to build a platform, I’ve been conflicted about speaking out on social media to address the current turmoil because I know agents and publishers won’t be excited to represent someone who could bring controversy with them. I appreciate your advice and will continue to pray for God to lead my heart, words, and interactions and not my desire to be published.
When it comes to social media, I disagree, Rachelle. “Standing up” may make a person feel involved but it’s not what goes on in social media that matters. It’s what we do in our own lives. It’s action, not words. If my friend is hurt by the evil that breaks our hearts, I’ll be there, caring for the family and “standing up” in that way. If I see something ugly out in public, I will take a stand.
I still advise my clients to use their online presence for non-controversial connection with people, and not just for sales, but to infuse a little light and salt into what is essentially a faceless tool. We are challenged to love all people regardless of which side of an issue they take.
I’m going to copy and paste this into my personal files, Wendy, so that I can be reminded. It’s hard not to post but I like what you’ve said here.
This is one of the best responses to social media and author platforms I’ve read. Thank you, Wendy.
I wonder how many of the problems in our nation are BECAUSE Christians keep silent, “hold our tongues,” and don’t speak out. How many Christians are scared silent because if they speak — even, gasp, about politics — they’ll lose business associates (agents, publishers), or friends and followers. I’m tired of watching our nation go downhill, kicking God out of schools and politics and everything else while wondering where are the Christians? Why isn’t anyone else speaking up? John the Baptist didn’t shut up when called the Pharisees vipers. Jesus didn’t hold his tongue when he called the Jewish leaders hypocrites. The loudest voices out there are shouting for violence and fascism and mob rule, and oh by the way let’s get rid of the good, the noble, like the police. And we’re supposed to, what? Be nice? Stay quiet? I beg Christians to speak up! Please. What does it tell you when publishers and agents want their clients to remain silent? What does that say about them?
I post about my books on my author page. I post what I believe on my personal profile.
But I will not be silenced.
I don’t comment in my blog on possibly controversial things because it is painting all your followers with one brush. Especially on controversial issues you need to target your response to the audience. That really isn’t possible in a blog blast.