Tuesday, July 3, 2012

To Woo and Shoo

Being sentient humans, we all have views.  Being individuals, the whole of our views are quite likely unique.  Being writers, we can (and should) explore those views.  But being authors, we should carefully weigh the costs of expressing our views outside of our fiction.

I not only expect a politician to spout their beliefs at every opportunity, I want them to do so.  How can I make an informed decision about which candidates best represent my views otherwise?  I want candidates to fully and plainly lay out for me what they believe and why.  I neither need nor want to know the political views of others.

I want to watch athletes run, pass, dribble, swing and score.  I want to hear musicians play.  I want to behold the artistry of dancers.  I want to appreciate the beauty painters and sculptors create.  I want to laugh with comics, cry with actors and be riveted by authors' skill.

Basically, I want to be entertained, not educated or persuaded, by entertainers.  I don't want them to woo me or shoo me.  Society is already replete with experts in religion, science, sociology, politics, philosophy, ethics, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights and pretty much anything else you can imagine. 

It's not necessarily a good thing that I know your views on things like politics, religion or philosophy--even if I agree with them.  Why?  Because if I agree with you then someone else doesn't.  And while I may be able to separate the art from the artist, there are many who can't--or won't!

Remember SinĂ©ad O'Connor ripping that picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live?  Did she believe in what she was doing?  Undoubtedly.  Did she pay a heavy price for it?  Definitely.

How about the Dixie Chicks lamenting the fact that then President Bush was from Texas?  Can you say "career killer" in as few words?

What about Jane Fonda?  Till the day he died, my father remembered her only as Hanoi Jane.  And he never watched 9 to 5 because she starred in it.

I have as many viewpoints on as many topics as anyone else.  I'm quite passionate about a few of them too.  And yes, I do express them, but in the right place at the right time and in the right way.  (Or so I hope.)  I don't do it here.  This is a blog about writing, about becoming an author, and about finding success in that pursuit.

What I mean to say is that holding views--even being passionate about those views--is fine.  It's normal.  It's good!  But when your goal is to market and promote your product or yourself to the general public, do your best to separate your views from your brand.

There are already plenty of reasons people won't buy or read what you write.  Why add more to the list?

My name is Jeff.  And I approved this message.

Tell me your thoughts.  Flip side?  Can your brand be too pure?

23 comments:

  1. I agree that, as far as marketing goes, especially for an unknown author, that's true. I don't necessarily think it's bad for artists to express their political views, but I agree that the vast majority of them go about it the wrong way. As storytellers, our job is help people better appreciate humanity through escapism and emotional experiences. It's much more powerful for people to be moved by your book, and then realize because of it they support the same politics as the author, than to have the author scream from the rooftops, "This or that faction is wrong! Believe what I believe because I'm an artist and I'm right!" or something like that. Great post! :D

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    1. I believe we're on the same wavelength, Liesel. I remember a lady who absolutely loved the Ellen Degeneres Show until the moment Ellen came out. She couldn't separate the artist from the art.

      So I'm left wondering just how important it is to reveal things about ourselves that have nothing to do with what we're marketing. I don't want to woo epic fantasy readers by telling them "I am this" or "I believe this" or "I belong to that"... I want to woo readers by having a well written book. If we woo one we'll shoo another.

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  2. Most people who express views (you chose good examples of this above) bludgeon their audience with it. A lot of authors can present an idea without making it into a controversy. It becomes part of the story rather than the author's viewpoint.

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    1. I guess there's a "professional line" that's drawn that we either walk or cross. My guess is that the line is in different places depending on the topic, the artist, the audience and the presentation. Being professional can be a tricky business.

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  3. This is a very interesting post. I tend to agree with Liesel and Lauren here. There are ways of expressing yourself, (or your characters) quite clearly, without coming out and beating you over the head with their political views/opinions.

    Lately, I've noticed kids movies come along with definite political or environmental agendas. Which really bothers me. As an adult, I can filter what I don't want to hear out, kids, not so much.

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    1. Indoctrinating the young is a time-honored custom, but the past few decades (in America anyway) has seen a marked increase in those who like to do the indoctrinating. One has to ask: Does it really take a village?

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  4. This is a hard thing to answer...
    Because on the one hand you want to be able to express you beliefs NO MATTER what they are, but if you do, you risk losing potential sales!

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    1. I agree. And the right answer for one person may not be the right answer for the next person. I have no problem expressing who I am or what I believe, but I want my work to sell (or not) solely on its own merit, not the merits of what I believe.

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  5. I have no problem with writers writing about their political and religious views. Many writers have done so.

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    1. This is true; many have. But considering the preponderance of social media, I think one must remember that nothing is ever truly lost in cyberspace. And views change over time--which I think is good because it shows a person has an open mind.

      Just think about how politicians are always wrestling with the populace's negative reactions over things s/he said thirty years prior. Even the most benign things can come back to bite us.

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    2. If we worry about social trends 30 years from now, today we'll all just be saying "Have a nice day." Yes, I'm careful about what I say on FB and my blog. Mainly, I try to respect other people's opinions and their humanity. But I also respect my own. And if we have nothing to communicate but sanitized mundanity, then what's the point? I know where you're coming from and what your concern is, but if all we're worried about is sales and popularity, then we probably don't have much to say. But this is such a large and complex topic that we could easily write a book about it.

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    3. You up for a little non-fiction, Richard? I doubt I have the stamina to hang with writing non-fiction of any length, but I'll be happy to collaborate--a little. :)

      Actually, what you say rings very true to me. I have always despised the term "politically correct" because I view it as a form of censorship. And yes, we must be as true to ourselves as possible. It is indeed a complex topic.

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    4. I'll pass on writing that book, too.

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  6. I find this verrrry interesting...

    I tend to be more on the careful side. For me, it's important to keep a professional image. I do stumble across blogs that I think cross the line. And truth is, I think it will affect whether or not an agent or publisher will want to work with you. As authors, we are branding ourselves with our online presence, and I think it's extremely important to think twice before you post anything that might not be appropriate ;)

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    1. I'm with you in that I tend to err on the side of caution. If asked, I'll answer, but I don't want my stances on issues to be a drawing or repelling force when it comes time to market my epic fantasy.

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  7. I think you make some excellent points. Our names are our brand. So, while I'm not going to promote something I don't agree with just to get more fans or followers, I also won't share my beliefs or views which would be super controversial to others. Like my stance on sauerkraut. Pickled cabbage is super grody. But this statement might be highly offensive to sauerkraut-lovers (weirdos). And since there are probably fantasy readers out there who enjoy a hot dog slathered in sauerkraut (ew) and I would still want them to buy my books (someday) then I think it would be in my best interest to refrain from offending them.

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    1. Erin, that's just downright funny! Poor sauerkraut, so misunderstood, so under-appreciated.

      But that is the issue, isn't it? Do we hide who we are, flaunt who we are, mold ourselves into an image that we think others want, or simply be who we are?

      There's a lot more to being professional than wearing a suit and tie.

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  8. The themse and content can come through, if that's what an author intends, but fictional soap boxes are almost always a turn off.

    If people delve deep enough, they might learn a bit about me, but it's not because I went out there to tout it.

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    1. My first book has elements of politics, religion, philosophy, racial (and a little gender) discrimination, and more. And although my intent was to write the tale without bias, I'm sure some readers might wonder where I (as the author) fall on those controversial topics. Themes can appear even when we don't intend for them to appear.

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  9. If it's done well in an allegorical sort of way, sharing your beliefs can be cool. I think this is why the dystopian genre is so popular. Think of Orwell's Animal Farm, or Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Some of these stories are made more interesting by the fact that there is more going on than meets the eye. But, that said, I don't want to read some YA novel that urges me to vote for Obama and go vegan, ya know. Sure, there can be characters that do that, but I don't want to be proselytized to in a story.

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    1. Fantasy is lot like Star Trek in that regard. Discuss all the social, moral, ethical, etc. issues in a setting where they can be viewed either objectively or from a new perspective.

      I still remember Kirk & Spock failing to distinguish between the two aliens. "He's black on the left side. I'm white on the left side." (My quote is not likely verbatim with my upper middle-aged memory being what it is and all...)

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  10. I agree one hundred percent and it's how I generally like to conduct myself. Not to mention, sometimes my opinions change and I'd hate to be someone who was known to believe such and such only to change my mind in a month or two.

    That being said, you can't avoid opinions as an author completely. This post, for instance, is an opinion as well and some people might not like you for believing in it. It's very hard to know where to draw the line. Even when just commenting on something because comments can be taken or approved/disapproved of when talking about your opinion about something just as much as anything else a writer might say.

    That being said, there are some things, outside of writing that are okay to have an opinion about. For instance, I've decided to be open about the fact that I support same sex marriage and other LGBT issues. Normally, I wouldn't talk about it, but since many of the characters I come up with fit into that community, it's going to be obvious how I feel about them after awhile. No point in lying or trying to hide it because the truth will be obvious eventually. It doesn't overpower all my writing and it's not always part of it, but it's there enough that people will notice.

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    1. Excellent point! This post is indeed an opinion and there are many who would disagree. Typically, however, I tend to not divulge my views until I'm fairly certain I'm comfortable and secure in those opinions. That said, I never want to be the person who never changes their mind. It's one thing to be resolute and firm in what you believe, but it's also dangerously close to being close-minded. Fine line, that is. I love it when people who know me are surprised at a stance I take. They always want to know why.

      As far as my views coming through in my fiction... that's a tough one for me to determine. Perhaps I need a few people who know me well to read my work and see if they find any "Jeff's beliefs" themes tucked between the pages. It would be very interesting to find out. Goodness knows I squeezed in a lot of hot topics in that medieval-era world I fashioned.

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