Want Readers? Then Shut Up!

by Mike Duran

That’s right — If you want people to buy your book, then keep your opinions to yourself! At least, that’s the conventional wisdom amongst many agents, authors, and publicists. The reasoning goes something like this:

If you’re trying to be honest and authentic on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter account, and you spout off about religion, politics, parenting, public education, gay rights, abortion rights, health care — or any number of controversial topics — you risk alienating potential readers.

So when it comes to selling books, transparency is apparently a liability.

It’s understandable. I mean, wouldn’t it be disconcerting to discover that one of your favorite authors was an anti-Semite, believed the earth was flat, or shopped at Walmart? When it comes to building a platform, there is value in keeping your mouth shut and keeping your topics to a minimum. God forbid that you actually reveal you like Sarah Palin or something.

The choice between honesty and diplomacy is not always easy. Christians are commanded to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). However, someone who’s attempting to cultivate a platform and craft a public persona must be careful what “truth” they actually speak. On the one hand, by being transparent, up-front, or opinionated, we risk offending people and alienating readers. On the other hand, by muzzling our convictions and skirting controversial topics, we risk being dishonest. Furthermore, how an author is perceived by the industry is important. The writer who speaks her mind and is vocal about her convictions, inevitably runs the risk of staying the hand that could sign her paycheck.

So what’s an author to do?

Maybe it’s a matter of personal conviction. Maybe it’s a matter of business acumen. But when I shut up — when I say what people want to hear and refrain from saying what they don’t — I feel less like a diplomat and more like a suck-up.

Either way, building readership and marketing yourself is a tightrope.

Like many walks of public life, the broader the audience, the more we must temper what we say. Some authors opt for completely avoiding reference to their religious beliefs, political affiliations, and/or books they didn’t like. Others wear those opinions on their sleeves. Regardless, we can take consolation in the fact that people come to fiction, film and music for what it does for them, not the political, ideological views of the artists.

In other words, a good story, well told, always trumps one’s artistic tastes and political or religious affiliations.

Okay, so maybe honesty and diplomacy can coexist. I mean, I can be honest without being obnoxious. Just because I’m pro-life does not mean I’m a Neanderthal. But if perception is a key to publication, then the outspoken writer always runs the risk of being perceived as a malcontent, a loose cannon, or agitator.

Alas, maybe being a suck-up is a better career option. Either that, or I can build a platform of malcontents and agitators…

“Get up!”

Anita Mellott writes to encourage others on their journey of life. With a background in journalism and mass communications, she worked for 13 years as a writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International. She balances homeschooling and the call to write, and blogs at From the Mango Tree (http://amellott.wordpress.com/).

I stared at the computer screen. Red and green strikethroughs and edits masked my original text.

“Lord, what do these comments mean?” A tear splashed onto the keyboard.

I swallowed as I tried to process my first experience with a critique group. Their remarks, in the wake of my recent lay-off as a writer/editor with a nonprofit, only magnified my angst.
I knew writing was hard work, but following their advice to strip my writing of its journalistic tendencies was agonizing. Could I redirect years of training? How long would the paradigm shift from “telling” to “showing” take?

Is writing what I’m supposed to be doing?

Failure.

It’s not about you; it’s about the craft. It’s about getting better.

Who am I kidding? I’m never going to make it.

The battle within raged. Writing once energized me. Now it sapped me.
Before, I couldn’t wait to get to my computer to give life to the ideas that demanded release. Now I was barren, numb. Excuses became the order of the day.
“Isn’t this your writing time?” My husband looked at me curiously one Saturday as I grabbed my purse.

“Umm, I need a break.” Careful to avoid his eyes, I headed toward the door.

“Let’s do your nails,” I called to my tween as I passed her room.

“Really?” Her head popped around the door. “But you usually write in the morning.”

“Not anymore.”

On the few occasions when I dragged myself to the computer, I’d stare at the screen for what seemed an eternity. Then my fingers would fly over the keyboard only to turn to lead.

What if people laughed at my “dry” writing? Maybe this writing journey was best left a dream.
Fear’s icy tentacles continued to numb me. After several weeks, I buried my face in my hands and cried, “Lord, if writing is what you’ve called me to do, I need to know. I want to obey you regardless.”
A few days later, after yet another restless night, I went downstairs to my desk. In the early morning quiet, I read the day’s devotional passage, “The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid” (Matt 17:6b-7; NLT).

Through the day, the words of the One who is the Truth echoed in my mind. As they penetrated the deep recesses of my heart, discouragement and the fear of rejection and failure began to release their stranglehold on me.

The next morning I woke up, my mind swirling with ideas, replacing the confusion that had gripped me for weeks. Each idea competed with the other in its race to spill out.
“Get up,” they called. Shaky feet propelled me to my desk. Trembling hands turned on the computer. My fingers took on a life of their own trying to keep pace with my thoughts. As the words wove stories that began to embrace me, He seemed to whisper, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”