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…