Is It Politic To Be Apolitical?

As part of my strategy to expand my book sales to more people who will like my books, I have been researching author branding again. There is plenty of advice out there about engaging with the audience: some of it so proactive many might categorise it spam; some so restrained even people who already know about you probably won’t notice. One of the debates that especially caught my eye is: avoid politics, religion, and other controversial topics. Which to me appears both harder than it seems and possibly unnecessary.

At the heart of the branding discussion is agreement that authors need to be interesting to their audience, and – whilst the method differs depending on where the person lies on the spam vs silence spectra – that this involves having a personality beyond the books themselves.

Although there are some who suggest pretence, this interesting personality is generally accepted to come from talking about the things that most interest you: your enthusiasm will make any topic more exciting; whereas lack of interest will infect the most thrilling events with tedium.

The case made by the uncontroversialists is some topics are vastly polarising: there is only so much interaction you get with a potential member of your audience so you will gain a greater audience from talking about your interests than being noticeable for strong opinions.

The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.

– Harper Lee

Their advice for authors who blog is – when not blogging about their writing – to write articles about their job, their hobbies, and other things they do when not writing.

However, I have worked in law for most of my adult life; a significant proportion of the time I spend with friends is spent discussing politics or morality; I am a member of the Green Party.

Much of what I do when not writing is politics and other controversial topics.

I am also uncertain about the underlying assumption: people will not read my books because they do not agree with everything I say. I do not know the politics of every author I read, but I have not turned away from a book because I know the author does not share my beliefs; and, I suspect I am not alone in reading both Heinlein and Doctorow, both Moorcock and Lovecraft.

I might be wrong, and I might change my mind in the future, but for now I will not be keeping silent in case it puts a potential reader off.

Are there topics you are passionate about that you don’t blog about? Do you believe readers deserve to know the real you?

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7 thoughts on “Is It Politic To Be Apolitical?

  1. My rule is pretty much: Be yourself.

    Even if that self is socially awkward or overtly political (Like me). For instance, everyone who knows David Wright from SPP loves him. He’s a grumpy man, but that’s what makes him loveable.

    A friend of mine asked me today why I thought Tyrion was the fan favourite in Game of Thrones. Sure, everyone likes an underdog and a smart person, but really Tyrion is a straight shooter. There’s no BS, he just says what the heart of the matter is when everyone else is avoiding it.

    You’ll some lose readers by discussing politics or religion. But you’ll also gain some for the same reason.

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    1. That might be a better rule: write about your actual passions instead of trying to make the loudest noise.

      There might even be a hidden bias in the original advice: it assumes politics is divisive in a way other things are not. There is plenty of advice that suggests mentioning your favourite sports teams to proactively leverage the overlap potentiality of supporter bias, but nothing about avoiding the risk of losing readers to supporter rivalry.

      So I am fine posting about many social issues because I have had a genuine interest for many years, but should avoid serious rants about the performance of the England football team because I do not actually care.

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  2. Yes, there are opinions that I do not share in my blog. Here in the US there are opinions that will result in being attacked on-line and sometimes in person.

    So I stay silent on a lot of subjects, which I assume is the intent of the people doing the attacking, and probably brands me as a coward. However, I do use my blog to try to sell books, not to try to change the world or anything.

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    1. I don’t think it is necessarily cowardice.

      After decades of working in law, I am probably more used to rabid disagreement than many and there are times I decide not to have the battle this time.

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  3. I work for the Civil Service, so I’m used to not being able to express my political views – though not necessarily always very good at repressing them. I generally wouldn’t post political things on my personal social media sites, and I probably wouldn’t chance them on my book-related ones. But that’s a special case.

    Other than that, I’d probably say it’s fine, as long as your views are broadly mainstream, though I can imagine authors getting themselves into more difficulty if they express a strong view on the really emotive social issues than on party politics or economic issues. Am I right in thinking you’re English? I get the impression (massive generalisation alert) that political debate tends to be a bit more heated in the US and maybe that’s where the advice is coming from.

    Personally, I always like to find out about the person behind a book and an opinionated blog post (though not an ill-informed rant) is always going to be more interesting than something more restrained. I can’t decide whether or not an author could say something that would make me boycott them. To a degree, I guess it depends whether I felt that would be reflected in the book eg. I wouldn’t want to read a novel with heavily homophobic themes, though I’m not sure whether I’d avoid a well-recommended novel just because I heard rumours that the author was homophobic.

    One final thought – I suspect that a lot of the time, author’s views probably creep into their plot more than they necessarily intended….

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  4. As the US is much more strongly a two-party state than the UK, it might not be that much of a generalisation: the less choice there is, the less need there is for the parties to display a balance perspective on issues rather than a strict binary.

    Public statements being an indicator of what you write is an interesting point. Considering this blog, my fiction should be a mix of struggling to find the decent thing, the absurd or disturbing behind everyday events, and characters who are not defined by their gender, sexuality, &c. I can see it if I look for it, but probably don’t have the perspective to know if it is there for the reader.

    It might just be the lawyer/philosopher in me, but I enjoy reading books with a dogma I find distasteful. However, the enjoyment is different from that I get reading most books: the personalisation of the dogma that occurs in fiction makes seeing where the characters logic is faulty more satisfying than merely deconstructing political tracts. Of course, that only works with well-written fiction.

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