Should Authors Stay in Their Lane?
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?
If you should decide to invest in some personalized counsel, I offer coaching for unpublished authors here: My Coaching Services
I also offer online courses here: Author School