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

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Photo by Richard R. Schünemann on Unsplash


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

9 Comments

  1. Godsapple on July 6, 2020 at 10:36 PM

    May God help us, individual people with their own revelation and message,at times, the essence of life is to live by your message. May God bless the author



  2. Neurotic Workaholic on June 25, 2020 at 10:20 PM

    One problem I have with social media, especially Twitter, is that both sides (the left and the right) are convinced that only their side is completely correct, and most of them refuse to see the situation from both perspectives. And if you dare to say anything that conflicts with what they believe is right, then you’re automatically deemed a racist, a traitor, or wrong, even if you also support racial equality, just because you don’t see everything exactly the way they do. It’s why I had to take a break from Twitter for a while because it was just getting to be too toxic.



  3. Sue Donaldson on June 25, 2020 at 11:12 AM

    Yes I’ve been thinking about these very things. Two in particular: 1. How can we ignore the elephants in the room? If we do, we make Christ and His message irrelevant. 2. I don’t want to weigh in just to be part of the fray. So I came to a couple of conclusions: I do have a voice. I will use it to express my thoughts, but not just because everyone else is, but as God leads. It’s been a comfort to my readers it seems. Great post, Rachelle.



  4. Richard Mabry on June 25, 2020 at 10:50 AM

    Rachelle, I agree with you–it’s a tricky thing. However, there comes a time after swallowing enough comments that an author has to respond…even when it may lose them readers. What does it profit a person if their silence goes against every tenet they believe?



  5. Beth Rayann Corder on June 25, 2020 at 9:03 AM

    Thanks for saying this Rachel. I truly appreciate the depth and clarity you shared in your tips for how to participate as writers in the issues of today.

    This was so well said and should be shared with everyone. The world would be a better place if these points were applied to all social media posts and participants. I will definitely consider my place on the page with a sincerely defined purpose and compassion should I choose to post on current topics.

    Thanks again, BRC



  6. Beth Rayann Corder on June 25, 2020 at 9:01 AM

    Thanks for saying this Rachel. I truly appreciate the depth and clarity you shared in your tips for how to participate as writers in the issues of today.

    This was so well said and should be shared with everyone. The world would be a better place if these points were applied to all social media posts and participants. I will definitely consider my place on the page with a sincerely defined purpose when I post in the future.

    Thanks again, BRC



    • Beth Rayann Corder on June 25, 2020 at 9:07 AM

      I’m sorry. Please disregard my first post. I didn’t know it was sent. Thank you.
      BRC



  7. Jeaninne Stokes on June 24, 2020 at 10:28 PM

    I think you said it best Rachelle that each author has to let their conscience be their guide on when to step out of their lane regarding our recent cultural climate. I think you provided some great food for thought on what to consider before making the choice to step out of my lane.’ Thanks for these tips!

    We are writers and I’m learning my pen and words have power and it’s important for me to use that power to make a difference in this current climate our nation and world we are in, and to remember how to use my power most effectively.

    Thanks again for this post.



  8. Sharon Leaf on June 24, 2020 at 4:50 PM

    Thank you for your input. I agree that you have to “weigh the cost.” I have no problem in speaking out for the unborn, and for the love that Christ showed to those around him. I write with a Christian theme in my books so I attempt to live my life as the saying, “What would Jesus do?” I wish you oceans of writing blessings!



I love words.

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I love authors and all the intricacies of managing a writing life.

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