Your fiction is your domain in which to explore any themes you like. But should you step beyond your fiction and speak out on the internet about social and political issues? The decision is yours, but it carries risk. First, you might alienate all those potential readers who disagree with you, especially on controversial issues. Second, you might be seen as exploiting the issues for your own promotional agenda.
Consider the risk of losing potential readers that might hold the opposite view on various issues. It is one thing for us authors to use our tiny bit of internet platform to be a caring individual and try to raise awareness for worthy causes such as stray pet adoption or providing help to needy children or hurricane victims. It is another thing for us periodically to rant against either the left-wing or right-wing political party in our country.
And it goes a step further than that if we inflict questionable personal views upon the public. For example, actor Sean Connery stated his position on domestic violence in a 1965 Playboy interview: “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman.” Almost thirty years later, he elaborated in a 1993 Vanity Fair interview: “There are women who take it to the wire. That's what they are looking for, the ultimate confrontation. They want a smack.” While both remarks were probably motivated by sheer stupidity, the second time around put across an unmistakable message: he was famous enough not to care if he alienated half the population of the planet.
But, unlike him, the average author can’t afford to lose readers by coming across as strident or offensive. Therefore, we should not take the bait as easily as he did. If the opportunity to express our personal views comes up on the internet, we might be wise not to lunge for it out of an egotistic misconception that we have something of value to say just because we have a little more “reach” on the internet. If, however, we have put in serious study and really are experts on certain issues, we should feel free to share our knowledge. And if the particular cause is controversial yet extremely important to us personally, then it becomes worth the risk. By contrast, I doubt that Sean Connery has ever given a second thought to domestic violence issues.
Consider the fact that public values those of us in the entertainment profession for our priceless ability to provide escapism from the harsh realities of everyday life. When the public wants to know about the issues, it will consult the experts, the political analysts. When the public needs a break from the issues, it will turn to the experts, us entertainers. We may fail as entertainers if we try to step into an analyst role for which we are untrained and unqualified.
The second risk we authors should consider when tempted to hold forth on the issues is the widespread stereotype that we are notorious publicity hounds. Whether fair or unfair, accurate or inaccurate, this image has become attached to us authors since the concurrent rise of the internet and self-publishing. Readers view us as exploitative – willing to flog whatever issues are hot in order to gain some attention to us, our online profiles, and our backlists. This perception on the part of readers has led to rules in forums that ban authors from joining and leaving comments if they have a signature link that leads to their website or backlist.
But it is understandable that this stereotype would arise. The internet is overwhelmed with a sea of promotional messages. On the internet, we are all readers and we are all writers (blogging and commenting on forums). Whenever we slip into reader mode and go looking online for specific information, we want to find valuable content immediately from the most reputable source available. We don’t want to wade through countless search-engine pages of opinions, agendas, bias, and misinformation.
Hence the suspicion and impatience with which most readers view information available online. Even if we as authors have solid facts to offer on the issues or our rhetoric is dazzlingly eloquent, frustrated readers paging through results of an internet keyword search may resent us for throwing yet one more distraction into their quest for answers.
Carefully weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks to posting your views on political and social issues to the internet. How important is the cause to you? How much good can you do by offering yet another opinion? Or would it be more effective to donate your time and money to your cause? Consider making anonymous donations. At least that way, you cannot be accused of exploiting the situation for your own publicity.