by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
Several recent blogs made me think about the writer’s role and how social media has made us all so likable and homogenous.
First there was Sandra Parshall’s great piece on Poe’s Deadly Daughters in which she asked the question: Should writers keep their opinions to themselves online so they don’t offend readers? She mentioned instances in which readers said they would never read so-and-so’s work again because of something they had posted on Facebook or Twitter. I’m guessing it was something political, and the readers were of the other persuasion.
This has weighed on my mind because I have succumbed to self-censorship. Every day, I make a choice to not post links to liberal commentaries I enjoyed. When others post political statements I agree with, I’ll click the Like button but typically won’t comment. My thinking is that conservatives buy novels too, so why offend them? But it also makes me cringe. Until this point in my life—when I became a very public person—I’ve always spoken freely and said what I thought. Maybe too much so, I hear my husband say in my head.
I even moved The Sex Club—my bestseller and a book readers loved—out of my Jackson series and into the standalone thriller list, because the book is political and I didn’t want to lose readers before they even gave the series a chance. But now Amazon wants to market it as part of the series, and I said yes. I’m a little worried about the backlash, but I’m also happy to take ownership of my politics again.
The other interesting post that dovetailed into this discussion was in Slate magazine and subtitled The Epidemic of Niceness in Online Book Culture. The author made the point that when writers friend, support, and Like! everyone, it becomes nearly impossible to give an honest critique of their work. How can you say something even mildly critical about a novel if the author just gave you an online hug?
In my experience, most writers are by nature really nice people. We’re typically very supportive. We want to help each other, and post great reviews on Amazon, and retweet book links. And l love it. I’m part of that culture. But is it honest? If I were a professional book reviewer who didn’t know some these authors personally, would I have a different assessment of their work? In that scenario, my loyalty would be to readers, to give them a full honest appraisal of the book.
If I post on Twitter than I’m reading a particular book and someone asks me if I like it—and by then I’ve stopped reading it—what do I say? If I post that it was too slow for me, I risk offending several people and maybe that reader will decide we must like different books so they won’t bother to try mine.
This is why I don’t read much fiction or talk about what I read—unless I love it. And I turn down almost all requests to review novels. My nature is to be supportive—often to an extreme—but I also have a loyalty to my readers, and I shouldn’t steer them toward books just because those writers are my friends whom I have great affection for.
I love social media and connecting with people and I’ll keep doing what I can to cultivate friends and encourage people to like me. But some days, the self-censorship makes me not like myself.
What do you think? Is the online writer community too nice? Do you ever wish you could cut loose and say something critical or political—without losing readers or friends?