The Non-Partisan Author

The political environment has been toxic for author branding since the Internet debuted over 20 years ago, but has gotten significantly worse and more dangerous as social media grows in the last decade. When expressing opinions became as easy as a mouse-click “like,” authors entered a danger-zone.

Unless your author brand includes political commentary, or a focused societal issue, it is probably best to stay away from political expression in your communication. Even a “like” can be a problem to some of your followers who might leave you because they disagree.

The divisive political environment across the entire world makes it tempting to express yourself and take sides, simply because you so easily can.

But again, unless your author brand focuses on political interplay, or a focused societal issue, it would be wise to consider refraining from commenting on them.

Or liking, or happy/frowny-facing them.

The question is simply this; do you want to sell books to anyone and everyone, or just to those who agree with you on everything? The number of the latter is a small fraction of the former.

Don’t assume your social media followers all see eye-to-eye on anything, because they don’t.

And yet, every day authors who have no standing to speak about politics jeopardize their author platforms just to get something off their chest.

This is about the business of publishing, branding and selling books, not some sort of First Amendment/integrity/freedom topic in the US or a global human rights stand.

You want to sell books to as many people as possible? Be very careful if you want to express yourself politically. (Unless politics and societal issues are your brand.)

There are some societal problems where any reasonable Christian or moral person should stand united.

Human trafficking is evil and wrong.

Child pornography is evil and wrong.

Killing people for their religion is evil and wrong.

Terrorism is evil and wrong.

We could come up with many more with very little thought.

But this still doesn’t mean you should venture into the political arena. Your readers sincerely want you to deliver the message for which you are best known. That’s all.

You might be surprised how many readers of Christian books are not on the same page regarding abortion, homosexuality, immigration, refugees, the role of government, elections, tax laws, welfare, health care, public schools, military action, patriotism and a myriad of other matters.

Just because you think Christians should all be unified on a certain subject, doesn’t mean they are.

The best way to avoid any potential problems is simply to stick to your brand and give your readers what they expect and nothing more. I would guess they are not looking for your political opinions, unless your books and brand relate to subjects covered by partisan politics or certain societal issues.

Swerving out of your branded lane of traffic is okay, just realize:

The lack of self-discipline in your author platform and declining book sales are related.

Again, all this doesn’t matter if your readers are expecting you to rage against society in some way, or you are not an author. But if you desire to develop and grow a large author platform and sell as many books as possible, you need to be relatively non-partisan politically in social media and other external communications.

 

34 Responses to The Non-Partisan Author

  1. Kathryne Leach April 4, 2017 at 4:22 am #

    Thank you. I noticed that I lose Twitter followers when I post scripture verses, but I’m a devotional writer, so I’m staying true. This post confirms what I was pondering recently.

  2. Judith Robl April 4, 2017 at 5:10 am #

    I have a good friend. Politically we are poles apart. Her posts are frequently political and activist. Her personal posts get my attention. Her political and activists posts do not. I simply refuse to read them so that I’m not tempted to enter into the conversation.

    Silence can truly be golden.

  3. Glenda April 4, 2017 at 6:38 am #

    Thank you for addressing an issue I’ve recently given much thought. My goal as a writer is to encourage, educate and entertain, not enter divisive territories.

    Your post confirms that staying true to our core message is what counts.

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser April 4, 2017 at 7:10 am #

    Great thoughts, Dan. I think you’re absolutely right that the polarization of our society can result in de facto blacklisting for an author who hints at an ‘incorrect’ thought or opinion.

    I didn’t address politics in my blog until I realized that I had to; dealing with a very painful long-term (and terminal) illness, I thought it would be wrong to let silence be taken as approval of a medical system that put the cost of health insurance (much less its use) out of my reach, and fined my the cost of several months of pain meds for the transgression of not being well-to-do.

    And yes, saying “I support Donald Trump because he promises to repeal Obamacare” probably lost me followers, it also made a few people leave comments that read, “I didn’t realize that…”

    My latest (and probably last) novel “Emerald Isle” deals with abortion to save the life of the mother. I think the treatment is pretty evenhanded, and there’s no right/wrong calculus implied for that specific care, but just putting the thing out there was seen as taking sides for the reason that I did not make the mother-to-be’s decision clear-cut in favour of aborting the foetus.

    I guess I painted myself into something of a corner, and may have stunted my appeal, but I did so in good conscience, and I’d do it again.

    • Sally Apokedak April 11, 2017 at 10:54 am #

      Good for you, Andrew. We’re all dying one day. In relation to eternity, we have a very small spot of time to inhabit on earth. We will never, ever again have the opportunity to love Christ by speaking the truth in love to people he may be wanting to reach. There is every reason under heaven for a Christian to write thought provoking books and to leave off the drivel that serves the lowest common denominator.

      .

  5. Joey Rudder April 4, 2017 at 7:19 am #

    This is GREAT advice.

    What comes to mind is the stumbling block. I don’t want my “like” to stop someone from reading my posts or novel and ultimately growing closer to God. My little “like” is simply not worth it.

    Thank you, Dan.

  6. Harold D. Thomas April 4, 2017 at 7:25 am #

    And, as Dan well knows, even when your brand _does_ include political commentary (as mine does), it doesn’t pay to try to publish a politically neutral book. Two years ago, I proposed a book called _Getting a Bit Political_, a non-partisan guide to political involvement for those getting started, and the publishers thought a neutral book would not sell. A sad state of affairs, but it’s the reality.

    • Dan Balow April 4, 2017 at 7:39 am #

      Politics has become a weapon of mass destruction rather than a societal check and balance. We are not in a good place as a country.

      Nice to see your name Harold.

  7. Jay Payleitner April 4, 2017 at 7:38 am #

    Dan, I was being interviewed on radio about my book, Quick Tips for Busy Families. When we came back from a break — out of the blue — the host asks me what I thought about the transgender bathroom issue. I have an opinion. I did share it. And I may have surprised him — and a few listeners — with my answer. The experience also made me think about this exact issue of which you speak. In any medium, if we want as many people to hear us as possible, we need to stick to our main message. Otherwise, we will drive away potential readers. Plus, I’m not sure if that radio host will ever invite me back.

    • Dan Balow April 4, 2017 at 7:46 am #

      Interesting.

      You were set-up. Shame on the radio host for placing a landmine in front of you. Simply shows radio hosts have trouble staying on-topic as well.

  8. Tamela Hancock Murray April 4, 2017 at 8:14 am #

    Excellent post, Dan. Another drawback to posting anything political is that most issues are too complex to be explained and expressed on social media, at least not with posts short enough that people will read.

    Recently I saw a post (not from a publishing professional) saying that poor people just need to go to work! Unfortunately, addressing poverty is and always has been a complex issue with many nuances. The thought struck me as just a simplistic, uninformed rant rather than anything productive. Well, except for blog comment fodder. 🙂

    Need to rant? Give yourself one minute to rant to one trusted friend in private. And then let your friend rant for one minute. Then both of you can go on about your day.

  9. rochellino April 4, 2017 at 9:02 am #

    I’m glad Our Father Jesus Christ set the proper example. Appeasing the pharisees, Pontius Pilate, the roman government or the people of the day was of no concern to Him. The message of God and the Kingdom, the Truth, was of utmost importance. There were many who hated Him, it mattered not, His message never wavered.

    He was not cowed, browbeaten, intimated or otherwise compromised in order to achieve human desires. Ditto for his cousin, St John the Baptist and the early Christian martyrs and many, many more who followed in faith up to this moment.

    Who wants to be the person who, when standing before the throne in judgement and is asked “what do you have to say for yourself” answers. “Er……. well……uh…….. I sold a lot of books”.

    I get your point but what makes us “Christian” writers if we hide our light, do not defend the faith and only tell part of our “truths”. Are we to modify our witness as well?

    To quote God’s promise to Abraham, of whom we all are descendants.
    Genesis 12:3 New King James Version (NKJV)

    I will bless those who bless you,
    And I will curse him who curses you;
    And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

    We have been given life and given it abundantly. We don’t have to hide our true self. We are not intended to be zombies bowing to pagans.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUxkTDZakGA

    Thank you for a thought provoking post which causes us to examine just why we are writing.

    • Dan Balow April 4, 2017 at 9:40 am #

      I completely agree. Never compromise your faith.

      Local property taxes for school repair? Compromising is OK.

      • Sally Apokedak April 11, 2017 at 11:11 am #

        But you suggest we don’t speak about abortion? What is that, if not compromise? Ten years from now will you be telling people not to speak against pedophilia? Because the age of consent is being lowered–read the state laws. Bestiality is also legal in some states. And in one state (New Jersey) a father can live in an openly marriage-like relationship with his daughter, though he can’t quite marry her, so maybe we ought to not speak of any sexual sin at all since so many people love to engage in it.

        Eich lost his job as CEO of Firefox, because he donated to the wrong side of Prop Eight five years earlier. In five years the liberals got the upper hand and they went back in time and punished those who had ever been on the wrong side of that proposition.

        In five years or ten, when pedophilia is legal, perhaps someone will come back in time and find this post and ruin you. Perhaps you shouldn’t have said anything here against pedophilia. We’ve evolved and we can now see that homosexuality is good nd healthy and transgendered people are committing suicide not because they are mentally ill but because Christians are hateful and they don’t need any help at all from doctors–all they need is for Christians to shut up.

        So I’m sure we’ll find in a few years that pedophilia is also very healthy. Some Muslims find it to be a good practice–they rape boys and girls. Some gay men find it to be a good practice. Some female schoolteachers find it to be a good practice. And their numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. I think you’re on the wrong side of history here, Dan.

        • Dan Balow April 11, 2017 at 11:41 am #

          The issue I was trying to raise has been clouded a bit.

          We are confusing what is a political stance. Readers of Christian books vote for Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents and Green Party candidates. Right or wrong, an author is risking losing readers by calling one party or candidate evil and wrong and the other right and good. If your author brand is political or societal commentary, then go for it. If it isn’t you could lose readers when you endorse a political candidate.

          If you are a writer of Amish-themed fiction and your readers like the recipes and simple-living tips you offer on your blog, to deviate into a strong stance for or against open borders would probably cost you some readership of your blog and your books.

          Most likely the publisher who paid the author nicely for their book will not be happy for a political stance which could cost sales, especially if the author is with a Christian publisher and they take a pro-abortion stance.

          This is pragmatic for sure. Authors can do anything they feel led to do, but they could lose readers over it, something a self-pub author may view as a badge of honor, but a traditionally published author might have some explaining to do to the publisher who will lose money on their book when they run off their branded rails.

          My job is to alert author-clients of potential career-damaging activities. This is part of the advice I would give any writer. Stick to what you are known for…

          • Sally Apokedak April 11, 2017 at 2:07 pm #

            —-You might be surprised how many readers of Christian books are not on the same page regarding abortion, homosexuality, . .

            I suggest we do all within our power to lovingly and kindly put them on the same page. On God’s page. If we have an audience of readers who can’t see that abortion is sinful, why wouldn’t we all write great, thoughtful things to encourage them to consider the issue more carefully?

            Knowing that they find abortion to be a good thing, how can we remain silent? Aren’t we then be complicit in the deaths of their children?

            There is a small group of doctors who are bravely standing up for the truth. They say, for instance, that transgendered children are being abused when they are given hormone treatments. They have lost much because of their commitment to speaking the truth.

            Right now, when scientists argue against global warming they lose money and jobs.

            We need more doctors and scientists to be brave. And we need more authors and publishers to be brave.

            It is disheartening to see Christian publishers encouraging their writers to be silent.

            Last summer an editor from a big Christian imprint told me they wanted books with no Christian content, but not only that. They also wanted authors who were not known to be Christians. When readers went online to Google the authors, they wanted them to find nothing that would suggest their authors were Christians.

            This is so discouraging. The poor church has lost its way and Christian publishing is wandering around trying to fix their problems by looking more like the world, just as the church has done. There is a segment in the church that thinks if we look more like the world we will be palatable to the world. Well, sure. But what good does that do? No one gets saved that way. We all just keep each other company on the way to hell.

            Homosexual marriage is sinful and is a Christian issue and not a political issue. The killing of babies is sinful and is a Christian issue and not a political issue. And for you to suggest that your authors should not speak about these issues is disturbing.

  10. Jaime April 4, 2017 at 9:07 am #

    I agree, Tamela!

    We alienate people when we assume everything is black and white and they are bad and we are good. It doesn’t really pave the way for reasonable discussion, especially when it’s a quick ‘like’ on someone’s comment. It’s always more complex than that.

    Even if we feel the other person’s view is wrong, we need to keep in mind that they have formed their opinion based on their own life experiences and what seems reasonable and right to them. They didn’t wake up one morning and decide to choose the side of evil and now it’s our job to stand against them and fight until they submit. We, especially as Christians, are to love them, and consider their hearts.

    I wrote a story once that was nominated for a big award in my region. It was about the psychological struggles a young woman faced after having an abortion. One of the judges believed it was too anti-choice, being an pro-choice activist herself, so wouldn’t consider my story. I was only in high school at the time, but it taught me a huge lesson on the power of people’s beliefs and opinions to overshadow everything else.

  11. Jessi L. Roberts April 4, 2017 at 9:18 am #

    Good post. Back when I was a teen and not very tolerant of differing political opinions, I stopped buying books from a few authors who endorsed candidates I didn’t like.
    Now, I generally ignore authors’ political talk, but I had to unfollow one author on Twitter. I want to know about his writing, but I am NOT interested in the 5+ political articles he retweets a day, or his 3+ posts on political commentary, all of which I disagree with. Even if I agreed, it would be too much. There’s no way to find info about his books on his Twitter page. His books are mostly dystopian stories that deal with politics, but I think this is a good cautionary example for authors. If you must get involved in politics, please don’t let it drown out the information your readers are looking for.
    I will admit, I have replied and liked things on Twitter that are political. (I should probably stop that.) However, I will not post stuff that’s political unless it’s related to books.
    When I blog about something political, such as diversity in books or how Supergirl’s liberal agenda ruined the show, those end up being my most shared and popular posts. I’d say my controversial posts, and I’m talking ones that are related to storytelling, get at least 5 to 10 times the shares, likes, and comments, mostly from people who agrees. This puts me in an interesting spot as an unpublished author because it seems like if I talk about non-political things, I get nearly zero engagement, but if I bring up something storytelling related that’s controversial, then I get a ton of engagement.

  12. Dan Balow April 4, 2017 at 9:37 am #

    Recently, I was part of a Bible study discussing our identity in Christ. The speaker asked the group, “Who are you?” to the group. One person said, “I’m a Christian Constitutional Conservative.”

    We can get so used to political labels for everything we can totally miss the greater point.

    Maybe Christ’s statement about rendering to Caesar what is his and to God what it his would be a good perspective to remember.

  13. Carol Ashby April 4, 2017 at 9:40 am #

    This conversation immediately brought to mind the time Peter and John were hauled before the Sanhedrin after healing a man who’d been crippled his whole life. When ordered not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus again, they replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.”

    Most political arguments are not intimately related to what God has declared to be right or wrong, but some are. For the ones that aren’t, I agree that we should refrain from deliberately driving people away. But when it comes down to something that God has very clearly defined, do we really have the option of buckling under to the Sanhedrins of our day? Whatever position we take, we must take it in a loving way if our points are to be heard, but saying nothing wasn’t an option for Peter and John, in spite of the threat of imprisonment and even death. Is it really an acceptable option for us?

  14. Sheri Dean Parmelee April 4, 2017 at 10:06 am #

    Dan, you made some great points here- thank you for your courage in telling it like it is. Do we want to sell books and be known as someone whose writing can be trusted or do we want to make comments that drive people from us. I vote for the former and reject the latter. Good posting!

  15. Janet Ann Collins April 4, 2017 at 11:14 am #

    I’ve been trying to stay out of politics on the internet, but it’s not easy. I can’t ever remember being bombarded with so much hostility from both sides. I’ve always been blessed, or maybe I should say cursed, with the ability to see more than one side to things, but the nastiness is disturbing. I just keep trying to remember we’re all neighbors now, and should love one another.

    • Carol Ashby April 4, 2017 at 11:42 am #

      Amen, Janet! I’ve seen friendships of more than 20 years crack because of all the anger over political views, and the news media just keep pouring on fuel.

      After the fights, forgiveness is what’s most needed. I blogged about that only a couple of weeks ago. One question I keep asking myself is what I can do to help my friends see that we all need to forgive each other when we disagree and not hold the grudges that devour us from the inside.

  16. Brad April 4, 2017 at 11:44 am #

    Dan, you must own a tea plantation somewhere because you seem to love “hot water” topics! I try never to miss a Tuesday.

    My question for you and/or the audience is how effective is using a pen name for books, articles, leaving your real name for more dicey comments or religious stands on personal pages? I know it isn’t 100 percent, as some investigative readers will dig out the truth, but what has been your experience with this? Does it work at all?

    I just hate to think that I give up my right to say or do much (or anything) as a citizen or christian for fear of loss of sales. Yet I agree the audience will punish authors who get too religious or political. Have you seen anyone find a way around this?

    • Dan Balow April 4, 2017 at 12:14 pm #

      Much more common with fiction than non-fiction. Mostly they are used by authors with complicated names where a simpler name would be easier to remember.

      The only time they are used with non-fiction is if there is a danger to use a real name, but good luck maintaining social media for a fake person.

      I wouldn’t suggest using one so you can say whatever you want with one persona and not affect your other side. People find out these things.

      Pseudonyms should be used carefully and only one per customer/author.

  17. Courtney Ellis April 4, 2017 at 9:11 pm #

    Such wise words, Dan. Thanks for the clear reminder and the sage advice!

  18. JPC Allen April 5, 2017 at 6:57 am #

    I look on my author platform as a business. My readers are my customers. I only put things in my blog that I would feel comfortable saying to a customer if I was face-to-face with him.

  19. Effie-Alean Gross April 5, 2017 at 2:53 pm #

    Dan,
    I understand your position on the non-partisan advice for writers. It makes sense not to alienate readers; however, perhaps something bigger than the writer needs to be considered. I’m active politically in Arizona, and I feel that my contribution to the future of America is important enough to speak out. Agreed, many subjects are non-controversial, but if one’s conscience leads toward speaking out, why remain silent? Personally, I avoid replying to social media comments to my posts. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3, there is a time for everything under the sun. There is a time to speak and a time to keep silent. May God grant me the wisdom to know the difference. ~~Effie-Alean Gross

    • Dan Balow April 5, 2017 at 3:07 pm #

      Of course, anything one chooses or feels led to do is their business and they accept the results. My job is to tell people there might be unintended consequences to those actions. As long as they understand this, I’ve done my part.

      • Rebekah Love Dorris April 7, 2017 at 3:51 pm #

        Been thinking about this. We “wordy ones” (I speak for myself) can be tempted to think we have to use our eloquence to win every argument.

        The humiliation that has brought could tempt me to quit writing.

        Like Eve in the garden, we don’t HAVE to answer every fool and their brother. If they aren’t under my authority, I’m learning to let someone else correct them.

        Easier said than done in the heat of the moment.

        Great post. Thanks.

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