Monday 22 February 2016

Authors and politics.

It's very hard to get anyone to pay you attention online.

That's not normally a problem as most of us don't give a damn if anyone pays attention to us online.

As an author, though, it is supposedly really quite helpful if you have a large following on one of more of the social media.

Whether this is true or not is a whole different subject and one I'll avoid here except to say that I know of several authors with large and genuine twitter followings (as big or much bigger than my own modest 12,000) who don't sell many books.

Let's assume it is true. Now, how do you get those mouses to click your links, like your comments, share your content?

Well. You could be a fabulously successful author, but that's rather the opposite of the point. The idea is that the following help you become fabulously successful. Another alternative is that you could be endlessly entertaining. You could be witty, a sharp observer of the news, a fascinating commentator on the human condition, a well-read genre raconteur, etc.

But that's ... really hard to do.

OR ... you could do politics.

When you declare a political preference (especially at either end of the spectrum) you're immediately plumbed into an extensive support network. It's rather like a church. Complete strangers will shout "Amen, brother!".

Yes, you may well alienate half the political spectrum but you'll still have half left, and half of 'everything' looks pretty attractive when all you've got is all of nothing.

Plus, the business of blogging becomes easy. You don't have to think up something new and original to write, you can just turn the handle on the outrage machine and content drops onto the page.

"SJWs ate my baby!"

"This group of two is insufficiently diverse, you BIGOT."

If you don't 'get' either of those headlines from opposing political extremes then I'm rather jealous of you.

Anyway, the fact is that joining a side in the culture war can seem like a no-brainer to an aspiring author who needs backup. I'm entirely sure that the motivations for many authors taking to political blogging are 100% genuine, born of deep convictions. I'm also sure that many jump on board, dial up their mild convictions to 11 and enjoy the ride, blog-traffic, retweets, prime spots on the 'right on' genre sites of their particular affiliation, oh my.

Edit - as an aside, one part of the outrage machine on one side of the divide is sending people to this blog with the assurance it asserts that the only reason writers talk diversity is for attention:

Given recent assertion that the only reason writers talk diversity is for attention

It's almost as if he chose not to read the line I have now highlighted in red. How easily "many authors taking to political blogging are 100% genuine" becomes an "assertion that the the only reason writers talk diversity is for attention" when you're stoking the fire  :)

The game is of course that most people who read the initial outrage won't read this - they'll accept the lying precis and stow the information away. Another enemy labelled. 

Unpack the misrepresentation a little further - our friend has ignored the fact this is a blog about authors pushing political views - from Vox Day to Requires Hate, and he has decided instead that it's about them talking diversity. Our friend has put me in the enemy camp. Lawrence hates diversity, that's all you need to know. Our friend must know he's lying. But he doesn't care - it's serving his purpose.


We can now add the ridiculous click-bait hack Damien G Walters to the above club:

Here's his painfully tribal tweet:
Mark Lawrence argues that authors talking about diversity is just attention seeking

Back to our regular programming:

It's a step I've never been able to take. I do have moderately strong political convictions, but they're moderate ones, and moderation doesn't sell, doesn't generate traffic, doesn't get retweeted.

Plus, I write stories. What attention is turned my way is turned my way because of tales about sword swinging and adventure. I feel uncomfortable slipping into political messaging after that. It seems too similar to the salesman at your door who gets his foot in with some tried and tested gambit before seguing neatly into double glazing.

I suppose if I really thought I could add a zero to the end of my twitter following by writing aggressively moderate blog-pinion pieces wherein I stridently declared:


I would probably go for it. But nobody wants to hear that an issue has as many shades of grey as soft-core bondage porn. So I won't.


  1. I've often wondered about your feelings on this matter. Authors usually write because we have something to say, but therein lies the dilemma you address above. It is something I struggle with at times. If Steinbeck and Hemingway had social media, what would they blog about? I doubt they would simply post feel-good mottos and pictures of kittens. That being said, I applaud you for not getting political in your own social media platform.

    We can often get a sense of a writer's leanings after a while and that's okay. The problem I have is the heavy-handedness and negativity inherent when politics bubble to the top. There is a big difference between saying, "I love howler monkeys," and "I hate bulldogs and anybody who doesn't is an idiot." I can overlook the occasional sharp statement, but have been offended by several authors (BIG name authors) who 'keep going there' to the point of blocking their posts and un-following their blogs.

    Not to gush, but I do appreciate your choice to focus on humanity and the human condition both in your social media and in your books. Your natural wit and talent for profound observations are what hooked me in the first place. They make you one of the most quotable writers I've ever read. They are also what keep me coming back.


  2. *shouts into the silence like Frodo at the Council of Elrond* I WILL TAKE IT! I will retweet Mark Lawrence's intellectually honest thoughts supporting the moderate position!

  3. Why I bemoun the politicization of everything, it has happened. When one side write an essay on how strong women character are against nature and detrimental to society, Then nominate the book that essay appeared in for Hugo, it has gpne from an intellectually debate to action and reaction. To quote Kinky F the only thing in the middle of the road is roadkill.

  4. Aggressive moderate - got a nice ring to it

  5. I agree with you... if we assume, as you have, a very narrow slice of the definition of politics.

    But if by politics we mean "the good we do on behalf of the city in which we find ourselves" as Aristotle and Plato both believed, then I think it's absolutely mandatory that authors engage in politics and the proof is that Plato kicked all of the poets out of Athens for political reasons.

    By writing fiction, we smuggle ideas into the minds of one another. If those ideas are good and for the betterment of society, then it easily shows a trajectory from our personhood to the principles we believe to the predictions (or prophetic critiques) we make in our fiction.

    So yeah, I agree: the current climate is woefully bland an inadequate.

    But I agree for better reasons, I think.

    There's more than one way to seek a higher politic and inflammatory twitter battles is not one of them. Worldbuilders, however, very well may be — from aid to Syrian refugees to asking Americans to give up their affluence and accumulation so that children do not have to starve.

    Good thoughts, Mark.

  6. I wonder if there are books yet on the conundrum of maintaining a balanced parasocial relationship (is that an oxymoron?) with an audience on social media. It makes it very difficult to 'judge the art and not the artist' if the artist says something that shatters the mental image built up. So, if the idea is to engage and keep a sense of friendship with the audience, seems best to follow the 'don't discuss politics or religion' rule.
    I wish more people would consider what you've written here.
    There is so much that could be said on this subject.

  7. Good post Mark. I for one avoid buying books from preachy scolds -- I assume their books are also going to be non-stop sermonizing. Reading author's blog posts in this couple of years has provided me with plenty of opportunities for saving my money.

    But maybe I'm in the minority and the general public likes to be preached at?

  8. It's a problem that I have in most circles that I run in. I'm far too liberal for my conservative friends and far too conservative for my liberal friends.

    I've had a lot of practice over the years in divorcing the art from the person who makes it, so political preachiness doesn't necessarily turn me off of the work of an author, musician, etc. That said, I have unfollowed a few authors that I truly admire because it seemed that all they did was spew political vitriol.

    When I follow authors and musicians, it's because I genuinely like their work. I'm really looking for updates and info on that work -- how it's going, when I can get it, what's next. I'm by no means saying that's all they should post, but I should at least get some of that between the political rants. With a lot of the people that I follow, particularly on Twitter, political ranting is all they do. It's one of the reasons I don't spend a lot of time on Twitter.

  9. What! You don't have a side? For shame! Everyone knows that you have to have a side in the author wars. Don't you *care*? ;)

  10. Ugh. Your post is so problematic I cant even.

    1. I have to assume this is satire. Bravo! It's spot on.

      Now do one from the other side.

  11. Like all other strategies to generate page views, I suspect this one is also nearing the end of its usefulness. When there are already a thousand authors writing the same political blog post you are planning to write, no one is going to pay attention to you - the early movers with by now established followings have got this space locked up.

  12. I'm not your white knight Mark, and you're not a special snowflake.

    1. Someone will have to decode this one for me...

    2. That's the one from the other side! (OK, maybe not as good as the first one) 8)