The long game (or how not to make pipi into the pool you will have to swim in and inevitably swallow some of...)
Now this is coming from someone who wishes he'd buttoned his own lip in the past, and that maybe someone had given him a few pointers...
The reading world out there is a complex one, made up of people of just about every shade and point of view. You almost inevitably can’t please all of them... For some writers, and probably publishing houses, there is a huge benefit in nailing their colors to the mast -- besides the satisfaction thereof. The benefit is this: even if you’re totally useless and publishing drivel which has no story and makes the reader’s eyelids fill with titanium... the faithful in whatever little niche you have proclaimed for will probably buy your book, partially in solidarity, partially to have their own views validated, and partially to support you with the good word you’re spreading to the ‘heathen’ (a delusion, as a moment’s logical thought will tell you). If you manage to nail the kind of story they want to read onto it... they’ll adore you. Some of the ‘heathen’ may even read it and be converted... however the vocal and enthusiastic support of your work from whatever group you’ve strongly identified with (whether it is Green, or fundamentalist Zorasteran, or something relatively ordinary like conservative or democrat) will probably put off everyone who does not like their point of view.
You are a fervent believer in party A. The questions you, the writer, need to ask yourself... my beliefs/support for A, proclaimed openly in my writing a good thing for that cause? Is it good for me as a writer? In one sense, yes, it will make the other faithful love you and feel better about themselves. But it is almost certain it will have no impact on the ‘heathen’. If that was what you would like to do with your writing... it was about as dumb as any human could be and still get the message from the nervous system to draw breath. You have limited your ‘preaching’ to the converted. Of course if you know you’re a really useless writer and want to sell SOMETHING by pleasing a sector, that’s what you may have to do.
On the other if your publisher is... shall we say over-enthusiastic or intellectually challenged (it’s kinder and wiser than ‘foolish’ ;-) )... you may have to do it too to please them.
There is one incontestable fact about the market: it is not monolithic. Let’s assume that you’ve vocally supported one of the large US parties in your books and blogs and public life. So... just run this past me again... there is a reason for willfully excluding from your potential market 2/3 of the electorate? (And of the whole population A LARGER PROPORTION - about 75%)? You don’t want their money, you don’t want to ‘convert’ them to your point of view? Check the numbers, folks. The real winner of almost every election is a fellow called ‘I couldn't be bothered (or stand) to vote for either of these guys’ (and that applies to the last election as much as the one before and one before...). At _best_ the winner got 1/3 of the vote. The other 2/3 of the electorate do not support them or care enough to vote. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to sell my story to 100% of the possible audience, if I can (you won’t get 100% of course. But I’ll take 80% not 10% - which what the faithful fringes tend to offer you. 10% of 300 million is still a large pool. And you can look like a successful author in that pool, if that is good enough for you.) I have faith in my ability to write a good story. I don’t want a captive audience, just a fair shake at as big an audience as possible.
In this context I can’t help thinking about Nelson Mandela. Before G.W. Bush was elected, Mandela had plainly believed he had not a hope in hell. He expressed himself in somewhat pithy terms about GW’s intellect and how he could never win the election. Mandela was due to go to the US and raise funds for Africa - principally from the US government. Already pencilled in was a meeting with the future president. He expected that to be a fellow called Kerry, that he’d been very nice to. Only... it wasn’t. To George W. Bush's credit he was enormously supportive of Africa in spite of this, moreso than any other US President had been (this is a matter of public record from many people who really didn’t like him). But there is no doubt that Nelson Mandela must have LOVED going cap-in-hand to a man he’d insulted. He must have had to drink an awful lot of that swimming pool. He must have wished he'd restrained himself earlier. He was a powerfully influential man. It didn't drown him. But a lesser man would have sunk without a trace. Are you really that influential? I'm not.
As writers we play a long game. Yes, one or two out of every hundred thousand get a quick, easy ride to fame and fortune. Maybe they’re geniuses. Maybe lottery winners are too, because there are always better genius-writers who never sell a single book. But do the maths again: if you want to be a writer, you need to accept lots of hard work and a long haul (otherwise you want to be a lucky gambler, not a writer). And if you're in it for the long haul, you need think ahead. Think of what you’re saying and how that’s going to come back to haunt you... I’m CERTAINLY not saying you shouldn’t put your beliefs and values into your books and characters, because that would make for reading-pap. But, if you aren’t the kind of useless loser who needs a captive audience and would actually like to get your point of view out and read widely, well, get your characters and story show it, not tell it... and, maybe, before coming out with gratuitous insults about X,Y or Z consider the probability that, while that is music to ears of a small proportion, the majority are not impressed (and many are not going to even open your book as a result). Was it worth it? Maybe the writer thinks President Fred is a great man or an idiot. Just what does the writer gain by telling all and sundry this? Let's see... all of those who disagree won't open his book, in which he had a perfectly good chance to prove his case. And incidentally to sell his book.
I always have to have a wry chuckle when I read a casual insult about the intellect of one of the US main party’s leaders. It may or may not be true. That’s a debatable matter, and one you won’t get me to talk about (I've a theory about intelligence and politics (not limited to any party) being mutally exclusive ;-)) ....But it certainly says the WRITER hasn’t showed great intellectual forethought, or thought at all into the effects of what they’re saying.
I've often heard it said that dissing editors is a bad move. It is. Doing the same - for no gain but to follow fashion in what has to be a minority herd - to your potential readers has to be worse.
posted by Dave Freer