Dear Author, Here’s What You Need To Do To Please Us…
Posted on March 12, 2015
Two author friends received an e-mail this past week from a reader who explained to them that their sales were down because their latest novels dealt with ‘depressing’ subjects. One story referenced WWII and the other having to do with health care. Obviously, the polite thing we’re taught to do is, if we respond at all, thank the reader for their feedback and say we hope they’ll like the next one better. That’s the PC way of us saying “We’ll think about it.” Ironically, the RWA (Romance Writers of America) took some heat this week for suggesting how authors should act in order to please readers and continue to sell books, too. I know, one was about writing and the other about interaction, so are they connected? Actually, yes.
Interaction between readers and authors is a privilege for us (speaking as an author). Obviously, we like to know what works and we don’t always get it right. We don’t set out to purposely get it wrong, but we do experiment. I do. The authors I interact with regularly do. We can’t write the same thing over and over again because it would be rather dull for us and, I’m assuming, our readers. And as we continue on through life and have experiences, those experiences show up in our work. It keeps things fresh (hopefully) and allows us to grow, too. So, yes, we’re not (as a friend puts it) going to keep writing about unicorns pooping rainbows.
This means we have opinions about things in life that eventually show up in our work. These opinions, silly little things that they are, also show up in our daily life and social media interaction. See where I’m tying it in here? A recent memo or letter or e-mail or some such thing from the RWA attempted to act as Miss Manners for their members:
“Number Three: An Extreme Viewpoint on Social Issues. There are a million polarizing topics. Let’s name some: religion. Gay marriage. The ruling in Ferguson, Missouri. Politics. Yes, an author’s social media account should tell others who you are, but you are also in the business of selling books. Leading a somewhat-public life means that while you may have your opinions, you cannot afford to let those opinions turn your readership away. Therefore, should a polarizing issue arise, take a more neutral approach, express sadness or appreciation that the topic is being publically addressed.”
Wow. We have a word for that in the author world; condescending. Of course, this is from the same organization who I’m told, several years ago, sent postcards out asking members to define romance as “one man, one woman.” This is also the same organization where a chapter received backlash for holding a romance writing contest (at least I think it was a contest) where one of the rules was “no same-sex entries”. Why? Because it made some members of that particular chapter “uncomfortable”.
RWA did respond and evolve, so I have no intention of complaining about that. It usually takes someone there doing something pretty stupid before it happens, though. But, seriously, take a neutral stance on a polarizing issue? Gay marriage… “I’m so sorry equal rights are being talked about publically. I appreciate other people are talking about it, though, since I’m not.” Politics… “I’m so sorry it’s making news members of one of our political parties are eroding women’s rights and trying to pass through bills allowing discrimination. I appreciate other people are talking about it, though, since I’m not. And since I haven’t just offended you, please buy my book.”
Two words come to mind in response to this and they aren’t polite.
We, readers and authors, are the sum of our experiences. Maybe whoever wrote my two author friends had some bad experiences related to parts of the books he/she read. Health issues have killed two important people in my life in the last two years, so that may color what I might want to read, but it doesn’t mean someone else won’t want to read it. Maybe their e-mail was the beginning of a much deeper conversation that had nothing to do with the actual books. Maybe. I’d certainly be more open to engaging that reader than doing things the Romance Writers of America way.
Oh, let me see if I can do it… “Dear RWA, I’m sorry you don’t feel members should have what you feel are ‘extreme viewpoints’ on social issues. After all, I, myself, am gay, married, and politicians and religious organizations are attempting to erode my rights and discriminate against me. What a shame this is being addressed in the news. Now, I’m not a member, but if I was, I’d say I appreciate you looking after what’s going to help my book sales, but kindly, affectionately, fuck off.”
Nope. Couldn’t do it their way. Could you?
Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the recently re-published novella Falling Awake, its sequel, Falling Awake II: Revenant and Falling Awake III: Requiem.
23 Responses to “Dear Author, Here’s What You Need To Do To Please Us…”
Diana Castilleja says:
March 12, 2015 at 8:47 am
I’m not brashly vocal, but I did shake my head and move on after seeing their little “suggestion” get passed around. I will speak up, and I have. Have I lost readers? Probably, possibly, maybe. I’d like to think that people who stand up for the right of humanity are respected, not shunned. Now people who act conceited and narcissistic, they might lose my dollars, but people with staunch strengths and beliefs that I can understand and even better, support: I’m there with you.
Rick R. Reed says:
March 12, 2015 at 8:58 am
Seriously? This is part of the reason I no longer belong to RWA–I could never see the benefit and I see it even less with this current revelation. I am who I am, as a writer and a person and I am transparent about that. I have opinions, but my only censor is not sales but compassion and kindness.
Shae Connor says:
March 12, 2015 at 9:49 am
I do want to note that the message above is not any kind of official RWA policy. It was a paragraph in an article in the RWA’s monthly publication—which, yes, means, RWA has responsibility for the content, but that’s a far cry from being an organizational statement.
Having said that, I know for a fact that RWA is now getting bombarded with responses from its membership. The entire idea that romance authors should sit down and shut up about “controversial” topics is ridiculous. Most of us deal daily with the “controversial” subject of women’s issues, considering most of us are women. Many also deal with the “controversial” subject of race, because many are people of color. Many deal with the “controversial” topic of same-sex relationships because they’re in same-sex relationships. And so on, and so on.
But even if none of the above apply, anyone who thinks it’s their place to tell us to sit down and shut up about subjects that matter to us should sit down and shut up.
March 12, 2015 at 2:15 pm
Thank you for the clarifications, Shae. =) I only saw the screenshots of the section I quoted.
Dorien Grey says:
March 12, 2015 at 9:56 am
Well said, as always. So, with the RWA guidelines, combined with other guidelines of other publishers, I am herewith sending the complete manuscript of my next book below:
Katherine Trick says:
March 12, 2015 at 4:32 pm
Ha, Ha! Short, sweet and to the point. I’d rather read something with substance, an opinion, and intelligence any day over the dribble they seem to be asking for. That’s why I read your writing Dorien, as well as Kris and many other authors. That “Fifty Shades of grey” crap might please some people, but I couldn’t drag myself beyond a few chapters because it had nothing important to say. At least your books do.
Steve Turnbull says:
March 12, 2015 at 10:03 am
Yeah, I heard about that. Bollocks is the word that came to mind.
I’ve just finished a romance novel – it’s not quite as “polarizing” as some things I’ve dealt with like same sex relationships, non-consensual bondage, slavery, racism, sexism, insanity (you know, easy stuff) – but it contains a lot of injury, disease and death. Doesn’t have an HEA or even a HFN. It’s not pretty but it is romance.
Maybe people won’t like it but that’s for me to find out.
Ally Blue says:
March 12, 2015 at 10:55 am
What Shae said.
For my own part, Kris, you know me. I don’t shut up about anything, especially not issues I care about 🙂
Joelle Casteel says:
March 12, 2015 at 11:05 am
And this is part of why I’m not with RWA- I’m not good at controlling my opinions on “extreme subjects”- like my opinion that non-hetero, non-mainstream sexualities and gender expressions belong in erotic fiction and people who aren’t straight and in the gender binary should be able to see themselves in romance novels too.
Patricia Logan says:
March 12, 2015 at 11:35 am
I can’t tell you how many times the subject of gay marriage has come up in my books or, for that matter, how I feel about it. My readers know damn well I support it and I have married many of my guys to other guys in my books. When I was a budding author 5 years ago and deciding whether to spend my limited funds to join RWA, this subject came up shortly afterward. Needless to say, I decided the organization wasn’t for me… not if they were so narrow-minded that they couldn’t accept MM books as “acceptable romance”. I was frankly stunned.
As the author who wrote about WWII, one of my characters in my latest story was liberated from Auschwitz and that story plays out in the book as a strong basis for the story. I suppose some readers may think that the confiscation of Europe’s treasures by Nazis during the war, or the internment and systematic extermination of 11 million people during the war has no place in a romantic story line. As for me, I have the same reaction you do. A powerful back story moves a book to a dramatic conclusion and if it is handled with grace, it belongs in the story. No one can tell me what to write except my readers and they do, believe me.
As you say, MM books should cover relevant topics, regardless of what they are and if they don’t, aren’t we then by definition, writing irrelevant dribble? I, for one, find boy meets boy, falls in love, and lives happily ever after, to be a great story line… but that book would be complete with those ten words now wouldn’t it? Oh… yeah, I forgot two more words… The End
Diana Castilleja says:
March 12, 2015 at 11:40 am
Love your comment Dorien. 😉 And all much better said than my own. Hear Hear!
G. A. Hauser says:
March 12, 2015 at 12:34 pm
A writer needs to express themselves and be true to themselves- if they love and are passionate about the work. If we are in a dark place, then sometimes it spills over into our writing – that’s not too complicated to understand. And as for us not expressing strong opinions in our work about what we think is gross injustice, well, my middle finger has just sprung up too, Kris. We advocate love- same sex marriage- and some political views demanding equality – You don’t like it? Read something else. Thanks for the blog, Kris. Spot on.
Patricia Hebel says:
March 12, 2015 at 1:20 pm
Oh for the love of… (insert what you will)! Can’t they leave writers alone? Don’t they understand that a writer gives a bit of themselves away in their work? With someone who is writing on subject considered not P.C., this can be agonizing. Never for one minute, Kris, do you stop being who, and what you are! PROMISE ME. For anyone! You bring humor into the world, as well as enlightenment. Remember, when Van Gogh was painting, everyone was ripping on him. It was after his death when the public finally “discovered” what a great painter he was. I think you are great NOW, and to hell with anyone who doesn’t agree!
Kiernan Kelly says:
March 12, 2015 at 1:30 pm
“Close your eyes and think of England.”
I can hear the echoes of the Victorian Era in this latest kerfluffle. Sit down, shut up, don’t have an opinion because if you do, you will be punished.
We have all, at one time or another, felt the need to step up on our soapbox and have our say about one subject or another. That doesn’t make us bad writers – it makes us human. As Rick Reed said earlier, it’s all about compassion and kindness, and remembering there are always two sides to a story. That done, there’s no reason why an author shouldn’t voice their opinion.
Of course, that’s only my opinion.
Oops…did I speak out of turn? Mea Culpa.
Angel Martinez says:
March 12, 2015 at 1:33 pm
I write social issues into my work. Why in the world would I shut up about them as a person? I will not be neutered to please the world. I will not be declawed and told to sleep in a corner like a good aging cat. I have a conscience, and I will speak. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Denise Dechene says:
March 12, 2015 at 2:00 pm
I’m a reader. The same social issues they are saying you shouldn’t write about are the ones that may help someone understand those issues. Until I started reading MM romance I had no idea of the plight of the LGBT youth. The authors may bring the issue to the readers attention. We read the information and if it’s something we are unfamiliar with do further research to understand.
mary gresham says:
March 12, 2015 at 5:45 pm
I agree Denise, I became acquainted with LGBT youth through mm books. Life isn’t a bed of roses and everyone knows this. Sure, there are some who only want to read about the good stuff, the happy stuff and there are more than enough books out there to accommodate them. But there are those of us who like to read about real life, even if it is fiction.
To those who sent the emails and anyone else who feels the same way, I’m just going to say this, like Kris said, fuck off. Find another author who wants to cater only to you, who writes only for you and no one else. Somehow, I don’t think it will be very easy to find that one author. Leave the authors alone, let them write what they want. Sure, they write for the fans, but mostly they write for themselves and share with us the wonderful stories that are in their heads and hearts, in their wonderful imaginations. Don’t place demands on them, ask nicely, make suggestions and they might eventually write what you want them to.
Remember, they don’t have to share with us, they could keep it all to themselves and that would not be good. Imagine a world without books, can you? I can’t, I would never want to. That’s why I’m appreciative to all authors, no matter what they write because a world without books would be so damn boring.
March 12, 2015 at 9:34 pm
Just a quick clarification, Mary. I wasn’t the least bit upset about the reader who contacted my two author friends. I was genuinely irked with the RWA and their suggestion that we should not take sides on polarizing issues that many of us have very strong opinions about. =) That’s who I told to go copulate themselves.
Sue Brown says:
March 12, 2015 at 2:29 pm
I write social issues in all my books. My sales are down. Do I change what I write to suit the market, or write what I what and hope the market grows up?
I respect my readers enough not to compromise and hope that one day I won’t be having this discussion.
I haven’t heard about the RWA thing but feck it, I’ll talk about what I want.
Katherine Trick says:
March 12, 2015 at 4:36 pm
Kris, keep writing what you write and readers will read. If people want drivvel, they can turn to that “Fifty Shades” crap. I, personally, like to read something that makes me think and feel rather than boring sleep inducing junk.
Ally Blue says:
March 12, 2015 at 4:49 pm
Sue, my sales are down too, but I don’t think it’s the “issues” in our books. I’ve always written about gay men, for the last ten years, and my sales five or six years ago were two or three times what they are now. And I’ve always been vocal — excessively so, some would say — about the issues I care about, from GLBTQ rights, to women’s rights, to environmental issues, and on and on and on.
I’m convinced sales aren’t affected all that much by our politics. Even if they were, what’s more important here??? I mean, honestly. The real-life rights of real human beings are more important than sales of my books. That’s the bottom line, regardless. TBH I don’t think any of us are making that choice. But if I had to, that’s the choice I’d make, because it’s the right one. I couldn’t live with myself if I choice money over people’s right to equality and happiness.
Ally Blue says:
March 12, 2015 at 4:49 pm
If I CHOSE, even. Doh.
Jessie G. says:
March 13, 2015 at 11:05 am
I do belong to RWA and I only joined because they (now) have an LGBT chapter, Rainbow Romance Writers. It’s online, not bound by geography or any other restriction and is dedicated to promoting LGBT fiction.
That said, I’m a notorious rule breaker. If someone tells me “no”, my natural instinct is to buck the authority. When I became serious about publishing. I signed up for a lot of courses—writing, the business of writing, self promotion, etc. The sentiment of maintaining neutral ground on all subjects isn’t new or exclusive to any one writing organization. It’s one of many “teachings” I chose to ignore. I’m a person first, a writer second, and I think my readers would rather see me as a real person, than someone reading the noncommittal party line.