As a writer, I strive to have a unique and entertaining voice. As part of my promotion strategy, I need to find opportunities to get my voice out there into places where people will have a chance to listen to it.
But is there a downside to being heard? That appears to depend greatly on what a person has to say.
This month's Romance Writers' Report had an article about why writers shouldn't silence themselves out of a fear of offending readers and publishers. The gist of it was making "avoid giving offence" the most important criteria ended up destroying the unique voice of the writer. It had several inspiring examples of people who are speaking out in an attempt to build tolerance and broaden diversity in the genre.
Last weekend's ORWA workshop on marketing touched on the same issue. Several of the authors mentioned how even a positive review or statement can end up backfiring and costing readers. If they disagree, then your opinion value goes down and it can end up causing them to decide not to look at your work.
It's made me do some thinking and now I'm going to use my voice to share my thoughts.
First of all, the obvious low-hanging fruit: don't engage in flame wars or angry dialogue with anyone online. If someone doesn't like your book, it hurts but going on the attack only makes things worse. It's immature and impossible to win. To quote WarGames: "The only winning move is not to play." If someone disagrees with a position that you feel passionately about, then it's a difficult choice. You may choose to engage with respect and caution but often, you're only ending up shouting at the wind. If you can't keep hurt or angry feelings out of your words, then walk away.
There are real effects to sharing personal opinions, especially about politically sensitive subjects. We've all seen actors lose screen-appeal after a publicly witnessed tirade (Michael Richards' rant against his hecklers or Mel Gibson's drunken commentary to the cops). This happens with writers, too. Anne Rice lost a number of fans when she went from Goth-fave to born-again.
And yet there is an effect from being silent as well. The RWR article made an excellent point: no one ever said they followed a particular author because he or she avoided giving offense at all times. It's hard to be both interesting and bland at the same time. In a media-saturated world, new authors have to maintain a consistent presence online.
Obviously there's a middle road to walk and each author must figure it out for themselves. Personally, I think it's important to weigh my motivations and qualifications before speaking on a particular issue. Do I feel I know enough about the situation to have an educated opinion? Is this something I care passionately about? Jumping on a popular trend bandwagon can be disastrous when the wagon falls apart and they almost inevitably do fall apart as more information comes in.
I still plan to post reviews and case studies of things I find admirable and enjoyable. If someone disagrees with my opinion, I'm okay with that. If they disagree so strongly that they would refuse to have anything further to do with me, then I guess I'll have to deal with that as it happens. But I'm aware of the potential pitfall and I think that will help.
In the end, I don't want to silence myself but I don't want to squawk simply to hear the sound of my own voice either. I can't be anything less or different than who I am and if I was inclined to sit quietly by the sidelines, I don't think I'd have the drive I do to tell stories.