Welcome to our monthly Ask BHP series. Here’s a fun question: “As a marketing person, do you ever advise authors on what not to post from their author pages on Facebook, especially on controversial issues? I’d be interested to hear what you think is wise for authors to say online.”
I often see agents writing blog posts on this topic, since they’re very focused on the authors’ careers and the choices they make that can alienate readers, but that’s not really my role. Occasionally one of our authors will run something by me and say, “What do you think about this?” And at that point, I give my honest opinion. But otherwise, I don’t like to meddle in what our authors are doing, because it’s up to them to use their own best judgment.
That said, here’s a good principle for Christian authors when considering what to say on the Internet (or, hey, Christians in general).
It comes from a Bethany House potluck.
We recently had a chili cookoff, complete with miniature testing cups, fancy voting scorecards with different categories, and fabulous prizes. I’m not much of a chili person, so I decided not to enter and made bread instead. (Don’t overestimate me as a chef—bread is one of the few things I can consistently make well.)
As I sat there trying my fourth sample of chili, I had a revelation: there are two ways to win a chili cookoff.
The first is to be the best at making chili among several tough competitors.
The second is to be the only one who brought homemade yeast rolls.
If you aren’t seeing parallels between that and social media posts, here’s how it relates: there are two ways to win the Internet.
The first is to be the best at the contest everyone else is having—shouting the loudest, posting the most articles, responding to comments that disagree with you with the best arguments and shutting everyone else down.
The second is to be the only one entering a different contest.
Now, what that “different contest” is might vary from person to person, author to author. Some examples:
- Having the wisdom to refrain from discussing controversial issues in public forums where thoughtful dialogue is usually tricky.
- Raising awareness about an issue they are passionate about, but with care and compassion.
- Letting their books speak for themselves by wrestling with difficult issues there.
- Engaging thoughtfully and graciously with difficult topics because that’s who they are as authors. (Especially true with nonfiction authors.)
It can be tempting to join the masses in their rants and rages. But if we’re still going with the chili analogy, things can get really spicy really fast, and everyone gets tired of the same old dish and then walks away with heartburn.
If that general answer wasn’t helpful, I’d say that most of the time, it’s not necessary for an author, especially a fiction author, to address controversial subjects on social media that could alienate readers…but I don’t want to say there’s never a time for it.
Here are some sliding scales I use for my own personal social media posts. If you’re pretty far to the left on most of these scales, there’s a better chance sharing is okay. If you’re in the middle or more to the right on these scales…probably best not to say anything at all.
I’m speaking about a personal experience I had. –> I’m speaking about an issue I have not been personally involved with.
In the past, others have appreciated my tact and compassion. –> I have sometimes been misunderstood or started arguments.
This relates directly to my writing. –> This has nothing to do with my writing.
I have thought and prayed about saying something about this. –> I am reacting in the moment.
I love someone who disagrees with me on this. –> No one close to me disagrees with me on this.
I need to say something because I am called to do so. –> I want to say something because it feels good to do so.
The bottom line? Loving others is more important than being proved right. Loving others is also more important than avoiding all potential conflict because of fear. And wisdom is prayerfully considering what response is most loving.