I’ve noticed what seems to be a growing trend among some writers in social media – a trend that concerns me somewhat. There are a lot of folks, writers I otherwise greatly respect and admire, who appear to forget the tenets of professionalism when given the podium of a blog, Tweet, or podcast from which to expound their views. They forget that the vehicle by which they have acquired their audience is a public forum, and that the public that constitutes that forum is made up of individuals with differing points of view – and that alienating those individuals whose points of view differ from theirs may limit their success as an author.
So what is professionalism? Well, one definition is: the standing, practice, or methods of a professional, as distinguished from an amateur. Mirriam-Webster says it is “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person”. A secondary definition is “the following of a profession (as athletics) for gain or livelihood”.
Those definitions are all fine and dandy, but I don’t think they really cover the full extent of what it means to act professionally. They don’t cover the basics like maintaining a good work ethic, educating yourself about the various aspects of your craft, or the one I’m touting right now; treating others with the same respect that you want shown to you.
Recently, I’ve seen or heard some up and coming writers use their burgeoning platforms to push their opinions on their audiences – opinions that are by their very nature, polarizing. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people posting about how such and such religion is nothing more than superstitious drivel, or this president is an idiot, or that governor has driven his state to ruin. These writers are intelligent people. As I said earlier, they are people who I respect and admire. But when discussing issues like politics or religion, it’s as if they forget that other intelligent people out there may have differing opinions. They either forget, don’t care, or take the calculated risk that alienating these people won’t affect them.
And maybe it won’t. Let’s face it, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Danielle Steel? All of them have reached a point in their careers that allows them a certain freedom when it comes to alienating a portion of their audiences. They are big enough names that they can create an echo chamber, fill it with only those people who agree with them, and they will still have a huge audience from which to draw. I don’t know that they would want to, but they are big enough that they could if they so desired.
But the new writer – the small press, indie, or self published author who is trying to make this dream of writing for a living into reality? I don’t see how they can afford to dismiss the fact that their opinions on what are, by their very nature, controversial topics will clash with the opinions of members of their audience who may otherwise enjoy their work. Come on, if everyone agreed, then the topics wouldn’t be controversial!
I could spend all kinds of time trying to convince people that they should treat one another with mutual respect. I could cry from the rafters that we shouldn’t use public forums to attempt to convert others to our points of view – that one shouldn’t ridicule or berate those with opinions that differ from ours, or treat them with derision or condescension. But I really shouldn’t need to point out the obvious, should I? And the irony of my using my little blog here to attempt to force my opinion on others is not lost on me.
So how about this? Viewing things from a purely financial perspective, think of it like this – if the profession to which you aspire depends on convincing as many people as possible to give up some of their hard-earned money to read what you have to say, why would you want to alienate any portion of that potential audience for a reason that has absolutely nothing to do with your end product? It’s a fairly safe bet that pushing your political views on others in a nation that has come very close to a fifty-fifty vote in the last few national elections will alienate you from approximately fifty percent of your potential audience. Pushing your religious views on a populace as polarized on the subject as we are, will likely alienate you from even more. It’s unlikely that it would cost you all of those potential fans, but there will be some percentage that will be so turned off that they will take their paychecks elsewhere.
I have recently “unfollowed” a couple of writers whose work I otherwise enjoyed. I followed their musings online in order to see if I could gain some insight into how their minds work and possibly glean some knowledge regarding what makes them good writers. What I got was constant political diatribes that had nothing to do with their writing. Not only have I unfollowed them, but now whenever I see one of their books, I have to think about whether or not I want to contribute to the financial success of someone with whom I so profoundly disagree, when they are trying to convert others to their point of view. After all, there are a lot of good authors to choose from these days. Marketing, promoting, branding, publicizing – all are done in large part via social media now, and the face you present to the internet (to your public) is how you are perceived as an author.
It is how you are perceived as a professional.
So I will make it a point to NOT post about my religious views or my politics. Nor will I engage in debates, arguments, or discussions on those topics. And I will most definitely not ridicule, berate, or deride any individual for their beliefs. I will attempt to stick to my personal definition of professionalism. And while I can’t adequately put that definition to words, “I know it when I see it.”