Friday, June 12, 2020

Authors & Publishers Need To Watch Their Social Media: The Free Speech Battle

Think of free speech as an action, not a right - ABC Life

Social media is the fastest way to start a global movement, become a star, or share an inspirational message. It is also the quickest way to destroy a career, kill a book, or silence a writer.

Most authors do not use social media well. They don’t post often enough, their posts are not interesting or brand-consistent, they fail to engage others, and they don’t spend enough time to connect with more people and get more followers. But they make things hard on themselves when they weigh in on things they really should avoid discussing publicly.

Does this mean one can't speak their mind or stand up for what they like or feel is right? Well, in the world we live in today, we are forced to make a choice: promote our books or our values. Often, they will conflict with one another.

Authors need to use their social media to establish who they are as authors. But they mess things up when they let their personal lives and political/religious views get mixed in with their professional messaging. Even when authors have two accounts – one as an author, and one for their personal life – there is only one world and it is quite possible that the two seemingly separate lives collide. 

So authors have to choose: Do they risk their careers as writers by saying whatever they want on controversial issues that don’t relate to their writings? Or do they publicly live online, warts and all, where their hobbies, friendships, experiences, views, and comments are shared with everyone, allowing their fans and media to see what they really think about on sensitive matters, lifestyles, and people?

The problem is there really is no such thing as free speech, not the kind that comes without paying a price. Sure, you won’t go to jail for saying your boss sucks, but you may lose your job if you state this publicly. You may not do prison time for saying you support or don't support #MeToo or #BlackLivesMatter, but you may not get the news media to cover your books favorably once they easily learn of your views on things they may hold dearly or oppose.

So what does it mean? It means the PC police are becoming more powerful. It means people are more sensitive than ever before. It means that we could throw the baby out with the bathwater as we run roughshod over free speech. We see it on campuses. We see it in our media. We see it in Corporate America. Suddenly, Gone With The Wind is shelved. Cops is cancelled. Live PD is gone. Looney Tunes sanitizes its cartoons. The Help is attacked too. If the arts are silenced, what are we left with?

If artists are under fire for their work or their views, what is to happen to society?

What it means is you have these choices:

  • Say what you want, anywhere, anytime, and be prepared to pay a price and possibly lose at least half of your potential readers.
  • Say nothing, keep all of your potential readers, but know you betray the values you live by.
  • Speak your mind and hope you win over more people than you lose.
  • Try to speak up sometimes or express your personal views of things and hope people notice but don't alienate you -- and hope that those who notice, support or accept what you said.

That doesn't mean some things don't need to be changed or lobbied for. Renaming a military building that is named after a racist, slave-owning general who lost a war that tried to divide America sounds good to me. NASCAR banning the Confederate Flag at its events -- good. But when you want to wipe clean any evidence that books, shows, movies, and artworks exist, some of them very popular, I draw the line. We don't need thought police. We could encourage the creation of new art and books and movies that feature heroes,, messages, or events that need attention -- but it doesn't mean it comes at the price of not allowing people access to other books and art. It is up to people to choose what they want to read, listen to or watch -- but hopefully they will do so wisely and from an informed vantage point.

Message to all authors: When in doubt, don't say anything that could injure your brand. Don't let your personal life interfere with your professional one. That is hard line to draw, because we would like to think that who we are and what we stand for is greater than our jobs or books. But unfortunately we live in a time where we can say anything -- and anything can come back to bite you in the butt. All of this opportunity to communicate, yet less freedom to do so.

Authors, like anyone else, should feel free to speak their mind. But we live in extremely sensitive times. Well-intentioned statements get taken the wrong way. A seemingly harmless joke can come off as being insensitive, rude, mean or hurtful. A pledge to help one group or stand up for one issue could mean you offended another group or conflicted on another issue. These are tough waters that we wade through.

Honesty is supposed to be the best policy, but some people can't handle or understand the truth. Everyone seemingly has an agenda, and we are too quick to attack one another over perceived slights.

The Internet is not necessarily the best way to convey emotions, insights, or experiences. Things get misunderstood or things are said without fully thinking through. There is no room for error online.

As a book marketer, my advice is play it safe. If you want your book to succeed, you may have to filter or silence parts of yourself. Sad, but true. But if your author brand is to be outspoken and you want to link to your personal with your writings, then by all means, plunge right in.

As a writer, I support free speech but in today's quick-to-judge retaliatory environment, there is a big price to pay for speaking about anything.

As an American, I appreciate a productive dialogue that allows for all views to be heard, respected, and shared peacefully, but in today's America we don't have enough debate and consensus on issues. We have two extremes on anything and they each talk at each other, not to each other. The world is many shades of grey, rarely black and white.

So where do we go from here?

If you don't speak up for what you think is right, we all lose.

If we can't speak about something for fear of retribution, we all lose.

If we can't respect one another and show self-discipline in what we say, exhibit tolerance for others, and an ability to be open to new ideas, we all lose.

If you do say something that another disagrees with, is there room for co-existence? Is there room for free speech for all, all of the time, anywhere, any time?

America is divided on so many issues, and even when we come together to agree that there is a problem, we disagree on the solution. The spectrum on any issue runs long and deep, with extremism dictating the terms. No middle ground, no room to negotiate. Everything is us vs. them, and it alienates everyone.

I don't know what the solution is, but I do see that authors and the arts are under fire. Whether it is the content of the art-book-show-movie, or the personal views of our artists, everything is under a microscope that burns what it seeks to examine.


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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2020. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo 

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