Help Selling More Books – To Get Political or Not To Get Political?

Well, I guess we were going to have this conversation eventually, and now seems like as good a time as any. Last weekend, a bunch of Nazi dickbags staged a march in Charlottesville, Virginia, and one of the aforementioned dickbags murdered a woman with his car. Said dickbag was arrested, but the rest of the Nazi dickbags were not, and many online Nazi dickbags started trying to spin the whole mess to make it look like the dickbag driver was actually a liberal protestor. He wasn’t. There are photos of him in the line of Nazi dickbags earlier in the day.

This may come as a surprise to you, but I am not a fan of Nazi dickbags, or dickbags in general, but I particularly dislike Nazi ones.

As a writer of fiction, and someone with a (very limited) public profile, I am sometimes asked about taking public political stances and whether I think that’s something that writers and celebrities should do. Sometimes this is accompanied by the person asking the question continuing on by saying that they don’t care about Chuck Wendig’s or Orson Scott Card’s or Larry Correia’s or John Scalzi’s politics, they just want them to shut up and make with the entertaining. These folks also often rage about Colin Kaepernick not standing for the national anthem or Susan Sarandon speaking out against the death penalty.

If these people are folks I actually know, and we’re speaking face to face, I call them idiots to their face and tell them that since my art is part of me, and my beliefs are part of me, that I can no more divorce my beliefs from my work than I can painlessly amputate my own nutsack, and am about as likely to do so. If this encounter happens on the internet, I may not call them an idiot, because believe it or not, I’m more polite when people don’t have the opportunity to punch me in the face, not less.

I’m also six feet tall, weigh over three hundred pounds, and look like a day player onĀ Sons of Anarchy. I’m not any flavor of badass, but I kinda look like one. So I don’t often fear people just randomly punching me.

But the fact of the matter is that I am a political person. I’m about as liberal as the day is long, and I’m pretty damn sure that shines through in a lot of my work. There are certain things I’ve written because there were issues of social and societal weight that I want to explore, and my own exploration of race, sexual identity, gender equality, and other issues comes through in my work. Yeah, I use my writing to work through some shit. I hope I take readers along for an enjoyable ride, but sometimes your punching in the face may be accompanied by a side of social justice. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it. It’s cool. There are way more people in the world who don’t read my books than there are people who do.

There are probably more people in the world who have never even heard of my books than there are who have.

Wow, now I feel fucking insignificant. Excuse me while I go look at my Goodreads reviews to re-inflate my ego.

Time passes.

Well, that was a stupid goddamn idea. Note to self – if you want someone to blow sunshine up your ass about your writing, call your sister. No, she doesn’t read your books, but she loves you, and will tell you they’re great anyway.

But back to politics, or when to be political at least. I don’t advocate that everyone drop a bunch of heavy-handed preachy-preachy bits in every book they write. I actually had a conversation with a writer friend not long ago where I told them that too much of their religious views were seeping into the work and undermining the narrative, and they needed to cut that shit out. I’ve done the same thing with my work, telling editors “look at this section and tell me if I need to pull it back.” But to all the people who say “entertainers should entertain and not have political opinions,” I say, “go fuck yourself.”

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.

I’m not going to wear a “Fuck Trump and the horse he rode in on” shirt to Dragon Con. I don’t own one, and wouldn’t wear it in public if I did. That gains me nothing. It’s attacking, and by extension it’s attacking everyone who voted for our sitting President. That gets me nothing. I have in the past, and if I ever lose more weight, will happily again wear t-shirts promoting equality and LGBTQ rights. That promotes something positive, rather than attacking someone. I’ve heard many times that people in authority should never punch down, meaning that I shouldn’t slag on new writers or writers with less success than me, and Jim Butcher shouldn’t pick on me so much (Jim has never been anything but nice to me, he’s a very kind dude in every encounter we’ve had). I actually amend this to tell people not to punch up either. Taking potshots from the bottom of the ladder at someone higher up than you only makes you look small, bitter, jealous, and petty. None of these are traits that will attract readers.

So it’s better not to punch at all. Except Nazis. What’s good for Captain America is good for everyone.

So I try not to attack individuals for political stances. I try not to let the politics or the issues overwhelm the narrative, because that is our job – to tell a good story, and any teachable moments that come along with that are a bonus. And I try not to let my political beliefs color the way I interact with fans, which I hope is always polite (or at least funny) and approachable.

And if people want to avoid my politics entirely, they can follow my Facebook Author Page, join the Facebook Group, or follow the Falstaff Books website, which have appearance and publication updates, but nothing about my personal life. This blog is my personal blog and predates my professional writing career. My Facebook page is my personal page, and it’s wide-ass open. I approve most friend requests that aren’t obvious fake profiles, but you better understand that you’re getting unexpurgated Hartness on there. The Facebook group is a 100% no-politics zone, and anything political there gets pulled immediately. So there are places that I don’t mention politics, but I don’t try to keep it out of my work, and I sure as shit don’t keep it out of this blog or my personal FB page. that’s my personal balancing act, which I think gives people that liken my words but don’t agree with me politically (some of them are my real-life friends, even!) an opportunity to keep track of my work without getting constantly reminded that we are polar opposites on many things.

So that’s what I do. Does it work? I don’t know. But I have to write the stories I want to tell, and I’m not going to hide my beliefs. So that’s the compromise I can figure out.

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