Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Do Political Beliefs Impact Representation

[reader’s name deleted to protect identity] comment prompted me to check his web page, which turns out to be little more than political screed full of hatred and vile language.

We all know agents (like prospective employers) check out potential clients online. I don't mean to pick on [reader]. Rather, this is an earnest question:

When a prospective client's blog or website is full of political ranting (from the left or right), does this affect your decision to represent them, either negatively or positively?


Wouldn’t it be nice if I could say, “No, absolutely not,” but let’s be honest. It will or could, in the same way any political thoughts or rantings I might share on this blog would impact whether or not you might want me to represent you.

Now, certainly you’ll have people who might reject you because your beliefs are different from theirs. In fact, a few years ago I shared a story with you about an editor who rejected a project I was pitching because of his political beliefs. They didn’t align with those of the project, which, granted, was a current affairs/political project. But something I don’t want you to forget is that you might also have people who would not want to represent you because although they might agree with your opinions, they might not like the fact that you’re ranting. Your style of expressing those opinions might be a turn-off.

Ultimately, if the project is great enough, many agents will overlook “rantings”; that being said, ranting can say a lot more about you as a person than simply what your political beliefs are. How you present yourself might say to an agent that you’re difficult to work with, or would be a handful, and even a great project might not be worth that because, as an old boss of mine used to say, “life is too short.”

Jessica

38 comments:

Kathye Quick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathye Quick said...

Once on the web, always on the web. Used to be true about putting things in writing, too - before shredders.

Beliefs, political and otherwise, seem to change with the way life is treating you. SO I would have to agree, be careful - the whims of youth are often the regrets of maturity.

I know first hand. I should have NEVER dated that pro footbal player.

Eleven Eleven said...

Foaming at the mouth is always a dangerous thing, because it looks like you're trolling for someone to bite, and may not be too discerning about your victim. Ranters make me nervous.

On the other hand, people who believe the opposite of me without the angst don't pose any problems. We'll probably get along just fine.

Laurel said...

I doubt Mel Gibson (an extreme example, but a good one) would have an easy time finding an agent these days. The Dixie Chicks and Ted Nugent both cut way into their fan base with political ranting. If you are just starting out, I doubt you could get away with it at all. Whatever you think, 50% of the country disagrees with you. Add in the fact that you are unlikely to change anyone's opinion and it doesn't seem worth it.

Jill Thomas said...

I believe political or religious or any other type of ranting on a writer's blog speaks to their professionalism...or lack there of. If a writer feels the need to post their tirades, they should do it on a separate site.

Anonymous said...

"they might not like the fact that you’re ranting."

This is it.

I've avoided publishing professionals for this. I believe people deserve respect by virtue of being born human. An author or aspiring author deserves, additionally, professional courtesy. So, if they're ranting like this in general disrespect of other humans' opinions and culture, it makes me believe I will receive little respect either. I don't want to be published bad enough to put up with being treated like crap. And I don't have to. Most people are nice enough.

Anonymous said...

Heck, I've gone to certain author's websites and found them to be narccissistic (sp?) and self-congratulatory to the point where I've never had a desire to read any of their subsequent books.

So, yeah, I'd probably do the same if they were into political rants on the left OR right. Who wants THAT voice in your head while you're trying to enjoy a book? There's plenty of other authors to read.

Lynn M said...

There is a writer whom I respect a lot - gives great advice to aspiring writers, seems to be a very good person in general and is a talented writer. However, lately via some posts on her blog, I've discovered that we could not be more opposite as far as our political leanings. And I admit that it has affected how I feel about her. Part of this is because her beliefs are very extreme to one side of the political spectrum, and I don't react well to anyone who can't manage to at least try to understand that there's a middle ground. But I confess that I'm less likely to go to her website any more. I just don't need the increase in blood pressure.

Sharpie said...

I can name 2 blogging agents who posted their political leanings in the last election cycle and I was dumbfounded at what I perceived as a lack of judgment and intelligence in their logic and reasoning.

So I would never trust them to represent me professionally and won't submit to them.

Is this good or bad?

M Clement Hall said...

If it's merely a difference in beliefs, that should not preclude a business arrangement, which is the basis of author-writer contract. If one side of the duo rants, life is too harrying already to be bothered with it. Unless, as in the Mel Gibson suggestion, there's a great deal of money involved. Then the agent or her organization would have to decide how much they would swallow for how many dollars. And I don't doubt Mel can be as sweet as his name if he wishes.

Shakespeare said...

Expressing one's opinion is simply not the same as ranting. My composition students are taught analytical skills, not just given topics to argue, for I want them to think, not just open their mouths and argue a thesis.

I assume my agent and publisher will need to agree, at least in general, with the leanings of my works, but outside the literature itself, my views don't really pertain. Because my blog is viewed by vast groups of people, I need to remember it's not a place to air dirty laundry, insult or disrespect others, use profanity, or be unprofessional.

Interesting post. I agree with Eleven Eleven.

Elena Solodow said...

I come across hate on a lot of blogs.

"I hate this. I hate that."

It's hard to read, and it closes the author off from a lot of people. Yes, give your opinions - but don't rant about them. Rant easily turns into hate, and hatred runs deep.

TMTC said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now but this is my first comment/question. I completely understand the aversion to political "ranting," and share it. How about writers who have spent part of their careers as advocates writing about hot-button issues? A google search would quickly pull up plenty of political writing, but does it make a difference if it is professionally written, well-researched, and pursuasive without being "ranting"? I suppose each agent/editor/reader draws her/his own line but I do hope a distinction is made between uninformed political spewing and more thoughtful writing.

Kate Douglas said...

I would take this even further and mention the need to avoid political ranting on Facebook or strong stands on one side or the other of the political spectrum in any public forum. There are a couple of authors I've read for years who made some terribly opinionated comments over the past year and I find myself bypassing their books in the stores, now. It's almost a subliminal thing, because I didn't realize until I quit reading them exactly WHY I no longer felt interested.

We all have opinions, but there is a time and a place for everything.

Fawn Neun said...

On the flip side, I generally notice when an agent or editor expresses a tendency towards the left or right and it does affect whether or not I would want to submit work to them.

As an editor, I try not to let it affect what I accept. I've run into authors we've published who went on political facebook rants. Since a short story is not a commitment, I simply 'hid' them and moved on.

I think it's fine for authors, editors and agents to have solid and firm opinions, as long as they're willing to live with the consequences. If you're not willing to live with the consequences, then why bother speaking out at all.

Just do it well.

ryan field said...

Ranting and going off into ridiculous tirades is bad on all levels, including politics. When you're posting or writing anything on the web you have to be responsible.

But I do tend to think it would be rather difficult for an agent/author relationship to work well if they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Kristin Laughtin said...

That one's beliefs could turn an agent off makes sense, given how often you mention needing to be passionate about a project in order to take it on and try to sell it. I can't see that type of passion manifesting if the agent really disagrees with the author's viewpoints, especially if they're tied into the project and not just on a website. Of course, reading the website could also color the agent's opinion of the project, even if the project doesn't reflect the author's viewpoints on whatever issue is at stake. This happens to readers all the time; look at all the people who boycott Orson Scott Card because of his views on certain issues, even if those views aren't addressed in ENDER'S GAME. Agents can't be expected to be any different from readers in that respect.

It also demonstrates how the author is likely to conduct him/herself. Would any agent want to take on a belligerent client (especially if that client isn't an established money-maker)?

Susan S said...

A lot of people forget that "anonymity" on the Internet extends only as far as the next mouse click. If you've said it, someone can find it.

When I was about seven, and complaining because some girls at school had written a nasty note about me, my mother told me to remember that feeling as I grew up, and also to remember that I never had to put anything in writing, but once I did it was permanent and I could never take it back. Maybe not so true when it comes to schoolgirls' notes, but scarily prophetic in terms of Internet speech.

Amy B. said...

Hm, wish I could find the article from a few months ago about openly gay editors who edit the work of openly anti-gay political figures. It was an interesting quandary.

I agree with others that the line is generally drawn between rant vs. intelligent discussion. Spouting opinions into the air is different from giving a thorough defense of a situation you are passionate about. But authors, agents, and editors who do so have to be willing to take the consequences, which could be losing readers or writers.

I've yet to come across this exact situation, but I have certainly turned down manuscripts because of their political content. Some were clearly Not Right For Me (manifesto on the secret feminist conspiracy to castrate all men? nothx) but others are more subtle. There was one where I felt some of the secondary characters were racist stereotypes. Stereotypes, of course, are a marker of bad writing anyway, so the racist part just made it worse. But with that work, it wasn't until I talked with the author and they said they didn't see a problem with it and didn't want to change it that I decided we were clearly not a good match.

That is why I would be hesitant to take on anyone whose beliefs run strongly counter to the beliefs I hold dearest in my core. Likely that author's beliefs would eventually leak into one of their manuscripts and I might find myself in the position of trying to sell a book that I think doesn't belong on bookshelves.

Beliefs I feel that strongly about are few, though, and in the example above, the unwillingness to edit went hand-in-hand with racism so I didn't need to choose between professional and personal. But I would have chosen personal. I guess that's what any manuscript comes down to. "Other agents might want it, but I don't."

Sheila Cull said...

I have a feeling I'd like that old boss of yours Jessica.

Sheila Cull said...

I have a feeling I'd like that old boss of yours Jessica.

clindsay said...

An agent/client relationship has to be first and foremost a "relationship". Which means ideally the two of you are people who would get along well in real life.

For example, if I am a gay agent, and I see that you openly support politicians who are proponents of legislation that I feel is designed to infringe upon my civil rights as a gay human being (ie, DADT, California's Prop 8) , it's a foregone conclusion that I won't want to be your agent.

Everything you write on your blog is something that an agent can and will look at to determine whether or not he or she will be a good fit with you.

And most agents will do this before they ever make that phone call to you.

I am *not advocating* lying about who you are, what you believe in or censoring yourself online. But this is something to consider as you go forward in the querying process.

Steph Sinkhorn said...

I would assume being a d-bag in either direction wouldn't generally work in an aspiring author's favor *shifty eyes*.

clindsay said...

Amy B -

As an agent, editor or writer, you have the choice as to whether or not to work with someone whose political/religious/personal beliefs are very different than yours or are indeed offensive to you.

But there are a lot of publishing professionals who don't have this luxury. I know several very liberal/left-leaning publicists who were forced to work with notorious right-wing writers because they had no choice. They were total professionals about the whole thing but that did not mean they had to like it. I once had to work on Catholic book by a writer who complained to the head of the publishing company about having a "dyke" publicist. Note: I never mentioned my sexuality to this writer. He made assumptions based upon my dress and hairstyle. I was harassed by this man throughout the entirely of the time I worked on his book, yet I managed to keep my mouth shut and behave like a professional during the publicity campaign. I simply had no choice.

But several years later, I turned down a job at a publishing company where I knew that one of the authors whose campaigns I would be working on was a well-known right-wing television hate-monger. When HR asked why i was turning down the position, I told them the truth.

clindsay said...

(Sorry for all the typos in the previous comment!)

Delia said...

Honestly, I think if an agent/writer's site is professional, I shouldn't know their political beliefs. It has no bearing on the business unless you're publishing politically-based writing.

janflora said...

Excellent post. I agree that if it is a well-written and rational argument or statement, then it is acceptable. After all, we have every right to practice freedom of press and speech. I have not hidden my personal or political opinions in my blog and tweets, but I do try to avoid actual rants. I am, however, full of opinions, and I do believe in using the skills I have to promote ideas and causes I believe and support. I have wondered, as an aspiring kidlit/YA writer, if that would be a problem during the submission and querying process. However, I really would not want to work with someone who considered it a problem, so the filter-effect is probably a good thing :)
@clindsay: I admire your strength and conviction in standing up for your beliefs. And your patience for knowing when to choose professionalism over personal issues, though I think harassment of any kind is reason enough not to work with someone. It seems that is the key for balance- knowing when to speak up and when to stay silent :)

Micah Maddox said...

I have had the benefit of working with people (truly) representing every demographic from yellow dog democrat to republican, from athiest to Wiccan to conservative Christian, from every ethnicity, income level, age and orientation. Working relationships thrive on unique skillsets and personalities, which I why I value a complimentary personality over my own. Experience and belief informs perspective, and I know my own perfectly well.

Having said that, I do not write in an argument-based niche, so the moment personality, personal belief, negative opinions (via rant as opposed to misinterpretation), and tubthumps begin to overshadow the writing itself those differences, thereby inhibiting the actual goal of creating a successful novel and career, then it is no longer a productive partnership. Professionalism is the operative word. What or who is doing the talking...the writing, the writer, the agent? I suspect it is somewhat different with editors and agents, but I think the premise remains the same.

"Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Chicki said...

I experienced just the opposite situation after submitting a contest entry to an agent who was running an online contest. The first prize was representation with her agency.

I came across her ultra-right-wing, racist rantings on her private blog during the last presidential election. There was no way I could work with that kind of person, so I withdrew my entry.

Jeffe Kennedy said...

I fall in with the "it's how you present your ideas" feeling here. As Colleen points out, some of our beliefs are fundamental outgrowths of who we are and what we hold most dear. To pretend that doesn't matter or exist is silly. My mother, later in life, has married a man with totally different political beliefs than "the family" has always had. But he's so good as discussing his ideas that I love talking with him. During the last divisive Presidential campaign, I would ask him to explain the other camp's thinking. We have a terrific relationship that I truly enjoy.

wry wryter said...

Ms Trite says, he who speaks the loudest has a deaf audience.

He who whispers is heard by all.

She who is silent...someone put ducktape over her mouth.

wry wryter said...

I know...it's duct tape.

duh !

Mira said...

Well, I'm sorry if this is inflammatory, it's not meant to be. But the lack of ethical oversight into the entire publishing industry bothers me.

Refusing to work with someone based on their political views - isn't that illegal?

I realize it happens all the time, but people hide it. For a professional to come right out and way they won't work with someone who leans one way or another is discriminatory. Isn't it?

(Jessica - I'm not pointing fingers at you. I hear this all the time on the web, so I'm glad we can discuss it.)

If it's not, it should be. This goes both ways. For someone to complain about working with a 'dyke' editor is called harrassment, and is completely inappropriate. If the 'boss' complied with that request, the editor could have an actionable suit.

It seems to me the publishing industry can actively discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender, race, sexuality, religious affiliation and political views, amoung other distinctions, with absolutely no fear of consequences.

Isn't that wrong?

The Daring Novelist said...

I figure it this way: You can't isolate separate identities anymore. Anything you do will affect your overall "brand."

I don't think it does anyone any good to hide things or to be cowardly in anything you do. (For goodness sakes don't be bland!)

Perhaps if you were writing fiction that had a strong political bias, it might be reasonable for that to be a part of your overall web persona. But you have to think hard on anything you do online.

Micah Maddox said...

Bad editing strikes again.

"...which I why I value a complimentary personality over a likeminded one."

BookEnds, LLC said...

Mira:

(and anyone else who questions the legality of working with someone because of political beliefs)

let me point you toward Lewis Maltby's book Can They Do That? I think this will answer a lot of the questions you pose. http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781591842828,00.html?Can_They_Do_That?_Lewis_Maltby

Also keep in mind that, as others have said, an agent is taking you on to help build your career and create "you" the brand. If the agent feels that you are potentially compromising your brand the decision isn't necessarily a political one.

As for your statement, "It seems to me the publishing industry can actively discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender, race, sexuality, religious affiliation and political views, amoung other distinctions, with absolutely no fear of consequences."

I don't agree. I think accusing the publishing industry of racism, etc is incredibly different from "rantings" which is what this post is about.

--jhf

Mira said...

Jessica,

Thank you for the link! I'll check that book out, because I do wonder about the difference between an employee and a client, in terms of the legalities.

And I do think the spirit of your post is much more about how 'ranting' on the web can push people away - both prospective publishers or readers. However, you mentioned an editor who refused to consider a project because it doesn't align with his political beliefs. That's more to the point of my concern. Something that has bothered me for awhile, and the time just felt right to bring it up.

But first, I really hope you didn't feel I was accusing YOU of discrimination. That was not something I was saying in any way, shape or form.

My statement was more generic. I was also not saying the Industry IS disciminating, I was expressing a concern that it CAN. Or individuals within it can, specifically against writers. Employees have their protections, although they may not always feel safe enough to pursue them. But let's say, for example, an editor decides only to publish men - could they do that? Seems to me the subjectivity of the industry can allow for that type of discrimination to hide. In addition - and this is the part that really bothers me - there are no sanctions in place, and little recourse. The code of ethics for agents doesn't include discrimination, and I don't even see a code of ethics for publishers.

I hope this isn't coming across as hostile, because I absolutely don't feel that way. I'm just opening the door for a conversation about this. I also acknowledge that it's a bit of a can of worms, because of the subjectivity of the industry, but I think it's still a topic worth exploring.

Thanks for the opportunity to do that.

Mira said...

Oh, I want to add one thing.

The impact the Publishing Industry has on the world is HUGE. It's a small industry, so that fact can be hidden, but what books are published, and what books are not published, has a powerful influence over the world. In addition, the publishing industry feeds other industries, like movies and television, which have an even more powerful impact.

Ethical concerns regarding the publishing industry are a really big deal. Even though, it may seem, at first glance, that they aren't - They are.