And if you're willing to put in the time, the energy, and the creativity to understand and circumvent the issues in the industry, neither of them will hold you back.
|So take a deep breath, and screw your heads back on for a second.|
People Don't Owe You Anything
The idea of cancel culture, as I understand it, is that when a public figure says or does something that people find problematic, hurtful, or otherwise objectionable, people who disagree with what was said or done withdraw their support for that person. Like, for example, when an author of a beloved young adult series keeps making anti-trans comments, so her fan base makes it a point to stop buying her merch, cease reading her books, and to move their support to other authors who write stories they like, but who don't come with baggage.
In other words, "cancel culture" is just the free market at work. You need to keep the mob happy if you expect them to cheer for you.
|Win the crowd, win your royalties.|
Another thing that I think gets lost in the conversation about this is that you are never going to be able to please everyone. Sooner or later if you have any success at all, you're going to end up disappointing or angering someone. What you need to do is stop and ask if you're doing it for the right reasons, and to make your thoughts and positions clear for those deciding whether or not to support you.
Respond Thoughtfully For Best Results
As an example, let's go back to Rowling's work. She was often criticized for her depictions of strict gender roles, relatively few characters who weren't white (even fewer of whom were important in the series), and almost no female characters with agency. Those criticisms didn't stop her from selling millions of books, nor did it stop her fan base from growing, but there is also no denying it's a blind spot in her series.
How you respond to that criticism can make a big difference in how you're perceived.
Once that is pointed out, you could say something like, "That is a valid point, and one that did not occur to me while writing this series. Now that I have fleshed out the world somewhat, and I have been made aware that this is something my readers care about, I will keep it in mind going forward." That might be something of a milk toast answer with no specifics attached to it, but if you back it up by writing a more diverse cast in the future, you'll prove to your fans that you're listening to them, and that you are trying to make them happy.
What you don't do is argue that it's your book, and you can write it however you want. You don't angrily tell your readers to go read someone else if they don't like your book. And most importantly, you don't belittle them for the willingness to criticize. None of that helps you. Listen to the criticism, determine if it is viable, and then once you've thought about it consider if you need to take action on it.
If the criticism is valid, address it. If there's a way you can keep your audience happy without sacrificing your artistic vision, then it can only help you to do it. You're not obligated to bend with the whims of the market, but you gain nothing by pissing off the people who buy your books, and pay your bills.
And if you don't want your income to be impacted by your political views, then keep them to yourself. Because we didn't "cancel" Orson Scott Card just because he said some things we disagree with. Readers stopped supporting him because his platform allowed him to undermine gay rights, and he actively gave money to organizations that tried to remove protections for LGBTQ+ people. Huge swaths of people refuse to eat at Chick-Fil-A for the same reason. They don't want to be party to that.
But How Are You Supposed To Learn?
I've seen this criticism several times. That if you just yank away your support, how are creators supposed to recognize they made a mistake, and do better?
Well, I'm not an economics expert, but generally when the actions you take negatively impact your income, you figure out pretty damn fast what you did wrong, and that maybe you should stop doing it if the impact is big enough.
|Looks like you need a little motivation.|
It is not the job of your customers to educate you, or to make you a better person. It is your job to give them a product they want, and to make sure they don't have to question where their money is going once they hand it over. And, generally speaking, it's not all that hard to do. Write a good story, pay attention to problematic tropes, and try to be on the right side of history.
Contrary to popular belief, if people like a thing you've made, they will not just shit can you the instant you say something offensive, or release something with a problematic description. People will bend over backwards to help the creators they like. So stop clutching your pearls, and worrying about someone "canceling" you because you didn't present exactly the right blend of diversity in your sci-fi novel, or because you had a villain use a slur because you wanted to make it clear they were the bad guy.
If you want people to cancel you, generally speaking, you have to try. Especially if you're making something they really want to enjoy.
Edit: "But What About Organized Mobs!?"
So, this has gotten more conversation than I expected, and a constant point people keep bringing up are, "What about mobs of organized people who try to take down your work and ruin your career? Doesn't that prove that cancel culture exists?"
Not really, and for a very important reason. By the definition we're using, you actually have to support something before you try to take away your support. Nine times out of ten when you see organized groups of people trying to ban something, they're not fans of that thing who were disappointed by a creator. Those Internet hate mobs who tried to drive Anita Sarkesian off the Internet weren't fans who disagreed with the direction her work had taken; they were enraged trolls who didn't want to hear a woman's opinion on their precious video games. Those angry mothers who tried to ban Grand Theft Auto years ago weren't huge supporters of Rock Star who wanted their voices heard; they just wanted the company to suffer. And so on, and so forth.
The behavior of groups of people attempting to ban media or behavior they don't like is not new. We've seen it with rap music in the 90s, and heavy metal in the 80s. We saw it when Christian activists targeted tabletop roleplaying games, and when advocates for sobriety got Prohibition passed. That's not a new phenomenon, and acting like it's this weird force that was birthed from the Internet is disingenuous at best.
And I would also put forth that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Because if a bunch of people who aren't patronizing your platform are upset by what you're doing, well, who cares? They have no bargaining power (in a financial sense, anyway, people can and will do awful shit, and GamerGate is a perfect example of unfettered, horrible behavior) because they can't support you even less than they are already. And if they make enough noise, they might draw people who will support you.
Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!
That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!