A friend of mine once said (and he was quoting someone else, though I cannot recall the person he was quoting) that the best way to sell a book is to have it banned. While banning a book is not a marketing ploy, it is certainly an effective way to sell books. After all, once you hear a book is banned, don’t you want to run right out and read it just to see what all the fuss is about? (If you want to read some ‘banned classics,’ check out the ALA’s website.
A book worth reading is a book worth burning.
I love to go around finding lists of banned books, who wants them banned, and why…and then go out and read them or buy them. Perhaps it’s just the rebellious kid in me, but I really get a kick out of finding out what was so objectionable about the book. Plus, it gets me to think. I mean, really think, and even meta-think. “Why would they want this book banned or burned? What are they thinking?” It’s helpful to expand your mind in a variety of ways. Not only is the reader enriched by the literature itself, but also enriched by trying to think of why a book would be so volatile to some.
I see people who say, “these days, everyone has to be offended about something.” It’s true, but it is not unique to our time period. Take a long look back at history, and you’ll find plenty of people who have found offense with things. What happened? They were heard, things changed a bit, or they were ignored, and the status quo was maintained. Ho hum. Boring. Move along.
Today, all I ask of you is to be inspired. You don’t have to write something just for the sake of ‘being offensive,’ but write something that you’re passionate about. Someone will likely be offended by it, even if you didn’t intentionally infer anything at all. So, you might as well turn up the heat a bit and write about topics that interest you, topics that light you on fire and enjoy every word.
WRITE FOR YOU.
Remember, offense is taken, not given. I write horror. A lot of horror. I enjoy writing horror. One of my chapters in Silver Hollow is about a man who kills children. I bet there are people who take a whole lot of offense to that. Did I mean to be offensive? No. It’s a story, and that’s all it is. To me, it’s a truly disturbing story that was stuck in my head and I needed to write it. So, I did, and there it is. Certainly there are some people who would want to ban the story, some who will think I’m a nutjob, and some who will just read it and say, “meh, it was okay,” and still some who will read it and say, “that was XX minutes of my life wasted.” Am I responsible for their reactions? Nope. I’m responsible for me.
Now, if someone comes along and says, “your story inspired me to kill a bunch of people,” am I responsible for that?
Nope. That person just needed an excuse.
If someone comes along and says, “your story stopped me from killing a bunch of people and made me rethink my life,” am I responsible for that?
As much as I’d love to take credit for that, nope. Again, that person made a decision.
That’s not to say we don’t influence one another to think, or to act, but in my years spent studying psychology and working with patients as a supervised therapist, as well as reviewing hundreds of case studies and blah blah blah, I believe that we are ultimately responsible for the way we act and think. We just have to learn that we’re responsible for ourselves. Some people don’t know that, yet.
So, have you been shying away from that piece on abortion you’ve been wanting to write? How about that piece on going hunting? What about that work you’ve been putting off about heroin addiction?
What are you afraid of, that your book will get banned? That people will be mad at you? That someone will tell you that you suck?
Fuck ‘em. Write it anyway.
Elizabeth Bishop once wrote a poem on loss, called One Art. When I first heard that poem, I was 21 years old, and my father had just died. Oddly enough, I didn’t really think of it as a poem on death. But the last line really stuck with me for years (and still remains with me):
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
That ‘write it’ right there? WRITE IT. That’s what I tell myself when I want to shy away from a certain topic.
It might not be the disaster you think it will be. But hopefully, your writing will piss enough people off to get them talking and thinking. Write with passion. Write with intelligence. Write to have fun and maybe even make a point.
Write because you want to, not whether or not it will be offensive.
But for the fun of it, love, tell yourself you’re gonna write something worth burning.