Controversy: Good or Bad for Fiction Authors?

Controversy sells. Controversy gets attention.

Just look at the latest public outcry surrounding Rush Limbaugh and Sandra Fluke.

Or look at well-known pastor, Mark Driscoll. He made a comment on Facebook about effeminate worship leaders and received a maelstrom of comments. 

Almost always, blog posts about controversial topics get more hits and more comments.

But is it wise for fiction authors to tackle these topics on their blogs?

I think, before we get to that question, we have address an easier one first:

Why are we blogging? 

Here are some of the more popular reasons novelists blog:

  • to get our name out there
  • to build a platform
  • to interact with readers
  • to establish a brand
I could write a blog post about my opinion of Rush Limbaugh or government paid birth control or masculinity in the church. I’m sure if I did, I’d get a good amount of traffic.
Because there are people out there who are passionate about these topics. 
But then what?
How many of those people weighing in about Rush Limbaugh would come back on Wednesday? What are the chances they would become a part of the community I’m trying to build on my blog?
There are things I am passionate about in this world. I might see a tweet and click on a link and engage in a fun debate. But how often do I go back to that blog when the topic changes to the next controversial thing?
Not often. Maybe never.
And when all is said and done, could we end up disrupting the community we already have?
Some people love debating. It gets the blood circulating. The heart pumping. The synapses firing.
But others look at that same debate and all they see is one giant argument.
One person enjoys the back and forth banter. Another feels like they’re being attacked. 
Here’s the thing. 
Controversial, hot-button subjects are polarizing. They are almost always divisive. 
As fiction authors, should we go there? 
Let’s Talk: Should novelists blog about hot button, controversial topics? Or is it best to steer clear? Why or why not? What are the benefits? What are the drawbacks? 
This post was inspired by a thought-provoking post titled, Our Beliefs Strengthen Inside a Rocked Boat, from one of my good writing buddies, Heather Sunseri. Thanks for the inspiration, Heather!

44 thoughts on “Controversy: Good or Bad for Fiction Authors?

  1. Hi Katie,

    I love the look of your blog, but those mini/cut-off share buttons are very smart-phone hostile.

  2. I think it all depends on if it’s germane to your writing and blogging. As a rule, I try to avoid controversy, but I write about the impacts of violence and the challenges of holding on to faith in a violent world. I can writer dispationately about those topics, but if I avoid them, I’m also avoiding many of the people who might want to read my novel.

    I do keep a completely locked down Facebook page to engage on issues not germane to my fiction writing. That takes a lot of the temptation to publicly debate issues that I struggle to be dispationate about.

  3. Hi Katie, what a perfect topic in a wonderful post. And the comments are just as riveting! I found myself nodding vigorously & even saying “Yes!” out loud to Beth, Barb, Heather Sunseri, Ruth & Casey ; – >

    To add my thoughts to the mix, I would have to say honestly that I’m a little weary of blogs that offer only safe topics followed by ‘fan-club’ comments. I like to know what a blogger is about, what they really think about things, how they really feel about issues. Real people with real opinions who express them honestly and respectfully without a trying-to-please element makes for much more interesting content, and I find myself returning to these blogs repeatedly. Doesn’t much matter if I agree with their viewpoint or not because I learn so much more from the diversity of opinion. It’s exciting really, to discover an author (or anyone) who hasn’t white-washed controversial topics or expunged them completely from their blog in honor of neutrality.

    I think Gina sums it up well: “If the hot topic pushes your hot button! Blog away. I think people can tell when you’re blogging for clicks or blogging from the heart!”

  4. Wow. Everyone has so much to say…
    I guess I’m with you, in that I don’t like to ruffle feathers. I do have some very strong opinions on certain subjects, but I’m not sure that my blog is the place to discuss them. I’ve seen blogs where a ‘hot topic’ has been discussed, and the comments can get pretty out of hand. I’d rather have five or zero comments to deal with over a hundred where people have literally created a soapbox for themselves. Not nice. I’m happy to discuss my faith and my views on anything in a one on one setting, but I wouldn’t use my blog to get a point across. Same goes for Facebook. Endless posts about politics or judgemental posts in the name of Jesus turn me right off. The church has enough trouble within its own walls. I don’t see the need to create another avenue for my brothers and sisters to attack each other. Hmm. I think I’ve just proved my own point. 🙂 It’s too easy for me to start ranting, so I don’t.
    Great topic.

  5. Oooh, great questions! I guess, like you said, it depends on a lot of things. What kind of fiction do you write? What is your purpose in venting about this particular topic? What do you hope to accomplish?
    I don’t know if it helps or hurts a fiction author. I guess it would depend on their audience. Like a thriller writer venting about conspiracies…well, maybe the peeps reading this writer’s post because of his/her vent picks up the book and loves it. Then they’ll probably be back, at least to buying the book, regardless whether they agree with the writer’s vent.
    Did any of that make sense? lol

    I consider myself a proud (and passionate) conservative libertarian but my blog is about books and writing so very rarely do I think I’d even discuss politics there.

    Great post for today!

  6. If the hot topic pushes your hot button! Blog away. I think people can tell when you’re blogging for clicks or blogging from the heart!

  7. You know what they say about discussing religion and politics… 🙂 And I’m one of the few people that believes that it’s okay to discuss religion and politics and it can be done with respect and compassion.

    That being said, I agree with those above who’ve said that if the controversial subject ties in with what you’re passionate about, then sure. But I do think we need to be careful about giving our own opinions, especially if they are strong ones, and instead simply try to stimulate conversation on the topic. I think it’s okay to elude to our opinion, but we don’t need to alienate readers.

    1. I’m right there with you, Jennifer! Jesus said we are to love the Lord with all our heart, MIND, and soul. Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we check our minds at the door.

      Debate implies hearing both sides of the issue and not simply spewing out one side. I do try to do this on my blog with respect and compassion.

      And I have had interesting comments that have introduced me to new people I’d like to get to know more.

  8. Is the topic you want to “debate” or “argue” on our blogs, bring our readers close to who we are as people and writers?

    I have some personal hot-button issues. Modesty being one of them. A lot of my readers agree with me in this issue, but I’m sure I have readers who don’t. But I bring it up once in a while on my blog, because it is important to me. It’s a passion of my heart and an issue that bothers me greatly in those who so easily disregard it.

    So I go with Beth: depends. 😉

    1. Casey, this makes me want to sign up for your blog! Modesty is HUGE for me too. I just saw a prominent pastor’s wife on twitter…thought about following, but she was wearing a plunging V-neck, and I have no desire to emulate that. No reason to dress for the world to attract readers. Okay, I’m checking out your blog now, if it’s linked here!

      1. It’s SUCH a hot topic and can prove controversial, but I think it goes back to what I said earlier, if there is a topic that mirrors our hearts and we present it in such a way that is humbling and open for discussion and accepting of other opinions, such topics can be discussed.

        So glad to “meet” you Heather!

      2. Yes, I probably won’t bring it up on my blog–sort of like having daughters–you can model modesty along the way, from your author shots to what you choose to wear to church on Sunday! Nice to meet you too!

    2. Katie Ganshert

      Love your heart for modesty, Casey!

  9. I think it totally depends on your personality. If you’re a stir-the-pot person, then make your blog about stirring-the-pot. But if you get stressed by people arguing on your spot, avoid bringing up those hot-button topics.

    Personally, I LOVE visiting blogs that ask/debate the hard questions. I actually look forward to reading those posts. But another part of me loves blogs that just make me feel warm and fuzzy. So I honestly visit both.

    On my own blog, I just try to tap into topics that will help or uplift readers. Sometimes, if I feel strongly about something, I might address it. But usually I save that for my personal FB account, where I have peeps I’ve actually MET, and who I know won’t be offended, for the most part.

    That said, I don’t think we should shy away from any heavy topics God lays on our hearts. But usually, as a fiction author, those topics wind up woven into your books, because they’re part of your worldview.

    I love blogs that make me THINK most of all, and yours does that, Katie! Thanks!

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Thanks Heather!! I’m glad my blog makes you think. That is very encouraging to me.

      Because while I don’t strive to be controversial at all, I do always hope that my blog will be encouraging and thought-provoking.

      1. It is, don’t worry! Grin.

  10. In my opinion, fiction writers shouldn’t blog about that sort of thing. I know there are certain authors who have alienated me by the things they’ve ranted about on Twitter. That’s not why I’m following them, so I unfollowed. 🙁

    If you write nonfiction, and the subject of the rant is relevant, then I see the point. Know what I mean?

    1. Katie Ganshert

      “I know there are certain authors who have alienated me by the things they’ve ranted about on Twitter. That’s not why I’m following them, so I unfollowed.”

      You’re not alone here Juliel. I’ve heard of others doing the same thing.

      So this brings up the question again….

      Are there issues authors should avoid? Even if they do feel strongly about them?

      1. In my opinion??? Politics… :/

  11. Thanks for making me think, Katie. 🙂

    I choose not to participate in most controversial issues. Why? Because I’m gearing my blog posts to the potential readers of my books. They come for entertainment primarily and not for a debate. If I do toss out a potentially divisive topic, it’s one related to my books or my genre. For example, I had a post asking whether readers prefer fictional or real settings in historical romances.

    I realize the very fact that I write inspirational romances can be divisive, but that’s not a debatable topic in my mind. It’s just an outgrowth of who I am as a believer.

  12. This is a thinker, Katie. Love it. The thinking, I mean…

    The controversy, I’m not so sure about. There are so many people giving opinions on so many things that I have to ask myself, is that really what I want to be about as a fiction writer and blogger? I actually love a good argument or debate, I’m just not sure that’s what I want my role to be as a writer…I do think good fiction prompts questions, discussion, etc. Sometimes on a controversial topic and sometimes on faith issues…

    I do know I have no desire to stir up argument solely for the sake of blog traffic. If it’s an issue I’m passionate about and it’s relevant to my readers, that’s probably when I’d go for it.

  13. Great post. Makes me think.

    I love to debate politics. I have friends who are Conservative and Liberal.

    So, sometimes I post political issues on FB and receive some contentious comments. But I enjoy that! Makes me feel alive!

    I tend to blog about writing and faith most of all…but once in awhile I will post about something I am passionate about. I do get comments on those posts! But I don’t blog about controversy for the sake of controversy.

    I will blog about Rush this week, though! I have an opinion about that.

    Ha ha!

    1. Katie Ganshert

      I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts!

      I’m usually a people pleaser, but I also love a good debate, Ruth. Sometimes we’ll get into them at my book club and I LOVE it. I love heated discussions over books. That makes me feel alive.

  14. I don’t like controversy. I usually shy away from putting any opinions on controversial thoughts in print. Then again, a lot of times that’s because the person instigating the thought is clearly not open for debate. There seems to be no point in trying to convince certain people of your argument, because they don’t really listen…they’re just waiting for their turn to speak. Those kind of “debates” don’t interest me. But something in which people are open to discussing and clearly looking to see all sides to an argument, and respect all opinions given? Well, I might be persuaded to participate then. 🙂

    1. Katie Ganshert

      You bring up a good point. If we do decide to take a stance on an issue, we need to be open to seeing all sides of the argument and creating a respectful space for people to disagree with us.

  15. I tend to agree with Beth. Blog about what you’re passionate about! 🙂

  16. I write about what I feel God gives me to write–if a topic has been hounding my thoughts then I write about it. If you and I knew each other in person and something bothered me that might be controversial,then I would probably tell you–it’s who I am and those who know me would accept that about me:) But I’m not one who would do it all the time.

  17. I have all kinds of thoughts on this. Think I might have to write a post of my own and link to all these links. 😀 Start a link chain.

    It comes back to what I’m passionate about, how I handle it, what my intentions are, prayer, and if I feel “called” to post the controversial issue. I address controversial issues in my novels. I’m not afraid to do so on my blog, but I keep coming back to what you said…what would be the point behind it?

    ~ Wendy

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Can’t wait to hear your thoughts when you’re done sifting, Wendy. 🙂

  18. Good morning, Katie. You know I love these questions.

    From the comments in my post and your comments so far, I think we all pretty much agree that controversy for controversy sake pretty much stinks. And that kind of controversy is a little self-serving to the writer.

    However, the point I hoped to make (not really sure I did) was that I’m afraid that many writers are so afraid that they’ll step on someone’s toes, that they’re afraid of pushing “publish” on anything that might go against the flow of traffic.

    I think we all have a different tipping point on this issue. This issue alone is controversial, I think, but worth a discussion or two or three.

    I also think that fiction writers are truly still trying to find their sweet spot in the blogging world. There are not many fiction writers who can truly draw the traffic that is required of non-fiction writers. Not that I’ve seen anyway.

    I have a theory, but at this time, I’m still a little fearful of stepping on toes re: this issue. See? I have a tipping point. 🙂

    Bottom line for me is that we can’t be afraid to write truths. And if we are passionate about a truth – we need to hit publish. Maybe, just maybe, the “truth” we speak/write, even when it pushes someone past their comfort level, just might be the truth someone needed that day.

    You’re asking great questions! Looking forward to reading the comments. Hope you’re feeling better!!

    1. Katie Ganshert

      I pretty much wish there was a “Love” button on this comment, Heather.

      You just articulated what I was trying to write after reading your response to Barb’s comment above.

      Moment of truth: I write about faith on Wednesdays.

      Moment of truth: I know I have blog readers who are not Christ followers.

      Moment of truth: sometimes, when I’m finished writing a particularly passionate post that is heavy on the Jesus, I get that nervous feeling in my stomach and I wonder, “Should I tone this down?”

      Moment of truth: I almost always push past that discomfort and hit publish. Jesus calls us to be salt, and sometimes salt stings. I want my words to glorify Him. That is my heart’s cry.

      Moment of truth: sometimes the discomfort wins

      Shame, shame.

    2. Katie Ganshert

      P.S. I would LOVE to hear this idea of yours. I’d love to know your tipping point.

  19. I try to be myself on my blog, and in my real life, I’m not a person who stirs up conflict. I want people to get a glimpse of my personality and speaking out on a controversial topic wouldn’t accomplish that. I’ll leave that to people who are better at articulating their opinions than I am.

  20. Oh goodness…I hate controversy. The school district I work for makes us take a Gallup “Strength Finders” test and my top strength is Harmony. I like things to be in harmony…no confrontation and no controversy. So I don’t do or say things that will rock the boat. Sooooo true of me. You will not find me blogging about controversy, because it goes against the person I am. It makes me cringe!!!!

    How’s that for an answer!

    1. I second what Sherrinda said 🙂

    2. Katie Ganshert

      I so understand this, Sherrina! Sometimes I feel like I’m Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

      Because I’m very much a people-pleaser. But there’s this other part of me that loves a good debate.

  21. Katie Ganshert

    Just another thought this morning….

    Should fiction authors blog about controversial issues? I think an ideal time to blog about controversial issues is when those issues tie into our books.

    Then the question becomes….should we give our personal opinion on the matter? Or should we just bring up the topic and let our readers discuss? If we give our opinion, are we distancing the half of our audience who might not agree?

    1. Bingo! Yes, if your novel is going to address controversial issues, I definitely think your blog should reflect that. And you also ask a great question about whether or not to weigh in with your own opinion… I think as writers who wish to inspire others to grow in their faith, we should offer our opinion perhaps as it ties in to our own personal testimonies. Not as “I’m right; you’re wrong!” but more like, “This is how I understand it and how it’s affected me.” Take what you need and leave the rest. 😉

      The way I look at it is, if I distance my audience by expressing myself, then those people probably aren’t meant to connect to my stories anyway. But if there are a handful out there who *do* connect, and maybe have similar testimonies but were afraid to speak out about it, and I’ve put something into words that they couldn’t express themselves… well then… I think that is one of the most beautiful rewards of storytelling and blogging. Great topic, Katie! Okay. I’ll stop hogging the comments section, lol.

      1. Love this, Barb. Very well said! And exactly the issue I’ve been thinking A LOT about lately… “if I distance my audience by expressing myself, then those people probably aren’t meant to connect to my stories anyway.” In other words, are fiction writers really identifying their audience with their blogs? Or are they trying to do the impossible by pleasing everybody at once?

      2. Katie Ganshert

        You can hog the comments ANY time you want! Especially if you are going to offer so much enlightenment!

        Seriously….this comment right here is really making me think this morning (let’s just say its resonating in a big way):
        “if I distance my audience by expressing myself, then those people probably aren’t meant to connect to my stories anyway.”

  22. I guess it all depends on the reason we start our blogs in the first place. In my case, I’ve learned some things that are different than what mainstream Christianity teaches, and it caused a shift in perspective in my faith. Along my journey, I was so inspired from other writers/bloggers who weren’t afraid to talk about the things no one else was addressing—and I wanted to do the same. It’s also a matter of following through with what we believe God puts on our hearts to write about, don’t you think? But then again, I’m not a published author with any kind of guidelines to uphold, so I feel that allows for more freedom.

    Controversy for the sake of controversy is a waste of time. And it’s easy to spot those bloggers. But if someone’s controversial subject is well-written and well thought out, and after reading their post I feel enlightened, and/or I think ‘huh, I never considered that before’… I welcome it. And just as I may or may not agree with my ‘real life’ friends on every topic, I still enjoy hearing their points of view. It’s no different for me in the blogging world with my blogging friends.

    1. Katie Ganshert

      “controversy for the sake of controversy is a waste of time”

      Amen, sista!

      It’s so interesting, as I step into these publishing waters. I always want to be real on my blog. Transparent, you know? But at the same time….we can’t throw everything about ourselves out there. We have to be intentional and even selective about what we share. It’s an interesting (and sometimes challenging) line to walk.

  23. My answer to your question, Katie: Depends.
    Hows’ that for having my feet firmly planted in mid-air?
    Seriously, I think a blogger — be she a fiction or nonfiction writer — should blog about what they are passionate about. And at times that may be controversial. I have to be willing to stay with my passion when it’s controversial — and when it’s not. When it’s attracting more attention than usual — and when it’s not.
    Now I’m off to read Heather’s blog post!

    1. Katie Ganshert

      I agree with this Beth. I think there is advice out there that goes something like this: Want more blog traffic? Write something controversial.

      But this makes me cringe a little. Because if we’re writing controversial things just to get more blog hits, then I think it will ultimately backfire. But, like you said, if we’re staying true to who we are and what we’re passionate about….well then, that’s just smart branding, right?

      Makes me wonder though….are there passions we shouldn’t blog about? Perhaps topics that wouldn’t be smart for from a marketing/branding perspective?


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