The Author Boycott


So last week I talked about a connection with an author maybe influencing a reader to be more favourable to their work than they might have been. This week I want to look at the other side, when something an author does, or says makes people decide they won’t even read that author’s books any more.


Yes, the boycott. When an author throws a wobbler and gets into a public row with a reviewer, many people on the argument thread will say something to the effect of “well this behaviour just convinces me never to buy any of your books.” Possibly that’s just posturing, since they might never have bought any of that person’s books anyway. But it’s also a slightly odd position to my mind. The author acting foolishly doesn’t really tell you anything about the quality of the book. Some very great authors were pains in the arse on a continual basis, not just in one thread about a review, so should their books be boycotted forever? Everyone is entitled to be a pain in the arse if they want to be. Is throwing a strop about a review something worthy of punishment beyond what they’ll be subject to by the pointing and laughing that goes on during these incidents?

What if it’s about something other than just throwing their toys out of the pram over a review? What if the author has publically expressed views that a reader is very much opposed to. For me it kind of depends how extreme those views are. If they’re mainstream views which happen to be opposite to my own, I’m not that bothered. I can’t dictate what people think. And if I would only read books written by people whose beliefs match exactly with mine I’d never read anything at all.

But more extreme views will have an effect on me, because they’ll cast a shadow over the book, even if those views and beliefs are never obviously reflected in the book. What about when the writer is long dead? Plenty of people in the past had views we’d consider abhorrent now. Should I refuse to read a book by someone who owned slaves for example? Or do I just accept that this was perfectly normal in that time?

There’s another level, too when the author contributes money to a cause I’m very much opposed to. Again, it depends on how mainstream we’re talking. Just being a donor to say the Conservative Party isn’t going to bother me much. Being a donor to the British National Party; whole other matter! That’s when I’d start to balk about buying their books, even if I like the books, since I wouldn’t want my money going to such a cause.

I think a boycott only really means something if I would almost certainly have bought more of that writer’s books anyway, so I’m depriving myself of pleasure on a point of principle. And is it them permissible under the terms of a boycott to buy the books second hand or borrow them, to get to read them without giving the author any royalties? And what about books by that author I already own? Should I get rid of them so I can’t read them again? And how? Donate them? Throw them out?

I can’t say I’m a big boycotter. I’ll more likely stop buying someone’s work because I don’t like it any more – like anything made by George Lucas since The Phantom Menace. But other than in extreme cases, or when the author is known to contribute to causes I find really objectionable, I’m of the opinion that people are entitled to think what they want. As long as they don’t start preaching those ideas at me, I’m not going to lose sleep over it.

11 thoughts on “The Author Boycott

  1. Regarding reviewing – Despite being blistered by unhappy authors, I wouldn’t ever ban an author for being an arse about their reviews. We review the BOOK at Speak its Name, not the author. Similarly we are often asked not to review any more of their books and I certainly won’t accede to that either. Once an author puts their work into the public eye they can’t say who they will be reviewed by and who not. I have no respect, for example for publishers who won’t send me their books for review simply because I’ve not reviewed some favourably. Perhapsthey should edit better and I wouldn’t keep pointing out the editing errors!!

    as to my personal reading, I couldn’t give a rats arse what the author’s personal views are. Hmm. well, if they were a convicted pedophile I might think twice, but then I’ve probably read books by murderers, I don’t know–so where do you draw the line? Unless their views spill into their fiction, and THAT is opposite to how I think, and I feel they are trying to convert me, I am not going to care what they think about matters. I never read author’s bios to be honest, and who writes the truth there? I’ve neverowned an iguana.

    Heinlein is one example. He had some very right wing views and they spilled into his fiction–but he also had some very liberal views which also spilled into his fiction–as far as I’m concerned, they cancelled each other out. Jim Butcher is worrying me a little with his Dresden series, because religion is creeping in more and more, and I’m hoping that it’s not going to end up as “Look, we should all beleive god” because I will feel very cheated, and if the series does turn that way I’ll stop reading.

    Robin Hobb has pissed me off more than once by posting things on her journal that I really don’t agree with, but it would never stop me reading her books, as that’s where what she writes really matters, I think.

    • Yes, when it starts getting preachy in the books I definitely get ticked. Of course if these are ideas the author is interested in they’ll want to write about them, but a good writer does that subtly, not by dropping an anvil on the readers. And I hope I know my own mind well enough to be able to see what the message or moral or theme of a book is without having to agree with it.

    • I’m up to date on the Dresden Files. Speaking as a near atheist, the books haven’t offended me at all.

      • I didn’t say I was offended–I’m never offended by anything I read in fiction, I might be grossed out by some horror, or creeped out by something like Lolita, but I’m never offended, I’ve never understood people who say “I was offended by this book!” If someone calls me names I’m offended, but fiction is not personal, and this is where these people come from I think, it’s like they think that you’ve written the book just to piss them off! LOL.

        I’m sure I’m being sensitive about the Dresden Files, I’m sure it’s not really going down the “God is Good” route, but if it did, I would be annoyed about it, because it’s like stealth, a long ruse to end with a message like that. Like the whole Potter crap fest! Now there’s one writer I’ll boycott for her crappy writing. That’s probably the major reason I’ll boycott an author (for personal reading, not for review purposes)

  2. I more likely to stop reading an author because of views expressed within a book than elsewhere, to be honest. At the moment that’s usually mishandling of trans* and/or mental health issues in mystery novels (contemporary stories especially as I can accept that attitudes were different in the past ). Then again I may end up giving one of my favourite authors a get- out for her first offence.

    • A first offence could be forgiveable. If people call her on it and she doesn’t repeat the same mistakes later, that at least shows she’s someone who listens. Maybe some more research would have helped in the first place, but sometimes research fails.

  3. I used to be a huge fan of Orson Scott Card – I still have a signed copy of Ender’s Game on my shelf. Unfortunately in recent years he’s become very strongly Mormon – I guess he always was one, but ten or fifteen years ago he started toeing the party line much more closely, moderating his behavior and his writing to match it.

    Unfortunately part of that party line includes public statements which are virulently anti-gay, bordering on being hate speech in my opinion. I believe in free speech, but I’m not going to give a penny of my hard earned money to support someone who is preaching against my right to share my life with the person of my choice.

    I wouldn’t consider more extreme responses such as boycotting everything from his publisher on that account. That merely hurts other authors who have nothing to do with his opinions.

    I don’t have a problem with picking up one of his books at a used bookstore, although there are a couple of the series that have gotten too Mormon flavored and I’ve stopped reading even second hand because the not very cleverly concealed pulpit bothers me. I don’t think much of books with an obvious moral soapbox built in, even if it’s a view I support. I want a good story, not a soapbox.

    • Orson Scott Card is definitely one I was thinking of while writing this piece. I’m not a huge fan of his novels. I’ve read Ender’s Game, but I do have a couple of his writing craft books which are very good. But I’d definitely be dubious about going out and buying something of his new now. He really had gone off the deep end.

      • I was thinking Orson Scott Card myself – I have one of his writing craft books and it’s excellent, but he certainly seems to be spouting more and more offensive and objectionable views in public.

        It wouldn’t stop me from picking up one of his books second hand, but I don’t think I’ll put money in his coffers.

        TBH, the main reason I’m ever likely to “boycott” an author is if I don’t like their writing style. I don’t think that really counts as a boycott, though – that’s simply choosing not to spend my money on books I won’t like.

  4. The only author I’ve ever “boycotted” is Frank Herbert, simply because I don’t want to put money into the coffers of Scientology. Other authors I might avoid because people try to force me to read them. I have this automatic, knee-jerk reaction when somebody tells me I *have* to like something.

    • Do you mean L. Ron Hubbard there? I’ve never read anything about Frank Herbert having been a Scientologist.

      I know what you mean about the ones you HAVE to like! Often I don’t.

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