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As a reader, I have found that when I disagree with an author's views or actions, this has influenced me not to buy their books.

As an author, I therefore wonder whether readers generally view the work as completely independent from the author's personal views? And what if the book is semi-autobiographical? Do readers see the author as part-and-parcel with the book as it tells much about its creator?

  • Hi, and welcome to Writers. While this is a good topic for a discussion, Stack Exchange is a question-and-answer site. Discussions are not on-topic for us. Please take our tour and see our help center writers.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic to see what kind of questions we answer here. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Dec 30 '16 at 20:20
  • Thanks for letting me know. Where could I post questions like this? Do you have any recommendations? – Symbio Dec 30 '16 at 20:21
  • This is one of the best recent questions and I would be very sad to see it closed. – user5645 Dec 30 '16 at 20:22
  • @what It's an excellent question, but as written, it's opinion. If the OP wanted to edit it to reflect a more general situation, like "Are there statistics on whether an author's personal views/presented gender/etc. affect sales?" that would be on-topic. Asking the community whether we personally have let feelings dictate sales isn't a Q&A. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Dec 30 '16 at 20:25
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    @Symbio I have edited your question in an attempt to make it more on topic for this site. If you disagree with my edit, please click on the links that says that I edited your question and then "rollback" to your previous version. Or use my edit as a basis to refine your question further. I think it is a great question and hope for a second question: What should an author do about the influence that the reader's view of the author has on the reader's buying behavior? Also, as you can see, opinions (sic) about what is on topic vary between members of this site. So don't be discouraged. – user5645 Dec 30 '16 at 20:34
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Joanne Rowling has famously hidden her gender behind male-seeming initials to meet reader expectations. We don't know how Harry Potter would have sold if it would have been published under Joanne's real name instead of "J. K.", but I have stopped reading books by a few authors, because I disagree with their political views or find their online behaviour obnoxious. I have also picked up books in bookstores because the names of the authors attracted me.

All of that is merely anecdotal, but studies find that many readers react in a similar way to the "persona" of the author. For example, Michelle Goldsmith (2016) has conducted a survey of 396 readers and writers of speculative fiction, in which she found that "factors such as an author's persona, online behaviour, political or social views, and role in prominent genre controversies can have significant impacts on readers’ reception of their work, both explicitly and implicitly".

The author's "persona" can be thought of as a reader's (or potential buyer's) idea or mental image of what kind of person the author is. Readers buy fiction to satisfy needs, and if the author "looks" as if he or she can satisfy that need, the impulse to buy their book is that much greater. Aspects that have been shown to influence buying behaviour are physical attractiveness (pretty women sell more books than unattractive women), expertise (think of the attorney Grisham writing legal thrillers, but expertise is most important in non-fiction), generosity, and friendliness, among others.

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There seem to be three different parts to this question:

  1. Does the author's public reputation affect the sales of books?

  2. Do the view expressed in a book affect the sales of the book?

  3. Do the private views of an author who is not otherwise a public figure affect the sales of books if they become know?

The answer to the first is clearly yes. Public notoriety is good for sales. Hatred is not an author's biggest enemy, indifference is. If you are hated by some and loved by others you will sell a lot of books to those who love you, and quite a few to those who hate you. You won't sell any to those who are indifferent to you.

The answer to the second is more complex. Steinbeck was roundly condemned for the socialist overtones of The Grape of Wrath, but it was a huge best seller, largely because of the huge emotional power of the story. Even if you don't agree with his politics, you will have a hard time not being moved by the novel. And the novel is not a political screed. Many of Dickens works were full of social protest, but they are still beloved for the characters and storytelling long after the injustices they protested were gone. A great book, in other words, can rise above its politics and be beloved by friends and foes alike.

But for people who are lesser artists, or whose work is more overtly political, you can expect that few who disagree with you will read you.

The third case is obviously more rare, but there are cases in which it becomes known that a beloved author had unfashionable political views. It is not clear to me that this really as much effect. Most people are not really moved to punish people merely for holding a different view from their own, though you would have a hard time telling it from the TV some days. I suspect that when these stories pop up from time to time, they probably do the author more good than harm, simply by reminding people that they exist.

Overall though, I think any concern about offending the reader is probably misplaced, unless you are so far out on a limb that your views will offend everyone. Ask Donald Trump how much he cared about offending the professional offence takes of the world. You don't need to win over the entire world. If 5% of the reading public buys your book, you will be very rich. Offending 95% of the reading public is a small price to pay if it means that 5% actually hear your name.

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I think an author's personal stance can absolutely be a deal-breaker. I won't buy or read anything more from Orson Scott Card now that I know about his raging homophobia. It would be an endorsement of his views. (So this would be a counter-example to @MarkBaker's third point.)

I could never completely separate an artist and his/her art, if for no other reason than money talks. It's the same reason I won't shop at certain stores: I'm expressing my positions with my wallet. I won't have anything more to do with Woody Allen, OJ Simpson, or Roman Polanski for similar reasons.

If the book is semi-autobiographical, it's even more of a reason to join artist to work and to consider both when making the decision to read/watch/listen etc.

If you as a writer are concerned about your personal views offending your audience, well, have the courage of your convictions. If you really believe whatever it is, there will be those who agree with you and those who don't. Your compatriots will buy your book and your detractors won't. There's no way to say which side is bigger without knowing the controversy in question.

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A published book should be a totally independent entity from its creator. However, as humans we can have a hard time to separate the authors’ views from his produced works.

For books where the author expresses his personal views, then yes a book could be judged in concert with the author stance.

For example Marion Zimmer Bradley, is a militant gay pagan feminist. That view is expressed in most of her books. If you are offended by her personal, sexual, political, or religious views, I can understand not reading her on that basis.

Lauren Ipsum: "I won't buy or read anything more from Orson Scott Card now that I know about his raging homophobia."

Orson Scott Card on the other hand, whatever his personal views, I don’t recall them being in his books.

What changed before and after, knowing some private thing about him, was his book altered, why should your perception of the author affect the books worth?

Also, for Americans of his generation "raging homophobia" was the norm, and still is in most of traditional America. Europe isn't that different, look at how Alan Turing was treated, for the crime ofbeing gay, by England.

Banning his books on that basis would be to say that since all European classic authors were raging anti-Semites, which was the normal accepted view at the time, all the literature before 1950’s should be banned. A variant is that all early American books should be censured as their authors accepted slavery as a matter of fact. There are countless variations; Greek classics should be banned because the authors liked to sodomize teenagers.

That position is obviously absurd. Now saying banning books that directly portray strong anti-Semite ideas like Dickens’s Oliver Twist, yes, I believe that people, children at least, should not be exposed to that filth.

I can see some people giving a pass to the classics because that was in the past…and that modern authors alone are concerned, because “they should know better”. I think that’s non-sense.

After WW2 many authors found their books banned or censured because they were "Nazi sympathizers"…I find that hypocritical, in the early days most of Europe, including the British, and the western world in general, had strong anti-Semitic views, and were all Nazi sympathizers to some degree.

Take Leni Riefenstahl, her earily beautiful work had nothing to do with Nazi ideas, but she was an official party cinematographer and shot the Olympics which were used for Nazi propaganda. We wastedl one of the strongest visual artist of the 20 century because she was ostracized, marginalized, black-booked because of the association, and ended up shooting minor things in Africa.

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