We live in an era when the most outlandish episode of “House of Cards” barely seems as strange as what’s really happening in the news. That’s why now can be a great time to jump into writing about politics, current events and even history to put things in context.
If you have passion, you don’t have to be an expert or have a professional background. If you do the proper research and reporting for a book, you can become an expert.
In my case, I do have years of experience writing about contemporary politics. But, I’m not a historian in any formal sense. Yet, I wrote a history book published in 2016 about Electoral College controversies—before I or anyone else knew we’d see a split that year in the popular and electoral vote. So, there may be times when a historical book has a great current events tie-in.
Whether you want to write about the past or present, the gap isn’t so wide. History becomes more relevant to readers if it reflects on current events. Writing on current events offers more context for readers if seen through a historical lens.
Here’s a few points to consider.
Reporting and Research: Whatever your background, if you endeavor to write a political nonfiction book, then it’s a longform journalism—or at least a longform essay, depending on how much you want it to be reportage and how much is opinion. Generally, the only good opinion writing is well reported or well researched. Anticipate questions and blanks you might fill in for the reader. This is where a good editor and different set of eyes is essential. If it’s opinion, strongly buttress with facts and anticipate arguments.
Cut through the clutter: There are plenty of political books that—in the words of Buffalo Springfield—are “mostly saying hurray for our side.” So, consider fresh angles, maybe under the radar topics, or debunking a popular perception in either history or contemporary politics. Your angle could be issues and solutions you think the politicians are ignoring. Your fresh angle in history could be a rarely-talked-about battle that was a defining moment in a war. Perhaps it’s about that losing presidential candidate who nevertheless defined the political debate going forward.
Write Articles for Magazines and Websites: I see a lot of post that recommend guest blogging to promote your published book. Don’t wait until the book is published before you start writing short articles on the topic. Don’t even wait until you’ve finished writing the book. Writing for magazines and websites is a great way to build an audience and build credentials for writing the book beforehand and an avenue for promoting the book after publication. There is no shortage of publications and websites on the right and left that want content. The same is true for history publications. Some of these publications are far easier than you might think to break into, particularly if you are already a published nonfiction author—even if it is a different genre. Further, you could use the clips to become guest on podcasts to talk about your article. After your book is published, use those new media connections for promotion.
Finding Interviews: This fits under the umbrella of reporting (for your book or article), but warrants its own category as well. In each of my books, I did about a dozen interviews to get perspectives through conversations that I wouldn’t have gained only from research. How many interviews you do is up to you. Whether you use on or off the record is also up to you and the person you’re interviewing. You might interview someone directly involved in what you’re writing about. So, that depends on the topic. But, if you’re looking for experts on almost any issue, universities and think tanks are always a good resource, and both love to have their experts quoted. The website HelpAReporter.com is a good resource that matches interviewers with people who want to be interviewed on a particular topic. JournalistsToolbox.org and ExpertiseFinder.com are also good resources. You can find others.
Word of Caution: Politics and current events are a lot of fun to write about. But, could pose a risk. I know it seems cliché to say we live in a highly polarized political climate. For those published in other nonfiction genres, if you have a big following in your apolitical genre, it likely includes a mix of Democrats and Republicans. There is a chance of alienating some readers by simply broaching politics, even if you call it straight down the middle. Just something to consider.
Fred Lucas is the Chief National Affairs Correspondent for The Daily Signal. He is the author of “Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections” and the forthcoming “Abuse of Power.” Fred earned an M.S. at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and B.A. at Western Kentucky University. He regularly reports on politics for FoxNews.com and Newsmax and has written for History Magazine Quarterly, The National Interest, Stateline, The Weekly Standard, Townhall and others. Before coming to Washington, he covered state capitols in Kentucky and Connecticut.
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