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A Shot to the Gut: Selling Your Opinion
by Charles W. Sasser
The editor of a major house for whom I had written at least a dozen previous books warned me that my Going Bonkers: The Wacky World of Cultural Madness was so controversial that I would never publish another thing should I continue with it. Two other publishers paid me hefty advances, only to renege under pressure. Finally, AWOC.COM brought it out in 2004. Critics savaged me for having the audacity to explore “forbidden” topics. However, Going Bonkers is still in print and I have published another dozen books and scores of magazine and newspaper articles since then.
Whatever your take on today’s social and political climate, you have to be thick-skinned and expect to be lambasted if you venture into one of the largest and most lucrative—if controversial—fields in writing. After all, Mama warned you never to discuss politics or religion with friends if you intended to remain friends. However, most successful writers, from Upton Sinclair and Dean Koontz to Glenn Beck and Michael Moore have dared take the step. After all, what is more important to our lives than religion, politics and society?
Social and political commentary in novels is expected. Think of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, or George Orwell’s 1984. I wrote Liberty City in 2000, a social satire novel on political correctness. Controversy—conflict—is expected in fiction. The real imbroglio begins when you take the next step into opinion pieces and social analysis.
First of all, you must be passionate. Don’t hedge. In this field, a middle-of-the-roader has no worthwhile opinion. At the same time, in staking your point of view, you don’t want to be vitriolic, condemning of individuals or, to use an overworked political phrase, mean-spirited. It is permissible, of course, to use satire and to be forceful, colorful and opinionated as long as you stick to the facts. Social and political commentary is, after all, supposed to be a debate, not the final lion act in a Roman coliseum.
Markets for essays and opinion pieces span an incredible range, including categories in religion, contemporary culture, ethnic and minority publishers, politics and world affairs... Pick up almost any magazine or newspaper and you’ll find some writer’s take on politics or society, along with editors soliciting new materials. Range, for example, “covers issues threatening the West, its people, lifestyles, lands, wildlife.” Salvo examines “sex, science and society.” Mother Jones goes for “politics, investigative reporting, social issues and pop culture. Vanity Fair chimes out for readers “with an interest in contemporary culture.”
You get the point. Remember to state your point succinctly at the beginning, then back it up with facts and details.
In 1995, I published an op-ed with Tulsa World on “cultural insanity,” which led nine years later to Going Bonkers. I began with, “Perhaps cultures, like individuals, can experience mental disorders...” Then I proved it.
I’ve published many controversial pieces with major magazines. One appearing in Soldier of Fortune entitled “Women in Combat?”brought NOW down on me with all those dainty feminine feet in combat boots tapping on my head. I had a more receptive audience for “Requiem for the Second Amendment” in Guns & Ammo and for “Here Is Where We’ll Build Our House” in Guideposts. Journals like Law & Order, Teacher and Animals generally go for articles favoring their own particular points of view—although teachers snubbed me for years after I appeared in The American School Board Journal with a piece on “Why Teachers Are Bores.” A piece on cockfighting resulted in my editor punching a chicken fighter in the nose. It doesn’t get much more controversial than that.
Incidentally, I sold another article about the punch.
Nonfiction books, as well as novels, also express a particular point of view, with which others may contend. After At Large appeared, I shared an interview on FOX News’ Greta Van Susteren Show with a psychologist who attacked me personally over the “Stockholm Syndrome.” In Warriors, I took on those who, after the 9-11 attack against the Twin Towers, assumed “we must have deserved it somehow... that it was our fault that terrorists attacked us.” My response: “A warrior knocking their (particular part of the anatomy) in the dirt—now that grabs their attention.” First SEAL, the biography of Navy SEAL founder LCDR Roy Boehm, was decidedly anti-communist in its approach, but for some reason the only readers to take affront were Marxists in American academia. It was reprinted in both Russian and Chinese.
In today’s “cultural wars,” materials that challenge, demand, elucidate and kick up dust are sought by editors more than ever. While many publishers steer away from controversy, many others seek it. Writers are by their very nature and definition commentators on society and culture. If you’re thick-skinned enough, give it a shot to the gut—and expect to get one back.
© Copyright 2009, Charles W. Sasser
Charles "Chuck" Sasser is author of more than 60 published books and thousands of magazine articles. Visit Chucks website, www.CharlesSasser.com
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