It’s an Outrage

Highly developed countries have robustly developed governments, and their laws and regulations affect countless endeavors, including topics in nonfiction books. That association is made even stronger by the fact that books tend to feature issues that are crying out for reform. Readers like to read about hot-button topics. Yet the unwary author who becomes too assiduous about their research may find that their personal feelings undercut the benefits the book intends to provide.

Many nonfiction books are written to guide a reader through the maze of a specific field, such as estate planning. A seasoned accountant with a literary flair may know all sorts of issues that people young and old should consider when laying out a long-range budget. The book’s objective is stated in its title, subtitle, and advertising copy on its back cover or flap copy. All are designed to lure the reader into purchasing the book. This is hardly a pernicious practice, because that browser likely came into the bookstore looking for just such a guide.

A subject like estate planning is bound by all sorts of rules and regulations. Indeed, one of the main thrusts of the book may be to lead the reader through arcane labyrinths whose sense is known only to our esteemed rule makers. During a discussion on 401K contributions, for one example, the author may have to explain a recent IRS–mandated change. That might entail expanding into why the Senate Finance Committee, say, led the way to a new law. 

As long as only the facts are presented—which year and which august chairman—the author is on safe grounds. The problem lies in the perceived unfairness of the law, or the change. If the author starts intruding with their personal opinion, the material becomes politically charged. Even worse is an entire passage, perhaps running for several pages, tracing the past futility of both parties to make such an obvious correction. When you see exclamation points, it’s time to start groaning. 

The question a reader may rightfully ask is: what makes you an expert on this political discussion? Do you have a Ph.D. in this area? Do you have an academic or professional credential? In other words, as the reader I have stuff I don’t like either, but I limit my umbrage to dinner-party discussions. That’s the correct realm for such material, as far as I can tell.

Exercise: Let’s return to the idea of undercutting. If a reader becomes annoyed, all of the worthy information you are providing is cast in the shade of your personal opinions. Once you have finished a draft, take a hard look at any of those sections. Are you just presenting facts? Once you take out your slant, you may find that the facts make your case for you.

“Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.” —Dale Carnegie

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved. 

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.