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To opine or not to opine? Writing an op-ed.

November 27, 2011

Recently a writer asked me how he might go about getting an op-ed piece published. It’s a fairly straightforward process, as newspapers clearly state their guidelines for submitting opinion pieces. Note in the links to the op-ed rules, below, that the papers require exclusivity so you’ll need to submit to them one at a time. If the link to the paper you’re interested in isn’t here, simply search online for “name of the paper” and “op ed submissions”.

The New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, (Toronto) Globe and Mail

But the more important issue is whether should you try to publish an op-ed piece at all. It will require significant work on your part and each paper receives many more submissions that it could ever publish. Here are the reasons to consider writing one.

1. An op-ed can be an effective way to establish your authority in your field and expose your book to potential readers. This is particularly true when your expertise connects with current news headlines. For example, here is a piece by Erin Aubry Kaplan in the Los Angeles Times about Section 8, black poverty and the concept of black unity. Her byline mentions her book, Black Talk, Blue Thoughts, and Walking the Color Line. Another example: An op-ed piece about the Mississippi flood of 1927 and its parallel with recent floods appeared in the (New Orleans) Times Picayune. The writer is John Barry, who is also author of a book about those floods called Rising Tide. As you’ll see from the comments posted after his article, an op-ed can generate strong feelings among readers, so be prepared for that possibility.

2. You are an established author (whether in your local community or even nationally known) and can use the op-ed as a platform to espouse a cause you believe in. An example: Author Brad Meltzer wrote about the importance of supporting local libraries in the Miami Herald. Jonathan Kozol frequently writes about education reform, here in the New York Times in connection with the No Child Left Behind Act. Tim and Nina Zagat, as shown in the image above, write about wage fairness and restaurant tips. They are, of course, creators of the Zagat guides.

3. You can fight your corner. Here is Joe McGinniss in USA Today defending his use of unnamed sources in his biography of Sarah Palin.

You don’t need to be a writer of non fiction to qualify as an expert for an op ed (and of course Meltzer is a novelist.) In writing your novel you might have conducted research relevant to the news, and that means you qualify. You might be a children’s book author with a strong reaction to the media’s coverage of children’s book apps. You might be experimenting with ebook technologies to publish your short stories and have a cogent argument about ebook pricing and discoverability. There’s lots of approaches you can take, just so long as your piece is cogent, authentic and of course, well written. Here’s another example, this one by Dennis Lehane defending an artist’s right to his own perspective.

As for how to write an op-ed, I can’t do better than the Office of Communications and Marketing at Fairleigh Dickinson University which has outlined a clear approach. Universities have a natural interest in getting their faculties noticed, so you’ll find good direction from other campuses, too, such as Duke.

Bottom line: If you have something meaningful to say, then an op-ed is a good way to say it and get some attention for your book, besides.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 29, 2011 12:30 am

    dear lady-of-letters

    very much enjoyed this post – but also wanted to say how Wonderfully Useful we are finding your “re-tweets”.

    you’re becoming our editor-of-twitter (and god knows, that’s a job that needs doing 😉

    hello from the middle seat en route back to JFK, dear.

    see you very soon.

    _tg x

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