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My First Sale in the Op-Ed Market
by Karen J. Gordon

I was sweeping my kitchen floor the morning the call came in. Nonchalantly, I answered the phone thinking it was my sister, my mother, a friend--anyone but the editor of my local newspaper, The Oregonian.

"Is this Karen Gordon?" The voice was unfamiliar.

"Yes, it is," I said blandly, sure it was yet another telephone solicitor.

My heart beat harder than usual when I realized it wasn't. I listened in shock as the editor introduced himself and said he'd received my essay.

"I like your idea," he said. "The topic is timely and you offer a different slant on the subject. I'd like to publish this in next week's paper."

My idea. Accepted. Published. The editor. On the phone. With me. My thoughts came to me in broken bits, and I had to take a deep breath before I responded. He was treating me like a writer, and I knew I needed to respond professionally. But could I? Did I have the right to pretend I was a writer? What if he found out I wasn't? Could I practice what I preached and fake it 'til I made it?

The whole thing started when I enrolled in a community education course called, "Writing for Money." In that class we learned about queries and cover letters, what they were and how to write them. Every week I'd compose a new query and bring it to the class for critique. It was a grueling experience, but slowly I began to understand the components that would get the editor's attention, describe the idea, and convince the editor I'd be the perfect person to write the piece.

I began to understand the components, but could I really do it? There was only one way to find out. The class inspired me to think like a writer even though I didn't feel I could call myself one until I was published. Every day I read the newspaper and clipped articles that sparked something in me--an interest, a curiosity, a good feeling, a bad feeling.

The Op-Ed on sweepstakes got my attention. The story accused the major sweeps companies of misleading consumers into thinking they were winners, when they actually weren't. Older people, in particular, were supposedly being victimized by these corporations by being forced to buy magazines when they entered the sweeps.

I had a bad feeling. Mob mentality was on the rise. Apparently the senior citizens couldn't take care of this problem themselves. Who would protect them from the big bad wolf? Who would stop this evil?

I also had a good feeling. I was a sweepstaker myself. I'd been entering sweeps for over a year and had won a number of prizes including a large screen TV. I didn't think the sweeps companies were the bad guys. I didn't think they were misleading anyone anymore than many ads I'd seen on television which told partial truths and insinuated claims. Why were these corporations being singled out as the evildoers? All anyone had to do was read the entire sales pitch and follow the directions. Weren't those some of our first lessons in life anyway? Follow the instructions and read the fine print before you sign anything? Well, I was getting all riled up and knew I had something to say about this!

So what should I say and who should I say it to? What would happen if I sent a counterpoint essay off to the editor who published the original piece on the subject? Could I do that unsolicited? What had I learned in my class?

I slowed myself down, looked at the masthead of the paper, and found the appropriate editor. I wrote a brief note requesting writer guidelines for the Op-Ed section; they arrived two days later. There was no mention of pay, but they did accept unsolicited opinion pieces on subjects relevant to a wide audience.

That was all I needed to know. I wrote my piece according to their guidelines refining and reworking it until my word count fit their requirements. I offered my opinion and personal experience while at the same time being sympathetic to the so-called victims and to my potential audience of readers. And I made sure the piece was light. After all, this was about entering contests for fun!

My cover letter to the editor was brief and succinct. I explained why I'd written the piece in response to the original Op-Ed and why I thought their readers should get the other side of the sweepstaking story. I submitted my work to the editor with confidence in what I'd written, but to be truthful I never expected to hear from him. After all, why in the world would the largest paper in Oregon publish my thoughts on the subject?

But there we were on that weekday morning after I'd taken my son to school and begun my household chores. The editor and I. And this time he was the one making the request.

"So I'd like to run your piece in next week's paper. How would you like your byline to read and could you send a photo?"

A few days later there I was in black and white for all the world to see (well, all the local readers anyway). It was the first time I'd seen my work in print and the moment was made even more exciting by seeing my photo and name next to my words.

But the big surprise came the next week when I nonchalantly went out to my mailbox to retrieve the day's bills and junk mail. There was an envelope from The Oregonian. What could this be? I opened it to find my returned photo and something else--a beautiful check for $100. Could life get much better than this?

© Copyright 2003, Karen J. Gordon

Karen J. Gordon writes for both print and online publications. Some of her writing credits include The Busy Freelancer, Pineapple Path, Reiki Magazine International, Western Territory, and The Oregonian. Her essay, "Touched," has been accepted for the book, "Freedom Isn't Free" by Kim Wilson.

Other articles by Karen J. Gordon :

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