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Have Something to Say? Sell It: Writing for the Op-ed Market
by Karen J. Gordon
Remember that article you read in the paper? Or
the report you saw on TV or heard on the radio? You know the one I mean. It was
the news item that got you hot under the collar. Or maybe it was that story that
tugged on your heartstrings. Your mind went into overdrive with a stream of
thoughts, opinions, and facts, and you said to yourself, "I have something to
say about that!"
If you do, then you should try your hand at
writing op-eds. You might have heard it's a tough market to break, and I won't
tell you otherwise. But the good news is that every month hundreds of op-ed
pieces are published in national and regional newspapers, and though not all of
the publications pay, a good number of them do. Before you start thinking about
getting paid for your opinions though, you need to know exactly what an op-ed
1. The name op-ed comes from the term "opposite
the editorial page" which is often where you find them.
2. An op-ed usually runs between 600-850
3. The piece is focused on one newsworthy idea
4. Research, facts, and/or personal experience
are used to support the opinion.
5. An op-ed offers a creative solution to a
problem or a new way of looking at a timely subject.
In addition to understanding the defining
characteristics of op-eds, you also need to be able to share your strongly held
opinion in a unique way. By expressing your original viewpoint with creativity
and intelligence, you can draw in a wide audience with your
Kate Walter, freelance writer and journalism
teacher at NYU, sold op-eds to The New York Times, Newsday,
and the NY Daily News. She says, "You must have a personal connection
to a topical issue. I'm usually angry and funny at the same time. I think all my
published op-eds stemmed from outrage." Some of her topics were: why I hate NYC
street fairs; why I could not get a credit card when I have no debts and have a
job; and various pieces about living in NYC rent stabilized
Jeff Manthos, violinmaker and writer, also had a
personal connection to his subject. He wrote his opinion piece in response to an
article in the local paper about Vic Wood, a Vietnam Veteran who'd crashed in
1970 on the jungle covered side of Vietnam's Dragon Mountain. Manthos met Wood
in 1971 at the Brooke Army Hospital, but it was in May of '97 that he read how
Wood's name was the most recent addition to the Oregon Vietnam Living Memorial.
When asked why he thought The Oregonian chose his piece for
publication, Manthos said, "I think the editors chose it because of its deeply
personal nature and because of how their own article touched me, a nice
interplay of themes."
Both Manthos and Walter targeted their work
toward a regional audience that was familiar with the subject matter, but you
can also find success writing op-eds with a larger audience in mind. Janine
Adams, a freelance pet writer in St. Louis, Missouri wrote about "bringing
outdoor dogs inside during cold weather." She was inspired to write the piece
one bitter, cold day when she was out walking her dog who was wearing a polar
fleece coat. She felt bad for the dogs she saw shivering in their yards and she
felt mad at their owners. "I came home and penned an op-ed. And I just faxed it
in." Even though her piece was published by her local paper, the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch, its audience was not specific to her locale, and Adams said she
"...could have sent it to cold-weather newspapers all over the
Another writer with success penning op-eds for a
more universal audience is Jen Singer, freelance writer and creator of www.MommaSaid.net. Slanting each piece in a unique direction such as "lost
in the shadow of the Baby Boomer generation and defining their own American
Dream with entrepreneurial solutions," she sold op-eds about Gen Xers to The
Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and The Miami
After setting the tone with your unique
viewpoint, use tight and intelligent writing in the body of your op-ed to
strengthen your opinion. Cincinnati based freelance writer, Rita Colorito, who
sold her first op-ed to the Los Angeles Times, wrote her piece on how,
"...watching television programs in English, like Sesame Street, can help
non-native English-speaking children or children raised in a bilingual
household. I tied it to my own experience growing up in an Italian-American
household and also related it to that of my childhood classmates reared in
Portuguese and Creole speaking households."
If you read op-eds, you'll notice that many of
them are written by experts, but don't let that dissuade you from trying your
hand at this market. As Colorito says, "The topic of bilingual education was
really big at the time, with tons of experts writing op-eds. If I had tried to
do an op-ed on the pros and cons of bilingual education it never would have been
published. So I came at it from my own experience--which unless you are a noted
expert in a particular field--is really the best approach to writing and selling
op-eds. Your experience is your expertise."
Your closing paragraph should tie back to the
beginning by clearly restating your opinion or offering a solution. And even
though you're writing about a newsworthy subject, it never hurts to add humor if
it's appropriate. Most editors want to see the full manuscript, but check the
guidelines on their web sites because there are always exceptions. And whether
submission is by regular or e-mail, always include a cover letter. Most
importantly, choose a subject that's dear to your heart. It's your passion for
the subject combined with your unique viewpoint that's going to get your voice
Here are a few markets to get you
Baltimore Sun; Richard C. Gross, Op-Ed
Page Editor; email@example.com; 300-700 words; $50-150; Exclusive
The Cleveland Plain Dealer;
firstname.lastname@example.org; to 700 words; $75; Non-exclusive worldwide rights.
The Orange County Register; Linda
Svehla, Executive Assistant Editorial & Commentary Department;
Newsday; email@example.com; 700-800
words; $150; queries preferred.
© 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.
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