Writing an op-ed, an opinion piece that goes on the page opposite from the newspaper’s editorial page, is a great way to get noticed. It will give you a wonderful platform to sell your idea, and your book.
But it’s exceptionally hard to get that op-ed published.
How can you increase your chances?
Op-eds are typically very short essays, usually under 800 words. You might think that a shorter essay is easier to write than a longer one, but in fact, short is harder than long. Every word counts.
Right off the bat, you need to answer three questions:
- What’s your point?
- Why now?
- Why should the audience care?
These questions sound easy, but they’re not. You will spend far more time thinking about your op-ed than you do writing it.
Let’s take the questions one by one:
What’s your point? It can’t be something vague, like the sort of stuff you read in the corporate PR handouts. You need to say something—and that something should be a new idea, or a new way of looking at an established idea. “It should deal with a clearly identifiable issue and propose a tangible solution says Bernard Simon, a freelance writer and editor, and former Financial Times Canada correspondent. Bernard now helps authors with all kinds of writing projects, including op-eds. You need credible data to support your argument, he adds, and the proposed solution should be “realistic and reasonably achievable.”
Why now? This is crucial. In the news business, we call it the news peg. What happened today or this week that makes this topic news? Are you responding to a front-page story—or a new trend? Your op-ed needs a real news peg if you want to have a chance of getting published.
Why should the audience care? It depends on the audience. The audience of a business newspaper will be interested in different aspects of your idea than a general audience would. In other words, you would write one kind of essay for the Wall Street Journal, and a completely different one for the Toronto Star.
It’s a challenge, to be sure. But give it a try. No matter what happens, it will help to sharpen up your ideas.