So you've put the finishing touches on your op-ed and are ready to see your name in lights -- or at least on the back page of the newspaper. How do you get editors to consider your piece for publication? You simply ask them. And...
Especially when it comes to writing op-eds, incorporating quotations from experts can be a great way to bolster your arguments. Unfortunately, an 800-word op-ed doesn't leave much room for lengthy block quotations. So writers often shorten quotes by using ellipses. However, if you find yourself doing this, be extremely careful. When you chop up a quote, it's easy to alter the meaning completely. This can be an honest mistake or, worse, a purposeful manipulation.
To see how someone’s words can be misrepresented by an artfully placed ellipsis, look no further than a recent Amazon letter released online at ReadersUnited.com. The letter makes the argument that today's book publishers are attacking Amazon's eBooks in the same way that the literary community opposed the introduction of paperbacks, which were much cheaper than the alternative hardcovers at the time.
George Orwell is best known for 1984, his fictionalized account of an authoritarian dystopia in which all human activity is tightly controlled by a central authority. That work has endured because, in addition to being marvelously well written, it’s proven prescient about the inner-workings of modern totalitarian states.
But Orwell was also a prolific and powerful essayist. “Politics and the English Language” is one of his most influential entries. And it includes a short set of writing rules that are highly applicable to crafting op-eds.
This list is already famous. You might already know about it. But it’s worth revisiting regularly:
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
The competition to place an op-ed at a top newspaper is brutal. Major papers like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal receive thousands of opinion submissions every week. But they run only one or two outside submissions per day. Some days, their regular columnists fill the entire page.
When sifting through that torrent of op-eds, editors tend to deploy a couple handy, commonsense heuristics. One of them is the obvious but important question: "Is this piece tied to something newsworthy?" You might have composed an op-ed of astonishing eloquence and insight. But if your piece is about a story that transpired a year -- or even a month -- ago, it probably isn't placing.
That means your op-ed needs to establish a news hook within the first couple sentences. The best way to give yourself a bona fide chance of getting serious consideration is to craft a timely opening paragraph. Here are four rules to follow:
1) The news hook should be an event from the past few days. Your hook should be of sufficient relevance that it could be covered on the front page of whatever paper you're pitching. Last week, hooks of national relevance would include the sequestration and new gun control legislation.
2) Stay descriptive. Remember, at this point in the piece the editor's chief concern isn't its angle -- it's its relevance. You can save the explicit opinion for later on. In your introductory paragraph you want to provide the basic facts and create some context before laying out your thesis.
3) Keep it short and punchy. The first paragraph should be no longer than three sentences. Don't weigh it down with excess information. You should aim to include only the details that matter.
San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval inscribed his name in baseball's history books Wednesday night by hitting three home runs in Game One of the World Series. With the feat, he joined some illustrious company. Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and Albert Pujols are the only others to do the same.
To casual baseball fans, Sandoval may seem to have appeared out of nowhere. But he's actually been toiling in the Giants organization for over eight years. Sandoval had to log more than 2,200 at-bats in the minors -- and another 2,100 at the major-league level -- before slugging his way into baseball immortality.
Similarly, folks looking to increase their media footprint generally need to notch a number of solid-if-not-sexy placements before they can reach a million readers with one op-ed or feature article.