Did you realize that, right where you live, there is a place to get yourself published? It won’t pay you a dime, but it will give you the chance to put your writing in front of a large audience on a regular basis. If nothing else, it’s a place to practice your craft, learn how to be concise and pointed, and see your name in print.
It’s the op-ed page of your local newspaper, a publication opportunity that’s available and easily overlooked.
True, you won’t get paid for your opinion, but the op-ed page offers you a place to work on the craft of writing without the pressure of a serious deadline. Because of length requirements, you will need to pare your writing down to its bare minimum to increase your chances of being published-a useful skill to develop. Most importantly, you will have the opportunity to have a letter published every day the paper is printed.
Here are a few tips help you get your name in the paper and increase your chances of having a letter published.
1) Know the guidelines. Most newspaper op-ed pages have specific guidelines for what they want and need from letter writers. Generally speaking, you will need to supply contact information for the editor. There is generally a maximum length allowed as well.
2) Be concise. Even if there isn’t a maximum length allowed, you need to keep your comments pointed and brief. Editors don’t want to spend time weeding out unnecessary comments. Make their job easier and you increase your chances for publication.
3) Make a point. Don’t go for flowery and don’t try to surprise. The point of your letter should be evident within the first three sentences at worst, and by the end of the first sentence at best. No one wants to play guessing games with you. Be clear and direct.
4) Focus on one thing. Letters that wander around from point to point are difficult to follow. Newspapers depend on getting the point of a story across quickly with a minimum of language. The best way to do this in a letter is to have one specific point you wish to address. If you have two things to comment on, write two letters.
5) Grammar, spelling, and punctuation count. Editors are busy. Newspapers with daily deadlines have editors who often don’t have time for lunch. If your letter is riddled with mistakes, it won’t be printed. Save the editor time and trouble, and you increase the chance your letter sees print.
6) Know the audience. If the paper doesn’t have a sports section, don’t write a letter about a sports topic. If it is a small local paper, a letter covering national topics might have a harder time seeing print, unless you are responding to a story the paper printed. In fact, the best way to choose what to write about is to respond to something printed in the paper. This way, it’s a guarantee that the editor and the newspaper’s readership already have an interest in that topic.
Seriously, is there value to writing letters to the newspaper? Absolutely. Look again at that list of guidelines for getting a letter printed. You should note that every point-knowing the guidelines, being concise, making a point, sticking to the point, writing fundamentals and knowing the audience-are critical for every publishing market. These guidelines aren’t just important for writing op-ed letters, but in writing anything. Starting here gives you the chance to hone your abilities with virtually no pressure, starts good writing habits and gives you an excellent chance of seeing your name in print.