Getting you Op-Ed Published
Ever been wondering how to to get your Op-Ed piece published in a major Australian newpaper?
Yesterday I was lucky to listen to Sushi Das talk about pitching Op-Eds to newspapers and actually succeeding in getting them published. Sushi is Opinion Editor for The Age (Fairfax Media newspaper). She is the person who makes a decision on what goes into an Op-Ed column of The Age in print and online, Monday to Thursday.
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Sushi receives on average 100 Op-Ed submission per day but only the most engaging, vibrant and provocative make the cut. The Age publishes about 20-30 Op-Ed pieces each issue.
Here is what it takes to capture the editor’s attention and get your piece of writing accepted...
- Don’t use any jargon or professional terminology. Imagine you are writing for an intelligent person who is interested in a variety of things but doesn’t specialise in your area. The key word here is accessibility
- Don’t use a lot of numbers. It is distractive for reader, especially since most people now read their news online.
- Your writing has to be engaging, lively, even conversational. The last thing you want to do is bore the reader. Each paragraph must entice the reader to continue reading.
- Don’t discuss something, don't try to be 'fair' – there’s no ‘on one hand… on the other hand…’ in Op-Eds – you must have an opinion. Your task is to persuade the reader to take your side of the debate.
- Editors look for Op-Eds on a variety of topics – both relating to the current news and those on issues considered to be of ongoing importance. Some of the areas Sushi mentioned being of particular interest to her are well-informed pieces on international issues, federal/domestic politics and gender. Left-wing oriented Op-Eds are dominating in submissions, so the editors are interested in hearing the voices from the other side. Also pieces from women-authors writing on ‘men’-topics ( think: corporate world, politics etc) are in constant demand.
- All Op-Eds should aim for 800 words on average, but those falling within a rage of 600-1000 are also acceptable. If your writing style is more of a playful, conversational quality, you should aim for a shorter (600 words) piece. It is always a good idea to have a look at the current op-eds pieces for length and style before you pitch yours. The Age will pay for your efforts if your piece is accepted. If it's accepted but not printed, you will still get half the established payment. Not all newspapers pay for Op-Eds, but think of it as getting your name and voice out there.
- Rants and pleas for funding etc have lower chances of getting in. However if a rant is a fine piece and still follows the same rules as listed above (it is engaging and lively etc), you still may succeed.
- If your piece is not accepted for The Age, you can either ask the editor to pass it on to the National Times or you can pitch it to them yourself. Don’t pitch to more than once place at once.
- Don’t follow up with the editor immediately after you've emailed your piece. This might sound like an obvious thing but you’d be surprised how often an author would follow up just minutes after emailing. Editors like Sushi aim to answer all pitch emails but if you don’t hear from the editor by the end of the day, it’s ok to follow up then. Also you can add a line to your email saying that if you don’t hear back by certain time you’ll take the piece somewhere else. It’s fair enough, but just let the editor know if you are taking it away somewhere else and if it got accepted.
- The earlier you pitch, the better. And this applies to both – the time of day you pitch (early morning is the best) and the amount of time you give in advance to let the editor know what your piece is about, especially if it’s connected to an important event that’s coming up, a historical anniversary etc
- Editors like Sushi prefer to have the Op-Ed piece itself rather than just the pitch. The op-ed text can be attached as a Word document while in the body of the email you should write about yourself and what makes you a perfect person to write this piece and a few sentences of what the piece is about and what you argue. Send a head-and-shoulder shot along with the Op-Ed. In the subject line of the email write the topic of your pitch not ‘opinion piece’ – editors get hundreds of those!
- And finally – you will get more traction with your Op-Ed if what you’re saying is something different. Even if there are strong voices out there already commenting on the issue. It is originality that counts.