Madeira PR was recently asked to lead a specially tailored version of our Writing Letters to the Editor and Op-eds that Get Published seminar for several dozen public health advocates affiliated with the American Lung Association’s Community Transformation Grant. Below are a few tips and tricks we shared during the course that will help increase your odds of getting published the next time your sit down to write an op-ed or letter to the editor.
Know What Differentiates an Op-ed from a Letter to the Editor
Word count is not the only differentiating factor between these two reader-authored opinion documents newspapers regularly accept for publication.
- Average LTE length: 200-300 words or two paragraphs
- Average op-ed length: 700-800 words or one typed page
Typically an op-ed, which is short for opposite editorial offers a new point of view on a current issue. In the past, the op-ed section was placed opposite the newspaper’s editorial content in order to provide opposing or differing views from the newspaper’s own voice.
Letters to the editor are most often written in response to something that was published in the paper. Generally speaking, letters to the editor are used as a tool of complaint or dispute while an op-ed seeks to influence opinion.
Play by the Rules
While it may seem like you’re improving your odds by submitting one concurrently op-ed to several different newspapers, in actuality, it’s a recipe for disaster. Some newspapers want you to give them as much as two weeks to review and decide whether they want to publish your commentary. Some even ask that you do not call to follow up.
It’s important to know each newspaper’s submission rules and content guidelines before even sitting down to write. You can typically find this information on the newspaper’s website. If you’re ever in doubt, call to ask.
Special Tip: If your op-ed is going to be published, you’ll usually get a call from the newspaper’s editor to confirm that your op-ed hasn’t been published anywhere else. You typically won’t receive the same courtesy for a letter to the editor and may want to consider setting up a Google Alert to confirm publication.
If your op-ed is rejected, you’re free to submit your content to another newspaper for consideration.
Timing is Everything
Your ability to get published relies heavily on timing. Editors need time to review your letter or op-ed. Depending upon the reach of a newspaper’s audience, the editor may have from dozens to hundreds of submission to review.
If you know you have an op-ed that ties nicely into a major holiday, plan ahead so that you can submit it at least two weeks ahead of time although a month is ideal for major holidays such as Fourth of July and New Year.
It’s also important to read the newspaper every day to 1.) have a sense of major news stories and trends and 2.) to become acquainted with the tone and types of op-eds and letters to the editor your newspaper publishes.
For example, if your newspaper published an op-ed within the past month or two regarding an issue or topic you were planning to write about, it’s not likely that the editor will want to publish something similar anytime soon. There are always exceptions to this rule, but know the topic has to have wide reaching implications such as the economy or an ongoing conflict or crisis for an editor to even consider a second run. Offering a new angle or point of view will always increase your chances of success.
Who signs your letter to the editor or op-ed matters quit a bit. In most cases, it’s appropriate to have your CEO sign your organization’s op-eds and letters to the editor to maximize credibility. Note however that the point of each is not to increase publicity for your organization but to raise awareness and hopefully spur action surrounding key advocacy issues.
In some cases, you may have a volunteer or an expert with credentials possibly even more relevant to the issue you’re writing about than your CEO. The point is to take time to consider whose name and title will provide the most impact at the bottom of your letter to the editor or op-ed.
Know that pedigree often doesn’t matter. If your organization works with volunteers for example, a compelling storyteller who can humanize a larger socio-political issue can be just as effective.
Biting into the Op-ed Sandwich
When it comes to writing op-eds and letters to the editor, practice makes perfect. We’ve illustrated a few key elements that every op-ed and letter to the editor must contain.
Sandwiched in between a clever opening statement and your final compelling call to action are a series of well-researched and carefully articulated facts, stats and other relevant data necessary to make your case and point.
When you read an op-ed or a letter to the editor, pay careful attention to the opening and close. The more the opening sentence draws you in, the more likely you are to entice a newspaper’s editor to consider your content.
Special Tip: When writing a letter to the editor, it’s important to clearly cite in the first sentence the specific article to which you’re responding. Be sure to include both the published date and title.
Your core message or thesis must be abundantly clear. Both an op-ed and letter to editor should contain a clear thesis statement in the first paragraph that lays the foundation for your supporting arguments.
Always focus on the message you wish to convey in lieu of allowing the opposition to control your message and response strategy. Acknowledge the opposition’s arguments and strike back with stronger data, human interest stories and expert testimony.
For examples of the day’s best op-eds, visit: www.dailyop-ed.com
Reel in Your News Hook
The best op-eds and letters to the editor tie into a current news and events. Timely topics always have a better chance of getting published. Here are a few tried and true tactics to consider:
- Localize a national story
- Provide comment on new or pending laws
- Correct false information
- Spotlight a scandal or faux pas
- Dissect trends or new research data
- Find a new way to link your information to a holiday or season
The Devil’s in the Details
Although obvious, not taking the time necessary to proofread and properly fact check your op-ed or letter to the editor can result in heartache down the road. Sometimes you can spend too much time with a document and miss a glaring error. Having someone who isn’t close to the project review your work can provide invaluable perspective.
Know that most newspapers follow the AP Stylebook when it comes to grammar and format, so be sure you do the same.
- Have a colleague review
- Use spell check
- Double check facts & stats
- Consult the AP Stylebook
- Obtain approval from signer
Call in a Lifeline
Madeira Public Relations has ghostwritten and published an impressive library of letters to the editor and op-eds on a wide variety of topics. If you’re stuck and need help, give us a call! We’re happy to serve as your lifeline!