Updated: Mar 1
Before you even start writing, you want to have a good idea that your piece will fit within the publication where you want to see it published. Publications have explicit rules for submission and implicit ones. The implicit ones cover the range of topics included in the publication (Wired vs. the Boston Globe) and the bias of the editorial team. Skim the past month or so of opinion pieces and you should quickly pick up on the implicit requirements of the opinion sections.
Op-ed Pitching: The explicit and implicit expectations of publications and editors
When the word “op-ed” is used, most of us immediately think of our local newspaper or one of the major publications with a national readership (NY Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal). Those are all fantastic starting places if you have an issue of regional or national importance.
However, many blogs and online-only magazines have space for guest views. Trade publications in your industry along with those of professional and civic groups often have room for guest views, too. Editors are hungry for content as long as it fits within their publication’s guidelines.
When determining where to pitch, ask the following:
How many of my ideal readers will read my piece in this publication?
Do my topic and angle fit within the ideas typically covered by this publication?
It may turn out that a niche publication might be a better place than one with a wide readership.
If you’re having trouble finding an ideal piece, try googling some form of “Your general topic” followed by “guest post,” “submit an opinion,” “guest view,” etc.
“Food allergies guest post”
“Education submit opinion”
“Free-range parenting guest view”
One caveat in doing this: If a publication has already covered that topic it may be some time before they cover it again unless you can give a different take.
So why worry about pitching before writing?
Well, publications have explicit and implicit requirements for the pieces they accept. Plus, it’s a best practice to submit your piece or pitch to one at a time.
Once you have your publication, look first for their explicit rules on guest submissions.
Usually, there will be a link at the end of guest posts, sometimes it’s on the Contact page, other times they’ll have an explicit link in the footer of their site. If all else fails, you can email the editor overseeing guest submissions or the blog for rules.
Take a look here at the New York Times vs. BuzzFeed News vs. Washington Post
Explicit Rules: Take note of the following before you write your piece:
Does the publication want you to pitch an idea for a piece or for you to submit the whole thing? Some that are pressed for time want the latter as they can’t go back and forth on an appropriate topic.
Word count — pay very special attention to this. Yes, most traditional op-eds are around 600 words but the publication will almost always spell this out.
Topics considered for publication
To whom do you submit your piece? What format? Does it need to be in the body of an email or is an attachment OK?
The time when you should hear back — once that has expired, it’s OK to submit to another publication
Payment — sometimes explicit and sometimes not.
Implicit Rules: You won’t find these in the guidelines of publications but these are the unstated rules that the publication follows. Figure them out by reading the past 10 opinion pieces.
As you read ask yourself the following questions:
Is there an ideological range that this publication subscribes to? Everyone has a bias, and no, there are very few places where *all* views are published. Each publication will have a certain way that it views the world and will publish pieces according to it. Some will say that they want “contrary” views but then somehow they only seem to print views that are in line with a particular viewpoint. Know this ahead of time to ensure your piece will be well-received and that you have the right readership for your piece.
What is the voice, tone, and style, accepted by the publication? Are most opinion pieces in this publication conversational, academic, lecturing, balanced, strident, etc.?
Have certain topics been covered recently where you’ll be seen as repeating something already said?
How do the authors typically make their points? Are the opinion pieces strongly driven by narrative and emotional appeal, or, are they more logical and fact-based?
Can you see your essay getting published as the next one in this publication? Would it look out of place or would it be welcomed in?
By now, you should have the following in your doc:
Your topic, angle, and potential title
Your target publication and its rules for submitting
Do now: Create a quick pitch to the publication you want to submit to–this can be a pitch before you’ve written the piece or the main part of the email with the piece attached in the format requested by the publication.
Forming your op-ed pitch: In most cases, you’ll submit a pitch to an editor rather than the whole piece. Here are a few things to keep in mind. 1. Apply Hook, Teach, Ask, to your pitch. -Give a one-sentence overview of your topic, explain why you are qualified to speak on it, a general idea of how you’ll teach it, and then ask if this will work for their publication.
Example: To a regional newspaper: The state legislature is about to vote on raising the minimum wage. As a small-business owner, I’d like to show why I am in fact for this rather than against it like so many of my colleagues. My goal is to demonstrate that when my employees can make more they are happier, more productive and that there are ways for small business owners like myself to make the numbers work on our end. With the vote happening next month, I’d like to submit my piece in advance of our legislators voting on it.
2. Be nice when you follow up if you don’t hear anything — if their rules don’t state it, waiting 3–5 business days is OK.
3. Do not submit to more than one publication at a time. Wait whatever their time limit is and go on from there.
Readers and editors will want to know why you for a particular issue — that is, what is your authority to write on this piece? This doesn’t mean your degrees (but it can) but consider any of the following ways to demonstrate that you are the right person to take on your issue:
You have done original research on the issue
You have lived an experience that the current debate overlooks
You were at an event being covered by the media and want to give your perspective on what the event itself and/or your participation means
You are providing a contrary point of view to something commonly held (or perceived)
You can demonstrate that a current controversial policy or solution is working or is not
Your profession, or an experience, at your job can shed light on a larger issue
Your participation in an event, group, tradition, can help the readers better understand an ongoing issue.