Thursday, June 14, 2007

Knotted Knickers and Writing

When a writer gets his knickers in a knot, there is something that can be done, and done immediately.

Write, edit, and submit and Op-Ed.

Writing is the easy part. If you're like me, you have a switch somewhere in your psyche, and, once it's in the "On" position, you can splash passion on the page.

Editing is harder. Most Op-Ed pages want stuff in the 700 to 1000 word range, and usually it's more toward the lower end than the higher. Cut. Cut. Cut. Then you begin the real cutting. I recently wrote 1200 words on a subject I have followed for several years. It took me two edits to trim 200 words, and then it took another day -- and some bloody slicing of one of the primary themes driving my position -- before I pared it down to 700 words, more or less.

Op-Ed pages are looking for expertise, at least as I see it. They want the writer to have some bona fides in the area. Many of the editors also give look first at the writer's home area.

The essay I submitted this week revolved around a national issue, but, when I submitted it to the Denver Post, for example, I received this reply. "Thanks for thinking of us and submitting this commentary. We generally reserve our guest commentary slots for regional-interest issues and/or regional writers, so we'll decline at this time."

I'm in Missouri, and so I did receive an encouraging reply from the Kansas City Star ... but no acceptance reply at this writing.

Of course, there are the biggies -- newspapers with national influence like the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. In fact, the Washington Post has a weekend section called Outlook where longer advocacy and information and commentary essays are presented. But like other publications with a national audience it's a tough place to crack. My reply was personal, but negative. "Thank you for your submission to the Post's Outlook section. Unfortunately, we're unable to use the piece in Outlook. We do appreciate your sending it in; as I'm sure you can imagine we get many fine pieces and can only use a handful."

And finally there is the Christian Science Monitor, which like most of the Big Boys sends a verification-receipt response to define how a writer will be contacted. "Opinion Submissions If your opinion submission is selected for publication, we will contact you. If you have not heard from us within 48 hours of submission for timely pieces and two weeks for evergreen pieces, please feel free to submit your article elsewhere. We do not work on Fridays and Saturdays, so if your submission arrives after 3 p.m. on Thursday, it probably won't be seen until Sunday."

Here's a quick list of addresses:

  • Chicago Tribune ctc-Comment@tribune.com
  • Philadelphia Inquirer inquirer.letters@phillynews.com
  • New York Times oped@nytimes.com
  • Washington Post (Outlook Section) outlook@washpost.com
  • Christian Science Monitor contributor's guidelines.

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