Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Some Updated Op-Ed Musings

It's been more than ten years since I self-published Writing the Libertarian Op-Ed, and I'd like to think I've learned a few things since then -- especially in the three years I've worked as media coordinator at the Center for a Stateless Society, which is coming up on 800 published op-eds. We had a fairly miserable June on the media front (not enough content and only five media "pickups"), so I looked at how we've been doing things, worked up a memo on what I think we need to do differently, and figure that since we're not the only libertarian op-ed authors, the insights might be valuable to others as well. So, three things:

  1. The "sweet spot" for op-ed length seems to be around 400-500 words. Some papers, but not very many, will publish pieces up to 800 or even 1,000 words. My scientific wild-ass guess is that for every 100 words over 400, you lose maybe 10% of possible publication venues. If you're at less than 400 words, you're probably in "letter to the editor" rather than "op-ed" territory. If you are writing for a specific venue, rather than for mass submission, then naturally you should look at that venue's guidelines. Heck, go the extra mile and read some of their recently published pieces to find the un-mentioned guidelines.
  2. The news hook for an op-ed should be an issue or event the mainstream media has covered in the last seven days -- or, if you can confidently predict such things, something the mainstream media will cover in the next seven days. And yes, your op-ed does need a news hook. There's a reason they are called newspapers.
  3. I've been told that the average newspaper reader reads at 6th grade level. I don't know that that's necessarily true. It may be that the average op-ed page reader is somewhat more literate. But let's not get crazy here. You have to write stuff that can be read and understood. 12th-grade reading level, tops. Here's the tool I use to measure that variable.
Hope this helps.

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