Five points to ponder before aiming your piece for The NY Times

6/24/2013 by Maura Casey

So, you want the NY Times to publish your commentary?  Many are called, but few are chosen.

The NY Times oped page gets many hundreds of submissions for a small handful of spaces every week. In addition, because  the staffs solicits other op-eds from known experts,  the number of spaces available for your opinion piece in any given week dwindles into the single digits.

This doesn’t mean you should not try. But you need to work that much harder on your article before sending it in. 

 Consider this article that former Oped Page Editor David Shipley wrote in 2005.  In it, he pulls aside the curtain just enough to give a glimpse of the editing process of theTimes' Oped Page. 

But how can your piece get to the top of the pile? What's the decision making process? How can you write an article that will get noticed by this most-coveted commentary page? 

The answer varies with circumstances. But here are 5 points to consider before pasting your words into the body of an email (no attachments, please) and hitting the “send” button to oped@nytimes.com

  • The quality of writing is important, but your prose need not melt the stars. Great writing rarely carries dull ideas.
  • The angle on a topic can be infinitely more important than the writing. A predictable viewpoint will languish in the slush pile.
  • Timeliness matters. If you have a unique angle on a current event, write it NOW. The sooner your piece is in the hands of an editor, the better. You don't have days. Frequently, you only have hours before the starting line is crowded with competitors. 
  • If your commentary is 1,000 words or (God forbid) longer, cut it to 750 words or less. Yes, you may have to pitch overboard your favorite sentences. Welcome to the hell known as rewriting.  In the highly unlikely event the oped staff wants you to add words, they will let you know. A word to the ever-hopeful: In my 20-plus career editing opeds for two newspapers, I did this exactly once.
  • Academic credentials, offices held, or golden resumes may spark interest in your piece. But they won't help a boring article see daylight. And personal experience can trump them all. Consider 23-year-old Nicholas Peart’s commentary. His piece, titled, "Why Is The N.Y.P.D. After Me?" made the top of the “most emailed” list for several days. Peart accomplished this because he had a compelling tale to tell, and a very clear point to make. Because his oped did both, he didn't need a long list of credentials.  His ability to articulate his experience closed the deal for oped editors.  

Yours can, too.

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