As a ghostwriter, I’m often asked to draft op-eds. Yet contrary to what you might think, writing is the easy part; it’s the other stuff that’s hard.
Perhaps the hardest part is what must be accomplished before ever setting pen to paper. For example, it’s one thing to have a great idea; it’s another to convey that passion with precision.
So, the next time someone asks for help with an op-ed, take a step back and first address the following four issues. (If you’re feline-friendly, you can remember this formula as “CATS.”)
Here’s a hard truth: Fandom does not equal expertise.
I might love my Tesla, but if I want to opine about the Model 3, then I must demonstrate some kind of credibility about cars. After all, opinion without experience is already endlessly available on social media.
Check out the bylines in the top op-ed pages and you’ll see that you’re competing against: CEOs talking about their industry and prime ministers talking about foreign relations. (Their positions may be pablum, but that’s another matter.)
Make sure you have the credentials to speak to your audience.
An op-ed isn’t a narrative or a rumination. Those genres are fine, but they’re not op-eds. If you don’t have a clearly definable argument, you’re not writing an op-ed. You’re writing an article or essay.
Many thought leaders are visionaries who excel at propounding big ideas. That’s a strength for building a business, but when it comes to penning a 750-word argument, brevity, specificity, and simplicity are best.
Make sure your contribution has a clear point of view.
Editors prefer pieces that are relevant to a current event. If you can, wait until you can tie your thesis to something in the news.
With a hot issue, it’s important that you respond within a few days. With each passing week, your topic gets pushed out of the news cycle, and your piece becomes less relevant. The early pitch gets the editor.
If you can’t summarize your argument in a single sentence, you haven’t thought it through sufficiently. Sure, you’ll sacrifice nuance, but that’s what this medium requires.
On a related note, always include a headline. It, too, serves as a summary. Bonus points if you can include a sub-headline and, if you want to ingratiate yourself with an editor, pre-written social media copy. These extras help to reinforce and crystallize your thesis.
Op-eds are like résumés: Supply far exceeds demand. Don’t give your recipient an excuse to ignore you by ignoring the rules of the road. Instead, embrace the “CATS” formula, and you’ll start the submission process on second base.