How to Write an Op-Ed

Op-eds are part of a longstanding tradition which has survived the transition from print to screen.  Most publications today welcome op-ed pieces. 

Succinct, timely, and well-written opinion articles are published daily in print and online media.  Many publications have their own “Op-Ed Page” dedicated to sharing these third-party views with readership.  

Op-Ed is Not a Letter to the Editor

Op-eds are more than the more informal “letter to the editor.”  Letters to the Editor deal with content published by the publication.  The letter may agree with something published recently, or it may provide additional information that was not covered in the piece.  Often, Letters to the Editor voice displeasure or disagreement with something previously published by the newspaper, magazine, or site. 

Letters to the Editor are short.  They deal with recent stories (something published days or a week or two beforehand). 

It’s fine to write Letters to the Editor.  They’re like comments to a noted blog like Grits for Breakfast.  However, if you have more than a paragraph or two, then you may want to consider submitting an op-ed. 

Basics of an Op-Ed

The term “op-ed” is short for “opposite the editorial page.”  It’s a bigger, more complex piece than a letter to the editor. Unlike a letter to the editor, the op-ed may or may not come from a subscriber or dedicated reader of the publication.

Op-eds are longer than letters to the editor, but they are still succinct.  An op-ed will run between 400 -1200 words, depending upon the publication.

It will deal with recent news topics or current events.  These will be areas of concern to the publication’s readership.  A beautifully written op-ed dealing with hurricane relief may not be published in the Chicago Tribune, but it might be most welcome at the Miami Herald. 

The author will have a level of expertise on the subject matter.    It’s true that op-eds help to build the reputation of the author as an “influencer” or “thought-leader,” but it’s also true that most publications want op-eds from those who already have a level of expertise in the subject matter. 

Lawyers practicing in criminal law may write about pending cases dealing with issues before the Supreme Court like capital punishment or search and seizure protections.  Doctors practicing in rural areas may write on the impact of federal funding on health care or how to fight the growing lack of physicians outside urban centers.  You get the idea.

Should You Write an Op-Ed?

An op-ed can be powerful.  It’s possible for your article to reach millions of readers, influencing or educating their perspective on the issue.  It’s tool for good.

It’s possible that you will benefit from increased name recognition, as well.  If you have a public relations or marketing consultant, then they probably love the idea of op-ed submissions to increase your exposure and visibility in your area of expertise.  

Tips for Writing Op-Eds

If you decide to write an opinion article, then consider the following tips:

1. Check the Guidelines

Publications have requirements for op-ed articles.  Follow them.  Here are some examples of publication guidelines for Op-Eds:


2.  Focus on a Single Argument

Limit your piece to a single argument.  There simply isn’t the word count for more than one point to be made.

3.  The Rule of Three

Remember the sage advice of your high school English teacher:  tell them what you will say, say it, then tell them what you said.  The op-ed isn’t the place for beautiful descriptions of a pleasant memory from your childhood to set the tone for the piece.  Get to the argument from the get-go.  

4.  Help the Reader

Consider your reader.  What’s here for them, do you have solutions to the problem after you’ve identified it?  You can’t just argue your position; you need to include recommendations on how to fix things.  Examples are great. 

5.  Write to the Reading Level of the Publication

Consider the reading level of the publication.  Use free software like Hemingway if necessary.


Cool Public Domain Image: Cloud to Ground Lightning in Las Cruces, New Mexico


From Wikimedia Commons:

This image or file is a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain in the United States.


NaNoWriMo and Thanksgiving: Yikes

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  It's also November 23rd, which marks the last seven days of National Novel Writing Month.  With the NaNoWriMo challenge, you commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days.  A full novel in one month.

As for why I'm dedicated to doing NaNoWriMo again this year, well .... right now, it's a very good question.  Yikes, yikes, yikes.

But I return to my reasons, as I shared them with you this year, Dear Reader


Seven Days Left: Will I Finish my 50K Word Count?

And, I'm okay on word count.  I'm close to 38K and that means I'm on track to win this thing as long as I don't slack off between now and November 30th.

But, yes -- tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  Yikes, yikes, yikes.

If this were trial prep, I wouldn't fret one bit.  I'd do it without thinking I might fail to meet the goal.  If this was a client's project or a publishing deadline, I would not be concerned one iota.  It would be done on time. 

The Big Reward From This Year's NaNoWriMo

So, why am I pondering the possibility that I might not finish NaNoWriMo this year?  Well, Dear Reader, this is one of the lessons that NaNoWriMo teaches me. 

As a writer, I need to be my first and best client.  I shouldn't prioritize my stuff over my clientele, but I should not consider my work as less important just because I'm writing it for myself.

I thought I had mastered this -- but nope.  But I'm gonna.  Maybe is the big reward that comes from this year's NaNoWriMo. 


Cool Public Domain Image: Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong

Louis Armstrong restored

Photo of Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Jazz Trumpeter

This is an image uploaded to Wikipedia from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c27236.

It is considered one of Wikipedia's "Featured Pictures," as one of the finest images shared on the site.

Public Domain Image: Gift to the Library of Congress

From the Library of Congress:

  • Title: [Louis Armstrong, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, playing trumpet]
  • Date Created/Published: 1953.
  • Medium: 1 photographic print : gelatin silver.
  • Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-127236 (b&w film copy neg.)
  • Rights Advisory: No copyright restriction known. Staff photographer reproduction rights transferred to Library of Congress through Instrument of Gift.
  • Call Number: NYWTS - BIOG--Armstrong, Louis "Satchmo"--Orchestra Leader [item] [P&P]
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print


Quotes and Copyright: When Is It Okay to Use a Quotation?

Quotes are great!  I love them; bet you do too, Dear Reader.  Thing is: sometimes it’s fine to use a quote – but not always.  

Even if a quotation only involves a few words, it can still be protected by copyright law.  (Sometimes by trademark law, as well.)  And if it is legally protected, then the author owns them.  The quote is his or her property.  Use it, and you are stealing that property from a federal perspective.

So, when is it okay to use a quotation?  Here are a few tips and things to consider:

Public Domain Is Your Best Resource

Any written words that have past their copyright expiration date are considered to be in the “public domain.”  The copyright has ended by the terms of the federal copyright laws.  The author no longer has property rights to the quotation.

The key here is to make sure that the quote is, indeed, free from copyright.  How to do this?

Well, you can confirm via the age of the quotation.  Anyone who has been dead for at least 100 years, you are pretty darn safe to use their stuff.  People like William Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, or Plato, for instance.

But this isn’t always true.  Take versions of the Holy Bible.  Not every translation is free to use and in the public domain.  The King James Version:  yes.  The NIV: nope. 

Another example: Agatha Christie published her first novel in 1920 (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), and the Estate of Agatha Christie is vigilant about protecting her legacy – including quotes from her books and plays and letters.  Plus, her work is protected by the copyright laws of the United Kingdom as well as the United States.  

Some Quotes Are Not Copyrighted

Not every quotation gets copyright protection under federal law.  Slogans for example aren’t copyright protected.  Some short phrases, ditto. 

For more on these exceptions to the rule, read:  Copyright Protection for Short Phrases – Rich Stim,” by Mary Minow on the Stanford University Copyright and Fair Use blog. 

Fair Use of a Copyrighted Quotation

Fair use is an exception to the protection of copyright and allows use of the copyrighted words.  Under the fair use doctrine, you can use a small excerpt from a published work without the author’s permission – if you are using it for certain purposes.

These include a review of the overall work (book, novel, play, etc.); a parody of the work; or for an educational purpose. 

Fair use is tricky.  Each case must be determined on its own circumstances.  Be careful here. 

It Doesn’t Matter if the Quotation Has Been Published or Not

Copyright law does not apply only to works that have been published and shared with others.  Unpublished work is also protected by federal copyright laws.  

What If You Want to Use a Quote that is Copyright-Protected?

To use a copyrighted quote, just ask.  Maybe you will be pleasantly surprised and the owner will be touched, even complimented, that you appreciate their work.  

Will they ask for money?  Not always, but sometimes.  That’s to be negotiated between you and the author.  You might pay a nominal sum, or you might be asked to fork a pretty hefty chunk of case.  All depends.  (This is called a “licensing fee.”) 

To quote your mother (and mothers everywhere), it never hurts to ask.


Why NaNoWriMo is Good for You

In a matter of hours, National Novel Writing Month 2017 begins.  Feel the pressure yet? The excitement?  The judgment and criticism?

After all, why bother?  

This is the holiday season.  The clock strikes midnight on Halloween and the NaNoWriMo ticker starts ticking.  In 23 days, it will be Thanksgiving. 

And it's year-end, business-wise.  There are deadlines to meet.  Procrastinating clients will call in a frantic need for something yesterday. Happens every year.

So, is it nuts to add the goal of writing 1700 words each day for 30 days into the mix?  Am I crazy for doing this?

Well, sure, maybe. 

What I Get Out of NaNoWriMo

Here's the thing.  I don't dedicate my Novembers to NaNoWriMo because I'm planning on writing the Great American Novel in one month's time. 

I'm doing it for several other reasons, ones that I think help me and may help you, too, Dear Reader should you decide to join in the fun.  Things like:

  • It helps my self-discipline.  I keep to a schedule during the holiday season. 
  • It spurs my imagination.  Each morning, there is a fun and safe invitation to dream and fantasize all sorts of things.  Dogs that can talk; pink skies; mysterious passageways ....  And I can put them into plots, not just leave them in my daydreams.
  • It helps me see how much and how fast I can write.  As the chapters build, there is a sense of accomplishment.  Of doing something just for me.  Just. For. Me.
  • It helps me build a story without worrying about vocabulary, dialogue, setting.  I fly though the day's word count getting the story down for that day.  It's freeing.  I'm a storyteller and I'm not sure what's going to happen the next day. 
  • Finally, it keeps the Judgmental Bear away.  Oh, how I love to criticize myself!  Here, I know that I'm writing a bad novel.  It's supposed to be bad.  To make sure I keep this in mind, I do things like start each year's epic with the same sentence:  "On a dark and stormy night ...."
  • It's creative.  I draw maps of the village, I cut out photos of watches or cars or recipes or cats that fit with my storyline.  I collect them with disc-binding into this fun, zany scrapbook slash art journal.  They go alongside my words, which I hand-wrote last year and plan on doing again this year.  This disc-bound book gets big.  It's magical.  I add washi tape and vintage postcards and lace.  Done right, it needs a big fat ribbon to hold itself together.  I love this.
  • Bottom line, it's fun.  NaNoWriMo is fun.  And I need all the fun I can get these days, don't you?

For more, check out:

"Fast-Draft Writing for NaNoWriMo and Every Other Month," posted on September 19, 2017 by Writing Coach;
and all the NaNoWriMo online Pep Talks by writers like Dean Koontz, John Green, Sue Grafton, Tom Robbins, Meg Cabot and many more .


Cool Public Domain Image: Carnival Ride

This photograph is from the Library of Congress. It is found it the John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive and has been released into the public domain. 

Disco Star Ride at Seaside Heights, New Jersey

As for using this image, details from the LOC:

Publication and other forms of distribution: John Margolies made the photographs in the John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive. The Library of Congress purchased the intellectual property rights for the photographs with the archive and, therefore, there are no known copyright restrictions on the photographs. Privacy and publicity rights may apply. Photographs of sculpture or other works of art may be restricted by the copyright of the sculptor or artist.

Access: Subject to P&P policy on serving originals. Digital images are used in preference to the original slides, which are kept in cold storage for preservation purposes.

Reproduction (photocopying, hand-held camera copying, photoduplication and other forms of copying allowed by "fair use"): Subject to P&P policy on copying, which prohibits photocopying of the original color photographs.

Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by John Margolies, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-MA05-1]


Countdown to National Novel Writing Month

Less than two weeks until kickoff for another feisty November -- if you're planning on participating in National Novel Writing Month this year!

Details at their website -- and I've written some posts on NaNoWriMo, too, if you're interested.  


Dictating with Free Google Docs Voice Recognition Software

I hate to think how much money I've spent over the years on various headphone sets and updated versions of Dragon Naturally Speaking.

When I first purchased Dragon, I used the ill-fitting headphones provided with the package because the documentation explained this was best for accuracy.  It was vital to keep the mike in a set position near to your mouth, too.  You had to remember your placement each time you decided to dictate. 

It's even more depressing to think about how much time I spent reading speeches by John F. Kennedy and chapters from Alice in Wonderland into Dragon in order to increase the accuracy of my fancy personal voice recognition software. 

Nuance (the software maker) provided all sorts of lengthy content for this purpose.  It was interesting enough.  It was also time consuming.  And periodically, I would upgrade and have to go back to square one, re-reading Alice aloud once again. 

Time and money. I spent a lot of time and money on Dragon.  

But no more!  



I Adore Google Docs’ Voice Recognition Software

Right now, I'm dictating this blog post using Google Docs’ Voice-Typing tool.

And I’m amazed.  The accuracy is better than Dragon from the get-go.  I haven’t had to dictate a single speech or book chapter.

Even more wonderful, I’m dictating as I sit comfortably in front of my laptop, the television chattering in the background and the dog snoozing at my feet.  No cords!  No headset!  No careful enunciation. Just chattering away. 

And the price is right!  It’s free!

Time and money.  I’m saving so much time and money with Google Docs.

Sure, I Still Have to Edit

Of course, I have to edit what I've dictated in Google Docs. That’s partly my fault, though: I have a bad habit of saying “next paragraph” instead of “new paragraph” for one thing. 

Editing was a must with Dragon, as well.  Who doesn’t edit after they’ve dictated?  Not sure having to edit the dictation is a drawback here.

You May Love Google’s Voice Recognition Alternative to Dragon, Too

So, Dear Reader, here’s the thing.  I admit I was a snoot about Dragon and assumed it was superior to the freebie tool in Google Docs. 

I was wrong.  I apologize, Google Docs.

And I am so happy right now: not having to wear a headset, as I'm speaking in a normal tone and my laptop's microphone is catching everything I'm saying.

It's wonderful.  I love this.  Maybe you will, too. 

Will I Use It For NaNoWriMo 2017? Dunno.

As for a National Novel Writing Month, I still plan on handwriting my novel again this year. I enjoy writing fast and sloppy with a pen and paper; that is part of my NaNoWriMo fun.

Still, as November progresses and my word count falls behind schedule, I may be tempted to dictate some of my stuff. 

I know the fact that I can dictate quickly into Google Docs, just staring at my laptop screen, and get this level of recognition and speed is something I'm going to remember.


Microsoft Word Add-In From Kindle: New Self-Publishing Software

Amazon is offering an Add-In for Microsoft Word (beginning with Word 2010).  From Kindle Direct Publishing, the Add-In allows you to do the following:

  • Format your manuscript by specifying styles like Chapter Title, Chapter Subtitle and others.
  • Save time by using pre-formatted sample pages like book title, copyright, dedication to complete your book.
  • Preview your book any time as it would look to customers reading on Tablets, Phones and Kindle E-readers before publishing.
  • Work in Microsoft Word and publish your .doc/.docx manuscript as an eBook or paperback with Kindle Direct Publishing.

Beta Testing for Both KDP Word Add-In and Kindle Create

It’s new, and it’s offered in beta, which means some indie publishers may nix using it right off the bat. 

Why?  Beta can be scary.  That’s because “beta” by definition means not all the kinks are ironed out of the product. 

However, if you are beta-brave, then you might like Kindle Direct Publishing’s Microsoft Word Add-In.

Kindle Create Still Available

This does not replace KDP’s original Kindle Create.  You’re free to choose between them.  In fact, Amazon explains that they are separate tools, and that files cannot be moved between them.  
The initial Kindle Create has been available for several months.   According to Amazon, Kindle Create allows you to do the following:

  • Quickly apply a book theme to match your story.
  • Detect and style chapter titles automatically.
  • Preview your book any time as it would look to customers reading on Tablets, Phones and Kindle E-readers before publishing.
  • Works with .doc and .docx files exported from applications like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Apple Pages, Scrivener and others.

What They Offer the Writer - Publisher

Amazon explains that both these beta tools offer the writer-publisher a way to compile content into an e-book or paperback format. 

  • Each tool provides the writer – publisher with an opportunity to apply “themes” to your content (KDP themes listed are Classic, Modern, Amour and Cosmos).   
  • Both allow the writer “preview functionality” for phones, tablets, and e-readers. 
  • Either version enables the writer to create a table of contents using chapter titles. 

Kindle for Self-Published E-books

For many folk, getting your e-book published for Kindle e-readers and sold via the e-book market on Amazon.com is enough.  

That’s fine.  It may not be the best option for maximizing your exposure and sales, but focusing on the Amazon marketplace isn’t a bad thing. 

Which means Amazon offering a new compilation tool provided within Microsoft’s popular word processing software Word seems like a great tool for lots of writers.

I think I’ll try it out.  It’s on my task list, anyway.

Word vs. Scrivener

However, my real interest here is how this enhances Word for self-publishing.  It’s making it more comparable to Scrivener.  

Maybe the real news here isn’t the alternative in KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) compilation tools.

The big deal here may be the new power of Microsoft Word to compile content for publication.  For some writers, will this be enough of a temptation to return to Word after they’ve been using Scrivener?