Oct 30, 2017
This article was coauthored with Sophie Hermanns.
Last spring, two EAs (us) were published in NYT as co-authors alongside Mark Bittman, writing about the consequences that factory farming has for human health. We were asked by several people to provide some brief tips about how to publish op-eds in similarly high-profile venues, so here ya go.
Contacting a writer who has written on your topic is one way to get your email read by higher-ups, but ultimately, you’ll have to go through an editor.
Come up with a compelling angle on a story
Novelty is key. Editors are often more interested in new formulations of arguments than rehearsals of the same debates (yes, even if an old way of looking at a problem is basically the right way).
Importance of your arguments ≠ publication. Sorry existential risk folks!
Tie your article to a news hook, if possible
Editors love hooks that allow them to peg an important topic to something timely (see: “The dark history behind letting male “geniuses” get away with bad behavior”). If you aren’t able to find something recent, that’s OK, don’t worry about it.
For calendar events, you can even plan your hook ahead of time. For example, if you want to write an op-ed next year about Stanislav Petrov Day (September 26th), set yourself a calendar reminder to start making pitches in August.
If possible, try to coauthor with an expert or be one yourself (preferably who is well-known)
For most outlets, this doesn’t substitute for a novel idea, timely hook, etc. Prestige does matter, though, so emphasize the credentials that you have or try to coauthor with someone who has a clear professional connection to the topic you’re writing about. Prestige alone will not get you an op-ed (unless you are Beyonce or Obama reading this post, in which case, HI!). It can, however, help make sure your idea is actually considered. Mark Bittman co-authored our op-ed, bringing both a big name and a personal connection to the New York Times. He was also just a great co-author to work with.
Write a brief, compelling pitch
This is the most important thing you will do, so make sure it is direct persuasive, and brief. Since most people scan their emails, we recommend checking the readability score of your writing with an online tool like this one or this one.
Make sure you have the right email address to pitch
You can usually find this in one of a couple of places: an editor or writer’s bio page, personal website, or just by Googling “[name] email.”
If this doesn’t work, you can also guess their email address by finding out the format that other emails follow at the same publication (e.g. “firstname.lastname@example.org”)
If you can find personal email addresses of journalists, this can get a higher reply rate than work addresses, since journalists usually have heavy spam filters. This approach carries some risk of offending people.
Ask around! We got the email address of one of the New York Times opinion editors from a friend.
Send your pitch to an editor right when they’re most likely to have their email open
We’ve had the most success pressing “send” on emails around 9am and 1230pm, right when people are starting work or getting back from lunch (we haven’t tested this rigorously though, so take it with a grain of salt). Editors get a million emails, so it’s helpful if you can capitalize on the human urge to respond to the most recent ping.
Write a full article before corresponding with an outlet
Pitch the same piece to multiple outlets at once
Pitch to outlets that don’t align well with your story or style
Extensively debate the focus of your piece via email - this will likely take up too much of people’s time and they will get distracted by something else
Write long emails
Write overly formal emails
Take a long time to respond to email
For your reading pleasure, we’ve also included the initial pitch that we sent to NYT below. Critiques welcome in the comments!
Subject: Op-Ed Pitch - WHO Open Letter w/ 60+ Signatories
I'd like to give you a pitch for an op-ed announcing the release of an open letter directed to the candidates for the next head of the World Health Organization.
So far, our open letter has 60+ signatories with relevant expertise including Noam Chomsky, Peter Singer, and Mark Bittman, as well as academics at Harvard, Hopkins, Oxford, etc.
The letter asks the next Director-General of the WHO to prioritize reducing animal farming during their tenure. Our primary arguments focus on animal farming's impact on climate change, antibiotic resistance, and non-communicable diseases.
Any interest? You can see the nearly finalized text here and preliminary signatory list here. [Links removed]
We are likely to publish the letter in full late this month or early May. Let me know if you have any questions.
Lastly, we suggest that everyone gracefully accept rejection when it happens, as is usually the case. An ego that can’t be easily bruised is a writer’s best asset. Don’t be afraid to pitch the same outlet or editor twice (or more), especially if they have covered your topic before or respond to your emails. Merry pitching!