write an op-ed column or essay
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How to write an op-ed column or essay: 10 tips for success

An op-ed column or essay can be an effective publicity tool for authors. Here's what you need to know about writing and placing yours. 

Op-eds – opinion essays that appear opposite the editorial pages of newspapers – are powerful communications tools for authors with an informed opinion on a current topic in the news.

An op-ed column or essay lets authors and others use the power of their words to influence opinions on a topic by making an argument for a particular perspective or solution.

Publishing an opinion piece also gives you a chance to call attention to your book when you include the title in your author credit at the end of the essay.

Pre-write your op-ed column or essay

Writing and placing an op-ed often requires waiting for a big news story that provides the timely hook you need to get an editor’s attention, then quickly cranking out that essay and getting it to the editorial page editor immediately.

It has to run when the topic is still in the news.

It can be hard for a busy author to react with speed, though. Not everyone can drop everything and write an effective op-ed after learning about a breaking story.

Writing and placing an op-ed often involves waiting for a big news story that provides the timely hook you need to get an editor’s attention, then quickly cranking out that essay and getting it to the editorial page editor immediately.

There’s an easy solution to that problem, though: Have at least one op-ed written in advance to use when a news event brings your op-ed’s topic to the public’s attention.

When news breaks, simply customize your op-ed column for the situation so it appears fresh and timely.

Learn by studying published opinion pieces

Haven’t written an op-ed or opinion essay before? Start by studying some that have been published already.

Review what your local daily newspaper has published recently so you have a sense of that outlet’s style and preferences. Then look at op-eds in high-profile publications such as USA Today and The Los Angeles Times.

Note rhythm, pattern, and flow. They will guide your own writing process while ensuring that your op-ed is accepted for publication.

Once you’re familiar with how they’re written, you’re ready to craft yours.

10 tips for a perfect op-ed column or opinion essay

These 10 tips for writing effective op-eds will help you begin to master the craft so you have one on hand that you can update according to the trending news story for immediate publication.

1. Read the publication you’re submitting to.

Study its style and tone, as well as the types of op-eds it typically runs.

2. Follow your target publication’s op-ed/essay guidelines.

On its website, the Op-Ed Project (more on that below) lists guidelines for most daily newspapers that publish op-eds.

Your target publication isn’t on that list? Search the site, or Google the publication’s name plus “op-ed guidelines.”

Can’t find guidelines, but you know the outlet runs op-eds? Call or send an e-mail to request them.

One point on following the publication’s guidelines: Do it. I know that seems obvious, but I also know that some believe “the rules” don’t apply to them.

They do.

3. Determine your goal.

What do you want to achieve with your op-ed?

Do you want people to behave differently or take a specific action?

Knowing what you want to accomplish will give you focus and a clear starting point.

4. Select one message to communicate.

Op-eds are typically 800 words or less.

You might think that gives you more than enough room to make your case.

If you’re anything like me, when you start writing about something you’re passionate about, you’ll hit 900 words when you’re still warming up.

In reality, 600 to 800 words is just long enough for you to make your case for one solid message, and too short for anything more.

5. Be controversial.

Editors like essays with strong opinions that will spark conversation.

So do radio talk shows. That means you can use your published op-ed to pitch radio talk show producers and hosts on a conversation about your essay topic.

6. Illustrate how the topic or issue affects readers.

Are you familiar with “WFIM?”

WIFM is the copywriter’s acronym for “What’s in it for me?” Grab attention quickly by making your piece relevant to readers.

Put a face on the issue by starting your essay with the story of somebody who has been affected.

Or, begin with an attention-getting statistic that will surprise people or make them think.

7. Describe the problem and why it exists.

This is often where you can address the opposing viewpoint and explain your group’s perspective.

Don’t overlook the opposition on this issue. Address the “yeah, buts” before they come up.

8. Offer your solution to the problem and explain why it’s the best option. 

In addition to making your case, review any alternative solutions. Explain why yours is better.

This will give your opinion weight and credibility.

9. Conclude on a strong note.

Repeat your message and state a call to action.

It might be “Volunteer at your local shelter,” “Call your representative,” or “Start with one small step” — whatever it is you need readers to do to help create the change you seek.

People want to help, but they need to know how to do that.

10. Include a brief, relevant, author credit.

This is the one- or two-sentence bio at the end of the piece that explains why you know what you’re talking about.

Make it relevant to the topic.

Here’s an example from an op-ed that appeared in my local daily newspaper this month: “Julio Fuentes is the president of the Hispanic Business Alliance, committed to the growth and quality of life by supporting minority entrepreneurs.

And if you’re an author, be sure to include your book title — you’re doing this in large part to get exposure for your book, after all.

Now that you’ve written it . . . .

When your issue is suddenly making headlines, pull up your op-ed column or essay and tweak it to reflect what’s in the news.

In an email, write an introduction that connects the news to your essay, paste your essay into the message, and e-mail it to the editor quickly.

Don’t send it to more than one newspaper with a national reach — for example, both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times or The New York Times plus USA Today. They compete with each other, so they want content that’s exclusive to them.

It’s okay to send your op-ed to multiple newspapers in noncompeting markets, though. If you do, try to include a local connection so there’s more of a reason for each publication to run it.

Tap into The Op-Ed Project’s resources

Does writing opinion pieces resonate with you? Do you see yourself writing op-eds to make a difference while calling attention to your book or cause?

The Op-Ed Project, an organization that helps strengthen under-represented voices, offers op-ed writing advice, training, and resources.

They include writing and pitching tips, affordable “Expert Talks,” private coaching, and in-depth workshops.

If your nonfiction book or novel involves a cause or issue that you want to bring attention to, add op-eds — opinion essays — to your book marketing plan. (Be sure to download your free Build Book Buzz Book Marketing Plan Template here, too.)

If your nonfiction book or novel involves a cause or issue that you want to bring attention to, add op-eds — opinion essays — to your book marketing plan.Click to tweet

Use your words to educate, inform, and persuade while calling attention to your book, too.

Do you read the op-eds in your local newspaper? Tell us in a comment. 

(Editor’s note: This evergreen article has been updated and expanded.)

Like what you’re reading? Get it delivered to your inbox every week by subscribing to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter. You’ll also get my free “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources” cheat sheet immediately!


  1. These are excellent tips that I am definitely going to try. I do have some strong opinions regarding the Americans’s overall health and well=being and will begin sharing them via op-eds.

  2. As always, your information is informative, helpful and spot on. I love reading your recommendations in that you cut through the fluff and get to the heart of the matter.

    1. Thanks, Kathleen! I write as a reader — I’m less more interested in the preamble and more interested in “why do I need to know and how do I need to do it?” Thank you for commenting — I appreciate it!


  3. Thanks for the shoutout!

    I’d prefer people either save my chart to Pinterest, or join my free library for a printable version. That one’s on a white background, and members are notified of updates (if they choose).

    It’s acceptable if people download images for their personal viewing only, but it’s not a good idea to encourage downloading images off the web. They seem to spread far and wide…

    Just my small way of trying to protect creatives’ intellectual property.

  4. Louise, it never occurred to me that anyone would do anything but download and save it for their own personal use, but I can understand your concern. When someone brands something useful like this, that branding is often marketing speak for “share this so others see it as example of my work and expertise.” I misunderstood.

    Thanks for letting us know that you prefer Pinterest saves. Want me to edit the text to state that? It’s easy enough to do! Just let me know!


  5. One thing I’ve noticed in the last few years is that the style of headlines for op-ed pieces has changed a lot. Op-eds in prominent papers like the Washington Post and the NY Times no longer have stodgy, straightforward headlines. Instead, the headlines can be quite informal, lively and personal in tone.

    For example:
    * Children’s books, give me a female squirrel, a female duck, a female anything
    * Ukraine’s government just faked a journalist’s death. Will it be worth the cost?
    * The Housewives of White Supremacy
    * Rules for WITCH HUNT!: The Board Game
    * I have Updated My Personal Privacy Policy

    While op-ed editors will often change the headline you suggest, if you provide them with a stellar one, it can get them reading your piece with much more interest than otherwise.

  6. Hi Sandra, Fantastic article! Thank you so much for sharing. Do you have any tips for what to put in the subject line of an email to catch the editor’s attention? Should it be the title of your op-ed or something else? Thanks again.

    1. Great question, Niloufar. I’m glad you asked.

      If the topic is very timely so publication needs to happen quickly, I’d recommend using “TIME SENSITIVE: (topic) op-ed submission.” Then I’d follow up by phone and leave a brief message alerting them to your email.

      If it’s less urgent, something more like “Timely op-ed submission about (topic)” will work.


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