Understanding Personal Essays: What’s Your Opinion

Abigail GreenBy Abigail Green


Think op-ed pages are all angry letters about parking meters and people spouting off about politics? Think again. The op-ed pages of many newspapers are great places to publish timely, topical personal essays.

Depending on who you ask, op-ed is short for “opposite the editorial page” or “opinion-editorial.” Either way, it’s often a spot that’s open to non-staff writers of first-person pieces.

Yes, sometimes these essays offer up a political viewpoint, but not always. I’ve published essays in the op-ed section on topics including my imaginary conversation with Jennifer Aniston following her break-up with Brad Pitt, and going to see the Sex and the City movie.

The key is that your essay has to be timely. If you breed Portuguese water dogs, you would have been in like Flynn with an essay on that topic when the Obamas chose the White House pet. Of course, you also have to beat other writers to the punch. That means if your piece is about the American Idol finale, you’d better write that sucker the minute the show’s over and fire it off to the editor that night. If you wait a couple of days, it’ll be old news. This is one instance where simultaneous submissions are fine.

Essays on the op-ed page are often in the 500-700-word range. Your best bet is to study the print version (at a library if you don’t subscribe), since essays can be hard to find on newspaper web sites. It should be easy to find the right editor’s e-mail address. Pay can range from nothing to several hundred dollars. If a piece has the potential to be reprinted, you may come out ahead.

More and more these days, newspapers don’t have the budget to pay for unsolicited freelance submissions. Consider whether the clip and the exposure are worth it. I once negotiated with an editor who couldn’t pay for my essay to print my blog address in my bio at the end. That was worth it to me. Besides, the topic was so time-sensitive that I couldn’t possibly have sold it to any weekly or monthly publication.

If you’re an opinionated writer with a finger on the pulse of current events, the op-ed page may be just the place for your personal essay.

Abigail Green has published more than 150 articles and essays in regional and national publications including American Baby, Baltimore Magazine, Bride’s, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work also appears in the new book, “A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers.” (Adams Media, 2009). Abby holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. in publishing from the University of Baltimore. She writes the “Crib Notes” column for The Writer Mama e-zine and the “Understanding Personal Essays” column for Writers on the Rise. A mother of two boys, she blogs about parenting, publishing and more at http://diaryofanewmom.blogspot.com.

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