Monday, January 04, 2010

Tips for getting your thoughts published

As the National Post notes today, “Close to 100 letters to the editor arrive at the Post each day. All are read, but only 10 to 15 make it into print each issue. That's partly due to space limitations, but also because many are basically unusable.”

One of the best ways to raise a voice for the persecuted is through well-written letters to newspaper editors. And a 1 in 10 printed average is pretty good odds that your letter will be taken seriously if you do a good job. To help get your letter into print, Paul Russell, the National Post letters editor, suggests the following tips:

A reader recently commented that he has "been impressed for a long time with the quality of the letters that appear on the Post's pages. That must mean that your job of selecting puts you in the same position as a kid with a free pass in a candy store."

Nice analogy, but not quite accurate. Numerous letters can be savoured and enjoyed in their raw form, but most require some degree of editing before publication. So here are 15 pointers on how to make your letter irresistible in that candy store we call the letters file.

  1. Shorter is always better In this era of decreased attention spans -- encouraged by 140-character Tweets and abbreviated text messaging conversations -- newspapers have to compete. That is why we insist that letters be short and to the point. While it may seem difficult to express your ground-breaking thoughts in 200 words or less, this limit is for your benefit. The more succinctly the point is made, the better the chance the letter will be read and remembered.
  2. Letters aren't mini-columns Instead of trying to frame a complex argument, the best letters make a single point, convincingly yet briefly. If you can throw in a pithy observation or humorous twist along the way, all the better.
  3. Be topical Readers want letters about the issues and stories that are currently in the news. You don't have to limit your subject choice to Tiger Woods's bizarre love life or what's happening in Israel (a topic that never goes out of date), but at the same time, don't bother sending us your thoughts on Michael Jackson, Balloon Boy or the Copenhagen summit. Those topics are soooo yesterday.
  4. Appeal to readers' emotions Some of our best letters come from people talking about their own experiences. Last year, for example, we carried an amazing letter from a man coping with Autistic Disorder. As he noted, "Often it seems like I'm looking in on a bad movie scene -- with me as the anti-hero."
  5. Draw from your own experience and thoughts Don't pen a letter that relies on quotes from outside authorities to make its point. We want to hear what you think, not what you read elsewhere.
  6. Financial Post vs. National Post If you want to blast Terence Corcoran for his views on global warming or if you disagree with any other Financial Post article, send your thoughts to FP Comment page runs letters related to all content in its section, and FP editors welcome all feedback. - Print vs. online We only run letters to the editor about articles that appear in our print edition. Responses to articles on one of the Post's almost two dozen blogs can be posted by the public online (where you get to assume a cool nickname, like SassieLassie or GrungyOldVan).
  7. Articles vs. advertising Interest groups often buy advertising space in the Post to advocate positions that some readers will find controversial. If you want to respond to these paid advertisements, either buy your own ad or send your letter to the group in question.
  8. Your letter will be edited All letters are fine-tuned -- and probably shortened -- by Post staff, in the interest of clarity and space. Don't take it personally, but instead consider it a learning experience for the next missive you send in.
  9. Eschew obfuscation Write your letter as clearly and simply as possible. While columnists such as Conrad Black are given the leeway to use terms such as "callipygian" (it's worth looking up) to describe Michelle Obama, letter writers are advised to avoid using words that require readers to reach for their dictionaries.
  10. Avoid cliches like the plague "Thinking outside the box" is now an "inside the box" expression. Don't write that someone has "hit the nail on the head" unless you're talking about carpentry, and for the love of God, avoid gratuitous religious references (as I just failed to do). They offend some readers.
  11. We need exclusivity Don't send your letter to numerous media outlets thinking that will increase its chance of publication. Letters editors across the land, seeing the note is not unique to their paper, will just delete it.
  12. Play nice Don't attack the personal views of a reporter, fellow letter writer or columnist (even people as incendiary as John Moore or Don Martin). Instead offer a thoughtful countervailing opinion and try to advance the debate, which will encourage other readers to join in.
  13. Know the two-week rule In an effort to allow as many readers as possible to have their say on our pages, we aim to space out contributions by letter writers by at least two weeks.
  14. Tell us who you are Give us your name, phone number and address. This information is needed not only for verification, but also so we can contact you about editing changes. And we will not publish letters with your name withheld, except in extraordinary circumstances that have to be arranged beforehand with our staff.

I hope that these tips will help you to write more effective letters to editors on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world. For even more information, click here.


Anonymous said...

These tips are helpful but don't talk about a serious problem Christians may have with well-known newspapers- the anti-Christian bias that is part of the newspaper's policy. My experience with papers such as the NY Times is that they won't print any letter that disagrees with their pro-gay agenda position or cites Biblical verses for example. Tom

Erin Vandenberg said...

Hi there - thanks for your comment. I would like to offer some further tips on letter writing from our website that you may find helpful.

What to avoid when writing letters to the media:

-- Avoid being confrontational, abusive or offensive – such conduct falls far short of our directive to be "salt and light" as Christians.

-- Avoid using Scripture quotes – a wise and well balanced Biblical perspective which serves to address a crisis, problem or other evil can be conveyed without peppering a letter with Scripture.

-- Avoid preaching – readers do not buy newspapers to read a sermon!

It can be hard at times to truthfully express one's views in a way that people are able or willing to respond to. I encourage you to continue writing letters, even if there are occasions when your letters aren't published. Blessings.

Anonymous said...

Well spoken, but I'll stick with what I said. In dozens of responses by readers to a very one-sided article by Frank Rich supporting gay right last April which was also abusive of what he perceived as opposition, there were no opinions printed from readers which opposed him. This led me to believe that the paper had refused to print any opposing views. I simply stated in my e-mail that homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible and my letter was refused. I think readers NEED to hear a Christian point-of-view- that is the job of faithful Christians- to show honestly God's word and the need for repentance. Manners are important but so is the need for honestly presenting the gospel in winning souls for Christ. God bless. Tom

AP said...

Tom, you are correct in maintaining that a secular newspaper, such as the NY Times, should publish a balanced perpective. Most papers, at least in writing, have a policy to present both sides of an issue when both sides are written in a respectful and articulate matter. But policy is not always followed when it does not agree with the personal beliefs of the editorial staff.

At the same time, some will take references to "sin" etc. as condemning and potentially hateful. After all, they argue, if you believe something is a sin, then you believe that such actions warrant hell and thus you hate those you practice such things. They will tend to avoid letters which, in their minds, express hatred.

I'm not saying I agree with their logic -- I don't -- but writing in a way that is respectful to the worldview of the paper, especially when you disagree, will often give more credence to what you are saying. Remember that you are writing to people who give Bible quotes less weight than those from Charles Dickens.