Notes from an Op-Ed Writing Workshop with Author Michael Fedo

Insights on how the op-ed game works.

It’s hard to believe four years have already passed since I interviewed Michael Fedo about writing and his powerful account of the 1919 lynchings in Duluth.

Sunday afternoon Mr. Fedo made a presentation in the August Fitger Room on the topic of Op-Ed Writing. I took a special interest in the talk for a number of reasons. First, of the 450 articles I’ve published I don’t believe I’ve ever managed to get an op-ed piece into print. I suspect that a number of my 4000+ blog posts might be suitably converted into publishable pieces going forward though. Armed with my notes from the presentation, I feel a new surge of interest in tackling the form.

A second reason for attending was simply to meet some of our other local authors, since one never knows where a chance meeting will lead. I indeed saw a number of familiar faces as well as a few new ones.

Although I was intrigued by the title of his new book which he was also up here to promote, titled Don’t Quit Your Day Job, my third reason for attending was simply to get first-hand experience regarding how to conduct a writing workshop/book-signing event. I learned a lot. (His handouts were useful.)

As for his advice to not quit my day job, it comes a bit late for me. I quit my day job this past December. Retirement has been good so far. I continue writing, blogging and have a little more time for painting (making art) and fixing things around the house.

The Op-Ed Writing Workshop

Jim Perlman, of Holy Cow! Press, Michael Fedo’s publisher, was a co-sponsor of the event. Evidently this was one of the projects Jim had been working on when I inquired as regards one of my own book concepts a year ago. He said he was overbooked, had five other projects in the works. Mr Fedo’s was evidently one of these.

Felicia Schneiderhan of Lake Superior Writers welcomed us to the 90-minute workshop and introduced Michael Fedo. Mr. Fedo, began by defining for us what an op-ed is. Essentially they are editorials submitted by freelance writers. The challenge for all of us lesser known lights is that we are in competition with the likes of George Will, Thomas Friedman and other syndicated writers of national renown. So the first item of note was double-underlined. If you write about same things, you will be less likely to get published over these other writers. Their pieces will get picked up instead of yours simply because their names sell more papers, even if your piece is better written. So we are at a disadvantage, unless we write about other topics than what these writers are addressing.

Michael Fedo said he has published a dozen such pieces, none of them addressing the major issues of the day. “Once in a while an editor will accept something whimsical or even humorous,” he said. And despite the serious, non-whimsical story of the lynchings in Duluth, by the end of the workshop it was clear that his bailiwick is more lighthearted fare.

If you were in attendance you would have received a pair of handouts. The first handout was a list of 100 places where you can submit Op-ed pieces, many of which pay real money when you’re published.

This past 10 years, though, a change has been taking place. Newsrooms are shrinking. Editors and staff are over-worked. As a result they have less time than in the past. Also, many no longer pay for op-ed. Typical pay, however, is $50–200 for regional and national op-eds pay even more, though these are likely to squeeze you for exclusives. So be it. Who doesn’t want a New York Times byline? He then noted that most publications post their submission requirements and you should familiarize yourself with these. Some publications may have different requirements on weekends, which I did not know.

HOW DO WE BEGIN?

  1. To increase odds of acceptance, have a topic that you believe only you can write. Personal experience is a good place to look for these kinds of stories.
  2. Most things are not written in first person unless you are offering an anecdote to make a point.
  3. Think of your piece as a story. Everybody loves stories. The best essays are stories. Op-ed pieces should also tell something of a story. He cited a few examples, such as lessons you may have learned while raising a child with disabilities. If you can find a subject within your experience you will have an edge.
  4. He noted that “hot” news stories can be a challenge because of their timeliness. Three days is too long to put together a story in response to an event of major timeliness. The stories you write should have “legs.” In the vernacular of blogging, you want “Evergreen Content” that is as relevant two years from now as last weekend.
  5. Mr. Fedo said that this may be a cliché but it’s borne itself out in real life: “An expert or authority is someone who lives 100 miles or more out of town.” At this point he read one of his own published op-ed pieces titled “Can Capidulance Be the Next Yadda-Yadda-Yadda?” in which he lightheartedly addressed the issue of who gets to create new words.

More advice followed…

6. Pay attention to Word Counts. 400–800

7. If you are publishing with regularity you would be wise to Google yourself.

8. The Key to getting published is to write things only You can write.

Example: Where the Ear and the Anecdotes Play

9. I found this item interesting because it reinforces some thoughts I’ve been noodling for a future blog post. The difference between British and American writers is this: Brits interested in their Art; Americans are interested in being Stars.

10. Poignant Xmas stories, Mothers Day, a picnic gone awry, Commemorative days can oten find a home in print but may require longer lead times.

Example: A Folksinger Remembers 22 November 1963

THE SECOND HANDOUT

Distinguishing Characteristics of the Op-Ed

  1. Length.
    2. See what they are looking for.
    3. Requirements: Check their website.
    4. Research readers.
    5. What is your objective?
    6. What is the point?
    7. Begin with a Hook.
    8. Is your voice distinctive?
    9. If you are an authority or have a special background, identify yourself.
    10. No query necessary. Just send the piece.
    11. Op-Ed editors are swamped. Do not expect to receive a rejection letter.
    12. Send your piece to multiple markets. Indicate on your submission that you are selling One Time Rights.
    13. Your cover letter email should mention 2 or 3 credits if you have been published elsewhere.

As workshop attendees we were invited to submit an op-ed sample to Mr. Fedo which he would edit for us. Two of us were invited to read the pieces we submitted. I read, “Seven Reasons To Be Careful About Physician-Assisted-Dying.” Anne Moore read her entertaining piece about Florida titled, “Steppin’ in High Cotton.”

* * * *
DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB

After a short break Michael Fedo read to us from his 10th book. Everybody’s story is different, he said. “This one is mine.”

He first read from first chapter: Authorities and Experts May Be Wrong, which I re-read last night for my “bedtime read.” Much of his writing has been humor writing, so chapter two is called “Finding the Funny.” He explained that writing funny means making readers believe “this could almost really happen.” His third reading was an excerpt from chapter nine, “Three Incarnations of a Book,” dealing with matters related to his book about the lynchings in Duluth, which almost became a movie. He next read from chapter ten, “About Garrison Keillor.” The author had been given an assignment to do a book on the public radio’s biggest name, but Mr. Keillor preferred to place roadblocks in the project rather than assist.

It’s a memoir designed to be both entertaining and instructive. It was nice to see all the writers at the workshop. I can’t wait to see what we publish next.

* * * *

You can find Michael Fedo’s book here on Amazon.com.

Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com on September 17, 2018. Photos on this page taken by the the author.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store