Columbia, MO – Communication classes under my tutelage are riddled with discussions of politics, business, science and religion, overtly and covertly. In “Speech Communication,” students are required to complete two persuasive speechs; one must be political in nature. I want my students to understand how important a single voice can be in changing the world about them.
Inevitably, this leads to questions concerning “Letters to the Editor” and how to increase one’s chance of being selected for publication and, by extension, how does one becomes a columnist. My answer is the same as I received from His Holiness the Dalai Lama when I asked him, “What is the meaning of life?” I really did.
He sat quietly on the stage at Regis University (Colorado) facing an audience of 2,500 and after a moment of contemplation he said, “I do not know.”
This is what I told my LinkedIn contact, Greg Giesen when he asked. He is a management consultant and radio talk show host for Castle Rock Radio Colorado. I would like to share some of that discussion. What it is worth is your decision.
I was writing letters to the editor at both dailies in Columbia Missouri for almost two years and noticed that they all were being published. I called the editors of both and asked if I could do a regular column. The Columbia Missourian answered my request. The editor said yes with one caveat – I work free. That is the rub. I accepted and write weekly.
Most papers have a local, in addition to national, columnists covering most topics and issues. Local papers also want writers speaking to local issues. But not to be discouraged.
A number of newspapers and magazines accept guest columnists on a regular basis. Your local business magazine(s), trade magazine, the monthly publication for the Chamber of Commerce or local organization newsletter are great places to start. Ask for the editorial guidelines, or check online. Providing timely and useful information is the key, even if you are self promoting a bit.
Follow the K.I.S.S. rule for letters to the editor; Keep it Short and Simple. No more than one idea in 100 words and you have the ideal letter for consideration. Keep it timely. Do not write about something that happened last month or last year.
Most editorials are limited from 400 to 1,000 words, though I fine 700 is a great target. If you are writing commentary or an advice column, you may write in the first person. Some publications want third person only. Check the editorial guidelines.
Four absolutes: Spell check. Edit heavily. Read the column aloud. Spell check again.
Meet writers and columnists through LinkedIn, other networking sites and professional organizations. Tell others of your column and blog (if you have one), and send emails to your contacts and the groups to which you belong. Include a link to your company, your blog and column on your homepages.
Whether you write a business, gardening, hobby, real estate, political or any other column, join the organizations to make as many professional and like-minded contacts as possible. These are the initial people you will need to both attract and use as references.
Next, you need to be THE Subject Matter Expert. Most of you already know that phrase and some can claim the title of SME. Keep learning and staying abreast of developments, take classes, read the journals, talk to compatriots; do what it takes so people will call you for information.
Joe Saba, a good friend for multiple decades, once told me that there is no such thing as a miracle. If you ask enough people for the thing you need (not want), someone will open the right door for the opportunity. He also told me, “Don’t worry if you get rejected. Remember: Some will; Some won’t; So what; Next!” Rejection happens. Do not take it personally.
The mode delivery may be different, pixels instead of ink, Internet instead of a stage, but the power of a single voice has changed the world, especially when speaking of politics. Euripides was right when he said, “The tongue is mightier than the blade.”
Look there, 700 words.