Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Who Am I?

Yes, who am I to think I can be a writer of an op-ed column? I have no credentials. I never took a political science course in college; never worked on a political campaign after some high school volunteering; never ran for office or even contemplated doing so; never covered government or political-economic-cultural issues for a media outlet. Well, I did function as a contract city engineer for eight years, but it was for a small city, with limited staff although with booming development. And, during that time, I did work on writing city ordinances (i.e. laws and regulations) and then worked to enforce them in my limited capacity. I did get to observe the roles of mayors, councilmen, planning commissioners, and city staff up close.

But, that is a far cry from national issues. So why should I think I can write the column “Documenting America” and self-syndicate it to newspapers? I’ve been thinking of this for almost five years, more recently as a platform-building activity for launching a writing career. But is this possible? Could I sell the column, and myself as the best person to write this?

The status is this:
1. I have developed the concept for the column: taking some document from America’s past; excerpting it; explaining it; showing its importance in America’s growth and development; and tying it to a current issue, if possible.

2. I have completed eighteen columns, and have a good handle on where the sources of documents are; what the copyright issues are; and how long it will take me to research, write, and polish a column. I’m sure I can produce it weekly.

3. I have to some extent researched the market, and have developed a marketing plan for selling it to newspapers, most likely smaller, weekly or daily papers, but never the big national ones. The actual marketing of the column awaits, so I don’t actually know if it will sell or not.

4. I have taken a number of the columns to two different writers critique groups, and received good feedback and suggestions for improvement. I’ve also workshopped one of the prototype columns at an on-line workshop, again with good feedback. To the same two real-life crit groups I have submitted a query letter to newspapers, and received help on how to make it better.

5. I have shown a few of the columns to people I would describe as my target audience, and received positive feedback: without exception they would like their newspaper to carry it and would read it.

It’s ready to go, and has been for close to a year. All that remains is to pick some newspapers, send them a query and some samples, and see if they will buy it.

So why haven’t I done it? Why haven’t I pulled the trigger? Fear, as I blogged about before, but also the thought that I have no standing on which to sell this column. Why would any newspaper buy it from me, hire me to fill ten to twelve column-inches every week?

This post is long enough right now. Possibly I’ll expand on this over the next couple of days. I’m off to find a couple more beta readers for the column.

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