To the Editor: How learning to write letters to editors
is expanding my range, skill, and publication credits

May 20, 2016 – I made an amazing new friend in November 2014, via our mutual passion for writing. Talking frequently about craft and “inside baseball” by phone, between New York and Los Angeles, has also helped both of us fuel our writing activities more. We met for the first time recently when he visited New York, appropriately, in the New York Times building.


My passion, at least with respect to published works, has been creative non-fiction, and my friend David is a prolific writer of letters to editors. He writes and submits letters frequently and in great numbers to newspapers, magazines, journals and other publications. His list of published works is endless, his scrapbooks are numerous and thick, and he is appearing in new publications regularly.

So now, with his example and guidance, my passion is extending to this genre (yes, it really is a genre). There are concrete, specific skills one can acquire to get published by any journal, even the most prestigious and exclusive.

I’ve decided to start journaling what I’m learning, and document my published items in the print and online editions of journals. David, a retired librarian, has helped me appreciate the print medium, due to its physicality, permanence, and beauty. Getting a letter on a publication’s Web site is an achievement, but to make the print edition is harder, decidedly more prestigious, and very satisfying once you see your work on a printed page over your byline.

Here is the start of my log of published, pending, and unpublished letters:

THE ECONOMIST  |  This prestigious weekly newspaper dates to 1843 and, I am told, is very hard to crack. I learned of this paper last year, and sent Editor-in-Chief Zanny Minton Beddoes two pieces in one weekend relating to articles in their Feb. 14th, 2015 issue. I did not follow up, and discovered purely by accident 14 months later that one of them was published! Lesson learned: It takes skillful writing and persistence to crack such a journal, and anyone is capable of it. Track your submissions. Try, and keep trying.

Pending: 1 article. Unpublished: 1 article.

THE NEW YORK TIMES  |  Although I have had nine items published in the Metropolitan Diary, my recent attempts at sending letters have not yet resulted in getting a letter published. I have a lot to learn; it has been a fun process writing, sending, failing, and learning. When I met Letters Editor Mr. Feyer and his staff recently, he gave me advice and encouragement that sparked new efforts. I look forward to getting my first credit as a letter writer, and many more. And the great thing is, The New York Times has many columns and sections that invite letters, not just the Opinion page.

Unpublished: 5.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH  |  A tribute I wrote after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and sent to four or five of Ohio’s major newspapers was published by one of them, resulting in a life-changing story you can read here.
MY BUCKET LIST  |  I told David recently that I need to list the publications I’d like to get into. Many of them are ones that David has been published in. Here is my ambition list:
  • The New Yorker
  • The Financial Times of London
  • The New York Times
  • Vogue
  • Vanity Fair
  • People
  • Time
  • Sports Illustrated
  • Cosmopolitan
  • Smithsonian
  • TV Guide
  • NRA’s American Rifleman
  • Newsweek
  • Bon Appetit
  • Rolling Stone
  • Popular Science
  • Field & Stream
  • Popular Mechanics
  • GQ
  • Forbes Fortune
  • Wired
  • Mad Magazine
  • Town and Country
  • Cigar Aficionado, Wine Spectator, and other publications of Marvin Shanken
  • National Geographic
  • Readers Digest
  • Major U.S. newspapers such as The Washington Post, Washington Post Magazine, Washington Times, New York Times Magazine, Boston Globe, Boston Globe Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Boston Herald, Miami Herald, Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times, and others (including smaller newspapers)
– p.k.