Many people pen a letter to a national newspaper or magazine – often about an issue they feel strongly about – only to be very disappointed when it doesn’t see the light of day.
So what makes one letter stand out from all the hundreds that the national press receive every day?
According to an article in Byline, the magazine exclusively for those who have membership to The Times and Sunday Times and can access their internet website paywall, there are several things writers can do to maximise their chances of their letter being printed.
Angus Clarke, whose job it is to decide which letters should be printed at The Times, writes they can physically print around 2,000 words on the letters page. So unless a letter is ‘superlatively good, succinct and interesting’ a 500 word epic will not be published.
He adds many 500-word letters can be cut by half and not lose any of their ‘wisdom’ – but the issue is no-one has the time to edit these letters. And more often than not, another reader will have sent a letter on the same subject written in no more than their ideal maximum word count of 250 words. So that one will be printed instead.
Content as ever is then king. “So succinctness, courtesy… interesting is good, quirkiness is better and humour is best of all when we need to fill an awkward hole in the jigsaw.”
Meanwhile, we believe you will stand a better chance of getting your letter printed if it is emailed. Mr Clarke reveals 99.5 per cent of people now email – few bother with the historic pen/ink/paper/envelope/stamp walk to the letter box or use an antiquated fax. And at Featureworld we know ourselves that posted letters often remain unopened in a pile and certainly if we see handwriting then it will put us off reading further (sorry – like national newspapers we also prefer a filled in form or email with a short description of the story to sell!)…
Other interesting revelations by Mr Clarke are that they receive around 400 emails a day (not counting spam) and that this is whittled down to around 20 letters that actually get published on the letters page.
However, if you do managed to win the letter writing competition, then there is a cachet attached to having a letter in The Times. And you will be joining authors who include K Marx, C Dickens, JK Rowling, TE Lawrence, F Nightingale and even Queen Victoria…
The Times letters has its own Twitter account you can follow: @timesletters