Writing & Selling the Personal Essay: Online Submission Forms Unveiled

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

If you’ve submitted essays to Smithsonian Magazine, A Public Space or NPR’s This I Believe, you’ve come face to face with a growing trend in the publishing industry: the online submission form.

If you haven’t run into this submission method yet, you will soon enough. As spam threatens to devour email boxes and more and more people are writing and submitting their work, magazine editors are looking for more efficient submission methods.

The online submission form is the (almost) perfect answer.

Here’s how it works for you, the writer:

  1. First, go to the website of the publication to which you want to submit. Then click through to the submissions page. Here, you will be directed to a form.
  2. Once at the form, type the requested information into the provided spaces (name, contact info, title of work, etc.).
  3. Paste your cover letter into the space provided (if there is a space provided) and either paste or upload your submission.
  4. Proofread all information. (The last thing you want to do is spell your name wrong.)
  5. Click the submit button.
  6. In most cases, you will receive either a pop-up message or an email from the publication thanking you for your submission.

Sounds easy, right? Efficient, yes?

Well, it is. But there are a couple of drawbacks to this system-at least from the writer’s point of view. The most obvious is the fact that the online submission form for each publication requires different information. For example, if you submit to Smithsonian Magazine’s “Last Page,” you must provide a list of publishing credits. If you submit to NPR’s This I Believe, you must include a paragraph about what it was like to write your essay.

See what I mean?

This method is a little more time consuming than the old “write one cover letter, change the editor’s name and address for each publication, and hit send or put a stamp on it.” But on the other hand, by using this method, you know that you’re providing editors with exactly the information they’re looking for-which may increase your chances of publication.

You like the sound of that, don’t you?

So, what are you waiting for? Give it a shot. But before you do, here are a few tips to help you out:

  1. Don’t be intimidated. Online submission forms are pretty easy to use (even for the least tech-savvy writers).
  2. Type out all the information for a particular form in a Word document. Then, if for some reason your online submission fails (which, yes, it does once in a while), you don’t have to re-create it from scratch.
  3. Be positive about the new submission method. Make it work for you.


Personal Essay Marketplace: Narrative Magazine is one of the few literary magazines that pays writers for their work (in something besides copies). It also features some amazing writers (including, in the current issue, one of my favorites, Rick Bass). Check it out.

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Kristin Bair O’Keeffe moved to Shanghai, China, in April 2006 and has been writing about this incredible country ever since. Her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse,” chronicles her adventures (and misadventures) in Shanghai and garners the attention of readers all around the world. Her essays about the China experience can be found in The Baltimore Review and To Shanghai With Love (forthcoming). As a respected writing instructor, she has taught hundreds of writers over the past fourteen years and is currently teaching both fiction and nonfiction writing in Shanghai.

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2 Responses to “Writing & Selling the Personal Essay: Online Submission Forms Unveiled”


  1. 1 kmcdade September 27, 2008 at 12:18 am

    I’ve done this at The Upper Room magazine also (with good results).

  2. 2 angie October 9, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Good stuff here. Thanks for posting. I’ll be back.


Comments are currently closed.



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