Archive for the 'Abigail Green' Category

Understanding Personal Essays: Get Your Essays Into Print

Abigail GreenBy Abigail Green
So you’ve chosen the perfect topic, crafted a solid lead and conclusion, and revised (and revised and revised) your essay until it shines. Now what? Now you need to find a place to publish it. First the bad news: finding markets for personal essays (especially ones that pay well) can be tough. Now the good news: finding potential markets has never been easier, thanks to a plethora of online and print market guides, not to mention blogs, web forums and e-zines for writers, such as this one.
 
While I subscribe to several market guides and find them immensely helpful for such insider info as Q and A’s with editors, contact information and rates, these guides are no shortcut to studying a publication in-depth on your own. In fact, I have never sold any of my essays to a market I didn’t read first. When you have a magazine in hand, for example, it’s easier to flip back and forth between the writers’ bylines and the masthead to determine whether a certain piece is staff-written or open to freelancers.
 
Once you’ve targeted and researched an essay market, you should have the name and contact info of an editor in hand. If not, pick up the phone. You’ll usually find the editorial phone number below the masthead in print publications. Tell the receptionist you’re a freelance writer who wishes to submit an essay for publication and ask who handles that department. Most times you’ll get a name and e-mail address this way.
 
The most common way to submit an essay is “on spec”-meaning, you write it first and submit it in its entirety with no guarantee of publication. This bothers some writers, but look at it this way: it’s hard to convince an editor of a statement like, “My essay will be a poignant/thoughtful/humorous account of adopting an ornery Siamese cat” without enclosing the completed piece.
 
Next, you should write a compelling cover letter similar to a query letter. Reel in the editor with an attention-grabbing lead and say why you think your essay would be a good fit. Do you have to write a cover letter? Especially since you’re enclosing the whole essay? No, but if you were an editor, which would compel you to keep reading?
 
1.     “Enclosed is my 500-word essay, ‘The Cat Chronicles.’ Thanks for your consideration.”
2.     Or, “I knew I had my hands full the morning after I brought Svetlana home when my living room looked like the inside of a snow globe. That was my first clue that perhaps adopting a cat wasn’t as simple as I’d thought.
My enclosed essay, ‘The Cat Chronicles,’ discusses the adjustment period after welcoming a new pet. I hope you’ll find my 500-word piece a good fit for your essay department.”
 
Then, after you’ve spell-checked everything (especially the editor’s name!), send that baby out. And, just like when you pitch an article, follow up after a couple of weeks and start looking for back-up markets in case your essay’s not a fit for your first choice.
 
It may take one try or 20, but if you’ve got a solid personal essay and a strong desire to get it published, you will. I have years of personal experience-and numerous student success stories-to prove it.
 
 
Abigail Green has published more than 150 articles and essays in regional and national publications including American Baby, Baltimore Magazine, Bride’s, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work also appears in the new book, “A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers.” (Adams Media, 2009). Abby holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. in publishing from the University of Baltimore. She writes the “Crib Notes” column for The Writer Mama e-zine and the “Understanding Personal Essays” column for Writers on the Rise. A mother of two boys, she blogs about parenting, publishing and more at http://diaryofanewmom.blogspot.com.

Understanding Personal Essays: Short and Sweet

By Abigail GreenAbigail Green
The consensus among most writers I know is that it’s much easier to write long than it is to write short. Longer word counts leave the writer space for description, exposition, and often, extra fluff you don’t really need.
 
In his landmark book, On Writing Well, author William Zinsser puts it like this:
 
“It’s amazing how often an editor can just throw away the first three or four paragraphs of an article … and start with the paragraph where the writer begins to sound like himself. Not only are those first few paragraphs hopelessly impersonal and ornate; they don’t say anything. They are a self-conscious attempt at a fancy introduction, and none is necessary.”
 
Short essays, by definition, only have room for the “meat.” You have to be relentless with the red pen and whittle your words down to the bare essentials.
 
Lots of my writing students moan and fret when they have to cut their essays to meet a shorter word count. They worry that they’ll lose the good stuff or that the piece will no longer have their voice. On the contrary, tightening an essay is often what really makes it sing.
 
For example, consider the “What I Really Know” column in AARP Bulletin. In 300 words or less, writers tackle such topics as terminal illness, love, and freedom. Ami E. Rodland’s “What I Really Know About Freedom: A Second Wind” proves without a shadow of a doubt that sometimes less is more when it comes to word count. Reading her essay, I felt the weight of her grief and the buoyancy of her newfound independence. Pretty impressive for a mere seven paragraphs, no?
 
For another example of a short but powerful personal essay, check out the most recent winner of the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. In just 385 words, writer Toni Giarnese evokes all five senses in her poignant essay about making ravioli with her grandmother.
 
To write a short essay, you don’t have to sit down at your pad or keyboard and eke out a few hundred perfectly chosen words. Rather, write the first draft as you normally would. Then revise, tighten, and revise some more until, as Zinsser said, you get to the part where you start to really say something and sound like yourself. The result will be both short and sweet.

 

 
Abigail Green has published more than 150 articles and essays in regional and national publications including American Baby, Baltimore Magazine, Bride’s, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work also appears in the new book, “A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers.” (Adams Media, 2009). Abby holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. in publishing from the University of Baltimore. She writes the “Crib Notes” column for The Writer Mama e-zine and the “Understanding Personal Essays” column for Writers on the Rise. A mother of two boys, she blogs about parenting, publishing and more at http://diaryofanewmom.blogspot.com.

Understanding Personal Essays: Food for Thought

Abigail GreenBy Abigail Green
In “Remembrance of Things Past,” Marcel Proust waxed poetic about that quintessential French cake, the madeleine. After tasting a single spoonful of sweet, tea-soaked crumbs, he writes: “I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake…”
 
If, like Proust, you enjoy writing about food almost as much as you enjoying eating it, consider the culinary-themed personal essay.
 
In an essay in the New York Times’ “Generations” department , author Rich Prior writes about asking his mother to pass down his grandmother’s Irish bread recipe. As he and his aging mother sift and measure and mix in her kitchen, Prior learns about his family history and begins to become aware of his mother’s mortality. Lesson #1: it’s not just about the baked goods.
 
This is further evidenced by Suzan Colon’s essay, “Muffin Manifesto” in a recent issue of O, the Oprah magazine. She writes that in the face of economic uncertainty and anxiety, she started baking muffins to do something practical and comforting. The essay continues by exploring the surprising reaction of her feminist friends to her new hobby. It also includes her muffin recipe. Lesson #2: it’s not just about the baked goods.
 
Even if you’re writing for a food magazine, a personal essay should never be “just” about food. The food is merely the jumping off point for the underlying theme-a relationship with a parent, a reexamination of feminism, one’s own mortality. As I tell my writing students over and over, a successful personal essay must have some movement, change, or epiphany from the beginning to the end; otherwise, it’s just a bunch of anecdotes. Or, in the case of a culinary-themed essay, a food review.
 
Food is such an intricate part of our lives that it lends itself naturally to the memories, emotions, and sensations that make a personal essay come alive. So go grab a cup of tea and a cookie and start writing!
 
  
Abigail Green has published more than 150 articles and essays in regional and national publications including American Baby, Baltimore Magazine, Bride’s, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work also appears in the new book, “A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers.” (Adams Media, 2009). Abby holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. in publishing from the University of Baltimore. She writes the “Crib Notes” column for The Writer Mama e-zine and the “Understanding Personal Essays” column for Writers on the Rise. A mother of two boys, she blogs about parenting, publishing and more at http://diaryofanewmom.blogspot.com.

Understanding Personal Essays: What’s Your Opinion

Abigail GreenBy Abigail Green


Think op-ed pages are all angry letters about parking meters and people spouting off about politics? Think again. The op-ed pages of many newspapers are great places to publish timely, topical personal essays.

Depending on who you ask, op-ed is short for “opposite the editorial page” or “opinion-editorial.” Either way, it’s often a spot that’s open to non-staff writers of first-person pieces.

Yes, sometimes these essays offer up a political viewpoint, but not always. I’ve published essays in the op-ed section on topics including my imaginary conversation with Jennifer Aniston following her break-up with Brad Pitt, and going to see the Sex and the City movie.

The key is that your essay has to be timely. If you breed Portuguese water dogs, you would have been in like Flynn with an essay on that topic when the Obamas chose the White House pet. Of course, you also have to beat other writers to the punch. That means if your piece is about the American Idol finale, you’d better write that sucker the minute the show’s over and fire it off to the editor that night. If you wait a couple of days, it’ll be old news. This is one instance where simultaneous submissions are fine.

Essays on the op-ed page are often in the 500-700-word range. Your best bet is to study the print version (at a library if you don’t subscribe), since essays can be hard to find on newspaper web sites. It should be easy to find the right editor’s e-mail address. Pay can range from nothing to several hundred dollars. If a piece has the potential to be reprinted, you may come out ahead.

More and more these days, newspapers don’t have the budget to pay for unsolicited freelance submissions. Consider whether the clip and the exposure are worth it. I once negotiated with an editor who couldn’t pay for my essay to print my blog address in my bio at the end. That was worth it to me. Besides, the topic was so time-sensitive that I couldn’t possibly have sold it to any weekly or monthly publication.

If you’re an opinionated writer with a finger on the pulse of current events, the op-ed page may be just the place for your personal essay.

Abigail Green has published more than 150 articles and essays in regional and national publications including American Baby, Baltimore Magazine, Bride’s, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work also appears in the new book, “A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers.” (Adams Media, 2009). Abby holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. in publishing from the University of Baltimore. She writes the “Crib Notes” column for The Writer Mama e-zine and the “Understanding Personal Essays” column for Writers on the Rise. A mother of two boys, she blogs about parenting, publishing and more at http://diaryofanewmom.blogspot.com.

Columnist’s News!

Thirsty by Kristin Bair O'KeeffeKRISTIN BAIR O’KEEFFE has launched a new website and blog. Here’s a sneak peek at her forthcoming novel’s cover.

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press in 2009. A family saga that explores domestic abuse, race, class, and Pittsburgh’s mighty steel industry, Thirsty tells the story of Klara Bozic, a Croatian immigrant who seeks the strength-through love and friendship-to leave an abusive husband.

Can Klara rise above her circumstances and lay claim to her own peaceful spot in the world? Look for Thirsty in Fall 2009 to find out!

ABIGAIL GREEN’S essay, “Taking Care,” appears in the new anthology A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers: Stories that celebrate the miracle of life  (Adams Media, March 2009). Stay abreast of her success over at Diary of a New Mom.

Book By Book by Cindy HudsonCINDY HUDSON’S Book By Book, The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs is coming this fall from Seal Press.

I recently interviewed Cindy about her nonfiction book pitching and writing process over at The Writer Mama Riffs blog.

You can read the complete interview here.

Understanding Personal Essays: Memoir Essays

By Abigail Green
Abigail Green“As a child in the late 1940s, I knew it was spring when I smelled newly mown lawns in the neighborhood.”  So begins Ronald J. Barwell’s essay in  AARP Bulletin. The column “What I Really Know” solicits 250-word essays on various topics, such as marriage, letter writing, and spring fever. Most of these essays would fall under the category of memoir. They spring from a childhood memory, an old photograph, or the recollection of a long-gone loved one.

 
Many people think of books when they hear the word “memoir,” but there’s actually a whole category of essays that falls under that subject. In fact, many book-length memoirs are a series of essays strung together between one cover.
Within memoir, there are vastly different sub-categories as well. An essay about your late grandmother’s famous coconut cake could find a home in a food magazine. A memoir about a childhood summer vacation might be a fit for a travel magazine. There’s even a market for erotica memoirs. (See Nerve.com under “features,” then “personal essays.” Warning: reader discretion is advised.)
 
On her web site, author Joan Tornow provides sample memoir essays on topics ranging from Thanksgiving turkey to being a new teacher. Check out the one titled “Crayon Magic” for a particularly good example of this type of essay. She advises would-be memoir writers to read as many memoirs as they can, begin writing about their memories in any order they choose, and join a writers’ group specializing in memoirs.
 
The keys to a good memoir essay are the same as for any essay: show, don’t tell, by using active, descriptive, sensory words and phrases. Paint a picture for the reader with your words. Set the piece in a clear time and place. Introduce us to the characters in your story. Use dialogue if it helps. In terms of technique, the memoir essay probably shares more with fiction than any other type of personal essay.
 
I once read a beautifully written essay in (the sadly, now-defunct) Hallmark Magazine about the writer’s recollection of her father’s beloved toolbox. It was rich with memories and emotions, and all the more compelling because it was a true story.
 
So reach back into your memories and old scrapbooks and start putting some of your stories down on the page in your next personal essay. 
 

Abigail Green has published more than 150 articles and essays in regional and national publications including American Baby, Baltimore Magazine, Bride’s, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work also appears in the new book, “A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers.” (Adams Media, 2009). Abby holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. in publishing from the University of Baltimore. She writes the “Crib Notes” column for The Writer Mama e-zine and the “Understanding Personal Essays” column for Writers on the Rise. A mother of two boys, she blogs about parenting, publishing and more at http://diaryofanewmom.blogspot.com.

Understanding Personal Essays: A Traveler’s Tales

Abigail Green

By Abigail Green

How could you not be enticed into reading an essay titled “In the Land of the Surfing Hippos” or “Hemorrhoids in Holland”? Of all the genres of essays, travel essays are among my favorite to read. I enjoy reading about places I’ve been or am going, but essays about exotic destinations I’ll never visit are even better. I get to be an armchair tourist for a little while, experiencing a true-life adventure through the writer’s eyes.

Travel essays can range from first-person destination guides to literary non-fiction pieces that never mention a hotel or restaurant. As with any essay, you’ll want to tailor yours to the publication you’re targeting.

I’ve had the most success publishing travel pieces that are a combination of first-person essays and practical information. For instance, I wrote a piece for a newspaper travel section on do-it-yourself “babymoons” for expectant parents after I’d planned one myself. My essay about a trip to Costa Rica, which ran in a business magazine, included a sidebar with travel tips and resources.

No matter what format your travel essay takes, it’s essential to paint a vivid picture for readers by using active, sensory words and descriptions. Here’s an example I use in my class, “Personal Essays That Get Published”:

I could have started my essay with this perfectly acceptable lead:
Much of Costa Rica is covered by dense rainforest. Average rainfall ranges from 75 to 120 inches a year. Thick, towering trees and foliage form canopies high above ground, home to such animals as howler monkeys and sloths. Canopy tours give brave tourists an up-close-and-personal view of Costa Rica’s flora and fauna.

But isn’t the one I actually used so much more descriptive?
The sloth is giving me the eye. From his dry perch beneath a canopy of leaves, he’s taking in the view of a sopping-wet tourist-me-dangling above the Costa Rican wilderness. I am harnessed and hanging from a cable strung through the treetops of the country’s rainforest. I can see what he’s thinking: “There’s a reason we call this a rainforest.”

If you aspire to write travel essays, get your hands on The Best American Travel Writing anthologies. Not only can you study the best writers, but also you’ll get a good idea of where travel essays are published. A recent issue reveals not only the usual suspects like National Geographic, Travel + Leisure, and the New York Times, but also Runner’s World, Slate.com, and South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Don’t think your destinations are exotic enough? Remember: “exotic” is subjective. How else do you explain how I once sold a travel essay about visiting Hershey, Pa., the chocolate capital of the U.S., to a newspaper in South Africa?

Sources: “In the Land of the Surfing Hippos,” by Michael Fay. First published in National Geographic, Aug. 2004. “Hemorrhoids in Holland,” by Suzanne Lafetra. Published in Whose Panties Are These? More Misadventures from Funny Women on the Road (Travelers’ Tales, 2004).

Abigail Green has published more than 150 articles and essays in regional and national publications including American Baby, Baltimore Magazine, Bride’s, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work also appears in the new book, “A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers.” (Adams Media, 2009). Abby holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. in publishing from the University of Baltimore. She writes the “Crib Notes” column for The Writer Mama e-zine and the “Understanding Personal Essays” column for Writers on the Rise. A mother of two boys, she blogs about parenting, publishing and more at http://diaryofanewmom.blogspot.com.

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