Archive for the 'Writing and Selling the Personal Essay' Category

Writing & Selling Personal Essays: 12 Holiday Bonus Markets

Kristin Bair O'KeeffeBy Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Happy holidays, everyone! To get you ready for 2009, I thought I’d end this year with a jumbo list of paying markets for your personal essays. I’ve included a little something for everyone so get to it!

“My Turn,” Newsweek
Weekly essay. 850-900 words. Stiff competition (Newsweek receives over 800 submissions a month for this spot), but a great challenge!

“Women in the Outdoors,” Bugle Magazine
Monthly essay in the Elk Foundation’s magazine. 1,000-3,000 words. Gotta be outdoorsy to write this one (and know a thing or two about elk).

Indie-Music.com
An online magazine looking for personal essays by musicians and music industry professionals. Any rockers out there? 800-3,000 words.

Good Old Boat: The Sailing Magazine for the Rest of Us!
Are you a fan of cruising boats from the 1950s-1990s? Here’s your market! A couple of good opportunities in this publication: “Reflections” (350-750 words) and “Cruising Memories” (1,500-2,500 words).

“Destinations,” Backpacker
Nine issues per year. Personal essays about a recent trip experience. Most essays include an Expedition Planner sidebar (useful info about the destination). 1,500-5,000 words.

Midwest Today
A quarterly, general interest magazine. Looking for short, true-life stories set, of course, in the Heartland. Up to 2,000 words.

“The Last Word,” Plenty: The World in Green
Bimonthly print and online magazine with a focus on protecting the environment. Essays must have a strong eco-connection. Maximum of 800 words.

“First Person,” Hemispheres Magazine
Monthly inflight magazine of United Airlines. Essays cover a wide range of topics. 1,200-1,400 words.

“My Testimony,” Essence
Monthly lifestyle magazine for African-American women. “My Testimony” explores some aspect of emotional life, relationships, or culture. Requests a query letter for essays. Monthly circulation of over one million. Challenging, but a great opportunity.

Alaska Magazine
Publishes ten issues a year. General interest magazine about Alaska, for Alaskans, by Alaskans. Requests a query letter for essays.

The Funny Times
Monthly humor forum. What’s funny? Anything! Food, politics, death, pets, etc. 500-700 words. Great place to work your funny bone.

The Subway Chronicles
Print and online forum for stories about the New York subway system. Lots of nonfiction opportunities: essays (up to 3,000 words), nonfiction shorts, “Top 5″ lists. (Pays only for essays.)

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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.

Writing & Selling Personal Essays: Rejected? 7 Steps to Recovery

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

This morning you receive a response in your email inbox from the publication to which just one week ago you submitted what you considered to be a well-crafted essay. The subject line gives nothing away, but when you open the email, you discover it’s not the acceptance for which you had hoped. Instead, it’s a rejection, and a very impersonal one at that.

Ouch. Rejection hurts, I know. But here’s the truth. Getting rejected is part of the writing process. Everyone gets rejected from time to time, even the most prolific, experienced writers.

But from here on, the important thing is not that you were rejected, but how you deal with it. The way I see it, you’ve got two possible routes: One, you can hurl yourself into a deep, mind-numbing depression during which you don’t leave your couch for a full month and during which you consume 341 pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream and 62 frozen pizzas. Or two, you can follow my very supportive, productive plan for writing recovery.

With me? Great. Here’s what you do:

1. Feel the pain and do what you need to do to comfort yourself. For some, that might mean running seven miles at high altitude while carrying a five-pound weight in each hand. For others, it might mean consuming four pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. (Better than 341, right?)
2. After no more than five days, print out the rejected essay. Read it critically. Read it out loud and listen to every word. After you’ve read it once, read it again. Read it forward. Read it backward. Read it to your roommate, spouse, mail carrier, writing partner, or dog. Read the essay until you’ve got a sense of it-until you know what’s working and what’s not working.
3. With the material fresh in your mind, ask yourself a multiple-choice question: Was this essay rejected because:

  • It’s not polished enough or it has some inherent structural flaw?
  • It wasn’t a good fit for the publication?
  • It was a matter of bad timing?

4. If your answer is (a), then sit down at your computer and get to work. You are more than capable of moving this essay from pretty good to excellent.
5. If your answer is (b), do more research. Look for a publication for which this essay is a perfect fit. That might mean a trip to the library or the bookstore to peruse the magazine collections. If you don’t find anything there, try your best friend’s living room floor. (She’s always got at least a dozen or so magazines strewn around.)
6. If your answer is (c), look for an equally suitable publication. (In this case, you may have received a note from the editor telling you that your essay was right for the magazine but that she’d just accepted an essay on a similar topic.)
7. Send the essay out again. Yep, no rest for the rejected. The longer you wait to get this piece out again, the harder it will be to go back to it.

See? That wasn’t so hard, was it? Way better than rolling around in a vat of self-pity for a month, huh? Now all you have to do is wait for the acceptance letter (and get to work on your next essay).

Personal Essay Marketplace: Got an uplifting, inspirational essay? Chicken Soup for the Soul might be just the home for it. Chicken Soup publishes a series of essay collections on all kinds of topics, including dogs, cats, holidays, high school, and lots more.

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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.

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.

Writing & Selling Personal Essays: Room To Breathe

October 2007 Family Fun Magazine

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Today you’re looking online for a market where you can submit that kinda longish essay you wrote about your uncle’s factory accident-the one that doesn’t quite fit the submission guidelines of any of the magazines to which you usually submit.

You read and nod, read and nod.

Then you catch sight of the online search entry about Phillip Lopate’s compilation, The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present and you stop. “Hhhhmmm,” you say. You click on it.

Seconds later, you’re at the amazon.com page that describes (and yes, sells) the anthology. Words like excellent and essay authority and smorgasbord are splashed all over the screen.

Smorgasbord?

Whoo-hoo! You love smorgasbords! You order the book.

A few days later (or a few weeks, if you happen to live in China and have to wait obscenely long periods of time for books to be delivered), you’re sprawled on your couch practically eating Lopate’s collection. You read Natalia Ginzburg’s “He and I” and Scott Russell Sanders’ “Under the Influence.” You’re wowed, floored, speechless, and hungry for more.

You read Plutarch’s “Consolation to His Wife,” which makes you sob, even though Plutarch died way back in 125 A.D.

After wiping away the tears, you try to figure out what’s different about these essays than the ones you’ve been writing and submitting to magazines and newspapers over the past few months.

The most obvious difference? They’re much longer. Heck, “Under the Influence” goes on for almost 12 pages.

You get excited, and though you wouldn’t dare to compare your essay to Plutarch’s (I mean, come on, he was Plutarch!), you do realize that the essay you wrote about your uncle’s accident fits into the same genre-the literary personal essay (also known in the writing world as creative nonfiction).

The more subtle differences? These essays don’t hurry the reader to a conclusion. They wander and purposefully meander. They even take tangents that sometimes veer way, WAY off the path.

“Ah,” you say, “these essays have room to breathe.”

Of course, after a bit more research, you realize two things:

1.    the biggest market for this type of essay is literary magazines (magazines like The Cimarron Review and Creative Nonfiction)
2.    most literary magazines pay not in dollars, but in copies of the magazine

Now off on your own tangent, you wonder if the local grocery store will let you barter a copy of The Gettysburg Review for a bag of apples and a jug of detergent.

Probably not, but publishing in a literary magazine looks great on your writer resume and will catch the eye of an agent when it’s time to sell your collection of essays.

So get out that essay about your uncle and get busy. It’s time to submit!

(Warning: Now don’t go nuts on me, thinking that you can write an essay that’s 900,230 words and submit it to any literary magazine out there. Like commercial magazines, literary magazines have guidelines. Before submitting, read them!)

Good luck!

Personal Essay Marketplace: If you’re interested in submitting to a literary magazine, check out New Pages. It gives links and information for dozens and dozens of spectacular literary magazines-online and print.

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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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Writing & Selling Personal Essays

October 2007 Family Fun Magazine

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

You’ve heard this before, right? When you’re writing a personal essay, use fiction techniques to make it lively and interesting. But what the heck does that really mean?

Well, remember that dinner you had last week with your best friend Jennifer? The one at that amazing new Italian restaurant on the corner with red leather booths and silky, white lanterns? You know-the one where you had that mouth-watering pumpkin gnocchi and Jennifer had, had, well, whatever it was, she adored it because she slapped her hand on the table and yelped over and over again in a voice that was way too loud for the hushed atmosphere, “God, I’m going to eat here every night from now on. Every single night. They’re going to have to kick me out to get rid of me”?

Ah, it’s coming back to you now, isn’t it?

Well, would you even consider writing a personal essay about that dinner without including the red leather booths, the silky, white lanterns, the mouth-watering pumpkin gnocchi, the slapping of the hand, or the fact that every single time you and Jennifer eat at a new restaurant-any new restaurant-she always says the same thing in the same too-loud voice?

Nope, you wouldn’t.

Why not?

Because the story would be flat, boring, and completely uninteresting-to your listener, your reader or your potential editor. It would go something like this:

There is a new Italian restaurant on the corner. There are booths and lanterns. I ate there with my friend last week. I liked my food. So did my friend.

“Aahhhh! Aahhhh!” cries your potential editor (followed by sounds of said editor thunking her head against a wall).

Listen up, writers! You’ve got to entertain your readers. You’ve got to keep them interested. A good hook is great, but if you don’t follow it up with something equally compelling, you’ll lose your readers as fast as you can say, “I remember now! Jennifer had the cod!”

So, yes, fiction techniques will help you do this. When you sit down to write your personal essay, utilize the same techniques you would if writing a novel or a short story:

  • develop your characters
  • let those characters speak to one another — dialogue, dialogue, dialogue
  • create a sense of place
  • include gestures
  • use objects to move your story forward (Oh, yeah, the salt shaker fell on the floor when Jennifer slapped the table and everyone in the place turned to stare.)

Try it! It’s much more fun-for your reader, your editor and you.

Personal Essay Marketplace: Like to write with your funny bone? Try your hand at Smithsonian Magazine’s “The Last Page.” Check out the submission guidelines for this 550-700 word essay market at Smithsonian Magazine.

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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.

Writing and Selling the Personal Essay: How to Write a Hook That Hooks

October 2007 Family Fun MagazineBy Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

hook (v.) – to seize or make fast as if by a hook

The truth is, when you write an essay, you’ve got a single sentence to hook-to seize and make fast-your potential reader.

Not a paragraph. Not an entire essay. Not even, in most cases, two sentences.

Like it or not, one sentence.

Think of it this way.

You’re a writer in Shanghai, and your potential reader in Omaha, Nebraska, is hungry and late for a meeting with her boss. She needs to eat lunch and hightail it to the 3rd floor where her boss is anxiously tapping her foot.

Luckily, this potential reader also wants to read. She wants to feel connected. She wants YOU to seize and make fast her attention in Sentence #1 so profoundly that she forgets the growling pangs in her stomach and reschedules the meeting with her boss.

(Why else would she have opened the magazine in which your essay is published in the first place instead of wolfing down a candy bar on her way to the meeting?)

This potential reader is looking for something. Something that you, the hook-savvy writer, can give.

So how do you do it? How do you hook her? How do you give her what she needs to move from potential reader to reader?

Well, there’s more than one way to write a compelling hook. Here are six good ones!

1. Start with a personal anecdote.
“I kneel in the muskeg, bucket between my legs, cushion of sphagnum moss crimson beneath my rubber boots.”
(from Aleria Jensen’s “Gathering Berries,” Orion Magazine, September/October 2007)

2. Inform your reader.
“In 1993, life began to change for the young women of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.”
(from Teresa Rodriguez’s “Why Speak Out?” Skirt! Magazine, February 2008)

3. Appeal to a universal experience.
“It is not easy to love people when they’re lovable. It’s harder when they’re not.” (Yep, I know. This author uses two sentences here to hook readers. But the two are a team. See how they work together?)
(from Patti Digh’s “Loving Unlovable People,” Skirt! Magazine, February 2008)

4. Make your reader go, “Huh?” or “Really?” or “You’ve got to be kidding!”
“‘Honey, could you please bring me the tissues out of my bag?’ I called from the bathroom in the rundown backpackers’ hostel.”
(from Nicole McClelland’s “Sitting Pretty,” Orion magazine, November/December 2006)

5. Offer a how-to tip.
“First, fall apart.”
(from Kelly Love Johnson’s “How to Fall Out of Love,” Skirt! Magazine, February 2008)

6. Start with a quote.
“IN THE BEGINNING God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
(from Roger Pinckney’s “The Bare Boughs of Winter Trees,” Orion magazine, January/February 2007)

So what are you waiting for? Pull out that essay you’ve been tinkering with and write a hook that sings.

Personal Essay Marketplace: Editors at Orion magazine are looking for “thoughtful submissions concerning the collision of nature and culture, the commingling of people and place.” Sound like something you might write? If so, check out the submission guidelines and get started.

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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.

Writing and Selling the Personal Essay: Getting Into the Writer’s Guidelines

Kristin Bair O’KeeffeCongratulations! You’ve had one of those marvelous “Ah, Ha!” moments that I wrote about in January and now you have a compelling story about which you want to write a personal essay. But what do you do next? Write a query letter or write the essay? Submit to one magazine or your top ten favorites? Write 1,000 words or 3,500 words? Send it via email? Snail mail? Hand deliver it with a dozen roses and a pint of strawberry ice cream?

Great questions. Luckily most publications are happy to provide you with answers in the form of Writer Guidelines (also referred to as Submission Guidelines or Contributor Guidelines). These are available at publication websites or by request.

Once you’ve got that golden idea for an essay, choose the publication to which you want to submit and track down the Writer Guidelines. Depending on the publication, this can be a simple or not-so-simple task. Skirt!, for example, makes it easy on writers by having a link for Contributor Guidelines on the main page of its website, while Smithsonian magazine makes us work a bit harder.

(Hint: If a link isn’t obvious, click on “Contact Us” or “About.” Writer Guidelines are often accessed through these links.)

Once you find the Writer Guidelines for a publication, you’ll discover the answers to most, if not all, of your questions: maximum and minimum word counts, editor’s preferences, how to submit, to whom to submit, payment information, response times, and lots more. It’s important to know that every publication’s guidelines are different, even if they share subject matter. You can’t assume that if you’ve read the guidelines for World Hum that you now know how to write for and submit to every travel magazine in the industry. They’re all different!

And while you could write your essay before you figure out to which publication you want to submit and before you read that publication’s Writer Guidelines, honestly, it’s a big, fat waste of time.

Let’s say you write your essay without researching Writer Guidelines first, but the whole time you’re writing, you’re thinking, “Hot diggity, this is perfect for The Christian Science Monitor’s “Home Forum.” So you write. You polish. You get two friends to read your essay and make suggestions. You polish again. And in the end, your beautiful, perfectly executed personal essay turns out to be 1,758 words.

Then you read the Contributors Guidelines for the “Home Forum” section of The Christian Science Monitor and guess what? Essays for this section are to be between 300-900 words. That’s 858 fewer words than you’ve written. That’s nearly half your essay.

So you hop around your office, curse yourself, and spend the next two days cutting your essay down to 900 words. This is valuable time you could have spent working on your next “Ah, Ha” moment or even, your next essay.

My advice? Do the research, read the Writer Guidelines, and enjoy the process!

Personal Essay Marketplace: Want to write about your writing experience? Check out ByLine Magazine.

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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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    We’re moving! Writers on the Rise archives have been here for years. I hope that WordPress will let the archive live on for a good long time. However, it’s time to move on, bittersweet as change may be. Please come and find me at my new digs: http://christinakatz.com. And while we’re both thinking of it, […]
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