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.