They’re all over your Facebook feed, and for good reason. Personal essays by popular authors and novices alike are relatable, engrossing reads.
Sometimes, their heart-wrenching reflections stay with you for days.
For reporters or academics, it can be hard to step back from research rituals and write from personal experience. But a personal essay can endear you to an audience, bring attention to an issue, or simply provide comfort to a reader who’s “been there.”
“Writing nonfiction is not about telling your story,” says Ashley C. Ford, an essayist who emphasized the importance of creating a clear connection between your personal experience and universal topics. “It’s about telling interesting and worthy stories about the human condition using examples from your life.”
But don’t worry if your life doesn’t seem exciting or heart-wrenching enough to expound upon; think of it as writing through yourself, instead of about yourself. “There are few heroes and even fewer villains in real life,” she said. “If you’re going to write about your human experience, write the truth. It’s worth it to write what’s real.”
Where to submit your personal essays
Once you’ve penned your essay, which publications should you contact? We’ve all heard of — and likely submitted to — The New York Times’ Modern Love column, but that’s not the only outlet that accepts personal narratives.
“Submit to the places you love that publish work like yours,” Ford advises, but don’t get caught up in the size of the publication. And “recognize that at small publications you’re way more likely to find someone with the time to really help you edit a piece.”
To help you find the right fit, we’ve compiled a list of 20 publications that accept essay submissions, as well as tips on how to pitch the editor, who to contact and, whenever possible, how much the outlet pays.
We’d love to make this list even more useful, so if you have additional ideas or details for these publications or others, please leave them below in the comments!
1. Boston Globe
The Boston Globe Magazine Connections section seeks 650-word first-person essays on relationships of any kind. It pays, though how much is unclear. Submit to email@example.com with “query” in the subject line.
Must-read personal essay: “Duel of the Airplane-Boarding Dawdlers,” by Art Sesnovich
2. Extra Crispy
Send your pitches about breakfast, brunch, or the culture of mornings to firstname.lastname@example.org or the editor of the section you’re pitching. Pay appears to be around 40 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: Gina Vaynshteyn’s “When Dumplings Are Resistance”
3. Dame Magazine
This publication is aimed at women over 30. “We aim to entertain, inform, and inspire,” the editors note, “But mostly entertain.” Send your pitch to email@example.com. Pay varies.
Must-read personal essay:“I Donated My Dead Body to Give My Life Purpose,” By Ann Votaw
4. Full Grown People
Essays — 4,000 words max — should have a “literary quality.” Include your work in the body of your email to make it easy for the editor to review, and send to firstname.lastname@example.org. No pay.
Must-read personal essay:“Call My Name” by Gina Easley.
Want to write for this Jewish parenting site? To submit, email email@example.com with “submission” somewhere in the subject line. Include a brief bio, contact information, and your complete original blog post of 700 words max. Suggested word count is 500-700 words. The site pays $25 per post.
Must-read personal essay: B.J. Epstein’s “How I’m Trying to Teach Charity to My Toddler”
6. Luna Luna
A progressive, feminist magazine that welcomes all genders to submit content. Email your pitch or full submission. There’s no pay, but it’s a supportive place for a first-time essayist.
Must-read personal essay: “My Body Dysmorphia, Myself” by Joanna C. Valente
7. New Statesman
This U.K. magazine has a helpful contributor’s guide. Unsolicited submissions, while rarely accepted, are paid; if an editor likes your pitch, you’ll hear back in 24 hours.
Must-read personal essay: “The Long Ride to Riyadh,” by Dave Eggers
8. The New York Times
The popular Modern Love feature accepts submissions of 1,700 words max at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include a Word attachment, but also paste the text into your message. Consult the Times’ page on pitching first, and like Modern Love on Facebook for even more insight. Rumor has it that a successful submission will earn you $250. (Correction added Oct. 9, 2014: Payment is $300, The New York Times writes on its Facebook page.)
Amy Sutherland’s column, “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage,” which ran in 2006, landed her a book contract with Random House and a movie deal with Lionsgate, which is in preproduction. “I never saw either coming,” Sutherland said.
Another option is the Lives column in the New York Times Magazine. To submit, email email@example.com.
Must-read personal essay: “When a Couch is More Than a Couch” by Nina Riggs
Salon accepts articles and story pitches to the appropriate section with “Editorial Submission” in the subject line and the query/submission in the body of the email. Include your writing background or qualifications, along with links to three or four clips.
“I was compensated $150 for my essay,” says Alexis Grant, founder of The Write Life, “but that was several years ago. All in all, working with the editor there was a great experience.” Who Pays Writers reports average pay of about 10 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: “I Fell in Love with a Megachurch,” by Alexis Grant
Indicate the section you’re pitching and “article submission” in your subject line, and send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Average reported pay is about 23 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: Justin Peters’ “I Sold Bill Murray a Beer at Wrigley Field”
Each print issue has a specific cultural theme and welcomes both fiction and nonfiction. Stories and essays of 5,000 words max earn up to $250. Review periods are limited, so check their submission guidelines to make sure your work will be read with the next issue in mind. Submit online.
Must-read personal essay: “Fire Island,” by Christopher Locke
12. The Billfold
The Billfold hopes to make discussing money less awkward and more honest. Send your pitch to email@example.com. Who Pays Writers notes a rate of about 3 cents per word, but this writer would consider the experience and exposure to be worth the low pay.
Must-read personal essay: “The Story of a F*** Off Fund,” by Paulette Perhach
Motherwell seeks parenting-related personal essay submissions of up to 1200 words. Submit a full piece; all contributors are paid.
Must-read personal essay: “The Length of the Pause” by Tanya Mozias Slavin
14. The Bold Italic
This publication focuses on California’s Bay Area. Strong POV and a compelling personal writing style are key. Pay varies. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Must-read personal essay: “The San Francisco Preschool Popularity Contest,” by Rhea St. Julien
Submit essays of 800-2000 words to this lifestyle site geared toward women. Pay averages about 5 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: “Is Picky Eating An Eating Disorder?” by Kaleigh Roberts
16. The Rumpus
Focuses on essays that “intersect culture.” Submit finished essays online in the category that fits best. Wait three months before following up.
Must-read personal essay: “Not a Widow” by Michelle Miller
17. The Penny Hoarder
This personal-finance website welcomes submissions that discuss ways to make or save money. Read the guidelines before emailing your submission. Pay varies.
Must-read personal essay: “This Family’s Drastic Decision Will Help Them Pay Off $100K in Debt in 5 Years” by Maggie Moore
18. Tin House
Submit a story or essay of 10,000 words max in either September or March. Wait six days before emailing to check the status of your submission. Cover letters should include a word count and indicate whether the submission is fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.
Must-read personal essay: “More with Less,” by Rachel Yoder
Narratively accepts pitches and complete pieces between 1,000 and 2,000 words that tell “original and untold human stories.” Pay averages 6 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: “What Does a Therapist Do When She Has Turmoil of Her Own?” by Sherry Amatenstein
Still looking for ideas? Meghan Ward’s blog post, “20 Great Places to Publish Personal Essays,” is worth perusing. MediaBistro also offers a section called How to Pitch as part of their AvantGuild subscription, which has an annual fee of $55.
This post originally ran in October 2014. We updated it in December 2016.
Have other ideas or details to add? Share with us in the comments!
People have been telling love stories for thousands of years. But in 2004, a new romantic subgenre was born—in the form of the New York Times’ wildly popular “Modern Love” column.
A typical “Modern Love” column is no more representative of how the average person falls in love than Romeo and Juliet. Naturally, the stories that appear in the paper tend to be dramatic. (Deadly diseases and trips to the emergency room are recurring features.) And the columns are disproportionately written by professional writers, which means the stories are evenly paced, and cleanly structured, in a way that love often isn’t.
Still, the column can reveal a lot about our cultural attitudes toward romance and heartbreak. As graduate students in economics and computer science, we decided to use statistics to analyze every “Modern Love” column published over the past 10 years—with the goal of identifying patterns in how romantic narratives take shape. Here’s what we learned.
1) Dating may be harrowing, but it makes for the best stories
The New York Timestags each article with its main topics, revealing the incredible number of ways to write about love.
Dating proves to be a particularly fruitful topic, with online dating a favorite subject. Fourteen columns mention match.com. Tinder gets six mentions; OKCupid appears in three; and Hinge, eHarmony, and JDate all get nods.
2.) The column prefers to stay demure when it comes to sex
Many columns deal with trials of true love: mental disorders, death and dying, cancer, infertility, crime and criminals, and adultery. But it turns out that “Modern Love” columns are quite innocent in another sense: they average only half a kiss per column, and the majority of the columns never explicitly mention “sex” at all. (Of course, people often allude to sex in convoluted ways that are difficult for a computer to detect, but we searched for common synonyms, like “make love,” as well).
“Modern Love” editor Daniel Jones says this comes as no surprise: “Our news standards don’t allow for much in the way of describing sex acts in personal essays, so sex happens, yes, but off-screen,” he notes via email.
That said, a few columns use the word “sex” a lot. (Are you only reading this to find those columns? Shame on you; hereyougo.) All three of these columns are by women, although two columns bymen are close behind. All five columns center on the amount of sex the authors are having. The three women discuss having less sex than what they take to be the societal norm. One man writes about having more sex than average, while the last discusses how sex life oscillates because of his wife’s medication for Parkinson’s disease.
3.) Men are more likely to focus on other men
About 80% of “Modern Love” columns are written by women. While 79% of female writers use more male pronouns than female pronouns, the split is much more even among male writers—only 64% use more female pronouns than male pronouns.
At first we thought this might be because gay men were writing about romance more frequently—and, indeed, male writers use the word “gay” much more frequently than female writers do (and more frequently than female writers use the word “lesbian”). But when we started reading columns from the male writers that used mostly male pronouns, most of them were not about romantic love; many of them were about fathers. Strikingly, women mention their daughters twice as often as they mention their sons, while men mention their sons twice as often as they mention their daughters.
Jones says he has a theory about the gender split: “Men are often really hesitant to criticize women in love stories, which can lead to them not writing about women at all,” he writes. “Whereas women are less likely to hold back when it comes to writing about men (or criticizing them).”
4) “Modern Love” columns follow clear narrative arcs
We mathematically traced the arcs of people’s love stories by plotting where in the essay certain words occur. The beginnings of columns feature characters (“boyfriend”, “husband”) and set the scene (“college,” “beauty school”). As essays progress, they become more emotionally intense, using more sad language (as measured by LIWC scores, a standard approach).
But near the end, authors shift from using “she/he” to the more romantic “we.”
They stop talking about the past (using phrases like “met” and “years ago”) and look to the present and future (“now,” “I will”). Suggesting some form of personal growth or understanding, the authors also use more words indicating insight and certainty (eg, “realization”) as the end draws near. And at the very end, love blossoms; of the tens of thousands of words used in “Modern Love” essays, “love” is the one that spikes most significantly at the end.
5) There are a lot of ways to talk about loss
One column uses twice as many sad words (such as “grief” and “tears”) as any other. The author, Allison Amend, goes to a funeral, gets dumped by her boyfriend, and gets diagnosed with ovarian failure—all in one day. The column that uses the most anxious words (eg, “scared”) is Amy O’Leary’s piece about learning to admit her anxiety. Second place goes to a woman whose honeymoon in Paris is almost ruined by her anxiety.
But some sad stories use no sad language at all. Cindy Chupack’s column, about getting a divorce from a man who realizes he’s gay, fools the algorithm into thinking the story itself isn’t sad because it uses funny language. Cindy indeed mentions that she toyed with stand-up comedy during her divorce. Our algorithm could have laughed along with her whole set without picking up on any underlying hurt. When we tell a story about heartache, we don’t always do so straightforwardly; there are all kinds of ways to communicate loss.
6) Computers can’t write romance
In a final endeavor, we tried to train a computer program to write its own “Modern Love” columns after reading every column ever published. Its early attempts were rough: “Thene and yot oge a tat my hid trat that I soven the rast?” it pleaded. (To be fair, many people we know are similarly incoherent when talking about love.)
But eventually, our program learned to write credible beginnings to essays. “I loved him…” we prompted, and it produced a slightly disturbing constellation of continuations:
I loved him back, leaving a ragged triangle of bite marks on my hand.
I loved him so wildly I could be made legal.
I loved him for the weekend as well, and I drank apple martini ingredients like hummingbird saliva or snake testicles.
We apologize for our program’s prurience. But remember: its only exposure to “love” is through these 500 stories. It’s perhaps the equivalent of a very young child whose only exposure to love has come through princess movies and picture books. It may never be able to come up with a clear way to explain how love feels—at least until it meets another computer program that makes its subprocesses freeze for one beautiful, inexplicable moment.
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