So You Want to Publish For Money and Fame

April 27, 2015 § 5 Comments

Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame with

They do stars for writers, right?

Modern Love.

Shouts and Murmurs.

The Home Forum.



Real Simple.


Wouldn’t it be nice?

Sure, your literariest of literary essays are coming to Brevity (don’t disillusion us!), but it’s also great to get a personal essay into a major market–high circulation, millions of clicks, sometimes a fat check. It can be intimidating to get started, though.

You probably already know the first step: read everything you can in the specific venue in which you want to publish. As Sara Mosle wrote in The New York Times,

Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point” and a New Yorker staff writer, told me how he prepared, years ago, to write his first “Talk of the Town” story. “Talk” articles have a distinct style, and he wanted to make sure he got the voice straight in his head before he began writing. His approach was simple. He sat down and read 100 “Talk” pieces, one after the other.

I’ve done the same with the New York Times Modern Love column, even sitting down and analyzing story structure like I did back in high school English class, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I have pages in my notebook with lists of potential stories, organized by where I think might buy them. When it’s time to write, I flip through and choose an idea to work on.

But what next? How do you pick the story that suits the venue, how do you make your pitch (selling the idea) or submission on spec (selling an already-written piece) stand out? At Writer’s Digest, Susan Shapiro has a great list of guidelines and helpful tips for getting a personal essay into a major magazine or newspaper. She covers what to write, how to write it, and how to send it. My personal favorite:

6. Take Action

Often I see pieces by beginners about a conflict that isn’t resolved. They are stuck in a bad relationship or lousy addiction that has no ending or solution in sight. It’s hard to write well about drinking or drugging unless you’re sober and drug-free, and it’s hard to have perspective on your dating woes if you’re still single. Instead of staying stuck, chronicle your plan to change. I’ve written humorous essays and even books about visiting my worst old boyfriends to get their take on why we broke up, interviewing my mentors for advice, quitting all my addictions, and seeing eight shrinks in eight days (going speed shrinking instead of speed dating). A.J. Jacobs famously spent 12 months getting healthy, and another year “living Biblically.” Gretchen Rubin searched for happiness. Ryan Nerz traveled around the country trying to win eating contests. Maria Dahvana Headley said yes to any nice single guy who asked her out (and met her husband along the way). My student Kayli Stollak joined JDate with her divorced Jewish grandmother and wound up with a blog, book and TV pilot called Granny Is My Wingman.

As an editor myself, it’s always more interesting to read an essay about taking action and succeeding or failing than it is to read a more ruminative piece in which the author literally or figuratively sits still.

Whether you’re ready to submit to a national mass market or not, Susan’s advice is solid for writing any personal essay. Focus, be timely, know your audience, get feedback.

Check out Susan’s piece here.

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