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Writing a true story (a personal essay) is a personal experience—and as such, what matters most is your experience of your writing and your satisfaction with the work you’ve done. We all have an important story to tell.
But if you’d like to see your personal essay published in a literary journal, here are a few specific things you can do to ensure your work will get a strong read. And if you don’t quite know what it means to write a creative nonfiction essay (a personal essay) start here: Short Prose Genres: Defining Essay, Short Story, Commentary, Memoir, and Mixed Genre.
Having your individual personal essays published in literary journals is key to publishing a collection of essays some day!
1. Keep it short. Thanks to the Internet, the days of long, rambling personal essays and memoirs are pretty much gone. Most modern readers are rushed, distracted, and looking for some level of instant payoff. We advise our clients not to write essays that are longer than 3,500 words. And if you’re thinking of targeting online literary magazines (which are a great resource), you may want to aim for an even lower word count. With short prose, less is more!
2. Understand the market. Literary journals are not glossy commercial magazines. Nor are they blogs or newspapers. In a personal essay, hard facts are important. But the author who offers those facts is equally important. It’s your insight, your point of view, your unique voice that makes a personal essay come alive. Read some literary journals (like these) to get a sense of the kinds of essays that editors are looking for.
3. Get engaged. No, we’re not talking about weddings. We’re talking about current events and the modern world. Essays that are reflections on the way we live today—especially those that tackle “big” issues in a personal way—are often favorably received at literary magazines. So if you can put a personal spin on a big issue—like foreclosure, obesity, racism, protest movements, or any other social issues—you may be able to get a foot in the door at a literary magazine.
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4. “Tell me something I don’t know.” You’ve heard there are no new ideas. But the fact is, no one can replicate your particular view of the world. For that reason, editors at literary magazines continue to accept prose that offers new viewpoints of modern work and play. But in order for your prose to be compelling, you’ve got to push for deeper, more surprising, and more insightful explorations. You’re competing for space when you submit to a literary magazine, and if your insights are stronger than the competition’s, then you’re in!
5. Check your ego at the door. Just because you’re writing a personal essay doesn’t mean you can indulge in your every last whim of hedonism. Essays that are about “me, me, me” and “I, I, I” are not likely to be published. Strive to paint a bigger picture—to show how your experiences are relevant to all people—and you’ll turn editors into fans.
6. Submit your essays to the best-suited editors. If you’re going to submit your personal essay, you’ve got to know the right people to send your work to. At Writer’s Relief, we’ve got a database of thousands of editors who are accepting essays—and we track which editors like what specific type of work. If you want access to our information, you’ll need to apply to join our client list.
But you can also do this kind of research on your own. Spend time at the library or on the Web to determine which magazines are right for you, then send out your work regularly. Expect rejections and strive for acceptances. Although the odds may seem staggering, we see writers’ work being accepted all the time!
QUESTION: Some people prefer reading essays over stories because “essays are based on real life.” Do you agree? Disagree?