Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Writing Personal Essays that Sell

One market that many writers often overlook is that of the personal essay, article, memoir piece, or story. Whether you are a novelist, short story writer, poet, playwright or nonfiction author, this is a market that should be considered. It may increase your reading audience. I have some suggestions for helping you write personal essays that will prove marketable.

When I taught creative writing, one of the course requirements for students was to keep a journal. I feel it’s an excellent source of inspiration as well as a resource for writers.

What exactly is a journal?  It’s a record, an entry-book, kept regularly, though maybe not everyday. These entries are dated and honest. We can use journals to describe things, increasing our powers of observation. For example, we can describe places: houses, sidewalks, backyards, streets, cities. Consider your journal as a travelogue. Describe people, interesting or unusual, the ordinary too.

Jot down snatches of conversation. Think of your journal as a treasure trove or jewel box in which to place gems (quotes, pithy ideas, epigrams, insights, puns, nutshell wisdom). Write a little; think a lot.

Consider your journal as a laboratory for experiment. View your journal as a new wardrobe. Try on different styles. See what suits you, what fits and what doesn't. Think of your journal as a psychoanalyst's couch or a confessional. Explore your depths, dreams, fantasies, truths, sins. Regard your journal as a tape recorder attached to your brain. Record your thought associations, stream-of-consciousness.  Consider your journal as a confidante.  Much of your journal can provide fine raw material for future writing.

In your essay, move from the general to the specific. Describe vivid scenes and what they mean to you. Think of them as anecdotal. Chicken Soup, for example, likes dialogue. They want nonfiction that reads like a first person short story with a beginning, middle and end. Mix up sentence lengths to keep up interest level. Their guidelines are specific and if you choose to submit to one of their themed anthologies, follow their guidelines precisely. I’ve had my writing in a variety of these anthologies and was very pleased with their professionalism.

This is your story and it should represent your uniqueness as a human being. The personal essay can be humorous or emotional. But regardless, it must grip the reader. When you write to be published and paid, you must offer something of interest. You must not be dull or boring. So revise and edit where needed. Remember to be genuine, precise and avoid clich├ęs.

Here are some markets for first person stories. Be sure to read their guidelines carefully before you submit:

Anthologies:


Magazines:

 (check their current calls)



(Reader’s Digest accepts a lot of short humorous true stories but competition is keen.)


(Canadian version)

Check the internet for a more complete listing of magazines that accept first person stories. For example, parenting magazines often buy first person stories. Check out travel magazines. Also don’t forget literary magazines such as:


Newspapers:

 They often accept op-ed pieces and personal essays from writers. For example, The New York Times accepts both:


and


To keep up-to-date, check out blogs that list current calls for new anthologies as well as magazines and newspapers. Here’s my favorite:


Do you keep a journal at present? If so, does it prove helpful? If not, is it something you might wish to do in the future?


Your thoughts and comments are welcome here!

18 comments:

  1. Interesting post. I've never kept a journal, probably due to my arthritis..too much pen makes for too much ache. I do blog though. Several story ideas owe their spark from posts I've researched for. :)

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    1. Rose,

      Your blogs are very creative and I believe they do draw readers to your novels.

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  2. Very interesting. It's all I can do to write a blog once a month, but it would be nice to get paid for personal stuff!

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    1. Hi, Alice,

      You know I love your individualistic writing style. I think it would go over well in personal essay writing as well as fiction.

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  3. I LOVE personal essays. I wish I could write one too…

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    1. I believe we each have personal stories that other people would like to read. The question is often whether we feel comfortable sharing them.

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  4. Super great advice! I've always meant to try and sub to horse mags, but just never seem to have the time.

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    1. Your blogs indicate a talent for personal essay writing. I think you should try it.

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  5. I often wind up telling personal stories when blogging. Some are funny and some are not. Everyone keep saying I should put them all together into a book for publication. But life is what it is and we all have these "stories" mixed into lives. To a reader, I think it gives them insight into me. I'm not some weird recluse that sits at a computer and spits out stories, nor am I some sort of person sitting on a pedestal. I'm just like everyone else. I go food shopping, deal with children, have friends, cry over spilled milk, and giggle. I'm very human.

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  6. Hi, E.,

    I love what you say here. A lot of us are offering personal stories when we blog and I think readers do enjoy those insights.

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  7. Most of my personal writing is just that--personal. But sometimes it evolves into more sharable pieces, and I'm grateful for your tips on getting them published.

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    1. The big problem with writing personal pieces is that you don't want to hurt or offend the real people who matter in your life. So there's only a fine line.

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  8. Great ideas, Jacquie! Good Old Days would probably be my best bet at my "delicate" age. Thanks for another helpful blog.

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    1. Glad this blog proves helpful to your writing, Susan.

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  9. Excellent post, Jacquie. I don't keep a journal but have published a memoir and done personal pieces for the lit mags. And I probably do much of my personal writing in poems. A chapbook, Acts of Balance, is just out from Finishing Line Press, and I'm trying to pull a full collection together. So I'll think of what you've told us above as I write!

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    1. Nancy,

      Sounds like you're doing great! Congrats on your memoir and chapbook! Poetry, for me, like you, tends to be a form of personal writing as well.

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  10. Great advice. I may look into a couple of these sites you mentioned.

    Janice~

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