Saturday, December 15, 2007

Selling Personal Essays and Memoirs

Have you ever dreamed of writing a personal essay or memoir and have it appear in a national magazine, such as Family Circle or Reader's Digest? I'm sure at some point, most of us have, and there are writers out there who have developed a specialty writing these types of essays.

But what is the best way to go about being published? I was flipping through a copy of Ready, Aim, Specialize: Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money by Kelly James-Enger recently and came across a chapter on this topic. She interviewed a few writers who now make a living writing essays. Since I'm always looking for ways to make more money, I paid special attention to the chapter.

Before I share some of the tips I learned, I want to point something out. First, writing personal essays is one thing. Writing personal essays that other people connect to and want to read is another. If you've already been paid for this type of work, then obviously you're on the right track. If not, here are some ways to improve your work so you can sell it quicker:

1. Write about a universal topic. Sure, tales of how your son spilled juice on your computer and made you miss a deadline are one thing, but make sure you write about it for an audience that will appreciate it, such as a publication geared towards work-at-home parents. Start with a simple anecdote and work outward. My first personal essay was titled "How I Became a Domestic Goddess" and was published in Charlotte Parent. (No, I actually didn't get paid for it. It was one of those "Submit your article, and you may be published!" deals. Oh well, it was a good clip, even if it netted me zero dollars). So because it was published in a parenting publication, many parents related to the fact that I became a better cook and housekeeper after I had kids. It also sparked some strong feelings in a working mom, who wrote the magazine to say that I was criticizing women who had to work outside of the home. That wasn't my intent, even though I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, but whatever. At least people were reading it and forming opinions based on something I wrote.

2. When starting out, consider essays to be extra money, not your bread and butter. Sure, one day you may make a living out of writing essays or memoirs. But when you're first starting out, you might notice that most magazines have one essay per issue and a trillion articles. I wouldn't be interviewing people about baby monitors right now if I were an established essayist. Essays do not make up a major (or even minimal) portion of my income yet, but maybe they will someday.

3. Keep an idea journal with you at all times. As a writer, you should do that anyway, but this will help you keep track of essay ideas. Write down interesting people you meet, what they have to say, and life experiences that have impacted you. When it's time to write, you'll have plenty of material already there.

4. Write a book. This is sort of meant to be funny, but not entirely. I've noticed a lot of essays printed in national magazines are written by people who have just published a non-fiction or fiction book. Essays on topics related to the book are a good promotional pieces. Keep that in mind for when you publish your own completed manuscript one day!

5. Research your markets. A good place to start:
  • Women's magazines
  • Men's magazines
  • Parenting publications
  • General interest magazines
  • Regional and local publications
  • Inflight and travel magazines
  • Regional and local publications
  • Religious publications
  • Newspapers
  • Anthologies
  • Web sites
I have a few submissions I'm working on for the Chicken Soup for the Soul and Cup of Comfort anthologies. Go check them out and see if there are any topics that interest you. Then start writing and polishing those essays! Hopefully we'll all get published soon!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Excellent suggestions! Thank you!!
Love your blog!!!

Mary Cox-Pace,