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!
By Lauren Rheaume
In honor of the Occupy movements that have sprung up in past months, in honor of anyone who has ever been angry, skeptical, or scared, in honor of writers who dare to express their views...here are some politically oriented literary magazines. Please feel free to add to the list if you know any journals we have not mentioned...
n+1. A print magazine of politics, literature, and culture founded in 2004 and published three times yearly. The best submissions guidelines are those implied by the magazine itself. Read an issue or two through to get a sense of whether your piece might fit into n+1. Then send a query or finished piece to the editors. The website runs content that because of its timeliness or genre cannot appear in the print issue. The best guidelines in this case are our web archives. Queries and finished pieces again may be sent to the editors. See TRR's interview with editor Chris Harbach here.
American Letters & Commentary is an eclectic literary magazine featuring innovative and challenging writing in all forms. Each annual issue features a substantial and diverse selection of fiction, poetry, essays, translation, and critical opinion by renowned and up-and-coming writers. For poetry, you may submit three to five poems, 10 pages maximum. Fiction stories of 10 pages or less have the best chance. Most of their stories are shorter than that. Editors are interested in creative non-fiction essays and in critical essays with experimental slant/subject matter.
Blood Lotus is an online literary quarterly established in 2006 and run by editors who refuse to believe everything has already been written, and who want to promote your best writing as proof. They accept fiction, poetry, art, reviews, and what they call “gray area:” They created the Gray Area section because they didn’t like having to decide what was poetry and what was fiction (and don't want you to feel like you have to distinguish, either). Editors accept only one to two pieces per issue under this designation, but the pieces may be any genre of writing you can conceive of: nonfiction, interview, youTube slam performance, found poem, one-act play, flash fiction, poem in prose, etc. Be creative but discerning.
Boston Review is a magazine of ideas, independent and nonprofit. The journal covers lots of ground—politics, poetry, film, fiction, book reviews, and criticism. But a few premises tie it all together: that democracy depends on public discussion; that sometimes understanding means going deep; that vast inequalities are unjust; that human imagination breaks free from neat political categories; and that powerful images are worth piles of words. See TRR's reviews of Boston Review here.
Critical Inquiry is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal devoted to the best critical thought in the arts and humanities. Founded in 1974, it has been called “one of the best known and most influential journals in the world” (Chicago Tribune) and “academe’s most prestigious theory journal” (New York Times). Combining a commitment to rigorous scholarship with a vital concern for dialogue and debate, the journal presents articles by eminent and emerging scholars, critics and artists on a wide variety of issues in contemporary criticism and culture. Associated with no single school of thought, tied to no single discipline, Critical Inquiry is dedicated to providing a forum for cutting-edge thought while reconsidering traditional concepts and practices. The editors invite submissions of manuscripts in English appropriate to the aims of Critical Inquiry. Manuscripts should not exceed 7,500 words.
Dissent. Founded in 1954, Dissent is a quarterly magazine of politics and culture edited by Michael Kazin and Michael Walzer. A magazine of the left, Dissent is also one of independent minds and strong opinions.They welcome unsolicited essays and book reviews for its quarterly print magazine and shorts, essays, and interviews for its more frequent online counterpart, Dissent Upfront.
The Externalist. The Externalist Press began with an online literary journal founded by Larina Warnock and Gary Charles Wilkens to publish poetry and prose that displayed a clear cognizance of the outward world and the socially significant issues of our time. Rather than pushing any particular agenda (though they do lean left), the goal was to provide an outlet for writers who wanted to write about political and controversial topics as well as to encourage a dialogue about those subjects. That goal continues on today. The Externalist was ranked #22 on Writer's Digest's list of top online literary journals.
Fringe. Editors think literature is a place to safely explore controversial and unpleasant topics and unfamiliar points of view. Their special mission is to diversify the existing literary community, both aesthetically and demographically: They aspire to publish styles and genres that other journals eschew and we take particular pleasure in publishing voices that are not often included in the canon. As a new media journal, they’re able to publish frequently and reach a wider international audience than a traditional print journal (some 13,000+ people across the world each month). In addition, their online format allows them to publish emerging multimedia art such as audio collage, hypertext, and flash poetry. See TRR's interviews with Fringe editors and review of Fringe here.
Michigan Quarterly Review is an eclectic interdisciplinary journal of arts and culture that seeks to combine the best of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction with outstanding critical essays on literary, cultural, social, and political matters. The flagship journal of the University of Michigan, MQR draws on lively minds here and elsewhere, seeking to present accessible work of all varieties for sophisticated readers from within and without the academy.
Montreal Review. Founded in 2009, The Montréal Review is an independent, nonpartisan, online publication on current affairs, books, art, culture and ideas. The Montréal Review welcomes letters to the editor, submissions of short stories, poems, nonfiction articles, and opinion, and also publishes interviews on politics, society, the environment, and culture.
The Other Journal welcomes the submission of critical essays, reviews, creative writing, and visual or performance art that encounter life through the lens of theology and culture; editors seek pieces that consider the interaction of faith with contemporary life, art, politics, sexuality, technology, economics, and social justice. They are particularly interested in works which present creative, alternative views that may otherwise fall outside the margins of mainstream narratives. And although they primarily focus on perspectives within the Christian tradition, they invite dialogue with all who are interested in exploring the ongoing role of faith and spirituality in the world. Each issue of The Other Journal is organized around a particular theme, and the Winter 2012 issue’s theme is “The Evil and Late Modernity Issue.”
The Point is a Chicago-based print journal publishing rigorous but accessible writing about contemporary life and culture. The journal is published twice-yearly and available for order online and in select bookstores. The website features selected content from the magazine, as well as original articles. See TRR's review of The Point here.
The Sun publishes essays, interviews, fiction, and poetry. Ediotrs tend to favor personal writing, but they're also looking for thoughtful, well-written essays on political, cultural, and philosophical themes. They're willing to read previously published works, though for reprints they pay only half the usual fee. They rarely run anything longer than seven thousand words; there's no minimum word length.
Tikkun is a magazine dedicated to healing and transforming the world. The editors seek writing that gives insight on how to make that utopian vision a reality. They build bridges between religious and secular progressives by delivering a forceful critique of all forms of exploitation, oppression, and domination while nurturing an interfaith vision of a caring society — one whose institutions are reconstructed on the basis of love, generosity, nonviolence, social justice, caring for nature, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe. They print articles on social theory, religion/spirituality, social change, contemporary American and global politics and economics, ecology, culture, psychology, and Israel/Palestine. Fiction submissions are considered for web publication only.
Urban Confustions invites women living in the urban centers of the world to submit Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry and Art for their bi-annual literary journal. Urban Confustions is seeking women writers and artists who share a global perspective of society and are not restricted or limited by one reality or concept of “home”. Writers can submit Fiction and Non-Fiction up to 4,000 words, and 4-6 poems.
Versal. Editors look for work that is urgent, involved, and unexpected. Well-crafted traditional, non-traditional and innovative forms, hybrids and translations are encouraged. For poetry submissions, you can send up to 5 poems of no more than 10 pages in total. They do consider long poems and series. Send 1 prose piece of no more than 3000 words, or 3 flash pieces up to 1000 words each. They are not looking for non-fiction at this time. Submit fiction and poetry dealing with themes of social change. See TRR's reviews of Versal here.
Witness is published three times a year, in January, May, and September. Unsolicited work is welcome during one of our two submission periods: September 1 to December 1 for general work or January 1 to April 1 for thematic work. They accept original fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The theme for our 2013 special print issue is redemption. Editors prefer work that is contemporary in its setting, outward-looking in its perspective, and mindful of the modern writer’s role as witness to his or her times. They also enjoy material that ventures into international terrain. See TRR's review of Witness here.
White Review is a quarterly arts, culture and politics journal published in print and online, and established on a non-profit economic model. All submissions must be in English and previously unpublished. Translations are acceptable and should be accompanied by a copy of the original text. Print submissions, besides poetry, should be a minimum 1,500 words in length. Poetry submissions should be limited to three poems only. Nonfiction authors, please send a query outlining your argument or the first 500-1000 words of your proposed piece. Please also attach one or two samples of your work. Editors are open to publishing work unconstrained by form, subject or genre with the proviso that it be seriously minded and accessible to a non-specialised readership. They are an arts, literature and politics magazine but we are interested in all the various fields of human endeavour: law, medicine, finance, architecture, music, science, crime, etc. Academic submissions are not encouraged. See TRR's review of the Summer 2011 issue here.
Since 1972, Women's Studies Quarterlyhas been an interdisciplinary forum for the exchange of emerging perspectives on women, gender, and sexuality. Its thematic issues focus on such topics as Activisms, The Global and the Intimate, The Sexual Body, Trans-, Technologies, and Mother, combining psychoanalytic, legal, queer, cultural, technological, and historical work to present the most exciting new scholarship on ideas that engage popular and academic readers alike. WSQ is a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal published in June and December. Along with scholarship from multiple disciplines, it showcases fiction and creative nonfiction, poetry, book reviews, and the visual arts.
Lauren Rheaume is a writer living in the Boston area. She is the Director of Marketing and Outreach for The Review Review.