Two weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting on a few freelance writing panels at the San Francisco Writers Conference. Beyond questions about pay, building a portfolio or pitching reported articles (a subject I’ve written on in depth), I was struck by the number of questions about personal essays and submitting personal essays.
Of course, such interest in personal essays makes sense. They’re a more literary form than journalistic writing, and a good way for folks who are writing memoirs to practice concision. Even more important, however: They’re an excellent way to break into a publication for writers with few prior clips (journo-speak for published articles that serve as samples of your work) to their name.
Without robust writing samples of articles published in reputable venues, it can be difficult to get your foot in the door at a new publication. But because personal essays present your full work up front and don’t require approval from an editor before writing the piece, they can be a terrific vehicle to get an in with an editor. Once the piece is published and you’ve developed a personal relationship with that editorial staff, you can then approach them with ideas for reported pieces, because you’ve already demonstrated your writing chops. You can also catalog that personal essay in your portfolio as a work sample to reference when you pitch other publications.
All that said, there are a few important things to know before you start:
Submit personal essays on spec.
To submit an essay on spec (short for “on speculation”) means to submit a finished, written and polished piece—as opposed to the few short paragraphs in which you would try to sell an idea in a standard article pitch. The obvious downside is that you’re stuck writing the entire thing beforehand, on your own dime, without any certainty the piece will sell. That said, personal essays are a great opportunity to show off your distinct voice as a writer. Editors will be more likely to consider your essay based on its storytelling merits alone, instead of on your portfolio of past work (or lack thereof).
Use small moments to convey big ideas.
An important thing to keep in mind when actually penning a personal essay is that they require a different approach than a full-fledged memoir or a reported piece. The most successful personal essays are built around small snapshots of moments that come together to express a greater theme. Consider approaching such writing with a healthy balance of anecdote and analysis. You’re not just telling a story about yourself, but providing context as to how your personal experiences contribute to a greater cultural conversation.
Look beyond literary journals.
Lit journals don’t have a monopoly on excellent personal essays. In fact, personal essays have a strong tradition in magazines and newspapers. Today there are many fantastic venues, both print and online, in which to share your experiences. Here are links to the submission pages for eight of my favorites:
- Vox First Person
- New York Times Modern Love
- The Rumpus
- The Sun
- Creative Nonfiction
- Writer’s Digest 5-Minute Memoir
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This post is part of a series offreelance writing-related postsfromWriter’s Digest Managing Editor Tyler Moss. In addition to working with new submissions and a regular stable of freelance contributors toWD, his own freelance credits includeConde Nast Traveler, The Atlantic, OutsideandNew Yorkmagazines.
Follow Tyler on Twitter @tjmoss11.
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What We Are
We began as a free print pamphlet featuring just one short story, then a pocket-sized monthly magazine—still free—with a handful of short stories and the occasional spot of nonfiction and poetry, published according to theme, for the reading pleasure of London commuters.
The online platform accompanies the monthly print edition, and is now a fully-fledged literary and creative arts platform a place for readers, writers and the broader creative community to discuss various aspects of literature, fiction, arts & culture through features, reviews, non themed fiction, interviews, columns and more. All these forms have the capacity to uplift and transport us. We aim to discover new emerging writers and give them a platform to be read alongside stalwarts of the literary scene.
You can submit your work to any of our platforms: Litro Magazine,Litro Online, or our podcast,Litro Lab. Please read the guidelines carefully.
Please note that it may take us anytime from two weeks to three months to accept or reject your submission. If you haven’t heard from us, you can assume we’re still considering your work.
Any questions? Contact Eric Akoto.
What we accept:
For our print magazine, we onlyacceptshort fiction, flash/micro fiction, nonfiction (memoir, literary journalism, travel narratives, etc), and original artwork (photographs, illustrations, paintings, etc) based on the designated monthly theme. Works translated into English are also welcome.
What we don’t accept:
We do publish poetry and novel extracts, but not on an unsolicited basis, so please do not submit any poetry or novel extracts to us—they will not be read.
- All submitted work must be your own.
- Submitted work must not have been previously published—either in print or online. You can submit the same piece to other publications at the same time, but we ask that you withdraw your submission from Litro immediately when it is accepted elsewhere. We do, however, publish original translations if the work has previously appeared in another language.
- Due to print space restrictions, each piece should be about 4,000 words, give or take a little. This is a guideline, not an absolute limit; and in exceptional cases, we will take longer pieces, but in any case no longer than 5,000 words.
- Due to the volume of submissions we receive, please submit only one piece per theme. Additional submissions will unfortunately not be considered. You can submit stories for different themes simultaneously, though we should add that if we choose one story for a particular issue, we wouldn’t normally run another story by the same writer for at least a year to allow room for new authors.
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Any questions? Contact [email protected].
Click here for our rolling calls for submissions page for a list of books, live performance and films we’re looking for reviews on.
What we accept:
- We have now opened up the Litro Blog to all our readers and writers. If you want to be a Litro blogger (minimum commitment: three months, once a week), email [email protected] with samples of your writing and three blog pitches. If all goes well, you’ll be set up with an account from which you can start posting blogs for our review right away. These pieces will usually fall short of being features, and be anything from 400-800 words long.
- Non-themed short fiction(#StorySunday) not more than 4,000 words. Works translated into English also welcome. Submit here
- Non-themed short fiction (#LunchBreakFic) not more than 4,000 words. Works translated into English also welcome. Submit here
- Non-themed short fiction(#TuesdayTales) not more than 4,000 words. Works translated into English also welcome. Submit here
- Non-themed flash/micro fiction (#FlashFridays) not more than 800 words. Works translated into English also welcome. Submit here
- Essays(#EssaySaturday)—including, but not limited to, personal essays, memoir and travel dispatches, the more creative you are with the term “essay” the better. We’re really looking for stories that go deeper, that scratch beneath the surface of a tale, finding its wider meanings to give our readers something to think about. We’re also partial to a bit of a chuckle. No more than 2,000 words, although this is negotiable in certain circumstances. Works translated into English also welcome. Submit here
- Travel & Lifestyle—The travel and lifestyle section gives a brief on global affairs, travel, reportage, design told through personal essays and stories that deal with the fascinating aspects of everyday life. As we believe real culture is in the details of life as its being lived, day by day. Submit here
- Features on literature, arts and culture: We are not about literary criticism, but we do welcome informed and reflective, even personal, commentary. We are particularly interested in writing that explore the grey areas between literature and art, and also literature and culture, i.e. the connections between literature & travel, literary & fashion, literature & food, etc. that help us “see” literature in our real world. Submit features Submit here
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- Share a Short Story (see examples). Submit here
- Columns: We are looking for columnists. Have an idea on literature/writing, travel, film, music, or art that you can sustain for at least three months, with at least a piece every fortnight? Pitch it to [email protected].
- Politics We want comments/opinions/personal essays on anything that falls under the word ‘political’ – from LGBT rights to sexism, racism to human rights, war to education. Whether it be serious or satire, we want the politics section to comment on the political world around us. Submit here
- Interviews: If you like to talk to people and explore issues in depth, pitch your interview idea to [email protected]. Interviews can be done in person, via Skype, phone, or email—or any other more creative way you can think of.
- Photo Essays or Comic Series—Submit here.
At this time, we do not accept poetry submissions for online publication.
How to Submit:
If you already have a finished piece that can fit into any of our existing categories, please submit here. If you haven’t yet build up many writing samples, it would be best to submit to us a completed piece. If we publish it, you can start pitching to us.
Send ideas for anything related to literature and culture—whether columns, interviews, features and reviews—to[email protected].
Everything on reviews or author interviews, send to Interviews.
Anything related to theatre, arts or live events, please get in touch with Daniel Janes. For anything film-related, please contact Films.
*Please attach a brief biography and CV with your pitches to better reflect your fields of expertise.
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We sometimes feature standalone stories—fiction and nonfiction—on Litro Lab. It can follow the month’s theme, or not, and must be no longer than five minutes.
You can submit here an MP3 recording of your short story; it must be your story, but you can get someone else to read it if you’d prefer (please credit them with a link, if applicable). Please also submit a written version of your piece.
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Note: We also run audio interviews and readings with authors, episodes exploring a particular theme/subject such as Japanese folk tales, and even real-world reportage. If you’d like to participate — either as a guest or a producer — or if you just have a bright idea, please get in touch with Interviews.