Personal Essay Format For Publishing

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Though they get less press than novels and short fiction, personal essays actually have one of the most welcoming markets in publishing. Dedicated essayists have a great chance of seeing some form of publication, so long as they’re willing to put the work in and understand the marketplace.

That’s why in this article I’ll be exploring the ins and out of publishing your personal essays, starting with how you can secure publication on the lowest rungs of the industry ladder, and then leading up to the anthology or collection publication of multiple essays. But whether you’re a writer of novels, plays, or personal essays, the first piece of advice will always be the same…

Read, read, read

As with any art form, there are trends in the personal essay market. It’s also the case that most publications will have preferences about things like tone, length, subject, and structure. Because of this, whether you’re writing essays in general or for a particular publication, the first step is reading as many as you can get your hands on.

Your research should be focused, however. Reading the great essays, collections by writers such as George Orwell or Oscar Wilde, is of course a good idea but the bulk of your reading needs to be targeted at the sort of publication you’re writing for.

There are many kinds of small touches, technicalities of rhythm and pace, which can only be learnt by reading good examples, but most publishers won’t just be interested in whether your work is good – they’ll be interested in whether or not your work suits their publication. The key is to study their publications relentlessly, first deliberately striving for the ‘feel’ of the work they publish and then gradually allowing it to become a natural style.

This sounds difficult, and at first it will be, but there are two facts which should make beginner essayists feel better:

  1. The ability to assume a style is one which gets easier and easier with practice. The more different styles you learn, the easier you’ll find the whole process, and very quickly you’ll have a wardrobe full of styles you can slip into to suit the occasion.
  2. Generally speaking, the better established the publication the less strict they’ll be about conforming to a set style. The demands on quality go up of course, but publications with existing industry and readership respect will be less concerned with the safety of conformity, and more concerned with showcasing the best of your unique talents.

It will take a while for these facts to come into play, but you should feel reassured that however difficult you find it starting out, that’s as difficult as it gets.

Reading should be a constant through your attempts to gain publication, but what you read should change according to where you are on the essayist’s pyramid.

The pyramid

The essayist’s pyramid is a way of combining the different levels of essay publication with the work it takes to move from one to the next. The pyramid basically consists of four levels. At the base are local and specialist publications, the next level up is regional publications, then national and international publications, then successful collections.

The pyramid doesn’t just represent a hierarchy; it’s a guide to progressing from one level to the next. One of the biggest deciding factors in whether a publication will consider your work is your reputation and publication history. Because of this, it’s necessary to have a lot of local publications under your belt before you contact a regional publication, a lot of regional publications before you try for national, and finally to be a frequently published national essayist before you can expect to be successful with a collection of essays.

Self-publishing gives you the ability to skip any of these steps, releasing your work to the world through blogging or e-books. While these are valid routes they’re unlikely to lead to success on their own unless you have a unique viewpoint or presentation. Instead it’s advisable to view websites as you would any other publication. Yes all websites are available to anyone, but realistically they still fall into a structure so similar to ‘local / regional / national’ that they can be discussed in the same breath. Once you have a few essays on a few minor websites you can try moving up, and keep going until there’s sufficient audience to follow you to your own online venues and digital publications.

So now we’ve looked at the route essayists can take to success, it’s time to discuss how they can get started.

Finding publications

The more local a publication the more likely they’ll be to publish you. This isn’t just a matter of circulation, but it doesn’t hurt. A sense of community + a small pool of potential talent = welcoming publishers. For the same reason specialist magazines, those which deal with a specific realm of subjects, are likely to be similarly well disposed towards your work.

Local publications can be found… well… locally. Eateries, libraries, and healthcare centers are good places to search. Established local publications, especially newspapers, will often have adverts for less well-known magazines.

If you’re working online then it’s just a matter of searching around and gauging which publications will be most appropriate for your work. Either way this approach is one which works all the way to the top of the pyramid. Regional publications will contain adverts for local ones, and national magazines are a good source for regional publications.

Each block of the pyramid stays aware of the block below (everyone wants to know where the talent is coming from), and so the more you work the more recognizable you’ll be to those you need to contact next.

The submission system

As I mentioned in my article on publishing short fiction, if you’re serious about publication then you need to establish a system where you’re always submitting and waiting to hear back about a submission.

Waiting to hear back from one publication before submitting to another is wasted time. Ideally you should have a few articles ready to go ‘out’ when you begin, then spend the time before you hear back writing more.

Every writer experiences more rejection than acceptance (mainly because the same piece can be rejected a hundred times, but only accepted once.) You shouldn’t be disheartened, but equally you shouldn’t let any necessary rejections on your road to success waste time you could spend succeeding.

Reading, writing, and submitting are a constant process. Getting published is a job, and it’s one you have to keep showing up for. Do so, though, and you can reach the achievement every essayist dreams of…

Collections and anthologies of personal essays

‘Anthologies’ are collections of essays in which your work can be featured, whereas you can publish a ‘collection’ made up entirely of your own work.

To make it into an anthology you need to scour literary magazines for one with a theme you think you’d suit. Here the need to tailor your writing to the publication in question is more important than ever. Hang a list of their guidelines in your writing space and stick to it. Anthologies gather most of their audience based on interest in the overall theme, so deviating from it will get your work quickly dismissed.

If you’ve worked your way up the pyramid those who have already featured your work will likely be thrilled to trumpet your achievements, so if you do make it into an anthology make sure to contact former publishers. They may want to advertise your work, or even have you write something.

This is doubly the case when you publish a collection all your own, as there will be fewer other sources of exposure. Thankfully former publishers will almost always be genuinely happy to acknowledge your success, and it will also help their own prestige to be associated with a successful author. Collections are almost always the exclusive preserve of famous essayists – the kind you see week-to-week in national newspapers – but there is a healthy market for self-published collections by lesser-known but established authors, especially when they deal with specialist topics. Whether you’re a beer brewer, a trout fisher, a doll collector, or really almost any kind of hobbyist, there’s a niche for your work already waiting.

Building the pyramid

As I said before, finding some form of publication is just a matter of hard work. Moving up the pyramid you need to keep experimenting with your style and making sure that the work you’ve done on one level supports what you’re attempting to do on the next. A firm base is vital, and is the greatest tool in what have to be constant efforts to improve both your art and the places it can be found.

Above all, remember these three things:

  • Always be reading, writing, and submitting.
  • Write with your publication of choice in mind.
  • Keep building.

For more advice on the logic behind entering competitions and anthologies try Should you enter a writing competition? Or for how to build an email list, a must for writers who will be moving from publication to publication, check out Why you need to have an email list right now.

Personal essays are everywhere you look lately, and many of you love to write them. Whether they are your go-to format, or just something you dabble in from time to time, it can be intimidating when you are starting out placing your first personal essays. We’ve put together a list of ten publications that not only publish personal essays, but also love to hear from new writers!

The Rumpus – Editor-in-Chief Marisa Siegel describes The Rumpus asGreat writing that might not find a home elsewhere.” They like unique perspectives and deep-dives into pop culture. They also plan to publish more political pieces in 2017. While opt-in payment is very small (usually less than $20 a piece), The Rumpus is a respected publication on the radar of many writers due to the quality of story they publish, and their reputation for publishing unique and diverse points of view. Submission Guidelines; Editor Q&A with Marisa Siegel of The Rumpus

SheKnows – This site publishes writing on women’s issues including parenting, beauty, food, health, and even pets, to name just a few. Many writers publish on the thriving open contributor platform known as SheKnows Community. Writers are unpaid, and enjoy gaining instant exposure to a segment of the SheKnows monthly readership, which spans into the tens of millions. If your piece is selected as a staff pick, enjoy even more visibility among SheKnows readers. While the SheKnows Community does not offer paid writing opportunities, has editors with small freelance budgets. They can be contacted individually by vertical at,,,,, and Rates vary for freelance opportunities, however flat rates in the $50-60 range seem to be frequently reported by writers.
Editor Q&A with Colleen Stinchcombe of SheKnows

DAMEDAME publishes reported pieces, op-eds, and personal essays covering culture, politics, parenting, family, gender, sex, entertainment, tech culture, business and personal finance, and more. DAME’s wheelhouse is starting and continuing conversations on trending topics. Oh, and they love humor essays (even satire) if you’ve got ‘em! Founder, Jennifer Reitman is very supportive of bringing new writing voices to DAME. Rates vary, but are very competitive for new writers.
Submission Guidelines; Writing For DAME Magazine – With Founder & Publisher, Jennifer Reitman

Bustle – This very popular women’s interest site is known for shareable content. Features Editor, Rachel Krantz doesn’t care if you are brand new to submitting your work, or only have a few bylines, and is very open to hearing from new writers. Bustle looks for personal essays that have “strong, intimate narrative with a distinctive voice that is authoritative yet still fun and accessible for Bustle’s audience.” P.S. Their offspring publication Romper is looking for similar content about millennial motherhood. Rates for Bustle are not published, but based on writer reports from, rates hover around a .05/word on average.
Submission Guidelines; Practical Submission Advice from Bustle Features Editor, Rachel Krantz

Modern Loss – If you are writing about navigating your life after a death, Modern Loss is a great site to consider. While they don’t yet pay, top agents do canvass the site, and a byline here is a nice feather in the cap for a new writer. Authors span new writers to best-selling authors, so you’ll be in good company.
Submission Guidelines; Writing For Modern Loss About Your Life After A Death – With Co-Founder & CEO, Rebecca Soffer

Narratively – This site is one of a kind and practices “slow storytelling” of untold human stories. Selected by TIME magazine as one of the top 50 websites in 2013, the quality of writing and unique stories you’ll find here are riveting and special. Submission guidelines specifically call out their interest in adding new voices to the mix, and they pay $150 for personal essays.
Submission Guidelines; Editor Q&A with Lilly Dancyger of Narratively

Buzzfeed READER – A strong voice that speaks to readers is what READER is looking for in the personal essays they publish. Pretty much any topic can work, though they suggest money, family, food, religion, sexuality, relationships, disability, illness (mental or physical), hormones, race, body image, drugs, and travel. They also encourage critical essays on cultural aspects such as books, technology, sports, entertainment, celebrities, politics, and fashion. And don’t forget, this is Buzzfeed people, so you are talking about a large audience. READER promotes their rates as competitive.
Submission Guidelines

Mothers Always Write – One of the smaller publication on this list, MAW publishes literary essays about “the mothering experience” whether that be young children, teens and tweens, or adults. Mothers Always Write pays $25 for pieces selected in their published issues, and nominates for a number of awards including the Pushcart Prize. Check guidelines for suggested themes.
Submission Guidelines; Editor Q&A with Julianne Palumbo of Mothers Always Write

The Sunlight Press – The newest publication on this list, “The Sunlight Press is a digital literary journal that provides a home to new and established voices…We want to hear the ways people turn toward light and hope, whether it is through the arts, culture, spirituality, or humor, and also how they respond to the darkness and navigate unknown spaces.” Rates are unpublished, however TSP does pay writers
Submission Guidelines

Chicken Soup for the Soul – At any given point in time, CSFTS usually has 4-5+ open calls to submit stories for their possible book topics. While many authors return to write for more than one book, they are always looking for new writers. Submissions are very competitive and can take months or more to hear back, however, published authors rave about this publication and the benefits received. Benefits include $200 for a published story, major bragging rights, 10 free copies of the book you appear in, discounted books, and exclusive CSFTS author communications.
Submission Guidelines; How To Get Published In Chicken Soup For The Soul With Editor-in-Chief Amy Newmark





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