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 19 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: “My Childhood Seizures Could Have Been Terrifying, But My Dad Made it OK” by Hillary Mullan
2. Extra Crispy
Must-read personal essay: Gina Vaynshteyn’s “When Dumplings Are Resistance”
“Incisive. Irreverent. Curious. Provoctive. That’s DAME.”
If that’s you, too, send your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org. Aimed at women in their 30s, the publication covers politics, sex, reproductive rights, LGBTQ issues and more. Pay varies.
Must-read personal essay: “I Tried to Protect My Daughters from a Stalker” By Cameron Gearen
Have an upbeat personal essay between 400 and 800 words on everyday life, like travel, parenting, home, family, gardening, neighborhood, or community? Submit to The CS Monitor’s Home Forum. Send your completed essays to email@example.com.
Must-read personal essay: “Our Animal Problem Comes Home To Roost” by Stephanie Hanes
Want to write for this Jewish parenting site? To submit, email firstname.lastname@example.org with “submission” somewhere in the subject line. Include a brief bio, contact information, and your complete original blog post — you can either attach it as a Word document or paste it into the body of the email. Suggested word count: 500-800. Per a well-loved private Facebook group for freelance writers, pay is about $50.
Must-read personal essay: B.J. Epstein’s “How I’m Trying to Teach Charity to My Toddler”
Publications in The Sun Magazine have won Pushcart Prizes and been selected for Best American Essays — so if your story gets chosen, you’ll be in good company. And since the editors “tend to favor personal writing,” that I-driven nonfiction essay might just be the perfect fit. (Fiction and poetry are also accepted.)
Pay ranges from $300 all the way up to $2,000 for accepted prose. The easiest way to send your story is online through Submittable.
Must-read personal essay: “Cleaned Out,” by Barbara Ehrenreich (Editor’s note: The Sun puts its stories behind a paywall…which is why they can afford to pay their writers so handsomely!)
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. Email email@example.com to get started.
Must-read personal essay: “The Long Ride to Riyadh,” by Dave Eggers
The popular Modern Love feature accepts submissions of 1,500 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. 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 and landed her a book contract with Random House.
Another option is the Lives column in the New York Times Magazine, which is “open to anyone with a good tale to tell.” Better yet: the submission guidelines encourage writers to “embrace your own strangeness.” To submit, email email@example.com.
Must-read personal essay: “The House Where My Husband Doesn’t Exist” by David Khalaf
One unique aspect about Creative Nonfiction Magazine is their high acceptance rate of unsolicited pitches. So it’s a great stop for blossoming writers, as well as those with more experience.
To submit online, a $3 reading fee is charged to non-subscribers (and the magazine no longer accepts paper submissions). The fee ensures you will be paid if your work is accepted, which typically adds up to a $125 flat rate plus $10 per printed page. Read over their submission calls before pitching since each issue sticks to a theme.
Must-read personal essay: Caitlin Dwyer’s “Inheritance”
“Slate,” according to its own submission guidelines, “is known for making smart, witty, persuasive statements.” So if you’ve got something to say, email your pitch (not your drafted post) to the appropriate section editor.Send personal essays to firstname.lastname@example.org. Average reported pay is about 24 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 — and even poetry! 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. The easiest way to send in your work is through Submittable.
Must-read personal essay: “Fire Island,” by Christopher Locke
12. Skirt Magazine
Skirt Magazine is “all about women – their work, their play, families, creativity, style, health and wealth, bodies and souls.” Editors welcome pitches for personal essays of 600-800 words and give preference to Charleston-based writers. Check their submissions calendar for upcoming themes. Pay varies.
Must-read personal essay: Patricia Williams Lessane’s “Mighty Black Mothers”
Motherwell is a publication that tells all sides of the parenting story. They seek parenting-related personal essay submissions of up to 1200 words. Submit a full piece online via Submittable; 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. Typical pay is $50 per article, though higher rates can be negotiated for “complex” pieces. Email email@example.com with the subject line “Pitch: [Name], [Article Title].”
Must-read personal essay: “Thanks, Mom, for the Secondhand Panties”” by Linda Freund
Submit essays about health, mental health, relationships, and identity to the appropriate editor at this lifestyle site geared toward women. They also are accepting pitches to their two series, Family Thread and Living With. The editors ask that you only send pitches, not full drafts. Pay averages about 10 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: “I Snuck Into A Celebrity Wedding On Palm Beach & I Would 100% Do It Again” by Alexandra Antonopoulos
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. Payment is lean, but possible: Eligible contributors can opt in to receive an even share of the $300 budget the publication sets aside monthly.
Must-read personal essay: “Not a Widow” by Michelle Miller
This personal-finance website welcomes submissions that discuss ways to make or save money. Read the guidelines before emailing your submission. Articles should be between 700-900 words. 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
The First Person section of Vox.com publishes personal essays “with unique perspectives on complicated issues.” Submit pitches or completed drafts to firstname.lastname@example.org. They are open to a variety of topics, but claim past success with pieces on parenting, relationships, money, identity, mental health, and job/workplace issues. Pay varies.
Must-read personal essay: “I Was a Child of Chernobyl” by Sophia Moskalenko
Narratively accepts pitches and complete pieces that tell “original and untold human stories.” Submit online in the category that most closely fits your essay, which should be between 1,500 and 4,000 words. Pay averages 9 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: “What Does a Therapist Do When She Has Turmoil of Her Own?” by Sherry Amatenstein
This post was updated in July 2019 so it’s more useful and relevant for our readers! It was originally written by Lisa Rowan and updated by The Write Life team.
Photo via Pexels