Many writers dream of seeing their personal essay published in a favorite magazine. Sound familiar? Then take note of Hearst’s new contributor network, The Mix.
The Mix offers daily prompts to a growing group of approved writers, with a chance to be published in Hearst magazines like Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Car and Driver.
But while the byline is appealing and writers are paid for essays that get published, there’s a catch: you have to write on spec, without the promise of a byline or paycheck. In other words, all that effort you put into your essay submissions could be for nothing.
So is this an opportunity that’s worth pursuing? We talked to several writers who have tried Hearst’s new network about the pros and cons of submitting to The Mix. Some have seen sweet rewards, while others remain wary.
Here’s what you should consider before participating.
How does The Mix work?
Once you’re accepted into the contributor network, Hearst will send you several prompts each day. You can actually see the daily prompts on their website, but you can’t submit until your application is approved. Recent prompts included “I Overcame an Eating Disorder” and “Things Not to Say to Someone Who Was Adopted.”
If one catches your eye, you have two days to submit your short essay; editors look for about 600 words. If it’s selected, you’ll see your personal essay run on a major magazine’s website in just a few days’ time, and earn some cash to boot.
The first step is to apply. The Mix invites interested writers to send a list of previous clips, and they’ll consider you for the daily email list. Despite the influx of applications in the past few weeks, some writers have reported being accepted within a few days.
“We send out a daily assignment email with story topics created by our editors,” The Mix explains. “Submit your story and, if we publish it, you get paid $100. We also offer bonuses based on traffic. Choose as many assignments as you’d like.”
The flat fee is comparable to a lot of websites that publish personal essays. The pageview bonus might be harder to achieve, so your posts for The Mix probably won’t offer a new level of financial freedom. After 40,000 visits to your post, you earn a bonus of $.0025 per visit. Put more simply, for every 10,000 hits you get over that threshold, you’ll get $25.
But with a large network like the ones these magazines have been cultivating for decades, the opportunity is clear. One Marie Claire post from The Mix community, titled “Things You Should Never Say to a Woman Who Doesn’t Want Kids,” got more than 92,000 shares, according to Digiday’s Lucia Moses.
What’s in it for Hearst?
Why would Hearst open this opportunity to so many writers?
While Hearst editors didn’t respond to our inquiries, the new platform seems to be the company’s answer to uber-current sites like Buzzfeed, an attempt to remove some stuffy, old-school magazine practices from its publishing model. In the past few months, the company has shared content between magazine titles and tried to quickly to piggyback on news or social media chatter, reports Moses.
But can Hearst scale its content offerings by paying $100 per post to a pool of writers with varying backgrounds and levels of experience? “The risk of becoming a platform, regardless of publisher, is that quality control becomes secondary in the quest for scale, undermining the editorial promise for readers and value to advertisers,” Moses warns.
Competition means no guarantees for writers
The most challenging part of participating in The Mix is there’s no guarantee your work will be published. Instead of pitching an editor before you write, you’ve got to do the work up front and hope your piece beats the competition.
For some writers, this is a dealbreaker — or at least, a reason to prioritize other work. “I’ve considered writing a couple that I could have made work with my personal experiences,” explained freelance writer and editor Ellen Sturm Niz. “But when I have other assignments on my calendar with a guaranteed paycheck, I can’t justify spending time on something for which I may not be the ‘winner’ and not get paid at all.”
Still, prompts like “My Illness Destroyed My Relationship” and “Things You Don’t Understand Unless You’re a Single Mom,” could help you solidify the half-baked idea you’ve been playing with for an essay. And skipping the agony of wondering where to pitch your essay can be a huge relief. Some assignments, like “I Had Lip Injections,” probably have less competition than others. Most of the prompts so far seem geared toward women.
While Niz hasn’t submitted any pieces of her own, she’s glad to be included on the daily email of assignments. “It’s worth checking out if a topic speaks to you, and if you have the time to try one, go for it,” she said. “Just make sure not to spend more than $100 worth of your time on it.”
Content writer Stephanie Faris has already published three articles through The Mix and appreciates the change from her usual work. The essay submissions “require very little research, if any, and no interviews,” she explains. “Because the prompts are so fun and personal, I find I can usually write the stories quickly and I enjoy every minute of it. Aside from my fiction writing, the work I do for Mix is often the most enjoyable work I do all day.” Her most recent piece, which appeared in Country Living, recalled how a major flood damaged her home.
Faris notes that Hearst requires writers to submit a personal photo related to each essay’s prompt, which has discouraged her from responding to some prompts for which she lacked an applicable photo.
Not all of her submissions have been accepted, but Faris hasn’t taken the rejection too hard. “If they decline one of your pieces, you have a great piece you can shop elsewhere,” she said. “For freelancers who choose to try each day, this can serve as a daily writing prompt that sharpens our creativity and builds our portfolios.”
Is The Mix a good option for you?
Ask any group of writers what they think about The Mix and other content platforms, and you’ll get wildly conflicting opinions — some of them heated. But the real question is whether this is a good opportunity for you and your writing goals.
You might get paid more for a reported piece that takes you a week to research. But that better-paid piece at a niche publication could also limit your readership. The Mix has a wide audience, and wants pieces that are easy for readers to relate to and share. You may not be particularly enthused about earning $100, but you might be excited about having a widely read clip in Harper’s Bazaar.
“One thing I’d do is check your gut feeling on this. Are they doing this because they expect you to bring in eyeballs?” says Laura Shin, a finance writer at Forbes. And if so, are you able to bring enough readers to hit target traffic thresholds?
For writers who also serve as experts in a certain field or have a loyal readership, this audience often comes naturally, Shin explained. But for writers who typically report on other experts, it can be trickier to pull a following. “The other thing you should figure out is what types of stories or what topics do well on that platform, and then try to write on that.”
For strategic writers, The Mix can help launch an effort to contribute to larger publications, especially in the niche world of personal essays.
Faris sees the long-term benefit from participating. “Hearst is offering a chance for experienced freelancers to move to the next stage of our careers while also having fun and making money from it,” she says. “How can that be a bad thing?”
Have you signed up for The Mix? What else should writers think about when considering this type of opportunity?