Writing essays for publications that publish strictly according to specific themes or theme lists can be fun and easier (well, a little easier) than writing for publications that do not.
Writing on specific themes takes the guesswork out of what to write ABOUT. For example, CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL (CSS) and LOOKOUT MAGAZINE always carry lists of several themes (CSS, five to ten. LOOKOUT, around 52.) on their websites at any given time, thus improving the availability of appropriate “theme fits” for a writer. Some publications narrow things down further by supplying several subtopics under the main topic to choose from. CSS, for example, presently lists “Angels and Miracles” as one of its ten main topics. Under this topic are listed several subtopics (“Messages From an Angel” being one) to help you zero in even further.
Some publications offer a first-and-last-time-only themed essay. Others offer a continuing once-a-year themed-essay contest (REAL SIMPLE). And, yet others use the same theme in every issue (SIX HENS does this with its “Moments that Define”). With many publications now offering themes, most writers should be able to easily find a “fit.” (Don’t try to force a fit, however. You either identify with a theme or you don’t. If a match isn’t perfect, or nearly so, the essay will be impossible to write.)
Payment for these essays varies anywhere from $35 to $200 for CSS, to a whopping $3,000 first prize for the winner of the REAL SIMPLE annual themed essay contest. (They also offer $750 for second place and $500 for third place.)
Most publications seeking these types of essays require that a writer be topic-specific to the point of perfection. So, read guidelines THOROUGHLY before you begin writing. Not following guidelines to a T, especially those related to topic, often means your essay will not even be considered.
Publications most often list descriptions and due dates on line. However, some may ask writers to request them by mail. Theme lists are usually updated often to reflect what topics are still available.
Themed essays are usually personal, written in first-person, true, and inspire and motivate others to change something about themselves or their lives. However, they can cover anything from social involvement and horror to pieces that explore the French crepe (this, I didn’t make up). I advise against writing for publications that require a submission fee.
Some further words on deadlines: Thematic essays listed on online markets lists such as Writing Career and Writer’s Relief (both of which provide many good themed markets as well as regular markets), often have short deadlines. In these cases, if I have a rejected themed essay lying around that fits or closely fits these online markets, I recycle it to them (with appropriate or necessary revisions, of course). I prefer submitting to publications with well-in-advance deadlines, however, such as CSS, because it gives me time to work up a more original and “dead-on” essay.
Writing on specific themes is a good way for beginning essayists to break into essay writing. As with any other type of writing, however, beginning essayists might want to start with the simplest forms. A 50-word essay about your most memorable winter (or your first experience making French crepes) is a good way to begin before moving on to the more difficult, more general, high-quality essays found in THE NEW YORK TIMES (“Modern Love”). TRUE STORY with its “Miracle of Faith” and “My Visit From Beyond” are relatively easy and pay well ($100 each).
So, get ready, get set, go!
Pays up to 11 cents a word
Pays $35 and up
Chicken Soup for the Soul
Pays $200 per story
Guide, a Christian story magazine for young people
Pays $3,000 to annual essay winner
NOTE: New contest usually begins in May of each year
Pays $50 per story
Writer’s Relief market and contest listings:
Profitable Personal Essays
Paying Personal Essay Markets
Did This Essay Contest Sponsor Rip Me Off? Probably.
Writing the Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary People: How to Become a Personal Historian
Barbara Weddle has been published in more than 400 publications–THE WRITER, CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL, and AAA LIVING, just to name a few. She loves travel and visiting family.