One of my favorite parts of magazines is the section that gives me an essay. I will even, on occasion, clip the really good ones for my folder and toss the magazine. A particularly charming one was in a recent AARP Bulletin. The writer recalls his childhood habit of eavesdropping on the adults in his life and learning much about how the real world works. Funny, I used to do the same thing. I learned many a great life lesson with my ear to the door, and that essay brought it all back to me. Clever, that writer.
So what is an essay anyway? And where does a writer sell them? An essay is a short piece of writing that’s not fiction. A good essay, like any bit of writing, has a focus. In the case of the eavesdropper, the nugget of his essay was learning that people frequently dropped dead at the least expected moment, i.e. while taking out the garbage. If you’ve ever listened to Andy Rooney, you’ve heard an essay verbalized. He’ll take the most common occurrence or social situation and give it back to you with his own special twist. I write essays to get thoughts out of my head and I’ve sold those thoughts, too. A recent one, about a pie I made when I was nine, was published in a Southern regional magazine and subsequently re-sold to an anthology several months later.
You may not consider yourself an essayist, but you’ve probably got one or two short pieces in your inventory that would qualify. The market for essays is quite large and it may take some determined hunting to get a match, but check out these markets and see if one fits.
Have a life commentary or a bit of nostalgia to share? Start here:
Sasee – “We are looking for new, unpublished, first person, non-fiction material that is for or about women. Essays, humor, satire, personal experience, and features on topics relating to women are our primary editorial focus.” Guidelines at: http://www.sasee.com
Cappers – Seeks personal essays about family issues and home life in the rural Midwest. The editors here are looking for personal essays of up to 300 words that share “humorous, heartwarming, poignant and nostalgic experiences of life.” Payment is $2.00 per column inch. http://www.cappers.com/contributors-guidelines
Country Woman – This one is written for an audience of rural women, not limited to women who live on farms and ranches. They pay $35 to $150 for personal essays on acceptance. Find the guidelines at http://www.countrywomanmagazine.com.
Family Fun – They print personal essays ranging from humor to inspirational in their “Family Ties” section. These should be about 1,300 words. Payment is $1,500. Guidelines are posted on their site: http://www.familyfun.go.com
Do you have a love of the outdoors? Maybe your essay will find a home here:
Backpacker – Features a regular “Backcountry” section that runs 1,200 word personal essays about lessons learned backpacking. Story is the key to writing for them. Payment is $.60 to $1.00 per word. http://www.backpacker.com/guidelines
Field and Stream – This popular magazine has a regular “Finally” department that is the home of a 700- to 800-word essay each month. Send submissions to them at Field and Stream, 2 Park Avenue, NY, NY 10016. Look for guidelines at http://www.fieldandstream.com
Finally, for those of you with some drama and passion in your soul, there are these:
Guideposts – They need true, first person stories about how people have overcome difficulties, gained courage, or developed positive attitudes through faith in God. Payment is $200 to $400. http://www.guidepostsmag.com/writers-guidelines
The Threepenny Review – This is a San Francisco based literary tabloid that pays $200 for personal experience essays from 1,500 to 4,000 words. They do not accept electronic submissions, but guidelines are available on their website: http://www.threepennyreview.com/submissions.html
The ice on the surface of the essay market pond is wide, thick and deep. Scratch it. You may find you like the skating there. So, what are you waiting for? Venture an essay and possibly gain. Air your views, dredge up some memories, laugh at one of your life’s ludicrous situations or, as in the case of the eavesdropper, tell your spouse you can’t take out the garbage. After all, you read that essay, too, and it’s possible you could drop dead while doing it – then where would they be?
Susan is a freelance writer and children’s playwright. She works from her home in upstate New York and will probably write essays about one thing and another for the rest of her life.