Not long ago, I was teaching an evening course at a local adult education center. About halfway through the session, one student posed a question.
“This may be off-topic,” she began. And she wasn’t altogether incorrect about that. But it was a good question. It was one I’d heard before, and thought about from time to time myself, and it remained with me long after our class had ended.
My student wanted to know where she could try placing her personal essays, beyond the literary journals and reviews that emphasize and/or welcome “creative nonfiction” while often accepting a painfully small percentage of the work offered to them.
At first I advised this student not to give up on the literary magazines, and to think also about some “general interest” publications, such as the Sunday magazine supplements to major newspapers. But I soon offered other ideas. Because this student needed to think about what kind of “personal essays” she was writing, what the essays were really about, she needed to think more strategically about how she could match them with other markets.
This is an approach that can help all of us. While literary and general interest publications receive a broad range of material, other “niche” publications can truly offer a specific, tailored home for specific, tailored pieces.
For example, an essay that’s focused on family life may find a home in a parenting publication. A piece set in a particular location may be perfect for a regional magazine. Something about a specific vocation (or avocation) may be just what a trade or association publication is looking for. And then there’s the issue of tone: some magazines are simply looking for a few laughs.
Take a look at these eight markets for some concrete examples of publications seeking specific subjects in their essays. Read their guidelines, their content, and their sample copies (or sample articles on their website). Like my student, you shouldn’t neglect the literary or general interest markets. But know that you have other options, too.
SIX PAYING ESSAY MARKETS
Market Listing: http://www.writersweekly.com/markets/bugleelkcountry.html
This magazine, published by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, includes a “Women in the Outdoors Column” that seeks personal essays and stories between 1,000 and 3,000 words in length. These pieces concern “elk, hunting, wildlife encounters, conservation and land-use issues,” and the magazine is particularly interested in personal narratives that “evoke emotion and suggest connections to larger themes or ask (or attempt to answer) questions that touch the human heart.” Pays $.20/word on acceptance.
Christian Science Monitor
In its “Home Forum,” the _Christian Science Monitor_ publishes “upbeat, personal essays” from 400-1100 words on “how one responded to a place, a person, a situation, an event.” Pays $75-$150. (See also the guidelines for the “Homefront” section for specific Parenting Column submissions.)
DownEast: The Magazine of Maine
This magazine’s “I Remember” column includes “short narratives about a personal experience or a unique aspect of life here in Maine” and which are “often humorous or poignant.” Manuscripts may run up to 1200 words. Pays $0.40-$0.70/word.
Family Tree Magazine
Covering genealogy, ethnic heritage, personal history, and more, this magazine pays $25 for contributions to the “Everything’s Relative” page, which includes “short, amusing stories of ‘the lighter side of family history.'”
The magazine’s “Last Page” monthly humor column features a story that “usually relates to the writer’s own particular experience.” Pieces run 550-700 words. Pays $1,000-$1,500.
Market Listing: http://www.writersweekly.com/markets/womanworld.html
Publishes personal essays of 650 words. Seeks work that covers “significant issues that concern a large number of women and families, rather than subjects that impact only a few.” Pays $2,000 on acceptance.
Erika Dreifus is the editor and publisher of The Practicing Writer newsletter and author, most recently, of The Practicing Writer’s Primer on Low-Residency MFA Programs and The Practicing Writer’s Directory of 50 Paying Short Story Markets. Her essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, Jewish Journal, Matrix Magazine, Teachers & Writers, and many other publications. Visit her website at and read her latest writing-related blog posts at .