Do you have something in writing you’d like to share with the world? Not a complete book manuscript, perhaps, but musings of a concise nature? Perhaps you like to explain things, or share your opinion, or tell a story or write humorous pieces. There’s plenty of advice online about pitching, or seeking an invitation, to submit articles and interviews — I wrote a post about the topic a couple of years ago — but getting essays published requires a slightly different approach.
Most important is the form of the submission. Generally, writers pitch articles and interviews as pieces they are prepared to write; you summarize a story and your approach, name sources and resources you plan to consult, and await a go-ahead to write. But submitting essays is more akin to sending an entire fiction manuscript, rather than an outline and a sample chapter or two of a nonfiction work, to a literary agent: Write first, then query. (Articles and interviews are sometimes written like this — on spec — but in this case it’s best to have a buyer before you build your product.)
We all have favorite print or online publications we’d love to see our byline in, but adopt a realistic approach — or a combination of approaches to get started:
Launch your own blog, and build a portfolio of posts on a single theme or topic. (If you have more than one interest, separate your blog into distinct areas by subject matter, or even create a different website for each category.) Use social networking and link sharing to build an audience. Once you’ve amassed a body of writing, even if you have no paid publishing credits, you’ll be able to point editors to an impressive collection of your writings.
Innumerable organizations sponsor writing contests, many of them with more scintillating topics than the “What freedom means to me”–type scholarship-essay contests you may remember from high school. Search online, targeting a few that cater to your writing niche, because the accumulated entry fees of multiple submissions can be hazardous to your financial health. Some contests offer publication as a prize; though the magazine or journal is likely to be obscure, you will be able to call yourself a published writer.
Just as when you enter contests, invest your time and energy wisely when seeking to have your work published. Print and online journals and magazines, and anthologies, exist for just about any topic you can imagine. Consult the latest edition of Writer’s Market, certainly, but conduct online research to find niche publications that seek writers just like you.
How to Pitch an Essay
Once you’ve identified one or more ideal print or online publications, sell your initial essay. Obviously, the recipients of your pitch will read your overture before perusing the essay itself, so catch their attention with a brief introduction that will impress them.
Not only must your grammar, usage, and punctuation be impeccable, but your pitch must demonstrate that anything else you include is worth reading. If you’re a storyteller, tell a story. If you’re submitting an opinion piece, dazzle the editor with your observations. If you’re a humor writer, make ’em laugh. Be confident but not arrogant, and be authentic: Sell who you are and what you have to offer, not what you would like to be or wish you could do.
The pitch itself should be concise: Greet the recipient, briefly describe the essay you’ve attached to your message, explain (with some heartfelt flattery) why it’s appropriate for the publication, inform the recipient that you will provide other material on request and that you’re happy to revise the submission based on feedback, thank the recipient, and get out of the way. If you do have a blog, provide the link so that the person can look at other writing samples.
Send your sample to as many publications as you can identify — don’t wait for responses. If you don’t hear back, follow up every week or two with a simple reminder until you get a definitive response. Once someone has published your work, or after a few months, select your new favorite piece and submit again to publications that rejected you. And, as much at it may seem difficult, shrug off the rejections. There are millions of writers out there, and at least a few of them are going to be better than you (or their material is better suited for particular publications). As I alluded in this post, focus on getting yeses, not dwelling on nos.