Home Is More Important Than Love Essay Submissions

By Laura Deutsch

There may be fewer magazines and newspapers than in the past, but editors of highly respected publications are still looking for personal essays and memoir, and sometimes poetry and fiction. These publications often pay more than literary magazines, and while the competition can be stiff, it’s worth submitting if you have a strong piece that’s a good fit.

Obviously, your chances are better with the publications listed below that actively solicit personal essays and run a lot of them. Smithsonian magazine, for example, only runs one humor essay a month and pays $1000. The New York Times essay, Modern Love, is a highly prized, competitive placement. So, the odds are more in your favor with The Christian Science Monitor, which publishes five essays a week, or with essay anthologies, such as Traveler’s Tales, both well-regarded. Once you’ve established a track record and have clips, you’ll have an even better shot at having your essays run in publications that pay $1-2 per word.

To determine whether your work fits the needs of a particular publication, familiarize yourself with its editorial content and style. You can find back issues of selected magazines and newspapers at your library or purchase them from the publication’s customer service department.

Personal essays are all about style and tone, so submit the finished piece rather than a query or proposal. Format pieces properly with your name, contact information, title and word count. For advice regarding proper formatting, click here.

Below are five well-respected magazines, newspapers and anthologies that consistently publish personal essay and memoir, along with information about how to submit. Some publish essays online as well as in print.

The Christian Science Monitor

CSM, a well-respected international newspaper, is now published daily online, Monday through Friday, with a print copy of the magazine once a week. “The Home Forum” section runs five essays a week. Editors are looking for personal essays from 400 to 800 words. They also welcome short poems (18 lines or less). For both essays and poems, the editors specify that they’re looking for upbeat, not bleak, material. All submissions must be original and previously unpublished. For seasonal material about a particular month, holiday, event (back to school, graduation), or season, they need to receive it a minimum of six weeks ahead.

A few more guidelines on essays: CMS is looking for first-person, nonfiction explorations of how you responded to a place, a person, a situation, an event, or happenings in everyday life. “Tell a story; share a funny true tale. The humor should be gentle.” They like essays on travel, parenting (your experiences with children as opposed to advice for someone else), home, family, gardening, neighborhood, and community, but they don’t want essays about death, aging and disease.

The Home Forum pays between $75 and $150 for essays, depending on length,
$40 for poems, and $20 for haiku.


Skirt! magazine publishes five to six personal essays every month on topics relating to women and women's interests. (They encourage you to define those terms broadly.) The editors invite contributors that “surprise, entertain and charm us!” Essays must fit one of the monthly print themes, be between 800 and 1100 words, and not have been published previously. Submission are due by the first day of the month preceding the theme, i.e., for the August theme, submit by July 1.

To see 2012 print themes, click here. E-essay submissions may be up to 1500 words.

The magazine does not publish fiction or poetry. Skirt! generally pays $200 for essays that run in the print edition, though pay may vary. There’s no pay for essays published solely on the web site.

Skirt! favors email submissions: submissions@skirt.com and prefers RICH TEXT FORMAT, or .RTF, attachments. You may also submit by regular mail to the attention of the Editor. More information is here.

Modern Love

This weekly column in the Sunday Style section of the New York Times is a coveted placement for personal essays about contemporary relationships, marriage, dating, parenthood — any subject that might reasonably fit under the heading "Modern Love." Of course, there’s lots of romance, but topics run the gamut from “what happened when the dry cleaner ruined my wedding gown” to “my mother’s love of horses.” Tone varies from humor to grief, and the relationships don’t always have happy endings. The editors say they like a contemporary edge, but that it’s not essential. What they care about most is that the writing be emotionally honest and the story be freshly and compellingly told. Stories run 1500-1700 words. You can send submissions to modernlove@nytimes.com. The essay should be both pasted into the email and attached as a word document. Submission guidelines are here.

Traveler’s Tales

Traveler’s Tales publishes anthologies of personal essays on travel with a range of themes from humor to best travel writing of the year. Check out the web site for upcoming titles for which they are seeking submissions. One editor says that in reviewing essays she wants to see how the writer changed as a result of the experience in the piece. (See my upcoming article on epiphanies.) There’s no length specified, though the editors suggest you have better chance with a shorter piece (under 3,000 words.) If your essay is selected, you’ll receive an honorarium of $100 and a copy of the book. You may also enter your essay to win a Solas Award. First prize is $1000. Submission guidelines are here.

Smithsonian magazine

Smithsonian magazine chronicles the arts, history, sciences and popular culture of the times. “The Last Page” is the magazine’s monthly humor column. The writer’s guidelines encourage amusing content and a friendly tone, and a story with a beginning, middle and end, rather than a list of jokes or situations. The story usually relates to the writer's own particular experience. Examples: what happened after the author shaved off his moustache; what it's like to be colorblind; or how an innocent-seeming toy ant farm turned into an unintended lesson in life. Length: 500 to 650 words. Pay is $1000. More information is here.

Good luck!


Laura Deutsch specializes in helping writers craft and submit pieces for publication in magazines, newspapers, books and other media. Her writing has appeared in Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011, the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, More magazine, San Francisco magazine, and many other publications. Laura leads writing workshops from Tassajara to Tuscany and has taught writing at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State. Laura’s next book, Writing From the Senses, will be published by Shambhala in 2013. For more information, go to Laura's web site or vist her blog getintoprintnow.com.

Q. O.K., tell us, what, after reading thousands of tales, have you learned about modern love?

A. Hard question to answer in just a paragraph or two! I’ve learned that in love it’s best to be kind and curious. You can make a relationship or marriage last a long time through simple kindness, and you can experience a lot of joy in life by being curious and openhearted about what’s to come.

I see a lot of anxiety and unhappiness in people who try to plan out their love lives too carefully or who try to forecast how happy they’ll be based on certain choices they make, like whether or not to have children. They work really hard trying to game out how they can avoid heartbreak or pain or unpleasantness, thinking life is best without those things. Others, meanwhile, seem to approach life with an eager curiosity, wanting to experience it all, good or bad. Bring it on, they say, whatever “it” may be. Those are the happy ones.

Q. Which columns most haunt your dreams?

A. The columns that most haunt me are the ones where people are faced with wrenching choices and act bravely. I think: Would I have been that brave? And usually my answer is “probably not!”

An example: Elizabeth Fitzsimons’s column from Mother’s Day eight years ago, which tells the story of when she and her husband went to China to meet the baby they’d been waiting to adopt for months. When they finally meet her and take her back to their hotel room, they discover ugly scars on her spine. Worried, they take her to the hospital where they are told the baby suffered botched spinal surgery and will suffer from all kinds of problems, including paralysis.

Elizabeth and her husband are understandably devastated, but the adoption agency offers them a choice: Keep this baby, or exchange her for a healthier one. What a choice! Send this baby back and live with that guilt, or take on a child who will suffer awful health problems. Yet they don’t even see it as a choice. They decide to keep her, and after many medical emergencies and various misdiagnoses, she turns out to be fine in the end. But with a story like that, I think: What would I have done? I think all readers must ask themselves that. And until you’re in that situation, you never know.

Q. What’s the ideal Modern Love column?

A. The ideal Modern Love column offers a smart and emotional take on a contemporary relationship problem. Often, but not always, it’s the most important story in the person’s life, told in just 1,500 words. It’s a story, not a summary. The writer learns something through the experience and is able to articulate that in an engaging way.

Q. How many Modern Love columns have turned into books?

A. I know of at least 47 book deals that have resulted from Modern Love columns, and there must be others I don’t know about. The column has also spawned a TV pilot (that didn’t make it to series), a full-length musical (that didn’t make it to Broadway), a wonderful music CD called “Modern Love” by David Lockwood of songs inspired by specific essays (that got produced and that you can actually buy!), a charming and artful animated series from the Times video people, and a cool new audio project, coming this winter, that I can’t talk about yet.

Q. Ever fix up a Modern Love columnist?

A. I’m not in the matchmaking business and wouldn’t want to be, but one essayist, Patty Dann, who eight years ago wrote a column about being widowed in midlife, met the man who would become her second husband when he read her Modern Love essay and contacted her about it.

Q. What were the most popular columns?

A. 1. “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” by Mandy Len Catron, which was read by millions and millions this past January, inspired two short documentaries and an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” and was covered by media worldwide.

2. “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage,” by Amy Sutherland, from way back in 2006, which stayed at or near the top of The Times’s most-emailed list for nearly a month.

3. “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” by Laura Munson, which appeared in 2009.

Q. How do you explain that? Do they have anything in common?

A. All three essays are well written and engaging, and they tell compelling stories. But what they have in common is advice. Modern Love isn’t an advice column, but relationship advice, when packaged in an appealing essay about someone’s real life, can be pretty irresistible.

In these three essays, the implicit messages were: If you want to fall in love, try these 36 questions. If you want to improve your marriage, try these animal training techniques. And if you want to save your marriage, try this approach when your husband says he doesn’t love you and never did.

Q. What are the rules? Do you change the names of the people involved? What measures does the paper take to keep from getting entangled in bitter controversy, divorce feuds and the like?

A. Modern Love appears in Sunday Styles, which is part of the newsroom, so we must follow newsroom rules. No changing of any names or facts, no composite characters, no fake or anonymous bylines. Writers have to own up to their stories and be accountable for what they’ve written. To protect the privacy of those written about, we can remove names or identifying details but can’t change any names or details.

These rules may feel constricting or off-putting for certain writers, but I like them. I think they make for better essays, because in personal essays the authors shouldn’t sound like they’re keeping secrets or hiding things. When you put an asterisk after someone’s name and then say “Not his real name,” as often happens in magazines, it looks odd and invites the reader to think: Oh yeah? And what else isn’t real?

As for getting entangled in controversy or embroiled in someone’s divorce feud — these are things we deal with before publication and occasionally cause us to back away from an essay. We’re careful about what stories we take on, whom we involve or notify, what we feel we need to check out. The weightier the story (stories involving divorce, alcoholism, sexual abuse, death, etc.), the more time and care we must devote to making sure we’re handling matters sensitively and checking out what we must.

Q. As a general rule, which makes for better columns: stories of betrayal and breakups or those with happy endings?

A. For me, the only unhappy ending is when the writer doesn’t learn anything. If the writer isn’t more enlightened by the story’s end, then that’s a sad story indeed. You have to learn something from your experiences, and when you do, then that’s a happy story. So in my view, we publish only happy stories.

Of course, a lot of people judge stories as being happy or sad based on whether bad or good things happen in the end. If the couple breaks up, that’s sad. If two people find love, that’s happy. And in these stories, I think it depends on the readers and what their experience is. If you’ve just gone through a breakup or lost someone you love, you might be comforted by someone else’s similarly sad experience. And you might feel worse by reading someone’s happy story of enduring love.

Q. Notice any trend in columns? Is Modern Love different now than it was when you started? What subjects are big now? Has this changed over the years?

A. As our society changes politically, socially and technologically, Modern Love changes. We charted the progress of gay marriage in essays we published. Public acceptance of gay relationships has changed so dramatically over the life of the column that we no longer hear people’s “coming out” stories as we once did, and it’s not the story it used to be. Nobody sent us stories about transgender issues or going through sexual reassignment surgery a decade ago. I don’t think I received a single one in the first five years. Now those stories are more common and we’ve run maybe a dozen of them in recent years.

Technology, though, is a huge influence, obviously from online dating to Grindr and Tinder and texting and sexting. Medical advances are changing how we make babies. Families are taking new forms. We try to represent it all.

Q. Can you tell from the first sentence whether you are going to like a column?

A. No. A good first sentence can be intriguing, but then you’ve got to live up to it. I actually read a lot of really engaging first sentences that are all promise and no payoff. It’s more common that I can tell from the first sentence that an essay probably won’t work. If I see words like “amazing” or “incredible” in the first few sentences, I don’t have to read much more to know it’s not going to be right for us.

Q. How do you get to be a Modern Love editor?

A. I kind of backed into this job. My wife, Cathi Hanauer, and I had been writers and editors for a long time. We each had published novels and magazine articles and short stories. Then Cathi edited a best-selling anthology of essays about relationships called “The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage.” Her book’s success opened the door for me to respond with a male version: “The Bastard on the Couch: 27 Men Try Really Hard to Explain Their Feelings About Love, Loss, Fatherhood, and Freedom.”

Together these books got a lot of media attention, especially because they were edited by husband and wife. Among those who noticed was then Times Style editor Trip Gabriel, who had wanted to start a personal essay column about relationships in his section and was looking for the right editor to curate it. He contacted us with his idea, and we welcomed the opportunity. Although Cathi and I started the column together, she soon dropped out because she was working on a novel and the job made more sense as a one-person gig. That was back in October 2004. I’ve been editing it ever since.

Daniel Jones talks Modern Love on an Insider Podcast. You can click to listen here.

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