Some of the best essay advice ever

I have been looking for places to send my essays. Marketing never ends in this business. There are several challenges: I want to submit to publications where the chances of acceptance are good; I want my stuff published in places where both regular people and important people in publishing will read it, and I would love to get paid. Also, I don’t want to write junk. Compared to finding homes for my stories, writing them is the easy part.

Sending out essays is a lot easier than it used to be because most publications take submissions online. No more packaging perfect copies, letters and self-addressed stamped envelopes in 9 x 12 envelopes and taking them to the post office. But that easiness should not fool anyone into thinking marketing still doesn’t take some serious work.

It is vital to find the right publications, read them to make sure what you’re sending is a good fit, and follow their guidelines down to the last keystroke. And proofread. I almost sent out a letter today with the name of the magazine spelled wrong. Yikes.

But what do they want? Most publication guidelines are pretty vague about content.  I was thrilled to find the guidelines for the New York Times Magazine “Lives” section. It’s the best advice I’ve ever seen for writing an essay. Among the tips: “More action, more details, less rumination” and “don’t try to fit your whole life into one Lives essay.” Click here for the whole list in “How to Write a ‘Lives’ Essay.”

After reading those suggestions, I’m going to take another look at what I’m sending out. You should, too.

Then, as always, go write.






Simultaneous submissions—yes or no?

One of the most common questions asked by new writers is whether or not they should submit their work to more than one publication, agent or editor at a time. This is known as simultaneous submissions. Is it allowed, is it legal, is it wise?

Back in the days when I was typing my poems on a manual typewriter and sending them out by snail mail, the answer was nearly always no. Bad form. Bad idea. Don’t do it. With all that typing and retyping, it was just too much work anyway.

Now, when one can submit everything from a poem to an entire book with the click of a couple computer keys, things have changed. A glance at Writer’s Market shows that most editors accept simultaneous submissions. They understand that it can take months to get a decision on a submission and expect that writers will be shopping their work to more than one place. It makes sense. If you were selling shoes, would you only allow one customer at a time to look at them, especially when that one customer probably won’t buy them?

So yes, you can submit your work to more than one place at a time. It’s allowed—unless their guidelines state otherwise. Some editors still bristle at simultaneous submissions. If they say no, don’t do it. But most editors just ask that you let them know if your work has been accepted elsewhere.

But here’s the thing. Although most of the time you’ll be lucky if you get one acceptance, it is possible that more than one editor will say yes. And then you will have to withdraw your submission from one of them. That might piss them off or at least cause them not to trust you in the future. It’s awkward at best. Also the one who said yes first might not offer the best deal. It’s a gamble.

Each writer has to decide what works best in his or her own situation. What genre are you writing and to whom are you submitting? For example, I have no problem sending book queries to 10 agents at a time, but I’d rather send article queries to just one editor at a time because the odds for acceptance are so much higher with the latter. Plus article queries need to be carefully aimed at each market. I’d rather have 10 different queries out to 10 different editors.

Submitting work to several markets at a time obviously increases the likelihood and speed of publication. But it does have its risks. What do you think? Do you submit to more than one place at a time? Why or why not? Comment here and then . . .

Go write something.