In recent months, there’s been a lot of hubbub and even a little hysteria over the fate of the personal essay. It began with a New Yorker piece by Jia Tolentino with the headline, “The Personal Essay Boom is Over.”
But Tolentino wasn’t proclaiming the death of the entire category, just essays of a certain kind: often sensationalized, barely edited accounts of very personal experiences with click-baitish headlines. The pieces tended to lack reflection, and offered little connection between their anecdotes and something larger.
Having regrettably fired off some pretty half-baked “essays” along those lines myself years ago, I’m not sorry to see that trend die. I see it as a good thing for readers and writers alike that the bar has been raised.
If any doubts still remain about the vitality of the genre, let me offer my beast of an inbox as an indication that rumors of the personal essay’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Tolentino’s piece was published around the same time that I put out some calls for personal essay submissions, and also around the time we updated our submissions guidelines. One of my calls for submissions was then picked up by a website popular with aspiring freelance writers, and as a result of this confluence, since then, I’ve been hit with an ongoing deluge of essays. At its peak, I was receiving more than 100 a week. (It didn’t help that between May and July, the The New York Times‘ Modern Love column was on hiatus from accepting new essays.)
Because there are so many people emailing me essays every day — more than I can respond to — and because I am ramping up from 8 essays a month to 10 or 12, I thought it might be a good idea to post here clarifying what I’m looking for, what are the best ways to pitch me, and what you can expect from working with me once I choose your essay.