A guest post by Paula Panich
Fueled by frustration and a manuscript of unpublished culinary essays with recipes, I spent two years writing letters to agents.
Only one wrote back with regrets: She hadn’t heard of M.F.K. Fisher.
Fit to be tied, I swore I’d never write again. Then I thought: The literary magazines! Why not make a game of getting published?
Hundreds of small magazines buzz under our radar. These publications—some print, some online, are known as literary magazines and journals. They’ve been quietly present since least the nineteenth century; for example, the North American Review, launched in 1815, is America’s longest continuously published magazine.
The heart of the personal essay is life itself. Think of the work of M.F. K. Fisher and Laurie Colwin. (If you’re curious about the form, read The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Phil Lopate. His introduction is invaluable.)
Why in the world would I want to submit essays to (mostly) nonpaying and (always) fiercely competitive magazines? After all, each receives hundreds, if not more, submissions monthly. Undeterred, I sent out ten essays to 65 publications. Most accept simultaneous submissions, but a handful want an exclusive right to think about their decision — and it may take six months to get an answer!
The research is daunting. I looked hard at each publication. Does it publish literary nonfiction? Of what sort? What length? What is the submission period? What are the formatting requirements? Do I send electronic submissions or postal?
Many of my essays had recipes. Eventually I lopped them off — anything to make them more publishable on pages that have never seen an ingredient list (Alimentum is an exception).
My goal: At least 85 submissions by December.
My score so far: More than half rejected, less than half pending, one acceptance.
A few delightful rejections have tided me over, to wit: “We love love the piece and love love your writing. But we’ve decided to pass.”
I’ll take it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do more research.
* * *
Teacher and speaker Paula Panich holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, theWashington Post, Gastronomica, Better Homes and Gardens, and other publications. She is the author of Cultivating Words, and was editor of DiRT: A Garden Journal from the Connecticut River Valley.