Despite The New Yorker declaring that the personal essay boom was over in 2017, I’ve seen the opposite. Whenever I look on Twitter, I see callouts from editors for candid, revealing and thought-provoking first person pieces. For freelance writers, the advantage of writing a personal narrative essay is that you are drawing on your own experience, so there is very little need for external research or case studies. Many writers also say that writing down their own experience and sharing it with others feels validating, affirming and therapeutic.
Before I became a full time freelancer, I wrote quite a few personal narrative essays.
Why? Because personal narrative essays are one of the fastest and easiest ways to get published.
When I was writing my first-person pieces, I found numerous articles about how to sell personal essays in the age of over-sharing and how to write compelling first person pieces for major publications.
I quickly learnt that if you are willing to open up and share your own experience, you can be compensated well for it.
And if you’re interested to learn more about how to write a personal essay (and how to get paid for it!) I’ve created the ultimate guide to step you through the process.
It takes you through:
- Choosing the perfect topic for a personal essay
- How to start a personal essay (including what to do and not to do and examples of banging beginnings)
- Common mistakes people make when writing first-person narratives
- How to write a compelling personal essay that keeps people reading right to the end
- Examples of great personal narrative essays
- How to pitching your story to an editor
- And lots more!
The guide also includes 15+ paying markets for personal narrative essays, but I know that it can be tricky to find publications that accept freelance submissions.
The good news is that there are plenty of online and print publications looking for personal essays.
So if you have a personal story you want to share, where can you pitch it?
7 publications that pay well for personal narrative essays
If you’re a writer who has had a book published, it’s definitely worth pitching to Allure (a magazine predominantly for women about beauty) as they pay up to $3,000 for personal essays up to 2000 words.
For those mere mortals among us who haven’t written a book, the rate for personal essays seems to be more like $250 – $500.
Glamour is another women’s magazine that heavily focuses on beauty, fashion and entertainment stories. Personal essays published by Glamour are reported to fetch around $2/word.
3. The Guardian
You have to love an editor who puts what she wants from writers out there and Jessica Reed from The Guardian certainly delivers. For beautifully written personal essays, The Guardian reportedly pays 60c/word.
4. Marie Claire
If you’ve got something compelling, insightful, intimate, funny, relatable or awkward to say about your love or sex life, then a personal essay directed to Marie Claire might be just the ticket. Writers report that Marie Claire pays $2/word.
Are you spotting a theme here? Women’s magazines love personal essays. If you want to write first hand experience about fitness, food, health or culture, it’s worth pitching to SELF magazine, who pay up to $700 for 2000 words.
A dynamic site covering world affairs, pop culture, science, business, politics and more, Vox pay around $500 for personal narrative essays. What’s even better is their clear pitching guidelines for their First Person section.
If you feel like a sharing a real life story like this one, you can pitch to the lifestyle vertical on the Australian website news.com.au. Writers are reportedly paid around $500 for a post.
Great examples of personal essays
You could spend years reading all the personal narrative essays that get published, but here are my picks for some of the best:
My washing line is heavy with the weight of our ash-ridden tent hung out to air. I wonder if the smell of smoke will ever be gone. I have no recollection of the tent being packed away – I was focused on the children, keeping them calm. All I know is that we’d never packed up a campsite so damn quickly. But then, we’d never fled a bushfire. You can read the rest of the article here.
“I love you so much.” Those whispered words make everything better – and when my soul mate and husband died, five years ago, I truly believed I would never hear them again. You can read the rest of the article here.
My epiphany came, like many of them do, while I was taking a dump. Specifically, it came while I was trying to take a dump in the woods after three years of struggling with gastrointestinal issues. It went something like this: you don’t need to be gluten-free anymore. You just need to relax. You can read the rest of the article here.
The rules for pitching a personal essay are much the same as when you query an editor for any other kind of writing assignment.
You just need a strong hook and engaging writing style.
The writers I know who create personal narrative essays love it.
They feel free and are absolutely thrilled when readers respond to their articles with “me too!”
After all, isn’t the point of writing to reach and connect with others? Personal essays tend to do that in a very special way.
Do you write personal narrative essays? Have you found other well-paying markets?
This is such a helpful list, Lindy. Did you make a conscious decision to steer away from writing personal pieces? I do enjoy writing and reading personal stories, but I do have boundaries about what I will and won’t share.
I did, yes. I’m not a particularly "share all" kind of person, so I never felt that comfortable writing about my experiences, especially if they involved other people. I’m the same in that I enjoy reading personal essays, especially when they resonate with a bigger idea or theme, but I think I’m too private to write more of them.
I know that’s weird given that I share my income on this blog! But somehow that feels different.
I’m not entirely comfortable sharing deeply personal experiences online for the world to read unless it’s under a pseudonym. However most of my parenting articles have been inspired by my experiences as a new parent and what friends and family often tell me. If it’s funny then worth sharing. I prefer to write stories that are meaningful and make an impact.
I remember reading some really powerful first person pieces of your Rashida – they definitely had an impact.
Lenny Letter paid pretty well and the editing process was a dream.
I don’t feel comfortable sharing personal information either, but that’s mostly what I do! (In my essays and memoir, not in my children’s books.) That is weird enough to be an essay in itself. Thanks so much for this post.
I think you’ve hit on a great idea for an article Pam! Thanks for your comment.
Thank you so much for this post. You’ve opened up a whole new world for me