Remember the old vaudeville routine, “Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch”? That describes the process I went through to have my personal essay bought by an editor at New York Magazine recently.
My process to publication: Last summer I enrolled in a Personal Essay course offered by the Gotham. It was a One-day workshop led by the excellent and generous instructor Janet Flora. After a few exercises and an increased comfort level with the other students in the class, Janet asked us to go round-robin and tell each other what the essence of our personal essay would be. When I mentioned dating at 70, heads turned, smiles appeared and there were comments like, “I’d read that!” “I’d send that to my mother.”
I mention this because most of my writing endeavors have been spurred on by encouragement and interest from others. I love to write, feel I have something to say, and have a solid track record. But nothing is more motivating than hearing, “You should write about that!” (It’s the only use of the word should that I encourage listening to.)
In the movie trailer for The Wife (which I plan to see next week) starring Glenn Close, she counters her writer husband’s assertion that you don’t need approval to write. “Everyone needs approval,” she affirms. I agree.
After receiving that approval and encouragement, I spent a week writing and re-writing that essay. I then contacted my writing coach—Melissa Petro whose Memoir I class I took at Gotham—and contracted her to edit it and give me feedback. She told me it was in good shape, but needed a few tweaks. “Is this about your relationship with your mother (what isn’t?!) or dating?,” she asked. After a round of edits, she gave me a list of her editorial contacts at a number of distinguished publications.
With her help, I crafted a query letter. You don’t send an unsolicited piece of writing to an editor. You pitch them with the reason this particular article is of interest now. That took another several days to compose and get approved. Then I began the process of submitting the query.
I thought I’d start at the top and wrote to an editor at the NY Times OpEd page. Melissa gave me the go-ahead to send the article and the editor there held it for a few days. I was in heaven. Then she rejected it…kindly. That was mid-October.
Next on my list was New York Magazine. I sent it to an editor there who said it didn’t fit her department, but she would forward it to a colleague for whom it would be better suited. That was mid-November. Editor #2 wrote she thought it would be a fit.
As they say, until the check clears the bank, there’s no deal. I emailed four more times, every 2-3 weeks very gently, inquiring as to the status of my piece. On December 19. I received this message: “Yes — I love it. I hope to publish this in the next couple of weeks. More very soon.”
Then came the holidays.
I have a God Box where I put slips of paper naming things I have no control over. “Getting published” went right in. When I do that, I’m able to let go of the results for a period of time. Only to grab control back a few weeks later.
Then came that post-holiday dance we all do. Will she be at her desk on January 2 or not until Monday, the 7th?
When you’re a writer, there will always be a waiting game. It’s part of the job description.
I was thrilled to get the final approval email and paperwork for payment at the end of that first full week in January. The article went live on January 15.
Seeing my byline in a major magazine made it well worth the wait. That and the wonderful comments from friends.
I have Gotham Writers Workshop to thank for providing the foundation and ongoing expertise for all my writing needs.