Writing Essays For Magazines

Submissions

General Overview

Unlike many magazines, Creative Nonfiction draws heavily from unsolicited submissions. Our editors believe that providing a platform for emerging writers and helping them find readers is an essential role of literary magazines, and it’s been our privilege to work with many fine writers early in their careers. A typical issue of CNF contains at least one essay by a previously unpublished writer.

We’re open to all types of creative nonfiction, from immersion reportage to personal essay to memoir. Our editors tend to gravitate toward submissions structured around narratives, but we’re always happy to be pleasantly surprised by work that breaks outside this general mold. Above all, we’re most interested in writing that blends style with substance, and reaches beyond the personal to tell us something new about the world. We firmly believe that great writing can make any subject interesting to a general audience.

Creative Nonfiction typically accepts submissions via regular mail and online through Submittable. Please read specific calls for submissions carefully.

We try to respond to all submissions as soon as possible. If you submit by regular mail, you will receive an email from us (typically within a week of your manuscript’s arrival in our office), confirming we have received your manuscript. If you submit online, you will receive a confirmation email from Submittable.

We read year-round, but it is not uncommon for a decision to take up to 6 months; unfortunately, this is especially true of work we like. If you have not heard from us since the initial confirmation email, please assume your manuscript is still under consideration.

Please follow the links below for more information about: 



A Note About Fact-checking

Essays accepted for publication in Creative Nonfiction undergo a fairly rigorous fact-checking process. To the extent your essay draws on research and/or reportage (and ideally, it should, to some degree), CNF editors will ask you to send documentation of your sources and to help with the fact-checking process. We do not require that citations be submitted with essays, but you may find it helpful to keep a file of your essay that includes footnotes and/or a bibliography.



Current Submission Calls

HOME

For a special issue of Creative Nonfiction magazine, we’re seeking true stories about finding—or, perhaps, coming to terms with losing—your place in the world. Deadline: May 21, 2018Complete guidelines »

LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX!

For a special contest and issue of Creative Nonfiction magazine, we’re seeking true stories about doing it—whether you’re straight, gay, or other; alone, in a couple, or in a crowd; doing it for the first time or the last, or not doing it at all. Deadline: July 16, 2018Complete guidelines »

TRUE STORY

Submissions for our monthly mini-magazine should be between 5,000 and 10,000 words long, on any subject, in any style. Surprise us! The only rules are that all work submitted must be nonfiction and original to the author, and we will not consider previously published work.  Now ReadingComplete guidelines »

PITCH US A COLUMN

Have an idea for a literary timeline? An opinion on essential texts for readers and/or writers? An in-depth, working knowledge of a specific type of nonfiction? Pitch us your ideas; Creative Nonfiction is now accepting query letters for several sections of the magazine. Accepted Year-Round. Complete guidelines »

TINY TRUTH CONTESTS

TWITTER
Can you tell a true story in 140 characters (or fewer)? Think you could write one hundred CNF-worthy micro essays a day? Go for it. We dare you. There's no limit. Simply follow Creative Nonfiction on Twitter (@cnfonline) and tag your tiny truths with the trending topic #cnftweet. That's it. We re-tweet winners daily and republish ~20 winning tweets in every issue of Creative Nonfiction. Not sure what we're looking for? Check out this roundtable discussion about the art of micro-essaying with some of the more prolific #cnftweet-ers. 


Previous Submission Calls

THE DIALOGUE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION

Closed: December 12, 2016
Issue now available.

DANGEROUS CREATIONS: REAL-LIFE FRANKENSTEIN STORIES

Closed: April 17, 2017
Look for this themed issue as our Spring 2018 release.

STARTING OVER

Closed: June 19, 2017
We are actively reading the submissions received and expect to be able to update submitters on the status of their work in fall 2017. Look for this themed issue as our Spring 2018 release.

EXPLORING THE BOUNDARIES

Closed: September 11, 2017
We are actively reading the submissions received and expect to be able to update submitters on the status of their work in spring 2018.

RISK

Closed: November 6, 2017
We are actively reading the submissions received and expect to be able to update submitters on the status of their work in summer 2018.

INTOXICATION

Closed: February 26, 2018

We are actively reading the submissions received and expect to be able to update submitters on the status of their work in fall 2018.

WRITING PITTSBURGH BOOK PRIZE

Closed: November 20, 2017
We are actively reading the submissions received and expect to be able to update submitters on the status of their work in summer 2018.


A Note About Reading Fees

Here at Creative Nonfiction, we are always reading, searching for excellent new work to showcase in our various publications. At any given time, we usually have several submission portals open (see above calls for submissions), many of which require writers to pay a reading fee to submit their work.

Why we charge reading fees.

  1. We publish between 70-100 writers every year, and we pay every single one of those writers; reading fees help offset that expense.
  2. We like to pay writers more when we can, so we often run essay contests (with prizes ranging from $1,000-$10,000 per winning piece); reading fees help us offset that expense.
  3. Online submission is incredibly convenient for writers, but in some cases, it can be too convenient. Charging a nominal fee helps eliminate spam submitters--and it helps offset the administrative expenses of processing submissions.

How to avoid paying the reading fees.

  1. For books and other non-contest submission categories, send a hard-copy submission through the mail. The only cost is in ink and postage.
  2. Participate in our ongoing micro-essay experiment on Twitter! We publish 22 "Tiny Truths" in every issue… and we pay these writers with copies of the magazine.
  3. Subscribe to Creative Nonfiction and/or True Story. 

How buying a subscription to CNF eliminate the cost of a reading fee.

We recently adopted a new policy: no active subscriber to CNF will ever have to pay a reading fee of any type. Ever. Subscribers can submit as many times, to as many calls for submissions as they like, as long as their subscription is current. This is our way of supporting the readers who are supporting us.

Ways to become a subscriber (or renew a lapsed subscription) to CNF.

  1. Submit your work. Many of our calls for submissions offer a submit-and-subscribe option—the price of which is about 25% less than the cost of the regular subscription.*
  2. Join our email list. Joining our list is another way to stay up-to-date for all of our current calls and news. Once you've signed up, you'll be offered a chance to subscribe for $10 less than the regular price.**
  3. Subscribe. You can always purchase a subscription at the regular price at any time from anywhere.

* Offer valid for U.S. subscribers only. We regret the limitation, but it’s incredibly expensive to send magazines overseas.
** Again, U.S. residents only.


FAQs

How much do you pay for a published essay?

For essays published in Creative Nonfiction magazine, we typically pay a $50 flat fee + $10/printed page, plus a copy of the magazine. For essays published in an In Fact Books anthology, we typically pay a flat fee between $100 and $150. 

My essay is over your word limit. Will you still consider it for publication?          

We’re very sorry, but we have to draw the line somewhere.

Do you always charge a reading fee?

No: you can always submit non-themed essays for consideration without a reading fee, if you send a hard copy via regular mail. Like many other magazines, we charge a $3 convenience fee to submit essays online through Submittable. In the case of contests, reading fees generally offset the costs associated with those issues, as well as (in most cases) the prize money; or, for a small additional cost, you can become a subscriber, which also helps keep the lights on at CNF.

Will you consider excerpts from longer pieces?

We are happy to read excerpts from longer pieces, though in our experience it rarely works to pull 4,500 words from a longer piece and call it an essay. Rather, we suggest you consider adapting part of your longer piece so that it can truly stand alone.

Does something posted on a blog count as previously published?

If your blog is shared with the public, we do consider its writing published. If you significantly re-write or expand a piece that is posted on your blog, though, we will be able to consider it for any of our calls for submissions.

Can I change the names or distinguishing characteristics of the people in my story to protect their privacy?

We typically prefer that you not do this, and would argue that, in most cases, there are better ways to approach this type of challenge. That said, in some cases—for example, if you’re a doctor writing about your work with patients—sometimes this may be appropriate. Regardless, we’re big fans of transparency, and greatly appreciate a note in the cover letter or perhaps even footnoted in the manuscript itself, if you’ve taken this type of liberty.

Will you give feedback on the essay I submitted?

Unfortunately, due to the high volume of submissions we receive (in the neighborhood of 100+ essays per month), we can’t send detailed feedback or responses. If you are interested in having a professional editor review your manuscript, we encourage you to check out CNF’s mentoring program and online courses.

Can I submit an essay I wrote in one of CNF’s online courses or in the mentoring program?

Sorry, no. But we do wish you the best of luck placing such work elsewhere, and hope you’ll keep in touch with your teacher or mentor and let us know about any successes!

What are CNF’s copyright requirements?

CNF typically considers only unpublished work and seeks first publication rights. After publication, CNF typically retains certain reprint rights, and some other rights revert to the author. We find that when people ask this question, they usually mean, “I’m submitting a chapter from a book I’m writing, and I need to have the rights to it.” Please know that we absolutely do not retain any rights that would interfere with your ability to publish your work in your own book. 

Can I make changes to my essay once I submit it online?

The work you submit for consideration should be the final proofread and edited version of your essay. We do understand that mistakes happen, however, so in the event that you submitted the wrong file, realized that your essay was a poem, or some other obvious oversight, we do allow editing of submitted essays within a limited set of parameters--usually within two weeks of the original submission date or up until a contest deadline. After the essay has been assigned to a reader, changing files can cause a lot of confusion and may result in our not giving your work our best attention.

I found a typo in my submission. What should I do?

While your essay should be carefully proofread, a small typo will not influence the overall evaluation of your submission. In the event that we accept your essay for publication, it will go through a careful editorial process, and you will have plenty of opportunities to review it carefully.

“Write what you know,” Mark Twain supposedly said. Here’s what I know: A fantastic first-person essay is the best way for an unknown writer to see print fast.

As a memoirist by day and creative nonfiction teacher by night, I am constantly thrilled and astounded by how far a heartfelt three pages can take you. Not only can a brand-new author receive a prominent byline and a big check, but a single piece that strikes a chord can lead to radio and TV appearances, film options, and calls from top literary agents and major publishers clamoring for the book you haven’t written yet. I’ve helped students of all ages, fields and backgrounds get it right. But in a sea of submissions—you’ll be writing these columns on spec, not merely pitching an idea—it’s also easy to get it wrong. Here’s how to frame your own story for top newspaper, magazine and Web markets, in nine simple steps.

—by Susan Shapiro

1. FOCUS FROM THE FIRST WORD:

Don’t write a vague essay in hopes that you can pitch it everywhere; attempt a piece that’s a perfect fit for a specific market. Every section of a newspaper, magazine, Webzine and literary journal has a different voice, style, word count and raison d’être, and there’s nothing efficient about crafting catch-all prose that won’t get published. The editors of TheNew York Times’ Modern Love column require a six-page unusual romantic saga, while the same paper’s Sunday magazine Lives column editors look for narratives that are shorter, timely and global. So before picking up a pen or turning on your computer, ask yourself: Where am I aiming this?

2. STUDY THAT TARGET AUDIENCE:

When I hoped to break into The New York Times Magazine’sLives column, I carefully read 100 installments that had already run. It turned out my idea—how as a bride I’d worn all black—was too frivolous by comparison. So I revised, throwing in that my mother was an orphan who had only one daughter, as well as (violins in the background) the lingering ghost of my dead grandmother. The editor bought it on my first try. “You’re so lucky,” a colleague told me. Well, the harder you work, the luckier you get.

When I sold three pieces in a row to MarieClaire, a magazine for younger women, I did not write my age or say, “Thirty years ago, when I was in college….” I merely used past tense. Nobody had to know how long ago my crazy carnal coed days were. On the other hand, for a piece I’m about to submit to AARP The Magazine, I am shouting my age—and my father’s!

[Craft Tip: Here’s how to bring your voice to life in Personal Essays]

3. GO FOR THE JUGULAR:

The first mistake I often see new writers make is to pick lightweight topics that have already been everywhere. Sorry, but no editor I know wants a mild-mannered slice of life from an unknown scribe on how cute your kids or your cats are. Think: Drama. Conflict. Tension. The worst experience of my life.The day I got held at gunpoint. The first assignment I give my students is: Write three pages about your most humiliating secret. Ask yourself the Passover question: Why is this night different than all other nights? If it’s not, pick a more compelling true-life tale to tell.

Here are some intensely intimate subjects tackled by authors I know that led to big bylines: Liza Monroy chronicled marrying her best gay friend for a green card in PsychologyToday. Abby Sher cured her OCD with prayer in Self. Cat Marnell confessed her longtime pill addiction in Vice. David Itzkoff went to therapy with his cocaine-addicted father in NewYork magazine. Aspen Matis hiked 2,650 miles to walk off a rape in Modern Love. Maria Andreu confessed in Newsweek to being an illegal alien. Julie Metz even paved the way for her debut memoir Perfection with an essay in Glamour on how she found proof of her late husband’s infidelity on his computer.

I personally don’t have a dramatic, international life-more like dumb relationships and addictions in Michigan followed by psychotherapy in Manhattan. Luckily, my weekly writing group, tough editors and even my therapist help push me to go darker and examine my motives, pain, problems and regrets. In more than 100 publications and nine books, I’ve mined my interior dramas and ramped up the humor and emotional panic. With practice, you can learn to dig deeper, too.

[Ever wonder what “based on a true story really means? Find out here.]

4. FIND A TIMELY HOOK:

A smart way to a quick sell is to use newsworthy pegs to frame your foibles. I found that no editors were interested in my macabre childhood obsession with my Barbies (where I’d change their heads instead of their clothes)—until, that is, the popular plaything’s 35th birthday became my lead. I had so much success exploiting my old Barbie adventures that I revised them for her 40th and 50th—and wound up in The New York Times, Daily News, The Daily Beast, Vogue Australia and on TV documentaries on ABC and Oxygen. My student Melanie Gardiner recently utilized this technique, riding buzz about a hit TV show’s series finale to frame her essay about her one attempt at trying meth: “How a Breakup Inspired My Attempt at Breaking Bad” was published on Nerve.com. As an editor once drummed into my class: “It’s called newspapers, not oldpapers.”

5. BE UNUSUAL, PROVOCATIVE OR CONTROVERSIAL:

Even students who choose extreme topics and traumas tend to pick obvious angles that editors still see too much of: Tales of alcoholism and horrible dates proliferate, along with “the creep who divorced me” and “the creep I should have divorced sooner.” To tackle overdone subjects like these, you’ll need a surprising take or an unexpected happy ending. Consider Ophira Eisenberg’s Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy or Sophie Fontanel’s chronicle of 12 years of celibacy in The Art of Sleeping Alone.

“There’s a moratorium on dead parents and grandparent stories,” a top editor recently told my students. So my student Bryan Patrick Miller twisted his theme. Instead of chronicling his mother’s death, he focused on how he followed her deathbed wish for him to go meet their family in Ireland. It turned out they weren’t quite as well thought of as she’d told him. That flip side of the story led to the terrific Lives essay “Return of Glavin” that opened, “My pilgrimage to my mother’s ancestral home in Ireland began with the wrong bus, to the wrong village.”

6. TAKE ACTION:

Often I see pieces by beginners about a conflict that isn’t resolved. They are stuck in a bad relationship or lousy addiction that has no ending or solution in sight. It’s hard to write well about drinking or drugging unless you’re sober and drug-free, and it’s hard to have perspective on your dating woes if you’re still single. Instead of staying stuck, chronicle your plan to change. I’ve written humorous essays and even books about visiting my worst old boyfriends to get their take on why we broke up, interviewing my mentors for advice, quitting all my addictions, and seeing eight shrinks in eight days (going speed shrinking instead of speed dating). A.J. Jacobs famously spent 12 months getting healthy, and another year “living Biblically.” Gretchen Rubin searched for happiness. Ryan Nerz traveled around the country trying to win eating contests. Maria Dahvana Headley said yes to any nice single guy who asked her out (and met her husband along the way). My student Kayli Stollak joined JDate with her divorced Jewish grandmother and wound up with a blog, book and TV pilot called Granny Is My Wingman.

7. GET FEEDBACK:

It’s rare that someone finishes an essay on his own, nails it, presses “Send” at 3 a.m. and gets an acceptance. After you’ve reworked your pages several times, and before you submit, get feedback—and I don’t mean from your spouse or your mom, who’ll tell you how brilliant you are. Instead, try a critical workshop, an in-person or online writing class or seminar, or even a hired editor (this is one of my own secret weapons). If you have a friend or colleague who has published similar work you admire, offer to pay him for a serious critique. Then, don’t argue or disregard the comments. If they are hard to digest (personal essays are personal, after all), take a week off and read them again. I often find that the difference between my writing students who don’t get published and the ones who do comes down to their ability to incorporate criticism. After one essay class, an 18-year-old student who didn’t like my suggestions asked, “Why should I listen to your take on my story?” I said, “Because I’ve been doing this for 30 years and you’ve been doing this for 30 minutes.” He took my advice and had a published clip by the end of the term.

8. COVER YOURSELF:

Craft a very concise cover letter (think six lines). If possible, address the acquiring editor by name (to find it, check mastheads, search online or call the publication and ask). Start by mentioning something similar she wrote or published that you admired. Describe your piece in a succinct Hollywood movie pitch. Don’t overdo your bio—just add a line or two. If you’ve published before add one link (not 10 with four attachments). Most editors want you to paste your piece in an email, as well as attach it, but seek out and follow submission guidelines for that specific market. In the subject line, put “Submission:” and the title of your essay. If it’s timely, help the editor out by saying “Submission: Celebrating Yom Kippur With Bacon Cheeseburgers Oct. 3” (which Danielle Gelfand sold to TheNewYorkTimes in 24 hours). Unless it’s a very timely piece pitched to a daily or online news magazine, wait a month to follow up. After you send it, take a breath, then start your next piece.

9. LET EDITORS EDIT:

If an editor expresses interest in your essay but requests a revision, be willing to revisit your words or structure. It’s an editor’s job to know her audience better than you do. More than a few have changed their minds about publishing a new writer who is giving them a headache with a “You can’t change a comma” attitude. If, after your piece runs, you hate minor changes you didn’t OK, write her a long letter detailing the stupidity of her every cut or punctuation change. Then tear it up and send her a note saying, “Thank you so much for the beautiful clip. I’m so honored you published me.”

Want to write better (publishable) essays?
Get Crafting the Personal Essay, a hands-on,
creativity-expanding guide that will help you infuse your
nonfiction with honesty, personality, and energy.
Order it here and get a big discount!

Susan Shapiro (susanshapiro.net) is a writing professor and the author of nine first-person books, including Lighting Up, Five Men Who Broke My Heart, and the new co-authored memoir The Bosnia List.

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

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Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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