My good friend and fine writer, Annette Gendler, writes and teaches memoir writing in Chicago. She's graciously agreed to be a guest blogger here today on a topic that should be of interest to all writers.
How I Got Published in the Wall Street Journal: A Little Lesson in Submitting
I just had a personal essay published in the Wall Street Journal: ‘Thrown Out’ of the Family Home. For me, that is one of the zeniths of publication success.
How did it happen? After all, I’m not a trained journalist; I haven’t pitched article ideas to the WSJ for years, and I don’t know any of the editors. I am merely a reader. But that, it turns out, is the secret, at least of this success story: I am a reader, and specifically a reader of the WSJ and the particular column I got published in.
If you’re at all interested in submitting your work for publication, I’m sure you’ve seen the advice in submission guidelines, “to read recent issues before submitting.” I would contend that what is really meant is: Be a reader of this publication.
I read the WSJ every day, and I absolutely love their Mansion section on Fridays, and especially the House Call column. For those unfamiliar with it, in House Call the WSJ asks prominent people to share something about their home. One of my favorites was Alexander McCall Smith (of No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency fame) writing about how, after five years of renovations, he now missed having the workmen around.
As a regular reader of House Call, in early January I spotted their call for submissions asking readers to submit essays about a memorable or special home. I was immediately excited: One of my favorite WSJ sections was calling for submissions (they hardly every do that)! I knew right away that I would write about my grandparents’ former house.
Now, how to get all that history, nicely written out in my memoir manuscript, into the WSJ’s maximum of 800 words? And how to make it work as a standalone piece? I put together a rough draft of about 1,000 words and asked a journalist friend who hadn’t seen any of the memoir work to look at it. Not only did she help me trim words, but her questions pointed out holes I had to fill for readers. Once I had filled those holes, the piece was about 900 words. I had my friend go through it again, and she cut another 50 words, which left me fine tuning the text to cut another 50. Then I submitted the essay a few days before the January 31 deadline and waited. I waited for a long time. In fact, by May my Outlook calendar was reminding me to seek other submission opportunities for that essay. For some reason, I dilly-dallied on that, and on May 15 the acceptance email popped up in my inbox. (Patience is another thing a writer must have lots of!)
However, adhering to the wordcount, submitting on time, and waiting patiently are not my point here. My lesson from this experience is to submit to those publications you read all the time, those publications you love. Of course big guns like the WSJ are hard to get into, so are glossy magazines. But as you can see from my experience, opportunites arise. And what about your local paper? Don’t you read that? Or a favorite blog? This rationale holds true for literary magazines as well. My most illustrious literary magazine acceptance to date, by the Gettysburg Review (how I messed that up is another story you can read here), proves my point: I subscribe to the Gettysburg Review and read it regularly. So, submit to those publications you read. Obviously you share an aesthetic. And that increases the odds of getting in there.
Annette Gendler is a nonfiction writer. She has completed a memoir about an impossible love that succeeded; an excerpt, “Giving Up Christmas,” was published in December 2012 in Tablet Magazine, another excerpt, “‘Trown Out’ of the Family Home” just appeared in the Wall Street Journal. She regularly writes for the Washington Independent Review of Books, and her work has appeared in literary magazines such as Bellevue Literary Review, Natural Bridge, Under the Sun, and South Loop Review. Annette has twice been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and was the 2013 Peter Taylor Nonfiction Fellow at the Kenyon Writers Workshop. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and has been teaching memoir writing at StoryStudio Chicago since 2006. She lives in Chicago with her husband and three children.