I published a new essay this week, titled Sexism Against Female Athletes Starts Early. Just Ask My Daughter, tied to the drama surrounding Serena Williams and the disastrous US Open Women’s final, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts about how you can leverage what’s happening in the news to increase your chances of publishing a personal essay.
The web has been a boon for writers, creating an endless demand for fresh content that will make readers want to click, click, click. (The downside is that freelance pay rates have gone down down down, because “content” is cheaper than journalism or literature, but that’s a story for another time.) Whenever you can find a personal story that connects with what people are talking about on social media and elsewhere, you have an increased shot at publication. The key is finding a fresh angle, grounded in your unique experience and sensibility.
It just so happened that the day before that infamous US Open match, my daughter received a ridiculous penalty card in a high school volleyball game that even her coach attributed to sexism. With everyone talking about sexism in women’s sports, I had the perfect opportunity to share my daughter’s experience and reflect on how sexism affects young athletes.
My friend, writer Shanon Lee, looked at the US Open mess and actually came up with two essays, grounded in her experience as a black woman — Serena Williams and the Epidemic of Policing Black Women’s Anger — and as the mom of biracial black and Asian children — Serena is an important role model, but Naomi Osaka will be important to my daughter.
Keep in mind, if you’re chasing the headlines, you need to work fast. I’m not a fast writer (how did Shanon get two pieces done in 24 hours??!!!) Some of my past attempts at a “hot take” have failed, meaning I spent a lot of time writing something, and nobody wanted to publish it because I pitched too late in the news cycle. However, one of my most successful pieces came from a hot take that failed. I sent an essay to the Well Family section of The New York Times, and the editor explained that they didn’t publish items tied to fast-trending news very often…BUT then she invited me to rewrite the piece, leaving out the news peg, which became my Ties essay, A Poster Family for Diversity. So my advice is, if you feel super fired up about something in the news and just HAVE to write it, don’t hold back! You never know where that piece will lead.
Finally, a news peg doesn’t always mean latching on to a trending news story. Pegs like holidays, seasons, special events like National Adoption Month, the reboot of an old TV show etc can also help you land a byline, with the benefit of allowing you to write at a more leisurely pace if you plan ahead. Also remember that some essays are evergreen, and editors need those too, but anytime you have a fresh angle on what’s topical, you’re ahead of the game.
To read my latest essay, head over to HuffPost Personal.