Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Introducing Essays

My question is, what is the best way to pitch a personal essay? I was told one sentence was enough to introduce the essay (something catchy, of course) and then just include the essay in the email. Would that suffice, or should there be more of a real pitch, something more comprehensive to introduce (and sell) the personal essay?

Caveat: Essays aren't my area of expertise, BUT I have recently landed a few that will be published around the time my novel comes out, so I do think I can adequately answer this. That said, if others disagree with my response, feel free to chime in and correct me.

I have to say that unless it's the most brilliantly written sentence ever crafted, I can't imagine how one sentence would be enough to lure in an editor. I mean, I'm all for masterful writing, but one sentence? It would have to be mysterious, engaging, alluring, potentially funny/sad/emotive/heart-wrenching and intelligent all in one. And yes, every sentence you write should, of course, have elements of these characteristics in them (just so you don't accuse me of advocating useless or filler sentences), but all in one? I dunno...I think it's risky to pin all of your essay hopes in one sentence.

Instead, I can offer what has worked for me. And that's been opening the pitch with the first few sentences of the essay, and then segueing into a summary of the essay. This gives the editor a taste for your voice - which, other than subject matter, is the most critical factor in selling an essay - and also gives them an idea of the direction that the piece will take. I can't imagine how you could accomplish both of these factors in a single sentence alone. It also still leaves room for an element of surprise: you've told the editor the general gist of the essay, but haven't laid out every detail.

So...that's my best shot at answering your question. Essay specialists - how wrong did I get it, or in other words, what would you do?


Anonymous said...

What I've always done is write a brief three paragraph note. The first graf contains the title and word count (each publication has its own standards),the next includes my publication history, and the third graf thanks them for their time. I then include the essay because, ultimately, it's the writing that matters. Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for answering my question Allison - I appreciate your time and suggestions!

Anonymous said...

I always refer to the essay, but without a direct quote.

Example: My young son has a strange hobby, visiting cemeteries. My 750-word personal essay Beyond the Headstones explores his strange fascinaton and how it makes this mom more than a little uneasy.

That's how I began a cover letter to a parenting magazine when I submitted this essay. Hope this helps. It worked for me.