Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sell yourself short. Option #3.

Name:   Modern Love.  
A weekly column in the Sunday Styles Section of the New York Times.

A series of weekly reader-submitted essays that explore the joys and tribulations of love.

Country:  USA

Publishing details: The New York Times (NYT) is an American daily newspaper, founded and continuously published in New York City since September 18, 1851, by the New York Times Company. It has won 117 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other news organization.  Their slogan is “All the news that’s fit to print.”  The Modern Love column has been in existence since 2004.

Circulation:  The NYT Sunday circulation is 2.3 million, print and online, and Modern Love has more than 100K followers on its Facebook page. 

Types of stories wanted:   The editors of Modern Love are interested in receiving deeply personal essays about contemporary relationships, marriage, dating, parenthood ... any subject that might reasonably fit under the heading “Modern Love.” Ideally, essays should spring from some central dilemma the writer has faced in his or her life. It helps if the situation has a contemporary edge, though this is not essential. Most important is that the writing be emotionally honest and the story be freshly and compellingly told.  

The best way to see the range of styles and subjects they’d like to publish is to go to Modern Love page.

They are five times more likely to publish women than men—not because they’d rather publish women but because they receive five times more submissions from women.

 Page length and payment:  1500-1700 words. The Modern Love column runs in the paper at pretty close to 1500 words but about 1700 words is a good ballpark because they like to have the option to trim out material they feel isn't as strong or relevant.

 Modern Love pays its authors $300.  (I did see one site that said $500 but the February Writer’s Digest lists the figure as $300.)

What I like:  Editor Daniel Jones is one of the few editors in the country who explicitly doesn’t want famous writers.  He’s been compared to Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City as he compiles some of these stories into books. 

Writing credits don't matter.  Mr. Jones says he pays little attention to someone's writing background when he reads an essay. Don't feel like you are being pre-judged if you submit without writing credits. A perfectly suitable cover note will say nothing more than: "I wrote this essay with your column in mind. I hope you enjoy it." So don't worry about credits or lengthy cover notes. If your essay is rejected, it's not because you didn't have a connection or credits. If your essay is accepted, it's not because you have a book coming out. It's because you wrote an essay that made him stop drinking his coffee.

Modern Love receives about 100 viable essays a week (meaning essays that are reasonably well written and targeted to the column). Which means, of course, that the odds of getting chosen are roughly 1 in a 100.  Of roughly 100 submissions, one will get published, about 10 will be seriously considered and reread, another 30-40 will be interesting enough to read to the end, and another 30-40 will get partial reads.

Some of the essays that don't find a place in Modern Love used to get published at a quirky site called Modern Love Rejects. The site is no longer running but you can see the archives and read the rejected stories at  https://web.archive.org/web/*/http://modernloverejects.com/

There is also a Facebook page for these rejects that has some interesting info about other places to submit to. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Modern-Love-Rejects/194108587276172

More than 40 book deals have resulted from writers appearing in Modern Love.

What I don’t like:  Can’t find a thing.

Submission guidelines:

-Please attach your essay as an MS-Word compatible doc AND paste the text into the body of the e-mail.
-Send ONE e-mail with all elements of your submission, not multiple e-mails with various pieces and/or versions.

-No pseudonyms (including the author), composite characters, or invented situations may be used.

-Essays must be previously unpublished. Work that has appeared online, on blogs, etc., is considered to be previously published.

 -The story at least should be set in relatively recent times, even if it might occasionally reach into the past for back story and context.

For the basics of how to submit and for the archive of columns, visit the Modern Love index page at:


Response time: They attempt to respond to every submission within four weeks, though response times may vary due to the volume of submissions.

As per Mr. Jones:  “We will notify you if you have a sale. And that's just the beginning. We will speak on the phone. You will answer all manner of questions, both editorial and personal. You will sign a contract. You will participate in an editorial exchange that might be easy or difficult and can involve two drafts or five drafts or seven (or more). Most of this process will involve cutting and clarifying, but sometimes it also will involve asking you to add new material. If I have fallen behind schedule, your piece might appear in two or three weeks. More typically, though, it will run in four to six weeks. Just before it runs your essay will get another going-over by a copy editor and the copy chief. They might also have questions for you, either by phone or email. In the end, you will have dealt directly with at least two editors and the essay will have been subjected to the editorial eye of at least four.”

How to submit: Send submissions to: modernlove@nytimes.com.

More info:   For submission tips and regular commentary from the column editor, follow Modern Love on Facebook. 



Tips from Daniel Jones.

There are several tip-offs to me that an essay might be turned down before I’ve finished reading it: if it begins with tone of blame, if it feels shallow in terms of what it promises to explore, if it’s about the love of animals or cities instead of other human beings (though you never know…anything can be done well, but this is quite a hurdle), or if it takes place a long time ago (both Styles and Modern Love imply recent trends or happenings).

In terms of what subjects I’m sick of…I can’t say that there’s any one subject or set of subjects that I receive constantly in a way that would make me advise a writer to steer clear. The better advice in this area is that we’re not likely to run a piece about dealing with a father who has Alzheimer’s when we just ran one. Avoid subjects that have been covered in the last few months.

- How many times can you remove "that"? (I'll bet a lot.)

- How many adverbs can you do without? (Try cutting half of them, at least.)

- Use "all right," not "alright."

- Change any words or phrases that are in ALL CAPS or italics to some other means of emphasis. (Only rarely will either be used in the body of an article in the paper.)

- Did you use profanity? (You'll have to remove or replace.)

- Don't agonize over a title. (In almost every case it will be written by the copy desk.)

- How many exclamation points do you really need? (Not many.)

- How many spaces do you have after a period at the end of a sentence? (Should be one, not two.)

- You can probably find better adjectives than "amazing," "incredible," "fantastic," "terrible," "horrible," or "very bad" (even if you're having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day).

Avoid These

In the many essays I read every month, certain words, phrases, or stylistic tics appear again and again. Inevitably (and maybe unfairly), some start to annoy or signal trouble with the writing to come. Here are 20 your essay is probably better off without. (This is good advice for all of your mss.)

1. I’ll never forget

2. I’ll always remember

3. It/he/she was electrifying

4. If I had to do it all over again

5. Literally
6. A. Sentence. With. A. Period. After. Every. Word.
7. Reader, I married him/her
8. Smitten
9. I felt like Carrie in Sex and the City
10. My heart melted
11. Flash forward
12. I curled up in a fetal position
13. I curled up with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s
14. We were alike in every way
15. We were opposites in every way
16. Truth be told
17. Amazing
18. There was no spark
19. Out of the blue
20. And I’ll never be the same again


Tamara said...

This was such good information, Jody. I love the list of "don't say" phrases. The pay is good for the number of words. I wasn't aware of this, so I'm glad to know about it.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Tamara. I like the fact that there are still places that treat new writers like human beings and are not snotty. I also love the how-to info they dish out. Yes, this list of trite phrases should be printed out and put on the bulletin board.