I teach essay writing and I’ve also been pretty successful having my own personal essays published. But I know that I (and my writing students) can always improve our odds of getting our work into paying publications. So today, I’m recommending a book I believe will be useful for us (and you) in doing just that.
The Byline Bible: Get Published in 5 Weeks, by Susan Shapiro
One of the biggest revelations for me in The Byline Bible was that tackling untidy, embarrassing personal experiences on the page can lead to publishers’ acceptance of our work. The author of The Byline Bible makes a case for writing essays that show the writer’s vulnerabilities, “regrets and struggles.” She says this is the type of writing that publishers pay for.
That’s the way Susan Shapiro has been enormously successful in her own writing and publishing career. She’s not afraid to reveal her foibles, failures, and losses to the world: one of her books is titled, Five Men Who Broke My Heart. Her writing has appeared in publications that personal essayists covet, such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Esquire, Elle, and Oprah.com, to name just a few.
Shapiro’s book isn’t only about what she calls “humiliation” essays. The Byline Bible offers specific, practical advice on
- what to write,
- how to write it, and
- how to get your work off to paying publications.
There sample cover letters and queries to use as models if you need them. She also includes the text of some of her own published essays and those (also published) written by her students.
The Byline Bible even covers how to subtly tie in your demographic information in your essay so your readers know who you are. Here’s an example (not true to my life) I’ve come up with:
“I never thought I’d even get out of high school, and there I was, the first Latina pastor of the largest church in. . . .”
Shapiro warns essayists to check their facts before submitting anything for publication. After all, personal essays are supposed to contain only the truth.
And don’t meander; keep forward momentum in your story. Include “drama, conflict, and tension.”
The book also provides exercises for you to practice.
You’ll learn that identifying likely publications when you’re ready to submit your work is only one step in the process.
I’m going to follow Shapiro’s advice because I’d like to see my name in (and receive a check from) those big name publications! Even if you’re not writing to publish, The Byline Bible is a most valuable resource for personal essay writers.
What do you think? Does this seem like a book that could help you with your personal essay writing and publishing?
And here’s another question for you: Do you know what a personal essay is and how it’s different from other kinds of essays?