Recently, I (re) joined BonBon Break (an awesome online magazine with something for everyone – from recipes to DIY tutorials, personal essays to play ideas for kids, beauty and fashion tips, to gardening and all things outdoors), and this time as the Editor of Mom Cave. I also read submissions for syndicated and original content (mostly personal essays), and help decide on what would be a good fit for our site. This means I get to read a ton of writing.
I’ve learned to skim through posts I know will not work for us, and when there is a gem. I know now, in just one paragraph, if this is a post I think we can help polish into something more amazing. As much as personal preference comes into play, I believe that there are some universal truths to what essays get accepted, and what don’t, at least on BonBon Break. Here they are.
1. Hook me in right away
Personal essays do not have to be chronological, because writing things in the order they happened, is too journal-like, and frankly, boring.
“Last Tuesday, I came home from work, tired and grumpy. My phone rang just as I was about to step into the shower. It was my father. I knew something was wrong. He sounded like he’d be crying, and could barely bring himself to tell me. He said that my mother had died.
“Your mother . . .” he gasped.
“Dad? What? What’s wrong?”
“She . . . she’s gone.”
This Tuesday will stick in my mind as the day I realized I’d been carrying the burden of shame and guilt too long. My father’s words released a weight off my heart.”
Which paragraph will hook you in? Which one makes you want to read on? I would venture to say that the second example is the story you want to read.
We don’t want to read a diary entry. Tell us a story. Use dialogue. Start dramatically. Make a statement.
2. Don’t ramble
Despite a great hook-in paragraph, sometimes, I still click away from some stories. Because halfway in, I find my attention drifting, and I wonder when the writer is going to come to her point and/ or conclusion. Readers on the Internet have notoriously short attention spans, and are inundated with information/ stories/ quizzes/ lists online. Make it worth their while. Yes, while long-form essays do very well in many mediums, they are not always appropriate for all sites. 800 to 1,500 words usually work very well. That said, if your story is compelling and written well, we won’t say no. When I say ramble, I mean that you may have digressed, or used too many parentheses (I am guilty of this sometimes). Or you overuse words like “very”, ïndeed”, “so” (these ones are just my personal pet peeves).
3. It’s too general
There are only so many parenting <insert genre> topics/ issues one can write about and read. However, if you write it in your voice and offer your unique perspective – whether it’s advice for new mothers, or thoughts on the tween years, or how you deal with the empty nest – it will have universal and specific appeal. I recently read a post on a new mom’s perspective on how she didn’t think she was a good mother, which then concluded that, heck, yes she is. Could it have been a great story? Yes. Was it? Not really. It was too general. Many moms feel that way, especially first-time mothers. The easy conclusion, wrapped up in a pretty bow, was also too convenient. I felt like I’d read this post before, at least a dozen times. These kinds of posts are great for personal blogs, but not so much for bigger sites.
4. Proof read and spell check
Don’t spoil what could be an amazing essay with grammatical or spelling errors.
5. A few other things about submissions
Val Curtis (Editor-in-Chief of BonBon Break) offered a few more tips when it comes to submitting your writing:
- Don’t submit the same post to 5 different websites at the same time. It’s generally good manners to submit one at a time, in order of your personal preference/ priority. Only submit to the second (or third, fourth) website of your choice, after you get a rejection from the first. It is a tedious process, because some sites do take a while to get back to you. Generally, if you don’t hear back in two weeks, it’s perfectly okay to send a follow up email. At BonBon Break, we strive to get back to people in 2-3 weeks.
- Do not submit five different posts to the same website at the same time. This is applicable to BonBon Break, though I imagine not many editors want to be inundated by one person.
- Do not submit posts that are not written by you i.e. a guest post on your blog.
6. What I look for in other types of posts
- DIY/ craft posts – original and creative ideas, great pictures, easy-to-follow tutorials, preferably with step-by-step instructions
- Food posts – amazing pictures, easy-to-follow-recipe, specific and accurate measurements (for example, it’s better to say two medium eggs, rather than two eggs, because the difference one egg makes to a recipe is significant).
That said, want to submit your writing to BonBon Break? Do so here!