Modern Love, the backstory

Assuming you got here via my Modern Love column in the New York Times (as opposed to this story in the Boston Globe), some readers and several writers have asked me questions about getting into Modern Love. It ain’t easy. As I’ve told people, it helps to start with really good material! But, honestly, that’s not all it takes, and you certainly don’t need a gender change to have a story published. (I had one submission rejected a few years ago. It didn’t have a strong-enough arc, and that is key.)

Interestingly, the editor, Dan Jones, told me that until last year he had received next to no transgender-themed essays (in the course of about five years). In the last two years, he figures he’s been sent a couple dozen. Yet another sign o’ the times/Times.

The Times is clear about what they’re looking for, which really is pretty much what every essay should be, excepting the subject matter: “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.”

Submission information is online, too. While an auto-reply tells writers if they don’t hear within a month or so, they should assume their essay won’t be accepted, virtually everyone I know has received a personal email reply. I don’t know how many submissions Dan gets monthly, but I know it’s a whole lot. If your essay is accepted, Dan then edits it and also cuts it to about 1,500 words. He works with the writer, and is a very strong editor. When I read his edited version, I couldn’t tell what had changed except in one case. That’s always the outcome you want as a writer. 

The pay is $300. It used to be $1,000. Bummer on that. This summer alone, two of my regular travel-writing outlets, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, have reduced pay and/or expenses. Oh how I miss the glory days of newspapers. But, that’s life. Doors close, doors open. Kind of like a gender transition, huh?

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