My first writing sale was a personal experience piece about my husband and I getting to know and helping local Hmong refugee children. Since then, I've had over 1000 personal experience pieces published in magazines and anthologies. We all have personal experiences in our lives, so why not write about them?
But how do you know if YOUR story can sell?
• Is it something that many can relate to, or only a few? Example: A short humor piece told of the struggles with ‘one size fits all’ for bodies that don’t seem to fit. Most women relate to this humor and would rather laugh along with the author than feel they are alone in their frustration.
• Does your story have a take-away message? In other words, when the reader finishes your piece, will they have learned how to do or not do something, how to handle a similar situation, or understand their own feelings? In my “Be Angry And Sin Not”, I told about my experiences with anger and how I overcame them. It was geared toward MY problem, in a way other readers with a similar problem could learn something without feeling fingers were pointing at THEM.
• Can you tell your story objectively? Sometimes we are too close to an experience and the writing is over-emotional or stale with an effort to hide from our emotion. For several years after my false pregnancy, I couldn’t write about it. I had to step away and understand my feelings and how to express them first. Later, I sold a dozen essays and articles on the experience as well as infertility.
• Will your story elicit emotion from readers? Whether it’s laughter, tears, cheers, surprise, or the ability to relate; the easiest stories to sell are those ones that editors and readers feel some emotion towards. Whenever I write about any aspect of my daughter’s adoption, it sells and sells again. There are a million adoption stories, and I’ve learned the areas of my own that brings emotions to my readers.
Writing about yourself isn’t as easy as it sounds, but it is rewarding. Warn your family first. Mine has learned that anything that happens in our lives is grist for my writing.