Modern Love in the New York Times

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The New York Times’ Modern Love is one the best non-fiction venues available today. I call your attention to this week and last week’s columns, both of which are excellent.

When I started to submit my work, I was largely focused on literary magazines. I was not familiar with Modern Love, but fortunately for me someone in my writing group was. Some writers say you shouldn’t submit a story to a big name venue until you’ve amassed some publishing credits, but I think that’s crazy. What makes more sense to me is to look for where your work will best fit, regardless of the publication’s size or prestige.

My Modern Love story prominently features a Yankee’s cap, which (I’m sure) improved its chances for publication in the New York Times. The story explores the challenges an estranged father faces, building a relationship with his son. I submitted the story in January, which offered plenty of lead time for a Father’s Day publication, although I (oddly) hadn’t even considered this at the time.

Modern Love doesn’t appear in my Writer’s Market, which may explain why I was not familiar with it. Sometimes you learn the best place to publish your work by networking with other writers. The only submission guidelines I’ve found for Modern Love were from a Q&A, hosted by Dan Jones (Modern Love editor) on the New York Times blog site.

Here is Mr Jones on submitting:

Modern Love is open to anyone and we welcome unsolicited submissions. You can send submissions to modernlove@nytimes.com. They should be no more than 1800-2000 words in length (final run length is closer to 1700 words) and the essay should be both pasted into the email and attached as a word document.

UPDATE: The New York Times has publisehd an official submission page for Modern Love essays: How to Submit Modern Love Essays. Good luck!

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44 thoughts on “Modern Love in the New York Times

  1. Beth says:

    Tim,

    When I read your fine story in New York Times’ Modern Love, I never made the connection that any other of us little grasshoppers could submit there. I really appreciate your practical advice and direction-pointing to this venue.

    Thanks.

  2. Tim Elhajj says:

    Hi Beth, Thank you for the kind words about my story. I think your recent “Gravy” post on the anniversary of your long marriage would make a fine submission to Modern Love.

    I think it’s important to pass on the “intel” about good places to submit creative non-fiction. More than anything else, this kind of sharing of knowledge has helped me find homes for my stories.

  3. Ruth D~ says:

    Loved that story!

  4. Tim Elhajj says:

    Thank you, Ruth!

  5. Tim, writing for Modern Love is considered very prestigious. Even people who’ve been writing for decades struggle to get in. And I’ve heard that some of them are agented submissions. So I wouldn’t give all the credit to that Yankee’s cap. 😉

    Have you tried again since?

  6. Tim Elhajj says:

    I knew Modern Love was a big fish, but had never heard anything about agented submissions. Wow! But that just proves my point about submitting to esteemed venues, even if you’ve never been published. If the story works, they may just pick it up. Worked for me!

    I certainly have tried again. My understanding is they rarely publishes the same person twice, and if they do, they wait a long time in between.

    So many talented writers submit good stories, I feel very grateful that a few of mine have found nice homes. What a gift!

  7. Tim Elhajj says:

    Modern Love is prestigious, but Dan Jones knows how to pick fresh voices. Both of the pieces I linked to from this post seem to be from writers without a published novel.

    I read the past Sunday’s column and really enjoyed it, from Jane Hamilton a published author.

  8. Faith says:

    So….from a hopeful writer. ….what is Dan Jones’s email? How did you submit. Thanks for the help. Faith

  9. Tim Elhajj says:

    Hey Faith!

    Here is where I sent mine: modernlove@nytimes.com. I sent it as an Word file attachment and pasted it right into the body of the email. I used a descriptive subject header, something like: “TITLE OF PIECE by Tim Elhajj” (where it says TITLE OF PIECE I wrote the actual title of my piece).

    Good luck!

  10. Faith says:

    Thank you, Tim. I’ll let you know when it gets in. (Note optimistic word choice!!)

    Faith

  11. Kathy says:

    Just curious, does Modern Love pay?

  12. Tim Elhajj says:

    Yes, Modern Love pays. Even better, I found this Observer article recently, which describes the potential of Modern Love pieces for book deals. Mridu, there is also some surprising info about Modern Love’s prestige quotient.

    http://www.observer.com/2008/modern-love-breeds-book-deals

  13. Jean Lichty says:

    Dear Tim: Thanks so much for your most welcome advice. I am trying to submit a piece to Modernlove.com but am having problems attaching it as a file document and then pasting it into the e-mail. Can I send the word document separately or would that not be kosher? Many thanks, Jean

  14. Tim Elhajj says:

    Hi Jean,

    I would try to solve any sort of computer problems before trying to submit a Modern Love essay to the New York Times (or really, for submitting any essay anywhere). It’s so hard for us to get our stories in front of an editor, the last thing we want to do is submit our essays in a way the editor is not expecting.

  15. […] August 28, 2009 in Uncategorized Last Thursday I introduced the first assignment — a personal narrative based on the NPR series “This I Believe.”  The personal narrative is in few print publications these days. It is sometimes found on the last page of magazines like The New York Times Magazine and Washingtonian. Every Sunday in the “Style” section the Times runs a column called “Modern Love.” Those essays are often extremely — sometimes embarrassingly — personal. Check out the site. Modern Love New York Times […]

  16. […] Posts Modern Love in the New York TimesTrue StoriesAbout Tim […]

  17. ashok.c says:

    i keep loving and keep experiencing love in many hues and color. a heart thing, a body thing, a soul thing, and a mind thing as well… in all its form, love comes as ‘everything’ to me at that point of time. and what unfolds out of that is something to express and share. good to know that the nytimes has something to inspire, encourage, explore and express. all for understading love and life. the contemporariness is what i like in the thinking. its the reality. the truth. and life. i would look forward to share and care with more….thanks nytimes.

  18. c(h)ristine says:

    Just read your piece and loved it. Hope you and your son have shared more laughs and memories, since. 🙂 And thank you also, for sharing the submission information online (very generous of you to do so).

  19. Tim Elhajj says:

    Thank you so much, Christine. Tim and I were so excited when the Modern Love piece was first published. He is fast becoming my #1 fan.

    I was poking around on your site and found your Zyzzyva piece, which I loved (even though I only got to see part of it). I keep trying to get one past Mr. Junker, but he’s a tough nut to crack. Maybe one day.

    Best of luck with your Modern Love submission!

  20. Naseem says:

    Hi Tim,

    First of all, I keep visiting your site over and over! It’s a wonderful to hear about your writing.

    You mentioned how your submitted your essay for ML and I just wondered if you included a short cover note in your email? Or did you just let your essay speak for itself?

  21. Tim Elhajj says:

    Hi Naseem, thanks for the kind words about the site. You’ve asked a really good question, one that a lot of people ask, so I probably ought to do a blog post that talks about my approach to cover letters, specifically a cover letter for a Modern Love essay. Until I get around to writing that post, let me offer a few thoughts about what I do for cover letters here.

    I only used a few words to introduce my piece. For venues like Modern Love, I like to keep it short, something pithy, like the tag line for a movie if I can come up with something sexy. If I can’t, I’m happy to just present the basic facts. I’ll say, “This is a non-fiction story,” or maybe I’ll include the word count. Dan Jones doesn’t ask for anything specific in his cover letters, but if an editor asks for something specific—say the word count, your telephone number, or whatever—make sure to include it.

    I like to close with a short pleasantry. Maybe I’ll say, “I hope you like it” because I really do hope the editor likes my story, even if she can’t select it for whatever reason. I always like to be professional, upbeat. When you get right down to it, the publishing world is actually kind of small.

    After the little pleasantry line, I start a new paragraph and add a little bio in third person. “Tim Elhajj writes nonfiction. His work has appeared in The New York Times.” Before I had anything published, I would drop the name of any published author I had studied with, even if it was just for a day long workshop. Keep in mind, this is what I do right now, but I change things as the situation dictates or my mood changes.

    Cover letters for pitches or books are a little different, but the cover letter I am describing here is the one I use the most, sort of the meat and potatoes cover letter for submitting nonfiction essays to literary magazines. I hope it helps. Good luck!

  22. Naseem says:

    Oh, Tim!! Above and beyond! Thank you so much for your detailed response. 😀 😀 I really appreciate it. (And I’m sure everyone will.)

    Thank you!!

  23. Tim Elhajj says:

    Glad you found it helpful, Naseem. Let us know how you make out.

  24. […] The busiest day of the year was January 7th with 437 views. The most popular post that day was Modern Love in the New York Times. […]

  25. Tim Elhajj says:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/fashion/howtosubmit_modernlove.html?_r=3&ref=fashion

    Looks like there are now some official requirements for submitting to Modern Love. Good luck!

  26. Sarah says:

    Hi Tim – Your advice is great and your enthusiasm, contagious. Thank you for those! A couple of questions: Did the Times notify you before the piece was published? If so, did you have to sign any kind of contract or release? How long did that process take?

  27. Tim Elhajj says:

    Hi Sarah, thanks for the kind words.

    There was a contract, but it wasn’t a long process for me. We went back and forth on edits a few times and that was more process-y kind of thing that we did. The process for signing the contract was more of an afterthought–I was handed off to someone in legal–and the contract (the first I’d ever signed for freelance writing) seemed to be a standard agreement. I didn’t get notice before the piece was published, but I knew when it would go live. Dan told me early on that he wanted to publish it for Father’s day.

    Hope that helps!

  28. RuDee says:

    Hi Tim,

    First, thanks for your candor and encouragement on this blog. It’s awesome. As a religious Modern Love reader…soon as you mentioned the hat, I was like, “oooh! The dad one!”

    I’ve been building up the courage for more than 5 years to submit to the column. Your words here were the tipping point. Thank you.

    ~R

  29. Tim Elhajj says:

    RuDee, thank you so much for posting! How satisfying to find someone who has read and remembered that Modern Love piece of mine. Yes, the dad one indeed!

    I have been there and know exactly what you’re describing about building up the courage to submit. That hasn’t really gone away for me. I still feel that nervous energy when I submit, especially to my favorite venues — for me, right now, it’s This American Life. Sometimes the rejection gets to be too much. I grow bitter and refuse to listen to the show. I make vulgar rhymes concerning Ira Glass. But then I come around. I start listening (and submitting) again. I just have to keep hoping that one day I’ll crack that market, but here is the only thing one can guarantee about such things: We can only hope to succeed if we keep submitting. We musn’t give up!

    TAL just changed the page that describes how to submit and it’s much less formal now. Or maybe it’s been this informal all along and I have just been doing it wrong. If I get a story on that show, you better believe I’m going to post about it here on the blog. I hope you’ll consider doing the same.

    Best of luck, RuDee! And thanks for liking Junk on Facebook!

  30. […] met Christine through a comment she made on one of this blog’s posts. I followed her to her blog, 80,000 words, where I learned she had first ever story, Bile, had been […]

  31. Angela Cohen says:

    Do any of you know where people submit rejected columns of modern love? Like Self Mag, etc?

  32. Tim Elhajj says:

    There was a blog or journal dedicated to just Modern Love Rejects, but I think it’s gone away now.

    I think it would be good fit at most places that accept literary non-fiction. Have you tried The Sun? Perhaps Creative Nonfiction? Keep trying! Good luck.

  33. Elaine Gottlieb says:

    I just had a piece rejected by Modern Love as have two writer friends this year. I was ambivalent about publishing an essay about an intensely personal experience in someplace as “public” as the Times. So I’m actually relieved that it was rejected. I had heard that the paper “fact checks” essays, requiring writers to, for example, have someone “corroborate” their story, such as, if you’re writing about a romantic relationship, a partner. Anyone know anything about this? Also, how much does ML pay?

  34. Tim Elhajj says:

    I don’t recall any sort of formal fact checking process. I purposely left out certain facts — my son’s mother left me because I was addicted to heroin. I remember talking to Dan about the story and he specifically asked me if I thought it was an honest story. I did! We discussed it. It was an interesting conversation. I wrote about it here.

    https://telhajj.com/2008/09/23/how-i-got-my-story-published-in-the-new-york-times-the-truth-of-the-matter/

    I got a nice check from the NYT. It was enough for a fancy dinner for me and my whole family and still have a little change in my pocket. It’s way more than I usually get. I usually get a few copies of a magazine.

  35. So in my excitement to finally submit an essay I’ve been working on FOR AGES, I hit send with the most pathetic excuse for a cover letter, basically a generic, “I’d like to submit this essay for consideration in the Modern Love column…” I took the directions to paste the essay in the body of the email as a sign that they weren’t looking for anything else but the essay. But now I wish I had introduced it with some personality! Do you think it would be silly to submit again with an added cover letter?

  36. Tim Elhajj says:

    Hi Britany, good on you for submitting your work. I don’t think your cover letter sounds bad. I often time keep my own cover letters short and to the point. If you had something you really wanted Dan to know about your submission, I don’t think it would hurt to send another mail.

    I don’t know if someone screens the stories or what, but I don’t think you can make a mistake. If he likes it and it’s a good fit, he’s going to publish it. If he doesn’t select it, it could be for many different reasons. If that happens, keep sending it out. That’s what I try to do (although I have a finished story now that I haven’t been sending out myself!).

    Happy holidays. I’m glad you posted! Good luck with your Modern Love submission.

    Let us know how it works out for you!

  37. Elaine Gottlieb says:

    I’m a little late to the game here … just noticed the email notification. I attended a panel at the Boston Book Festival in October featuring Daniel Jones and asked him directly about fact checking and he said that they don’t don’t fact check the essay, except perhaps for some factual details. As Tim said Jones has a conversation with the writer to sense the veracity of the essay. Also, Modern Love receives a huge number of submissions, as you’d expect, and tries to achieve a balance of diverse topics and writers.

  38. Tim Elhajj says:

    Thanks for the comment, Elaine. Good luck with your writing!

  39. Hello, I’m far behind this thread, I just submitted an essay to Modern Love and Daniel Jones just replied, the thing is, I don’t clearly understand if I’m rejected or considered in the future. his reply goes like this “Although I don’t find your essay right for our needs, I’m grateful for the opportunity to consider it. I regret that the volume of submissions we receive makes it impractical for me to offer editorial feedback.” at least I have the guts to hit ‘Send’ 🙂 would appreciate your response. 🙂

  40. Tim Elhajj says:

    It’s one of those gentle rejections. I would send him another story, if I were you. Good luck!

  41. Thanks for that. I would certainly try again. 😊

  42. Anonymous says:

    How long does it take from sending a story in until one hears if the answer is yay or nay?

  43. Tim Elhajj says:

    For me it was about 8 – 10 weeks. Long enough that I had forgotten about sending it and was pleasantly surprised. I imagine it’s different for everyone.

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