Self Publish Essays
“First-person writing should not be cheap, and it should not be written or edited quickly,” Gould wrote to me.
“And it should be published in a way that protects writers rather than hanging them out to dry on the most-emailed list.”There are still a few outlets that cultivate a more subtle and sober iteration of this kind of first-person writing, some of them connected to book publishing.
Attention flows naturally to the outrageous, the harrowing, the intimate, and the recognizable, and the online personal essay began to harden into a form defined by identity and adversity—not in spite of how tricky it is to negotiate those matters in front of a crowd but precisely because of that fact.
The commodification of personal experience was also women’s territory: the small budgets of popular women-focussed Web sites, and the rapidly changing conventions and constrictions surrounding women’s lives, insured it.
She was right: a year and a half later, it barely exists.
While she granted that not all first-person writing on the Internet was undignified, there were far too many “solo acts of sensational disclosure” that read like “reverse-engineered headlines.”The market, in Bennett’s view, had overinflated.When I began writing on the Internet, I wrote personal essays for free.For some writers, these essays led to better-paying work.Sarah Hepola, who worked as Salon’s personal-essay editor, described the situation to me in an e-mail.“The boom in personal essays—at Salon, at least, but I suspect other places—was in part a response to an online climate where more content was needed at the exact moment budgets were being slashed.” When I worked as an editor at the Hairpin and Jezebel, from 2013 to 2016, I saw up close how friendly editors and ready audiences could implicitly encourage writers to submit these pieces in droves.By September, 2015, online first-person writing was so abundant that Laura Bennett, at Slate, could refer to a “first-person industrial complex” in a takedown of the genre.“Every site seems to have a first person vertical and a first-person editor,” Bennett, who also cited Gould’s story as a turning point, wrote.These essays began to proliferate several years ago—precisely when is hard to say, but we can, I think, date the beginning of the boom to 2008, the year that Emily Gould wrote a first-person cover story, called “Exposed,” for the , which was about, as the tagline put it, what she gained and lost from writing about her intimate life on the Web.Blowback followed, and so did an endless supply of imitations.There were the one-off body-horror pieces, such as “My Gynecologist Found a Ball of Cat Hair in My Vagina,” published by xo Jane, or a notorious lost-tampon chronicle published by Jezebel.There were essays that incited outrage for the life styles they described, like the one about pretending to live in the Victorian era, or Cat Marnell’s oeuvre.