Want to See Your Personal Essay in a Major Magazine? Pitch The Mix

Want to See Your Personal Essay in a Major Magazine? Pitch The Mix

Many writers dream of seeing their personal essay published in a favorite magazine. Sound familiar? Then take note of Hearst’s new contributor network, The Mix.

The Mix offers daily prompts to a growing group of approved writers, with a chance to be published in Hearst magazines like Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Car and Driver.

But while the byline is appealing and writers are paid for essays that get published, there’s a catch: you have to write on spec, without the promise of a byline or paycheck. In other words, all that effort you put into your essay submissions could be for nothing.

So is this an opportunity that’s worth pursuing? We talked to several writers who have tried Hearst’s new network about the pros and cons of submitting to The Mix. Some have seen sweet rewards, while others remain wary.

Here’s what you should consider before participating.

How does The Mix work?

Once you’re accepted into the contributor network, Hearst will send you several prompts each day. You can actually see the daily prompts on their website, but you can’t submit until your application is approved. Recent prompts included “I Overcame an Eating Disorder” and “Things Not to Say to Someone Who Was Adopted.”

If one catches your eye, you have two days to submit your short essay; editors look for about 600 words. If it’s selected, you’ll see your personal essay run on a major magazine’s website in just a few days’ time, and earn some cash to boot.

The first step is to apply. The Mix invites interested writers to send a list of previous clips, and they’ll consider you for the daily email list. Despite the influx of applications in the past few weeks, some writers have reported being accepted within a few days.

“We send out a daily assignment email with story topics created by our editors,” The Mix explains. “Submit your story and, if we publish it, you get paid $100. We also offer bonuses based on traffic. Choose as many assignments as you’d like.”

The flat fee is comparable to a lot of websites that publish personal essays. The pageview bonus might be harder to achieve, so your posts for The Mix probably won’t offer a new level of financial freedom. After 40,000 visits to your post, you earn a bonus of $.0025 per visit. Put more simply, for every 10,000 hits you get over that threshold, you’ll get $25.

But with a large network like the ones these magazines have been cultivating for decades, the opportunity is clear. One Marie Claire post from The Mix community, titled “Things You Should Never Say to a Woman Who Doesn’t Want Kids,” got more than 92,000 shares, according to Digiday’s Lucia Moses.

What’s in it for Hearst?

Why would Hearst open this opportunity to so many writers?

While Hearst editors didn’t respond to our inquiries, the new platform seems to be the company’s answer to uber-current sites like Buzzfeed, an attempt to remove some stuffy, old-school magazine practices from its publishing model. In the past few months, the company has shared content between magazine titles and tried to quickly to piggyback on news or social media chatter, reports Moses.

But can Hearst scale its content offerings by paying $100 per post to a pool of writers with varying backgrounds and levels of experience? “The risk of becoming a platform, regardless of publisher, is that quality control becomes secondary in the quest for scale, undermining the editorial promise for readers and value to advertisers,” Moses warns.

Competition means no guarantees for writers

The most challenging part of participating in The Mix is there’s no guarantee your work will be published. Instead of pitching an editor before you write, you’ve got to do the work up front and hope your piece beats the competition.

For some writers, this is a dealbreaker — or at least, a reason to prioritize other work. “I’ve considered writing a couple that I could have made work with my personal experiences,” explained freelance writer and editor Ellen Sturm Niz. “But when I have other assignments on my calendar with a guaranteed paycheck, I can’t justify spending time on something for which I may not be the ‘winner’ and not get paid at all.”

Still, prompts like “My Illness Destroyed My Relationship” and “Things You Don’t Understand Unless You’re a Single Mom,” could help you solidify the half-baked idea you’ve been playing with for an essay. And skipping the agony of wondering where to pitch your essay can be a huge relief. Some assignments, like “I Had Lip Injections,” probably have less competition than others. Most of the prompts so far seem geared toward women.

While Niz hasn’t submitted any pieces of her own, she’s glad to be included on the daily email of assignments. “It’s worth checking out if a topic speaks to you, and if you have the time to try one, go for it,” she said. “Just make sure not to spend more than $100 worth of your time on it.”

Content writer Stephanie Faris has already published three articles through The Mix and appreciates the change from her usual work. The essay submissions “require very little research, if any, and no interviews,” she explains. “Because the prompts are so fun and personal, I find I can usually write the stories quickly and I enjoy every minute of it. Aside from my fiction writing, the work I do for Mix is often the most enjoyable work I do all day.” Her most recent piece, which appeared in Country Living, recalled how a major flood damaged her home.

Faris notes that Hearst requires writers to submit a personal photo related to each essay’s prompt, which has discouraged her from responding to some prompts for which she lacked an applicable photo.

Not all of her submissions have been accepted, but Faris hasn’t taken the rejection too hard. “If they decline one of your pieces, you have a great piece you can shop elsewhere,” she said. “For freelancers who choose to try each day, this can serve as a daily writing prompt that sharpens our creativity and builds our portfolios.”

Is The Mix a good option for you?

Ask any group of writers what they think about The Mix and other content platforms, and you’ll get wildly conflicting opinions — some of them heated. But the real question is whether this is a good opportunity for you and your writing goals.

You might get paid more for a reported piece that takes you a week to research. But that better-paid piece at a niche publication could also limit your readership. The Mix has a wide audience, and wants pieces that are easy for readers to relate to and share. You may not be particularly enthused about earning $100, but you might be excited about having a widely read clip in Harper’s Bazaar.

“One thing I’d do is check your gut feeling on this. Are they doing this because they expect you to bring in eyeballs?” says Laura Shin, a finance writer at Forbes. And if so, are you able to bring enough readers to hit target traffic thresholds?

For writers who also serve as experts in a certain field or have a loyal readership, this audience often comes naturally, Shin explained. But for writers who typically report on other experts, it can be trickier to pull a following. “The other thing you should figure out is what types of stories or what topics do well on that platform, and then try to write on that.”

For strategic writers, The Mix can help launch an effort to contribute to larger publications, especially in the niche world of personal essays.

Faris sees the long-term benefit from participating. “Hearst is offering a chance for experienced freelancers to move to the next stage of our careers while also having fun and making money from it,” she says. “How can that be a bad thing?”

Have you signed up for The Mix? What else should writers think about when considering this type of opportunity?

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  • David Throop says:

    Thanks for sharing! As a fledgling freelancer, any potential leads to examine are great resources.
    As you mentioned, the primary concern that I share with many others is that by writing on spec is daunting.

    One additional benefit I can foresee is that the ideas for content that this project fosters will potentially outweigh the time spent developing the writing on spec. In the end, even if the piece isn’t picked up, the time spent developing the content on Hearst’s prompt will help lead to great content ideas.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  • Trish O'Connor says:

    The piece of advice not to invest more than $100 worth of your time in the essay is good, but I think one thing to keep in mind with such spec work is that you have to factor in not only the time you spent writing the piece that is chosen, but also the time spent on any pieces not chosen, both before and after it. If you wrote just three essays of which one was tapped for publication, and invested perhaps two hours in each, then you just made 16.67 an hour. A rule of thumb is that self-employment income is worth about the same as half as much income as an employee (because self-employed workers must pay both the employee’s and employer’s share of FICA as well as any benefits), so that’s as if you earned $8.33 an hour at a regular job. Is that really all that your skilled labor is worth? In many cities, you could make that serving french fries.

    People tell themselves they are taking such low-paying and insecure gigs to “break into the business,” but the more people are willing to do that, the more publishers will base their business model on a never-ending supply of ridiculously cheap labor, until there is no longer a sustainable “business” to break into. Think long and hard about whether you are willing to sell your future (and the future of other writers) for MAYBE a hundred dollars.

    • Lisa Rowan says:

      Trish, you make great points here – it’s hard to master the finances of getting paid – and paid well – to write. I think there are a few types of people who can benefit from this program: those who write as a side gig, those who are looking to build a portfolio, those who love writing personal essays and might work on similar topics anyway. It’s definitely not right for everyone.

      I haven’t personally tried to sign up, but I can attest to the scheme of using good clips to work your way up to larger/better/perfect-match publications. It works, both financially and professionally!

    • Kate Walter says:

      This could be worthwhile if you have a book to promote (as I do).
      If you note that in your bio, you’d get your book title in front
      of many readers

  • Alexis Grant says:

    I love this post, Lisa — Thanks for looking so closely at whether it’s worth it! I might even sign up just to push myself to place some personal essays in the coming months =)

    Alexis, founder of TWL

  • Megan McLachlan says:

    Hello! I had two articles published with The Mix, and while I was skeptical when I submitted, I went into it with the attitude that I was writing something that I could pitch to other outlets (should they not use it). I guess I almost viewed it as an exercise. I would say submit to The Mix if you have time and see something that strikes your eye and that you can write about (don’t force yourself into a topic). You have nothing to lose, and you can always tweak the work into something else if The Mix doesn’t take it. Hope that helps!

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Thanks so much for sharing, Megan! I hope you don’t mind if I post the link to your story, since it ran in Cosmo? Congrats!


    • ZH says:

      Hi Megan,
      I was wondering if you could share what your experience of getting accepted to join The Mix was like? I applied twice and haven’t heard anything back, which is a little surprising since I’ve published my work with Hearst before. I am really anxious to know if my application was rejected or if things are simply moving slowly!

  • Leslie Shearn says:

    This is really worth it for me. Thank you so much for the info.

  • Bettye Brown says:

    Thanks for this article. I must be missing something. I read and reread it and cannot find how to The Mix. I tried Googling it. Tried to find it through Hearst’s website. I can find nothing.

  • Jireh Gibson says:

    Thanks for the article, I find that each time an opportunity comes up, it does expose me to another pair of eyes, submission guidelines and potential for constructive feedback on my writing.
    I am in the midst of building my writer platform, I write for a couple of academic sites, and I am starting a marketing blog. It is all like pieces to a puzzle.
    thanks again and I will be looking into it.

  • Asma Peerzada says:

    I just read on The Mix website currently they’re only able to work with the U.S residents not international writers. I’m non-US, does that mean I can’t send them my story?

    • Katherine says:

      Hi Asma,
      I just looked at the FAQ for The Mix and it’s definitely limited to US residents only. I’m Canadian so that excludes me as well!

  • Pimion says:

    Thanks for the article. Really helpful.
    Such a pity that it’s only for US residents.

  • Alicia Rades says:

    What’s the experience in hearing back? I sent an email to apply a few weeks ago and never heard anything back. Does that mean they weren’t impressed?

    • Lisa Rowan says:

      Alicia, from what I’ve heard, at first the editors were responsive and working through applications quickly, but have slowed down to a near-crawl. I think they may just be overwhelmed by all the interest. That’s speculation on my part, but it’s likely! But, I’m also not sure if they respond to let you know if they don’t accept you into the network.
      If you hear back, let us know!

  • Lis says:

    This is useful info – and very timely! I’ve been thinking about applying to The Mix but I didn’t feel there was enough preliminary info offered for me to know what I might be getting into. Now that I’ve read this, I think I’ll apply.

  • Jason Bougger says:

    Sounds like an exciting exercise for aspiring freelancers. I might look into this over the weekend if I get caught up on my other stuff 🙂

  • Michael Uzor says:

    Thanks for sharing Lisa.

    It’s a great nudge for fledgling freelancers. Though it’s a pity that’s limited to U.S residents.

  • Melanie Thompson says:

    Thank you so much for this article. Writing on spec is something I have been looking for. Whether I get picked up or not, I see the value in exposing myself to new ways of writing and the creation of writing samples.
    Honestly, when asked for a writing sample I usually draw a huge blank.
    I am excited to start this endeavor and will keep you posted on my progress.
    Question: To generate writing samples, would it be wise to use the prompts from their daily assignments?

  • Faith Watson says:

    I applied June 1 (evening) and have not heart back — just following up since it seems there was a lot of interest here. I sent published personal essay samples…will be interested to see if they add to their “Mix.” I was one of the first 40 content writers for livestrong.com several years ago, and within a few months they were at 400+, and then by the time I stopped a couple of years later, they were a completely different animal, replacing articles with revisions, etc. Contributing digital content is a nice way to get bylines and earn a bit of extra money if you are filling in gaps between other jobs, or building a portfolio. 🙂

    • Faith Watson says:

      And I didn’t have any typos like heart back instead of heard back, lol. I seriously crave the ability to edit blog comments! 😀

  • Kate Walter says:

    I’m okay with writing essays on spec. Every essay I have sold was done that
    way but the quick turn around would be a challenge. I’m used to workshopping
    my essays and rewriting several times before submitting. I’d like to get into
    the mix. Just submitted a few samples. Would be good publicity for my memoir
    which comes out tomorrow from Heliotrope Books!

  • Peggy Williams says:

    Thank you for this awesome market tip. I have applied with clips. Hoping to hear back from them.

  • Lihi_NT says:

    This is a great opportunity that i could only dream on! i was so excited, when first saw the article about the mix 2 monthes ago via tweeter. However – I’ve send them my personal articles to the email adress about 4-5 times! no one return to me with confirmation that they got it. Is it realy only for US residents??. I’m kind of on the verge of giving up.. 🙁

    As silly as it may sounds – i don’t even care about not getting paid right now. the opportunity itself, and the fact that my story’s been publish in one or more of the magazines – it’s enough for me right now. So, if someone from The Mix is seeing it right now – you have a mail from me, Lihi Nachmias – please check.

  • Jennifer says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this! I just tried to sign up, but when I click on the link, it says Safari cannot open the page. Any suggestions?

    • Lisa Rowan says:

      Thanks for noting this issue. Looks like The Mix moved to a new web address since we wrote about it. I’ve updated the links in this post!
      Thanks for reading,
      Lisa Rowan
      TWL Editor

  • Di says:

    Help, how do I link to my writing samples if they are not on a website?