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Getting Published in <i>New York Times'</i> Modern Love Column - Chatting with author Christie Tate

   

Getting Published in the New York Times' Modern Love Column

 

   

T

o be published in The New York Times is a dream of many writers. For Christie Tate, it became a reality. She soon found out that writing success is not all literary agents and accolades!

I chatted with her about her experience being published in Modern Love, her new book, and advice for emerging writers.

1. Starting out

WOW: You have written for big publications such Modern Love, The Washington Post, and more, but I assume you put in a lot of work to get to that level. How did you get started in writing?

Christie: My writing career started with blogging, and it was through blogging that I fell in love with writing and found my voice. I blogged for two years before it ever occurred to me to write for other publications. I went to BlogHer’s annual conference in 2012 and met writers who pitched essays and articles for national publications and magazines.

For the next two or three years, I published one or two pieces a year in small publications. When I sent my work to larger, national outlets, I learned that rejection is a huge part of the writing life. Honestly, I wish writers talked more about rejection because it’s my biggest obstacle to enjoying my writing career.

I still get ten times more rejections than acceptances, and when they start to pile up, I wonder: Am I doing something wrong? The answer is: No, rejection is just part of this life. My work has gotten better as I’ve kept with it and continued to revise the essays, articles, and books that didn’t find their publication homes on the first try.

“I had zero connections. I didn’t have a fancy MFA. I’d been watching writers publish in that column for years, always thinking that it would never happen for me.”

2. Writing for Modern Love

WOW: Modern Love only accepts 1% of the submissions it receives. It must have been exciting when you heard a yes from the editor! Can you tell us a bit about your experience with being published there? How did you go about preparing your submission for them?

Christie: Getting an acceptance from Modern Love was one of the greatest thrills of my life. I’d tried twice before and didn’t make the cut. For the essay that was eventually published, I wrote five drafts after studying the Modern Love column for months. I read back issues, and I listened to an episode of the Tin House podcast where Ann Hood discussed her Modern Love experiences—at the time she was the writer with the most acceptances. I listened to that episode over and over, hoping the lessons would sink into my bones.

I workshopped my draft with my writing group. When I had a final version, I sat on it for a few weeks because I was scared. I knew my idea was good and that I had many of the elements that the editor looked for—there are articles on the internet where the editor explains how to write a successful Modern Love column. I hesitated because I couldn’t imagine that he would accept an essay from a nobody in Chicago. I had zero connections. I didn’t have a fancy MFA. I’d been watching writers publish in that column for years, always thinking that it would never happen for me.

I sent the essay on a Tuesday afternoon. I pressed “send” and then researched where else I could send it if Modern Love didn’t want it. Then, I let go. It was Thanksgiving week, so I was busy with travel and family. I actually forgot about it. The Monday after Thanksgiving—so six days later—I got an email from the editor that started out: “Nice essay.” I stood up in my office and screamed, alarming my coworkers. The editor set up a call for the next day. It wasn’t totally clear that he would take the essay, but I knew that “nice essay” was very good news.

We talked the next day for 45 minutes about the essay and my background. He was extremely thoughtful, insightful, and smart. It was a wonderful conversation. At the end, he said he would send me revisions and a contract, and only then did I fully realize my essay would appear in the Modern Love column. I did not scream into the editor’s ear, but when I got off the phone, I burst into tears. My husband took a video of me laughing and crying and professing, “I’ll never cry over writing and rejections again! This is all I ever wanted! I will die happy.”

Guess what? That turned out to be untrue. While I loved my experience with Modern Love, and the day it came out was a singular thrill that I’ll never forget, I did cry again.

Here’s a mistake I made in my Modern Love experience. When I got my “yes” from the editor, I reached out to another writer who’d been published there the year before. That writer told me that the day his essay was published, the literary agent of his dreams reached out to him and agreed to represent him. “It’s very common to get a literary agent from a Modern Love column,” he told me. At the time, I had a draft of my memoir and desperately wanted an agent.

When my Modern Love column was published, a few agents and publishers reached out to me. I sent each of them my memoir and heard nothing from any of them. Total crickets. I was so despondent from the rejections that it clouded the joy I felt from my Modern Love column. Looking back, I’m not sure how I could have done that differently, but it taught me to work harder at celebrating my successes and to insist on my joy, even if it looks different than someone else’s joy.

“If I didn’t have people in my life to circle me and be with me in my discomfort, I would have quit writing for sure. And therapy...”

3. Unexpected Hate Mail

WOW: You had a terrible experience with trolls on one of your articles. How did you get through that and keep writing?

Christie: “I sent them light, love, and peace.” That’s the mantra I said over and over when I was going through a spell with trolls. My friend Tanya suggested it when I told her that the hate mail I was receiving in my personal email was starting to get to me. And that’s what helped the most: sharing my experience with my writing group and my support system.

If I didn’t have people in my life to circle me and be with me in my discomfort, I would have quit writing for sure. And therapy: I spent many sessions working through my feelings about the emails I received from people calling me terrible names and saying cheery things like, “If I was your daughter, I would commit suicide.” I have spent my entire life as a people pleaser, working my tail off to make people happy, which of course is not entirely healthy. Thus, the years of therapy. To have a mass of people angry at me in public was a living nightmare.

When the hate died down, as everyone promised it would, I found that writing about it helped put it in perspective. I saw that part of the experience was just a facet of our modern internet life. Comments sections and Twitter snark are part of the writing life. Another part was misogyny and our culture’s narrow ideas about motherhood. I could also see ways in which I could have written the offending essay more clearly. And some of the comments rightly pointed out some aspects of the issue—writing about motherhood while also respecting our children’s privacy—that I hadn’t fully thought through.

Overall, the experience of writing something that many thousands of people didn’t agree with—or outright hated—taught me that disapproval won’t kill me. And I found that the force in me that calls me to write is stronger than I ever imagined. No one, not even a band of trolls, can take my passion and drive to write away from me.

“I found that the force in me that calls me to write is stronger than I ever imagined. No one, not even a band of trolls, can take my passion and drive to write away from me.”

4. Getting an Agent

WOW: You mention that after Modern Love you “heard crickets” from the agents you sent your memoir to. Your memoir is now published by Simon & Schuster; how did you go from crickets to being picked up by a major publisher?

Christie: When no one jumped at my manuscript after the Modern Love article was published, I sank into a deep depression. After a few months, I realized that I had to make a decision: Either I was going to recommit to the manuscript and do a revision or I was going to give up the notion that I could become an author. I knew revision was the key, but I was terrified of it. The truth was that I didn’t know how to revise. I’d taken the book as far I could go on my own, and I didn’t know what else to do with it. I knew it wasn’t a perfect manuscript, but I had no idea how to take it to the next level.

I got lucky and I found a class that would allow me to workshop the first 120 pages of my book. The workshop was offered through Corporeal Writing, a writing center in Portland founded by Lidia Yuknavitch that offers incredible workshops and classes for those of us who haven’t gone the traditional MFA route.

I workshopped my book online over a period of eight weeks with four other writers and Yuknavitch. They showed me where I was cutting out of scenes too quickly and summarizing material when I should have been going deeper. They also busted me on places where I told jokes instead of telling the real story underneath my cheap laughs. Once I finished the workshop, I understood how to work more deeply with the material. The draft slowly transformed into a story with an arc and a meaningful transformation.

After a year and a half, I started sending queries again. My third query was to an agent who represented some of my favorite memoirs. I gushed at her in my query letter and told her about my book. She agreed to read my manuscript, and signed me a week later. Two years and twelve days after I got the “nice essay” email from the Modern Love editor, my agent sold my memoir to Avid Reader Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

“Two years and twelve days after I got the 'nice essay' email from the Modern Love editor, my agent sold my memoir.”

5. Writing Memoir

Group by Christie Tate

WOW: Your memoir Group will be coming out in October. Can you tell us about that?

Christie: My memoir tells the story of how I unf*cked my personal life through group therapy. When the story opens, it was the summer after I finished my first year of law school. I should have been ecstatic, bursting with hope, because I was first in my class. But instead of drafting a valedictory speech and popping champagne, I began to wish for death because deep down I knew: I would end up totally alone. Sure, I could ace a Constitutional law exam, but I didn’t know how to have real, long-lasting relationships of any kind.

But then a friend mentioned that her therapist, Dr. Rosen, was transforming her life through group therapy. I didn’t think this miracle doctor could cure my death wish, but I called him anyway. In my first appointment, Dr. Rosen looked me in the eye and assured me he could fill my life with healthy relationships if I was willing to join a therapy group and disclose every single aspect of my life to the other members.

In group, I learned to discuss everything from my childhood hang ups and a long-buried trauma to details about the man who agreed to sleep with me so long as he didn’t have to look at my face while in the act—spoiler alert, in the book I call him “The Flipper.” In group, I learned to talk about myself, but I also learned to listen: to truly hear my group members’ hurt, their longing, and their experiences without trying to fix, control, or invade their narratives with my own agenda.

It took years of practice, but by sitting in a circle with six other people session after session tackling issues of identity, security, sexuality, trauma, and difference, I developed the ability to engage in difficult conversations, to tolerate discomfort, and to stand up at the end of a session without any definitive answers or so-called solutions.

I had no intimate relationships in my life until I joined group and agreed to bring my full, messy self to the circle and ask for help. My book Group is a love letter to the people who gave me the skills to transform my life.

My hope is that whether readers ever set foot in a group therapy session, reading this book will afford them some of the benefits of this sometimes excruciating, sometimes exhilarating, but ultimately life-changing process.

“I think new writers need to know that building a community of other writers will help support both the craft and the emotional work of writing.”

6. Advice for New Writers

WOW: What do you think is important when telling your own stories? What do new writers need to know?

Christie: When we tell our own stories, I think it’s important to tell the truth, which can be very scary. For me, many of my true stories involve other people, which can be tricky. Some people don’t want to be written about. Some people have hurt me, and I’m scared of the power they still have over me. Some people are no longer alive, and I want to honor their memory and recognize they can no longer speak for themselves. Some people, like my children, deserve privacy and are too young to fully consent to exposure. Each writer must develop her own ethics and discern when and how to tell the stories that live inside her.

I think new writers need to know that they are not alone. Not with their fears, doubts, rejections, anguish, ambition, or longing. Every time I confess something to another writer, I hear a comforting “me too.” I think new writers need to know that building a community of other writers will help support both the craft and the emotional work of writing.

Through other writers I learned that some essays get rejected 40 or 50 times before they are accepted. I also learned that sometimes those very essays go on to win contests judged by famous writers. If you build your community, just as you build an essay or story, you will have the support you need to face whatever comes your way. You deserve to write, and you deserve to be surrounded by people who support your work.

*

Find out more about Christie Tate and her memoir, Group, by visiting ChristieTate.com.

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Kelly Eden

Kelly Eden lives next to a beautiful rainforest in New Zealand and has been a professional writer for over 12 years. She helps new writers level up their creative nonfiction and get published. Get free tips.


 

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