Since its debut in 2004, the New York Times Modern Love Column has grown exponentially popular due to its epic stories, as well as its invitation to modern readers and writers to submit their own stories.
The column’s editor, Daniel Jones, gave writers at the 2018 ASJA Conference tips to break into the column. As a diligent, obsessive writer myself, I kept record and wrote down all of his tips. He also told us that the most famous Modern Love Column is “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This,” by Mandy Len Catron.
Modern Love is part of the news section, meaning that it needs to follow some newsy-rules, including no pseudonyms, and contacting sources to get their okay before publishing. The column is okay with one-time fling stories where writers have no way to contact the person. If you’re serious about wanting to write something for this brilliant column, read “Official NYT ‘How to Submit Modern Love Essays” and send when you’re ready!
10 Ways to Break into the Modern Love Column by Daniel Jones
- “Publishing isn’t about secrets: writing is hard work. The people who become writers don’t have the most talent, but stick with it. Write badly before you write well with every story.”
- “Writer’s block isn’t the lack of something to say, it’s having a lack of how to say it.”
- “Good writing features the same virtues as a good relationship, such as honesty, generosity, and humility. Bad writing features dishonesty, withholding, blame, defensiveness and egotism.”
- “Clarity is better than cleverness. Everything is about not losing the reader.”
- “Avoid stock phrases like the plague.” (Dan skips around looking for a fresh or remarkable line.) “Don’t use the word ‘remember’.”
- “Give your story a title and work really hard at it until it’s the best you’ve ever written. This is so important because of social media. You want it to grab attention.” Do this with cleverness, humor, clarity, suspense, and search terms. “You can’t even know what your piece is until you can sell it in a few words.” Don’t use a click-bait headline and don’t over promise. “If you can do this, then you know your market.”
- “When you’re feeling like the best writer in the world, don’t submit what made you feel that way.” You need a strong and beaten-down ego to keep in check. “A big ego gets you started, while a beaten-down ego reads with fresh eyes and thinks, ‘who would want to read this shit?’ Then you won’t be shocked when it’s rejected.”
- “Don’t pitch too hard. Editors like humility. Nothing in a cover letter should beg, but should have the tone of an offering.”
- “Professionalism counts a lot.”
- “An editor is only one person. It’s still a human business. There is no bar, there is no consensus, there’s just what people like and don’t like. Put in your time, take your work seriously, and then find people who like it.”