Thursday, April 11, 2019

I'm (Sadly) Over a Purple Clover

My final Local article about my ice cream commercial (among other things)
Call me the Grim Reaper of the freelance personal essay. Every outlet I write for turns to ashes.

When I first entered the fray, there were scads of publications that swooned over well-crafted short-form non-fiction. As a new freelance writer, I was heady with the possibilities, most of which paid a decent sum. A site that published one of my essays paid me $500!!!! While that lofty number was an anomaly, paychecks of $300 were not unusual. Wow! I told myself. I can DO this writing thing, and be adequately recompensed to boot!

My first hint that something was amiss came a while back when, VERY shortly after publishing a piece of mine, Metropolis (a Philly-based site, featuring some really strong writing) folded. Surely just a coincidence! thought I. And for a while, everything else was going swimmingly. I wrote for niche publications like Racked (all about shopping). I scored with the local NPR outlet, Speakeasy, and quite a few times with The Philadelphia Inquirer. I discovered Purple Clover, dedicated to Baby Boomers, and had a couple of essays featured in quick succession. And I became a regular columnist for The Chestnut Hill Local, a stellar small newspaper that published more than 60 of my pieces in the course of nine years.

Last summer, I got word that Racked was no more. Speakeasy reduced its essay offerings from weekly, to monthly, and even then skewed towards commentary on hard news (my “news” is pillowy soft). The new op-ed editor at the Inquirer eschewed the slice-of-life essay entirely. Purple Clover ceased operations in November. And, a final nail in my freelance coffin, my dear editor at the Local just last week informed me that the paper was undergoing a total revamp and, (guess what?) based on the smaller number of website “clicks” personal essays received (compared to the police report items), there would be no more column for me or my essayist ilk.

I am still peddling my wares, but to a dwindling clientele. It seems the survivors of the purge are either the Pantheon (NYT, Washington Post, The Atlantic, etc.) or sites that pay chump change (my favorites are the ones who compensate only by the view, and payment kicks in when you top 1000 views. Now THAT’s motivating! Not!) I am eager to build up my freelancing resume for sure, but at age 62 feel that a payment of $30 is honestly not worth my while.

I love writing, and reading others’, essays. They are windows into my scribbling sisters’ and brothers’ souls, and offer me wonderful new ways to observe and reflect on life. I challenge you, my dear readers, who have borne with me through 318 blog posts/essays (but who’s counting?) Pick up a magazine (or check one out online). Search for the personal essays. Champion them, these terrific bite-size bits of insight. Be part of a rising tide that floats all writing boats.

Let’s be harbingers of a renaissance, not witnesses of a sad literary ending.

"I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover"