In case you are wondering what a personal essay is, it's any nonfiction story written in first person. Personal essays always involve a true experience, especially one that evokes emotions that speak to a broader audience.
Like the short story, personal essays are structured, have a theme, and usually involve a moral or message of some kind. Some literary journals and niche magazines are willing to pay substantially for these essays, so devoting a few hours to writing one is worth your consideration.
For additional markets for personal essays see:
Writing to Heal
20 Places to Publish Personal Essays
For more paying markets go to: Paying Markets
The 3288 Review
"Tell a good story. Tell a true story. Examples include A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or the stories from The Moth. A case could also be made for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."
Length: From 1,000 to 15,000 words
Payment: Prose 1,000 to 2,500 words – $25.00; Prose between 2,500 and 7,500 words – $50.00; Prose 7,500 to 15,000 words – $75.00
Bugle Magazine: "Women in the Outdoors" Column
"We are looking for personal essays and stories concerning elk, hunting, wildlife encounters, conservation and land-use issues. We are especially interested in thought-provoking stories and essays – personal narratives that evoke emotion and suggest connections to larger themes or ask (or attempt to answer) questions that touch the heart."
Length: 1,000 to 3,000 words
Payment: $.20/word on acceptance
Chicken Soup for the Soul
"A Chicken Soup for the Soul story is an inspirational, true story about ordinary people having extraordinary experiences. It is a story that opens the heart and rekindles the spirit. It is a simple piece that touches our readers and helps them discover basic principles they can use in their own lives. These stories are personal and often filled with emotion and drama. They are filled with vivid images created by using the five senses. In some stories, the readers feel that they are actually in the scene with the people."
Christian Science Monitor
"The Home Forum is looking for upbeat, personal essays. We also welcome short poems. All material must be original and previously unpublished. For seasonal material, be aware that if you submit something that is about a particular month, holiday, event (back to school, graduation), or season, we need to receive it a minimum of six weeks ahead. These are first-person, nonfiction explorations of how you responded to a place, a person, a situation, an event, or happenings in everyday life. Tell a story; share a funny true tale. The humor should be gentle. We accept essays on a wide variety of subjects, and encourage timely, newsy topics. However, we don't deal with the topics of death, aging and disease."
Length: 400 to 800 words
Down East: The Magazine of Maine
"My Maine is our section most open to new contributors. My Maine stories are personal essays that focus on some aspect of the writer’s relationship to Maine and the Maine landscape. Pieces are often lyrical, sometimes humorous, and almost always have a strong first person component. We receive more submissions for My Maine than any other section of the magazine; please give us three months to respond to your submission before following up."
Length: 800–1000 words
Payment: Between $.40/word and $.70/word
"FATE magazine reports on a wide variety of strange and unknown phenomena. We are open to receiving any well-written, well-documented article. (FATE does not publish poetry or fiction.) Our readers especially like reports of current investigations, experiments, theories, and experiences."
Payment: $50 per article, and $10 for short fillers, which are less than 500 words, payable six months after print publication. Payment for “True Mystic Experiences” and “My Proof of Survival” is $25, including the use of the photograph, which will be returned.
"Good Old Days tells the real stories of the people who lived and grew up in “the Good Old Days” (about 1935–1960). We like stories to sound informal and conversational, as if you’re sitting around the kitchen table reminiscing with your friends and family. However, we are open to any way you choose to write your story, as long as it is true and falls within our targeted period of time. We prefer the author’s individual voice, warmth, humor and honesty over technical ability. We do not accept fictional manuscripts."
Length: 500 to 1,500 words
Payment: $15 to $75
Michigan Quarterly Review
"MQR is an eclectic interdisciplinary journal of arts and culture that seeks to combine the best of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction with outstanding critical essays on literary, cultural, social, and political matters. The flagship journal of the University of Michigan, MQR draws on lively minds here and elsewhere, seeking to present accessible work of all varieties for sophisticated readers from within and without the academy."
Length: 1,500 words minimum, 5,000 average, 7,000 maximum
"We're looking for anyone with a fresh voice and a compelling story to share—basically any work that really knocks our socks off. At the core, Slice aims to bridge the gap between emerging and established authors by offering a space where both are published side-by-side. We simply look for works by writers who promise to become tomorrow’s literary legends."
Only accepts submissions during reading periods
"We are interested in literary fiction, including short stories, short shorts, and novel excerpts up to 6,250 words in length, and creative nonfiction. We select work on the basis of style, craft, freshness, and vision."
The Rusty Toque
"The Rusty Toque is a contemporary online literary and arts journal from Ontario. The Rusty Toque strives to publish innovative literary writing, film, reviews, and visual art nationally and internationally in the spring and fall of each year."
Payment: $50 (CAD)
The Smart Set
"We’re always looking for excellent, original, and previously unpublished personal essays, critical essays, reporting, memoir, travel writing, stories, photo essays, and even video projects."
"We are especially interested in original reporting and longform journalism (particularly, though not exclusively, about women and women-adjacent issues), short fiction and poetry (preferably strange), personal narratives (ditto), videos, illustrations and essays."
Payment: Amount not specified