Remember when I said I got an essay rejection on the first full business day of 2024? On January 5, I submitted a second essay to HuffPost Personal—per editor, Noah Michelson’s encouragement—and on January 10, he said yes to essay #2.
It was a quick but emotional ride, and I think the lessons learned in the process are definitely worth sharing with my writer friends.
And so the story begins…
When I first pitched Noah about essay #1, he replied immediately and said he’d love to read it. Here was my very simple and straightforward pitch:
My best friend dumped me when I came out of the closet at age 46. She had known me only as a wife and mother of four, and apparently, that’s who I was supposed to stay for her. I’d love for you to consider my personal essay of 2,033 words, My Friend Ghosted Me When I Came Out. I’m happy to send the complete essay if you’re interested.
Noah sent me some general publication guidelines (e.g., word count, etc.) and made sure I understood that he was very selective—he generally accepts only 1 out of every 100 submissions.
When I sent him the completed essay, he said, “I like a lot of what’s in here.” He then gave me some things to consider and some edits to make. First and foremost, he wanted to change my friend’s name, and he wanted to make sure I was comfortable putting this personal story out into the world.
And then he gave me this piece of gold:
I feel like this piece could be stronger if at the end you zoom out and give us a broader surveying of the landscape you were in and that you’re now in. What have you learned from this experience — about friendship, about loyalty, about yourself? How has this changed you? What is your life like now outside of this betrayal? Are you happier now that you’re out? Does being your authentic self mean that sometimes you have to shed not just your skin but also other parts of your life that can’t honor who you are or have become? Maybe you say that. Give the readers something to consider not just about your life and what your friend did to you but also about life and friendship in general.
As an essayist and memoirist, I know this is the key to a solid piece, but I sometimes fail to get there. Ensuring the reader comes away with a bigger lesson, a “me, too,” or a broader understanding is critical for any personal writing.
When I revised the piece with Noah’s edits, it definitely felt more solid and more outwardly focused. I sent it back to him with high hopes.
On January 2, I received this:
Ultimately, I can’t take this piece. I think it’s based on too much uncertainty and I don’t feel comfortable publishing something about another person that’s built on supposition.
I’m sorry — other editors might not have the same worry and you def can probably find another home for this (it’s really well written).
However, if you ever end up writing a more general piece about what it’s like to come out as gay later in life and leave your marriage (the good/the bad/the ugly/the transformative), I’d love to have a look.
I was devastated, of course. I might have cried for most of the day, but I’m neither confirming nor denying. I loved this piece, and I think female friendship breakups are something we need to talk about more often. It happens to so many of us, and we’re not typically given the space and time to acknowledge and process that kind of grief. But I don’t know for sure that my coming out was the reason for the friendship breakup because my friend never spoke to me again. It all aligns chronologically, but there was never a confirmation that my gayness was, indeed, the reason my friend dumped me. So I understood and respected Noah’s decision and decided to write an entirely new essay as he suggested in his response.
On January 5th, Noah responded to essay #2 with this email opening:
This is so so lovely.
Did I squeal with joy when I read that? Maybe.
He gave me a few editing suggestions, but the biggest issue he wanted to ensure I understood was HuffPo’s monumental reach. An essay about coming out inevitably involves my ex-husband and my kids, and Noah wanted to be sure I protected the relationships that needed protection. According to Semrush, the Huffington Post had 155.34M visits in December 2023, and they are ranked the 108th most visited site in the US and the 498th worldwide. Of course, not all of those visits are to the Personal section, but that overall number. Whoa. It’s big.
My kids and my ex were given the opportunity to read my memoir in its early stages, and they all gave me their blessing to move forward with it. Because essay #2 is memoir-adjacent, I could have assumed they’d be okay with it, too. But those discussions happened a few years ago, and I wanted to make sure my kids were still comfortable with my writing, so I offered the essay to each of them to read. Ultimately, they all gave me their go-ahead, but George’s response made me laugh (as usual). He texted, “Well, it’s pretty gay, but I ain’t got no problems with it.” That kid.
Noah and I went back and forth with a few more minor edits, mostly involving tying up story lines with different people. We changed all of the names except mine, and in his acceptance email to me, he said, “Friend, you are a dream author—you write beautifully, take edits like a champ and turn them around quickly and I really appreciate how hard you’ve worked on this.”
He called me “friend” because by the time we bantered back and forth multiple times, I told him I wanted to be his BFF. He was so kind, responsive, thoughtful, and intuitive throughout the entire process. I felt a true connection with him (but not in a creepy way, Noah. I promise!).
I feel like I hit the editor jackpot with Noah.
Here are my biggest takeaways from the process:
- A no doesn’t always mean no. Sometimes it means not yet. Or not this. Writers need to submit, submit, submit. It’s okay to grieve rejection, but you have to pick yourself up off the floor and start writing again.
- Not every piece is suitable for every publication. I’m still submitting essay #1 to different places. I really believe in its value, in its merit, and in its message. I haven’t received a yes on it yet, but I haven’t received any more nos, either.
- You can’t be precious about your work. When a solid editor says, I need more of this, you should listen. That doesn’t mean you have to accept every change that’s suggested, but you really need to think about where they’re coming from, what they’re saying, and why they’re saying it. They know best about their readership and what will resonate. Trust them.
- Memoir is tricky. You’re writing about other people, but ultimately, you’re writing from your perspective, not theirs. Will you create more pain by telling your story? Or will you bring more clarity? Always aim for conveying the bigger picture, and protect the relationships that mean the most to you along the way.
- Personal writing must have a universal message. It’s not an “airing of grievances,” but a chance to share and shed light on a common human experience. I’m not the first person to come out later in life, and I certainly won’t be the last. But there is commonality to all of our experiences, and finding the message that resonates with your readers is the most critical piece of writing personal stories.
- Kindness goes a long way. I truly feel like I made a new friend throughout this process. If I ever end up back in NYC, you’d better believe I’m going to take Noah out to dinner. He helped me believe in myself again. What a gift.
Essay #2 will be published in HuffPost Personal in 12-16 weeks, and I’ll be sure to share it with you when it’s out in the world. Until then, keep writing and keep submitting!