Sooooooo, I've been trying to train myself to send my writing out into the blogosphere instead of just letting little gems moulder on my blog, but I'm running out of new places I can think of to approach to publish my narrative non-fiction. I attempt to Google "narrative non-fiction" and "literary outfit" and things like that but most of the results are the normal sort of "We'll teach YOU! HOW! TO! WRITE!" places or print publications that I don't feel ready to venture into because they don't allow e-mail submissions and I'm impaaaaaaaatient. Can you think of any places you know of that are producing good content?
Why yes we can! YES WE CAN! However, dear Author-friend, you must first look deep into your heart and ask yourself: What are my Goals? What do I hope to Achieve with my writing? Do I wish to become a published Author of a non-fiction book? Do I hope to make a living Opining on the Internet? Am I like a hobbit on its way to Rivendell, clutching the One Ring, suspecting a Great Destiny is ahead of me but uncertain as to its shape?
Here's why you must ask these Deep Questions: scattering gems across the internet may garner you very fabulous friends, but it is not going to make you a lot of money, unless it is your Ambition to churn out rabble-rousing clumps of doody twelve times a day for Nick Denton. (We don't judge. A person has to earn a living.) We assume, darling Pen-companion, that you probably also have other commitments; say, a day job. Some people have children, a commitment we cannot so much as imagine. Some people have a Very Demanding Pet, who is at this exact moment howling plaintively outside the door of our Writing Area, to the great detriment of our Concentration. In short, pouring a lot of time and energy into pitching and writing pieces for the internet is fantastic if: a. You aren't sure where you want to go with your writing, but are looking to build a nice résumé of genius and get your name out there or b. You hope to someday be making a living off some sort of internet venture, whether it's freelancing or starting up your own Opinion Empire.
If you wish to become a Writer of Books, beware! The tinterweb is a vortex which may TAKE ALL OF YOUR ENERGIES. Once you get the ball rolling, it's likely more and more people will want you to write for them--especially if you are writing for them for free. (There are some really interesting conversations happening about the valuation of creative digital labor, particularly in the fashion blogosphere; check out the fantastic, brilliant Threadbared.) It's a good idea to start thinking now about where your boundaries are when it comes to your time and work.
You might also think about pitching pieces to fancypants print rags: The Believer, McSweeney's, BOMB, Ninth Letter, A Public Space, Electric Literature (those gentlemen are doing FABULOUS FABULOUS THINGS), and Tin House all take nonfiction e-submissions and are some great places to start (that is by no means a representative sampling). It is, ABSOLUTELY AND FOR REAL, possible to get published in all of these magazines as a complete unknown. It is not EASY, but "not easy" and "not possible" are "not the same thing." You will, however, need a lot of "patience."
THAT SAID. Literary-minded sites you might check out for starters: Nerve, the Millions, the Rumpus, McSweeney's Internet Tendency (which publishes pieces separately from the quarterly), Salon, Bookslut, HTMLGiant. The Awl publishes some longer pieces, as does their new ladies' auxiliary the Hairpin. Again, this list should BY NO MEANS be viewed as definitive. Another neat trick is to check out the websites of writers whose work you like and see where they're publishing. Also, most of the sites we just listed have blogrolls; check those as well.
As far as what Agents look at, it really depends. Personal blogs need pretty heavy traffic before they'll be of much help to you in selling a nonfiction book. (If you want to sell a book based solely on your blog, we mean HEAVY traffic. Hyperbole and a Half level traffic.) Publishing smart, thoughtful pieces--quality definitely counts far more than quantity--on well-regarded sites will certainly help you, as will pieces in print magazines. That nebulous entity we in the business call "Platform" is not a fixed location of success; it's a lot of different things to a lot of different people. There are many shades of grey, darlings, between you and Snooki. Many, many shades.