Getting Started in Publication #1
by Deb Brammer
I can hear you now. “I want to write. I don’t want to market. Marketing is…so serious…like I really think I’m someone. I don’t mind writing, but marketing is way out of my league.”
OK. Let’s say you decide to take up archery. You have no idea what you’re doing but you are willing to try. You pick up your bow, notch your arrow, and draw the bowstring. Then someone blindfolds you and moves the target. Now that’s hopeless. How can you even begin if you don’t know where to aim?
In the same way, if you refuse to do any marketing, you’ll never know where to aim your writing.
You can do this. Breathe in. Breathe out. Tell yourself that this is possible.
Many successful writers spend half as much time marketing as they do writing. But you’re just beginning. You don’t want a list of fifty publishers. You just need a place to begin.
What do you want to write? Articles? Short stories? Any particular age group? I know. You want to write a book. Maybe a series of books. That is a worthy long range goal, but it’s not a good place to start. (More about that in a later article.)
Consider writing free articles for your church newsletter or entering a writing contest. (More about that in a later article too.) But at some point you want to be a freelance writer. You want to submit an article or story to an editor, have her accept it, and wait for publication. And you want to get paid.
(Actually some of you are writing for the Lord and you feel guilty for accepting payment. Pastors, missionaries, teachers may work for the Lord, but they get paid. 1 Timothy 5:18 says, “The worker is worthy of his reward.” If you write for publication you may not make minimum wage for the hours you put in. You will work hard and you will be rejected. But if you stick with it and if this is the Lord’s will for you, you will be published in time. Your primary motivation is probably not money, but you don’t need to feel guilty for receiving fair payment.)
So where do you begin?
Identify your market.
You need to find several markets that you feel comfortable submitting to. You might want to aim at five markets. Or perhaps you are satisfied with one or two.
Many Christian writers start with Sally Stuart’s legendary market guide which comes out each year in January. You can order The Christian Writers’ Market Guide at www.stuartmarket.com. This book lists almost 700 different periodicals that purchase articles from freelance writers, as well as a lot of other information. You can turn to the section which deals with periodicals and see what various publishers are looking for.
For example, under “periodical publishers/adult/general markets” you may notice Horizons which is a take-home paper for Regular Baptist Press. You see that this publication is for “adults associated with fundamental Baptist churches.” You decide that that sounds like a publication you would like to write for. You can get more information under that entry and go to the website for up-to-date information.
On the other hand you may look at The Family Digest and say, “Hmmm. This is a Catholic publication. I don’t think I would be comfortable writing for it. This just isn’t a good fit for me.”
If you are interested in writing for the secular market you can use Writers’ Market for the current year.
Studying a market guide is a good way to identify quite a few markets that you want to submit to. But you can also study markets on your own.
What periodicals do you like to read? Maybe you would like to write for them. What kind of things do you like to write about? Who publishes that kind of thing? Study the magazines at a nearby Christian library or look at publications that your friends subscribe to. Ask the secretary from your church for copies of various take-home papers which your church gets.
Continue to gather information until you have chosen a number of publications which you think could be a good fit for you.
Study the Market
Go to the publishers’ websites and find their writers’ guidelines or submission requirements. You may have to hunt a little. Sometimes you may find them listed on their home page. Other times they may be under “About Us” or “Contact Us” or “FAQ’s.” Are they open to freelance submissions? What kind of articles are they looking for? What kind of format do they want? Do they prefer email submissions or hard copy?
Next study their publication. If you send an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) many editors will send you a free sample copy of their publication. Take-home papers are often a good way to break into publication. Why not order one quarter of the various take-home papers you would like to submit to?
Never submit an article or story to a publisher if you have never read their publication. Study several copies of their publication. What kind of features do they publish over time? Do they use mainly true stories or fiction? Do they use puzzles, how-to’s, devotionals? How many of each kind do they use?
Are most of their articles told from first person (“I” or “me”) or third person (“he” or “she”)? Does the writer include the reader (“we”) or speak to him directly (“you”)? Which of these approaches are most common?
Do the articles use a lot of quotations, anecdotes, or dialog? How much information is included? Do they use a lot of Bible quotes? What version do they use? Do they footnote the reference or write it in the text?
Look at the positive statements and the negative statements. Which do they do more of?
- Negative: God gave us the ten commandments so that we would know what we can and can’t do. If you disobey God’s laws you will be punished.
- Positive: God gave us the ten commandments because He knows what is best for us. If we follow them God will bless us.
Is the publication formal or informal, simple or academic? Who are its target readers?
If you study a number of issues of the same publication you will see a pattern. You will be able to see what kind of slant a particular publication likes. This will help you to slant your article in a way that will be most appropriate for a particular editor.
Choose your target.
After you have identified several markets and studied them, you can choose one or several that you would like to submit articles or short stories to. And that is a good beginning.
Now you know what kind of articles your publisher accepts. You know who your target reader is so you know who you are writing to. You know how long your article needs to be and what format it needs to be in. You’ve studied the slant you need to use. When you know what your target is, you have a much better chance of hitting it.
But if you decide that all this marketing is really too hard and you don’t want to bother with it, you can still be a writer. You can write poems or stories and pass them around to your friends. But you will probably never be published.
You may not enjoy marketing, but it is that first step that takes you away from the sphere of writing only for your friends and puts you on the path of publication. Christian publication doesn’t bring much fame or money, but it does expand your ministry. A simple take-home paper may go to fifteen thousand churches and be read by tens of thousands of people. Think of the ministry that your article with its simple truth can have—if you dare to take that first step.
See my next article to learn about the actual writing process.