What Editors Wish New Writers Knew
by Joan Alexander with Deb Brammer
This comes from Miss Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann, the Scottish way) Alexander, who edits take-home papers and Bible studies at Regular Baptist Press. She has edited many of my articles since 1988 when she became the editor for take-home papers. One of the things I appreciate about Miss Alexander is that she is very good about returning correspondence. Miss Alexander shares my vision for mentoring new writers and has graciously provided us with six important things editors wish their new writers knew about writing for Christian publication. Some of these concepts have been put into my own words.
Who is the publisher’s audience? What are the needs of their target readers? You should never submit a manuscript to a publisher you know nothing about. You will be wasting your time as well as the editor’s. Editors don’t like to have their time wasted by writers who have not done their research. On the other hand, when you find a publisher who is a good fit for you, you have found a goldmine.
In 1978 Regular Baptist Press published my (Deb’s) first article. Since then they have published over 125 of my articles and my ESL Bible story book. RBP has made many changes in those years, but I still write a few articles for them from time to time. They have published and then reprinted some of my articles and stories many times.
My chances of acceptance with other publishers would not have been nearly so high. Writing for RBP worked well for me partly because it was a good fit. I stand doctrinally where they stand. I use their curriculum to teach Sunday school. I know the kind of articles they need for their take-home papers. I am willing to write what they need and to rewrite when necessary. When my oldest daughter began kindergarten in 1985 I began submitting an article or story a month to RBP. That is when my freelance writing really began to take off.
You should study the doctrinal position of your publisher. Then find out what age groups the publisher writes for? Is their primary audience non-Christians, seekers, new Christians, growing Christians, or maturing Christians? Do they appeal to the mainstream American reader or are they more academic or use a literary style?
You can research publishers by using market guides. If you want to study different markets for different genres you’ll need Sally Stuart’s Christian Writer’s Market Guide for the current year. Also check out websites of various publishers. Send for sample copies of their periodicals. Before writing for a publisher be sure to check out their writers’ guidelines on their website and go by that.
Miss Alexander says Regular Baptist Press is happy to send sample copies of their take-home papers to interested writers. To get sample copies: send a SASE (self- addressed stamped envelope) with postage for at least 3 ounces. The more postage you provide, the more samples they can send. Better yet, contact the publisher’s customer service department and order (purchase) a quarter’s worth of whatever take-home papers you are interested in writing for. Check their website for the snail mail address and basic writers’ guidelines.
RBP especially likes to receive articles from people who use their curriculum in their church and are familiar with it. Horizons is open to articles for adults that support adults in their growth toward spiritual maturity. The RBP publication titled Blueprint for Spiritual Maturity defines this mission. It can be purchased through the RBP customer service dept: 1-888-588-1600; www.regularpbaptistpress.org.
Any editor of any publishing house will expect you to understand their audience. Read enough of a publication to get a sense of who they are writing for so that you can determine an appropriate subject and choose an appropriate slant and style with an appropriate take-away for your target reader.
Sometimes writers are more interested in exercising their own voices—being heard—than they are in studying the voice of the publisher and its target publications. Every publisher has its own unique voice and style and slant. Editors like writers who write to meet the publisher’s needs instead of just airing their own opinions. They like writers who write in a way that fits their publication and supports its mission. You need to write with a voice that harmonizes with the mission and goals of the target publications.
Some writers think that because they have learned something wonderful, that wonderful insight will just naturally be transmitted through their writing. Editors look for stories that have takeaway value. Your story may be justifiably precious to you, your family, and your friends, but why should some stranger care to read it? What new insight can the reader who does not know you take away with him?
Keeping deadlines is an important mark of professionalism. When Miss Alexander needs new articles, she tends to go back to the same people who have proven they know RBP’s audience, write with a voice that harmonizes with its mission, and will write and rewrite in keeping with their deadlines.
Christians need to write well. When we are communicating God’s truth we need to do so with skill. You may not be able to write now as well as you will later, but write to the best of your ability at the time; and keep studying the best published writing of others to learn the craft. The Lord deserves this. Christian writers need to continue to study their craft and learn and grow in it.
When you write, don’t be starchy. Make your writing fresh. Avoid clichés. Replace them with your own new expressions that give clear pictures of what you are trying to say.
Use a writing style that doesn’t preach at the reader, but rather comes alongside him as a friend. Avoid being overly sentimental or moralistic.
For more on this subject read On Writing Well by William Zinsser.
Avoid “Christianese.” Christianese is the language that Christian people speak that unsaved people don’t understand.
Jesus saved me. I was a sinner and came short of God’s glory. God can’t look on sin, so He sent Jesus to die on the cross and pay sin’s penalty. When I trusted on Christ as my Savior, He washed all my sin away, and I was born again into God’s family.
People who have been Christians for awhile would understand all of that. But how could we reword that so that an unbeliever could understand the concept?
The Bible is God’s message to mankind. It shows us that we can never be good enough to please God. Jesus, God’s perfect Son, died in our place for all the wrong things we have done. I believe what the Bible says about Jesus’ death; that He took the judgment I deserve for my wrongdoing. Because I have admitted my wrongs and asked Jesus to forgive me, I have forgiveness from God and a relationship with Him every day of my life. And I will go to be with God in Heaven when I die.
You may be writing for Christians who understand Christianese, but you still need to think of fresh ways to express Christian concepts. Many Christian truths have lost their appeal because they have been presented for so many years in the same over-worked terms. This makes them come across as pat answers and false platitudes rather what they truly are–vibrant and timely truths from God.
Don’t take rejection personally. It happens to all writers—even editors. Good ideas and good manuscripts are sometimes rejected because they are not what the publisher needs at that time. Most times an editor sends a form rejection letter with little to no explanation for the rejection. They simply do not have time to give detailed replies to articles they don’t accept. When an editor does tell you why she rejects your manuscript, take that as a compliment. She must see some potential in you and your work or she wouldn’t bother. Accept all criticism from an editor with thankfulness. You can learn from rejections. Never defend yourself. The editor is always right even when she is wrong. (This is from Deb.)
Remember, the editor is rejecting your manuscript, not rejecting you. You can learn from it and move on. Rejection is an inevitable part of being a freelance writer.