Friday, January 9, 2009

Hone your craft and build your credits with magazine writing

For those who have followed the tale of my “meteoric” departure from Unpubbed Island, you may remember it was anything but! I first began writing for publication in 1983, but my dream to publish a novel waited 25 long years for fulfillment.

What kept the dream alive through over 200 book manuscript rejections? Consistent sales of articles, short fiction, and devotions to periodical markets. Magazine writing has many advantages, not the least of which is building a solid list of writing credits that demonstrate your professionalism: the ability to follow guidelines, write “tight” (see Tina’s post on writing short fiction), meet deadlines, and accept editorial feedback.

Another plus is that magazine submissions normally get a quicker response than you can expect from a book editor, often in as little as 4-6 weeks. Most reputable publications pay upon acceptance (although payment upon publication is not necessarily a negative), and while the pay may not always be stellar (many pay only in copies), a writing credit is a writing credit. Not to mention you can crank out an article or story in a week or two, whereas a book can take several months to a year or more.

Something else to think about: Since most magazines come out monthly--many even more frequently--the constant and urgent need for new material becomes obvious. Sally Stuart’s 2008 Christian Writers’ Market Guide lists 677 periodicals, 53 of which are new. While several accept fiction, open any magazine or newspaper and you’ll quickly realize that publishing opportunities for nonfiction far outpace those for fiction.

Do you have to be an expert in some field to sell nonfiction? Not necessarily. Most of the articles I’ve sold have been based on personal experience--a children’s activity, choosing a pet, various aspects of my faith journey.

Or you might research a timely topic, interview an expert, or profile an interesting person. Once I came across a newspaper article about elephant communication. I did a little more research at the library, simplified the topic and added a spiritual element, and sold the article to a Sunday-school paper.

Magazines often look for articles of seasonal interest, so perhaps you have holiday-related ideas or experiences. You can also tailor personal experiences or spiritual insights as short fillers and devotions.

The most important aspect of writing for magazines is to know your target markets. Read the guidelines. Make note of submission format (e-mail is increasingly accepted) and lead time for seasonal ideas. Obtain sample issues and study them for content and style. Sally Stuart offers several resources in addition to her annual market guide, including her Top 50 Christian Periodical Publisher's Packet, which includes a list of the top 50 “writer-friendly” periodicals, complete analysis sheets, and publisher's guidelines (visit her Web site for complete details).

Know the rights a publication purchases and which rights you are offering. Editors commonly purchase first rights or first serial rights, which means once the piece appears in print, you are free to market reprint rights to other magazines. For a complete explanation see Sally Stuart’s Guide to Getting Published, which can be ordered from her Web site.

Here are other books you may find helpful:

Writing from Personal Experience, Nancy Davidoff Kelton
Writing Articles from the Heart, Marjorie Holmes
Write on Target: A Five-Phase Program for Nonfiction Writers, Dennis Hensley & Holly Miller
An Introduction to Christian Writing: An Indepth Companion to the Complete Writing Experience, Ethel Herr
The Christian Writer's Manual of Style, Robert Hudson
Writing for the Soul: Instruction and Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life, Jerry Jenkins
Write His Answer: A Bible Study for Christian Writers, Marlene Bagnull
On Writing Well, William Zinsser
The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr.

And last but definitely not least . . .
Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide, updated annually. Get on her subscription list now and your annual purchase price will be locked in for as long as you continue subscribing. (The current price is already $10 higher than when I first signed up.)

To learn even more about the nonfiction market, you may want to attend a writers conference that offers a nonfiction track and/or individual workshops. I discussed the Mount Hermon conference in an earlier post, and it is definitely one of the best. Others include:

Florida Christian Writers Conference
Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference
Glorieta Christian Writers Conference
Colorado Christian Writers Conference
American Christian Writers conferences (smaller conferences held in various locations across the U.S.)

Could you be supplementing your writing income and improving your craft with magazine writing? It might be worth a try!


Anyone who comments all six days will be entered into a drawing for a $25.00 Amazon Gift Card.


  1. I can still count on two hands the number of essays of mine that have been published. However, having those by-lines, particularly if you have a nonfiction book you wish to publish like I do, at least proves that you have some sort of platform from which to begin.

  2. Good Morning Seekerville. Hey, Myra you are just a wealth of information. Thank you for sharing this.

    Coffee is on and there is a large platter of biegnets from Cafe Du Monde(

  3. M'mmm ... good coffee.

    Eye opening week.

    Thanks for sharing, Myra.

  4. Myra,

    Thanks for the tips on magazine writing. I've written tons of newspaper stories and a much smaller number of magazine articles. Two books I would add to your list:

    The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published by Jennifer Bayse Sanders and Sheree Bykofsky--I think it's more helpful than the one devoted just to magazine articles.

    How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It by Dennis E. Hensley--There are practical nuts and bolts tips about how to find people to interview, brainstorm for article ideas and using photos to get more assignments

    Great topic!!

  5. Nicely done, Myra!

    Too many would be authors never make it because they forget they need to write lots of "bread and butter" pieces to build a portfolio of published articles/essays/stories and keep food on the table while pursuing the dream of completing a bestseller novel!

    I left some lemon blueberry muffins on the treat table and some Ethiopian coffee that tastes almost like chocolate!

  6. Gosh, Myra, I still get amazed that you, a Golden Heart winner, accrued 200 rejections over 25 years. Yikes ... makes my 19 rejections in one year look like child's play. Talk about a hard-fought escape from Unpubbed Island -- you earned it, girl.

    And what a great blog, chock-full of lucrative information. Excellent! It's time to dive in to those beignets Tina brought or maybe some blueberry streusel pastry -- you should be ready to chow down after the last two days, right?


  7. This article brings out one of my stumbling blocks to a book. I just fear and avoid the lenghth of time invested because I fear all that work will be wasted if not published. I keep reverting back to articles because I "need" the quicker confirmation of a an accept or reject label.

    I am working on pushing myself beyond this point....

  8. Many congrats, Myra. I'm so glad you're getting the recognition you deserve.

    And thank you for mentioning reselling an article if we sell it for first rights or first serial rights. That's something I never think of. That's free money right there.

  9. Great points, Myra. It's very validating to get paid for your writing, even if the pay is small!

  10. Great post, Myra! Lots of information for those of us who've contemplated magazine-writing - - THANKS! :) And to show my appreciation for this wonderful blog(I read it a lot but hardly ever comment) I brought a cinnamon streusel coffee cake right out of the oven *grin*!
    Blessings, Patti Jo :)

  11. Hi, everyone! Looks like the snack table is full of yummy stuff already. Tina, thanks for making the coffee, and those beignets look delightful. Oh, and I love streusel, Julie & Patti Jo! You bet I'm hungry! ;>)

    Cathy S., thanks for the additional book suggestions.

    Bookie, you are so right--magazine sales can really boost your writer's ego because of the quick(er) response and the recognition of seeing your byline. If you really want to try your hand at longer stuff, try setting aside certain days of the week for magazine writing, and the rest of the time for your book ms. Sometimes it can actually help to leave one project for a few days while you work on something else, then come back with fresh ideas.

  12. I've gotten a fair number of articles published for no pay...which is still a good writer's credit. But I've never pursued being paid and it can be a good supplemental income.

    Really interesting post, Myra.

  13. Hi Myra:

    Your post makes me wonder if writers aren’t like runners. Some runners are best at sprints, some excel at 5000 meters, and some, God bless them, prefer twenty-six mile marathons. I just wonder how much of success is in understanding our strengths and having the wisdom to run in the right races. Should a world class sprinter feel bad because she can’t win a marathon? Your post is very helpful in opening up new options for being published.


  14. Very insightful, Vince. Experience has taught me that I don't have the stamina for a continual series of "short sprints" (aka magazine writing). Once I connect with characters and a plot idea, I want to stick with them for the long haul. (Unlike real life, where you won't find me running anywhere!)

    However, the occasional magazine article or set of devotions is often just the break I need to recharge the batteries for another book writing marathon. And writing short pieces is a great way to use those interesting snippets of ideas that never find their way into our book manuscripts.

  15. Hi Myra,

    Nice post. I have many magazine publications, mostly in the children's genre but a few in adult magazines and enjoy not only a quicker turn around time in payment but in seeing my work in print too!

    Seekerville Authors:
    Thanks for hosting such a well rounded week. I really enjoy your blog.


  16. Thanks for stopping in, Rose. You know, whenever I need a lift, it really helps to browse through my clip files and see that, yes, I really can write! AND get paid for it!

  17. Excellent post, Myra! Lots of great information for writing periodicals. I've tried to sell a couple essays a few years back, but wasn't successful. Maybe I'll try again one day.

    I've admired you for hanging in for 25 years! I can see how selling to periodicals kept you going.

    Thanks all for the delightful snacks!


  18. Another angle to this is newspapers. Do any of you ever write for a newspaper? I've done a column for my local paper for years.

    No pay.

    Small paper.

    But, the paper treats me very nicely when I have a book come out.
    And it builds nice writer's credits and gets you used to meeting deadlines.

  19. Mary said, "And it builds nice writer's credits and gets you used to meeting deadlines."

    Exactly! I've never written for a local paper other than submitting letters to the editor, press releases for the kids' swim team, and announcements about our local ACFW chapter meetings, but even little things like these are good practice in focusing on the details and tightening your prose.

    I'll be out running errands for a bit but will check in later this afternoon. Thanks to everyone for chiming in.

  20. I've written a ton of devotions, but haven't ventured into magazines. I've always wanted to give it a try, but never could come up with good article ideas. Thanks, Myra, for giving me something to mull over. Be blessed!

  21. One very important topic we writers can always expound on is the writing business. I know Mary and Ruthy have both contributed to Afictionado, the ACFW e-mag. I've also written for writers' magazines.

    Don't overlook newsletters for your own writers group, your church, or any other organizations you belong to. Again, payment or not, it's good experience AND another credit to add to your list.

  22. Okay, I have to admit--I am mercenary. I won't write unless I get paid for it.

  23. So much good information here. Thanks!

  24. LOL, Tina! I'm totally there! Except for the occasional contribution to a church project or my local writers group, anyway. In such cases I feel like it's a chance to give back.

  25. Very interesting, Myra! I never really considered magazine articles before, but I like the quicker response. Waiting to hear about novels can be so long and discouraging.

  26. This is an area that I really need to work on! Thanks for the info, as well as the kick, er, encouragement. LoL. I need to at least try (really try) this.

  27. Hi Tina:

    You are in good company.

    ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."
    Samuel Johnson


  28. Hey Myra - great post! 200 R's? PTL you're finally pubbed, eh.

    I dabble in the non-fiction world.

    I once subbed to a historical mag and it got accepted upon publication but the mag itself folded before mine got pubbed. I set it aside and never pursued it...

    I'm the editor of a provincial niche market newsletter but the only articles I write in there are my own editorials. However, I do get paid $40/newsletter.

    For no pay, I write articles for our local paper but only when it pertains to something with a group that I'm involved with like youth, church, 4H, the local agricultural society, etc.

    I'd like to thank Seekerville for an informative week. I went out and bought 2 WD mags (nice story Tina) and that WD post is really tugging at me...

  29. I've had that happen to me, too, Anita Mae--had an article accepted, then waited for that check to arrive, only to learn the magazine folded. Hard to put forth so much effort (one piece involved research, interviews, and photography) and then never see it in print.

    Speaking of photography, that's another area nonfiction writers can look into. Mentioning the availability of good photos can sometimes help make a sale. Even easier today in the digital age.

    Example: Photograph the steps in a how-to project (recipe creation, craft item, etc.), then write a piece describing the materials needed and exact procedure. These kinds of articles are easy to tie to a holiday theme.

  30. Great post, Myra. Lots of good ideas for getting the publication while waiting.

  31. LOL, Danica! Love your profile "photo"!

  32. Thanks Myra for more great information.

  33. Great points, Myra. I keep forgetting all the little things that make money.

    Lots of small money makes lots of big money and valuable sales to show editors.

    Thanks much!!

  34. Myra,

    Thank you so much for the information. It helps to branch out.
    Thank you everyone for a wonderful week of exciting blogs. They were priceless.

    Linda Cacaci

  35. I have several of the books you listed on my bookshelves. I will be reading them again to see what I didn't understand.

  36. I went to the FL Christian conference and really enjoyed it. Boy do I wish I could write articles. For some reason there are no ideas in my brain. I figure if God wants me to write something, He'll help out. But I love it when you post this info. It's so helpful and writing articles definitely helps to write tighter. Or short fiction. That would be fun.
    Thanks for all the great tips!

  37. Thanks for being a part of For Love and Money Week, Myra. You didn't even roll you eyes when I asked you to change your post days and share you experiences.

    Tomorrow join us as Deb Ng shares on professional blogging!!!

  38. Thanks, Myra for this informative post!