by Marcia Laycock
Look in the Writer's Market under children's periodicals, and you'll soon discover the majority of opportunities lie in the religious market place. Most of these are in weekly Sunday School take-home papers, published by large Christian outlets, such as Cook Communications, or by individual denominations which print their own materials. The Focus on the Family organization also has a large publishing arm, which needs stories and articles for all ages. The consequent need for articles and fiction translates into a writer's dream, but breaking in is no easier than any other market. Following a few guidelines can mean the difference between rejection and a paycheck.Your first step should be to purchase a copy of the Christian Writers' Market Guide. This guide covers every aspect of writing for the religious market place and has a comprehensive section on children's periodicals. The publications are rated in a "top 50" list, editors are named, denominational affiliations are mentioned and payment rates are stated. These rates range from $0 to over $1 per word, but a new writer breaking in should expect an average payment of five to ten cents per word. Most periodicals in this market place pay on acceptance, an advantage when a manuscript gets bumped or postponed for some reason. I sold a manuscript to a large Christian publication, which took two years to actually publish the story. Although I could not re-sell that piece until it had been printed, I had been well paid immediately, so at least I wasn't waiting two years for the check!
As with any other market, a key to breaking in is to study the publications. Send for sample copies and guidelines. Many of these publications work by theme, so always ask for their theme list and deadlines. Pay attention to the denominational affiliations and find out what they believe. Some have specific dos and don'ts and failing to follow them will mean rejection. Always follow the word count limits as well. Most editors won't ask for a re-write, they'll just return your manuscript if it's too long.
As you study your sample copies, and it's important to read more than one or two, make notes on the tone of the articles and stories. Is the spiritual element strong, or do they seem to prefer a "soft sell" approach? Does the publication want depiction of a moral stand rather than Biblical references? Is the Bible always quoted, or just alluded to? Which translation do they prefer, or demand?
To get attention from the editors you will need to hone your skills. These people see thousands of manuscripts and only the best will survive their scrutiny. They know kids are picky -- they demand fast-paced, true-to-life stories. They don't want preaching, they don't want unrealistic scenarios where the adults have all the answers and the kids passively accept them. These editors know many of their readers deal with harsh realities in their daily lives, at school and at home. Pat answers won't cut it, but showing how God's truth can be lived out in daily life, will. Learn how to write a good story that stays within the moral, ethical and spiritual boundaries of the Christian faith and you'll earn a byline and a check in your mailbox, not to mention a great deal of personal satisfaction.
Once you have broken into a periodical, keep in touch with the editors. Send them another manuscript as soon as possible and let them know you'd like to contribute more to their publication. Once you've established a relationship, keep your communication professional, but personal in tone. Remember editors are human and appreciate being treated that way. I once sent an editor a personal emailed Christmas letter, by mistake, and she responded warmly, thanking me for it. I not only gained a good contact in the religious publishing industry, I made a friend.
The religious market place is ripe for new writers. Study it, do your homework, and you will be rewarded in a satisfying, lucrative niche.
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Copyright © 2000 Marcia Laycock
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.