Writing for Magazines

By Harriet Michael

When I was a little girl, I loved fishing with my dad. We lived in Nigeria then, so we didn’t have access to many of the fun things people in America had. We didn’t even have swimming pools without traveling at least an hour’s drive from my home. But we had a man-made water reservoir where I could fish. I learned to cast my line out into murky waters, wait in anticipation to feel that tug on my line and then try and reel it in without letting the fish get away.

girls fishing

Maybe that’s why I like freelance writing. I cast pieces—articles, devotions, short stories—out into the murky waters of cyberspace and wait hopefully. Sometimes I feel that tug and sometimes I even reel in a great catch in the form of a contract for a submitted piece.

Of all the publications for which I write, magazines are among my favorite. I get to write on topics of interest to me because I choose the type of magazine I wish to submit to, they pay (some better than others) so I have a flow of cash coming in all year long, and they help build my platform because they are viewed by people I otherwise would not be able to reach.

Here are some tips for anyone hoping to break into the magazine-writing market:

  • Search engines are your best friends. You can find any magazine you think you might like to write for by searching that magazine’s name and the words, “writers’ guidelines.” Ex: “The War Cry writers’ guidelines” You can search types of magazines this way too. Ex: “parenting magazines writers’ guidelines” or “cooking magazines writers’ guidelines” Any magazine that takes freelance submissions will show up if you search by topic.
  • Read the writers’ guidelines, taking note of a few things:

a] What rights do they buy? I avoid magazines that buy all rights or exclusive rights. See the article on this blog about a writer’s rights if you do not understand this.

b] How much and when do they pay? Do they pay on acceptance of your submitted piece or when the article is published? This is merely a guide to me so I will know when to expect a payment, but both are fine.

c] What word count do they want? Stick to their requested word count to the best of your ability. Usually, it’s okay to be over or under by less than 10 words but some online submission sites will cut you off at their maximum count, so I prefer to err on the “under” side of things.

d] Do they have a theme list? Do they want a particular type of article?

  • Write and submit according to the guidelines. Follow the guidelines as closely as you can … and then wait to feel that tug on your line.

A question I often get when teaching workshops on freelancing or magazine writing, is should a person write from inspiration or according to a theme requested by the magazine.

My answer: “Both.”

Writing according to the magazines’ wishes, whether that is a theme or a type of article (like a “how-to”, essay, or story) brings greater success. If they are looking for something specific and you give them what they are looking for, they are more likely to buy it. However, there have been times when something has happened in my life that I simply wanted to write down. This happens often but sometimes these pieces sit on my computer for a long time until a theme or magazine where the piece might fit pops up.

One example of this is an article I had published in a gardening magazine last spring about a humorous experience that occurred many years ago. When it happened, my youngest son was in elementary school. I laughed about what happened all day at the time, so knew I wanted to write it before I forgot, but I had nowhere to send it. When I finally found a magazine where this piece fit, my son was in college. Still, they did take it, people enjoyed reading it, and I received a check for it, even though it was more than a dozen years from the time I wrote it to the time it was published.

Click-to-Tweet:  You’ll never catch a fish if you don’t throw a line in the water and you’ll never have an article published in a magazine if you don’t try your hand at writing and submitting one.

magazines

Writing Prompt / Exercise: Look up the writers’ guidelines for a magazine that you enjoy reading and begin writing an article for submission to that magazine. *Hint: Christian magazines get fewer submissions than secular ones, so the chances of getting published in them are higher.

Gardening!

I have been a gardener for as long as I can remember … or at least attempted to be one. As a child, there was an open lot next to our house in Nigeria which my dad made into a large garden. He and Mom worked tirelessly in that garden along with the help of a hired Nigerian worker. The produce they grew during the rainy season helped so much at that place and time in history, when getting food was not as simple a task as stopping by the grocery store on my way home, like it is now.

And I helped them garden. At least I toddled along behind Daddy and pestered him, asking how I could help him. I was the only one of his four children who showed an interest in gardening and I have been drawn to it for as long as I can remember.

One of my fondest gardening memories is of climbing inside the angled cucumber trellis my dad had built, to pick ripe cucumbers inside that he could not see or reach. He’d built a long teepee-like structure with the two sides about three feet apart at the base but meeting in the middle a few feet off the ground. I would crawl along inside that structure picking cucumbers and tossing them out to him. I felt like I was in my own little botanical wonderland with lush vines all around me. And I felt so big and important to have been given the task of deciding if a cucumber was ready to be picked or not.

The first year I was married, over 40 years ago now, I talked my husband into renting a tiller and tilling up a patch of land in our back yard for me to plant vegetables. I had no idea what I was doing back then but worked away at the endeavor anyway. I have had a garden ever since but these days I at least know which plants do better in dryer soil, which need more water, which should be planted by seed and which need to be started indoors a few weeks before planting. I’ve also learned a few tricks like planting marigolds around the edge of the garden to help keep the bugs out.

Last year, I tried something new. My college-age son put in a raised garden for me and, oh my goodness, that turned out so well! I don’t know if it was that the new location got more sunlight or if it was the new bags of garden soil I put in the area, but I have never had such a successful garden. Ever. I had a couple rows of okra that grew to be taller than me by several feet. I had to bend them over to pick the new produce by the end of the season. My family ate roasted okra all summer and fried okra all winter that I had cut and frozen.

So, it’s summer again and you can bet if I can’t be found inside my house cleaning, cooking, or writing, I am outside playing in my garden.

Since I often write devotions, I naturally find Bible verses for many aspects of life. Here is my favorite gardening verse:

Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12 (NIV)

Click to Tweet: “It’s summer again and you can bet if I can’t be found inside my house cleaning, cooking, or writing, I am outside playing in my garden.” — Harriet Michael via @InspiredPrompt #gardening #FridayThoughts

Writing Prompt –  Finish this paragraph: Ellen dumped another shovel-full of soil into the wheelbarrow. All this work better pay off. If the garden didn’t do well, Marty would throw a fit.

Traditional vs. Indie Publishing

I am a multi-published author. I am under contract with a small, traditional press, Pix-N-Pens, the nonfiction arm of Write Integrity Press. I currently have one book I have authored, three I have co-authored, and am contracted to co-write four more under this line. I also have one indie published book and another that barely missed getting a contract with a large traditional publisher, but in the end, it too is in the process of being published independently. So, I have some first-hand knowledge and experience with both types of publishing which I will share.

Differences Between the Two: 

Traditional publishing means that the author does not pay for any of the costs of publishing his or her book. She has a contract with a publishing company allowing them to publish the book as she agrees to split royalties with that company. It is more difficult to get a book traditionally published because the publishing company is pretty selective in the books /authors they choose. They must believe that the book they agree to publish will sell enough for them to at least recoup the money they spent on the publishing process.

There are several types of traditional publishing companies: large press, small press, and boutique presses. Large press are companies like Thomas Nelson, Harper Collins, and such. Boutique presses are usually medium-sized presses that cater to a specific niche audience. Small presses are just that—small, but traditional in that they do not require any payment of any kind from the authors they publish. These also vary in types of publishing with small press most often using print-on-demand (POD) technology.

The most important thing about traditional presses is the wording of the contract an author is asked to sign. Read your contract carefully! They all differ in many ways, including how, when, and what percentage of the royalties they will pay their authors. But even more important than the royalties in my opinion, are the rights you as the author will keep or give up to the publisher.

The book I co-wrote that was a near miss for a large traditional publisher, got picked up by a Boutique publisher but their contract stated that they would own all rights to the book. This differed from what they had told us on the phone and had we not read the contract carefully, we might have signed our rights of ownership over to this company believing the contract was what they said it would be when we spoke with them. As it turned out, it was not a contract we could sign, and we walked away from that offer. By that time, we were tired of dealing with publishers and decided to move ahead with indie publishing of that book.

With Indie publishing, the author assumes all of the responsibility and costs of publishing her book. Because of this, any person can indie publish a book, but the quality of that book will vary greatly depending on how carefully the book has been written, edited, and packaged. If you choose the indie route, I have a few suggestions.

1) Write the best book you can and make it consistent in its word count with traditional books in the same genre. (For instance, my small press requires that nonfiction books be at least 40,000 words. When I see a nonfiction half that size, I almost instantly assume it was indie published by someone who did not know the market standards.)

2) Pay for a professional editor.

3) Pay for a professional cover.

Pros and Cons of Each: The pros of indie publishing are that the author has complete control of the writing and publishing project and he or she will also receive all royalties. The cons are that usually having more than one set of eyes on a book during the publishing process makes the finished product a better book, especially when some of the people working on it are professionals.

The pros of traditional publishing are that the book is usually a high-quality product because of the many people who worked on it and usually the market reach is larger. This is true even for small presses since most small presses do make marketing efforts and the book will reach a larger number of readers than if it’s all up to just the author. The cons are that the author makes less per book and has less control over the publishing process.

So, which do I recommend? It really differs from book to book. I am extremely happy with the small press for whom I write. But I am signed under its nonfiction arm so when I wrote my first novel, I decided to go the indie route and have been happy with that too.

In the case of my other indie book, I think it would have been nice if that large traditional publisher had not decided against publishing it after six months of considering it extensively, but I really don’t know since we didn’t go that route. It may not have been a good experience after all. What I do know, is that walking away from the faulty contract offered to us by the boutique publisher was absolutely the right thing for that book.

Why didn’t I just pitch it to my small press? Again, the reason for that lay in the book itself. It is different from the other nonfiction I write for that small press and I did not think it was a good fit for them. So, yeah, there really isn’t one “right” way to publish. Much depends on the circumstances you as an author are facing and even the content of the book itself.

Click to Tweet: Interested in becoming a published writer? Know your choices up front. Here’s a look at the different types of publishing by author, Harriet Michael via @InspiredPrompt.

Writing Prompt: Story Starter! Using the above picture for inspiration, start a story. Maybe it’s going to be a short story, flash fiction, or an epic novel. We want the first sentence. 🙂

How it All Began

Harriet E. Michael

Many authors and writers will tell you that they have wanted to become a writer since childhood.

That is not my story.

For me, it all began with a crisis in the life of someone I love. My friend faced the challenge of her life and I found myself walking beside her, praying and wanting to understand prayer better.

As I pondered the topic of prayer, I happened to be reading in the book of Psalms in my personal devotions. I noticed something about prayer. The petitions the various psalmists make to God are almost always centered on God, rather then their needs. If you look for this trend you will find it there, and throughout the Bible.

If someone prays: “Help me because ___,” or “Answer my prayer because ___,” the reason stated usually has something to do with God rather than the psalmist. (Because of one of God’s traits, like His love, or faithfulness, by His power, or for His glory.)

An example of this would be asking God to heal someone because He is the Great Physician, full of loving-kindness, or because He is faithful and answers His people when they call on Him, rather than because of whatever issue you may be dealing with, or pain you may be suffering.

This discovery was a “Wow!” moment for me which prompted me to conduct my own personal Bible study, from Genesis to Revelation, looking at all the instances of prayer I could find. I kept a journal as I did this.

Four years later, I had a book written.

The manuscript was named a finalist in a national contest, “The Women of Faith” (2011). The manuscript won me a writing contract with Pix-N-Pens Publishing (PIP), the nonfiction arm of Write Integrity Press. Once the book was published, my friend Shirley Crowder wrote a study guide for it, which won her a contract with PIP as well.

IMG_0487 prayer book and study guide

Shirley is a lifelong friend of mine. She lived across a dirt road from me in Nigeria. Now, she’s a Biblical counselor and also leads Bible studies with women’s groups. When she read one of the first copies of my book, she whipped up the study guide for it, fully intended for use only in her own personal ministry. She sent it to me for my approval and I loved it, so forwarded it to my publisher, who also loved it. She contracted with Shirley to publish it.

After that, Shirley and I decided to do some co-writing. To date, we have a four-book series on prayer—Prayer It’s Not About You, Study Guide to Prayer: It’s Not About You, Glimpses of Prayer (a devotional), and Prayer Warrior Confessions (an anthology compiled and partially written by us). We are also under contract for a 5-book devotional series, only one of which is currently out—Glimpses of the Savior.

Harriet with Shirley Crowder, signing a writing contract!

… and it all started with adversity—a crisis, pain, anguish as I stood by a hurting loved-one. God is in the business of turning ashes to beauty. That is exactly what He did when He turned my friend Shirley and me into authors.

Click to Tweet: “…it all started with adversity—a crisis, pain, anguish as I stood by a hurting loved-one. God is in the business of turning ashes to beauty. ” Harriet E. Michael via @InspiredPrompt #MarchMadness #amwriting #giveaway

Today, my loved one is doing well, and my book is blessing many. Since its publication in May 2016, several groups in various parts of the US have used this book and study guide for their Bible study. In fact, this month, a Sunday school class of around 30 people are just beginning a Bible study using it.

It can be used in a group setting or for individual study. Here is the link to my author page where you can purchase these books or any of the others that Shirley and I have collaborated on: Harriet’s author page.

Apples of Gold

Apples of gold in pictures of silver.

golden apple

This is the way Proverbs 25:11 describes what it calls “a word fitly spoken.” It says these words are like apples of gold in pictures of silver. But what, exactly is a word fitly spoken?

There are many possible answers to that question. The New American Standard Bible says it’s a word spoken in the right circumstances. It is a word or words spoken to another person that helps them in some way. Maybe it encourages them, or eases their pain, lifts them up, or sympathizes with their pain. However the fitly words are intended, the end result is that they land on open ears and touch the listener in some significant way.

I am an eclectic writer—I write many things: fiction, nonfiction, full length books, short articles, and devotions. Yes, I am a devotional writer. I absolutely love writing devotions! I have had hundreds of them published in magazines, online, and in books. I teach workshops on devotional writing. Devotions helped to build my writing resume and payment from writing devotions supplements my writing income. But this is not the reason I write devotions. I write to touch the hearts of others with words that cause them to ponder on God’s word. My goal is that they will be “fitly words.”

It’s autumn again, a time of year when apples are in abundance. We enjoy apples in so many forms during this season—cooked in pies, coated in candy, squeezed into juice or made into cider, and so many other ways.

apple-fall

Because of this verse in Proverbs, the abundance of apples makes me think of devotional writing. Let’s be writers whose words are fitly. Let’s have our words be apples of gold in pictures of silver.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. Proverbs 25:11 (KJV) [Click to Tweet]

Writing prompt: write a devotional about a time someone spoke words you needed to hear.