Writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul

By Harriet Michael

Chicken Soup for the Soul publishes around a dozen books a year, each with 101 stories in it. That’s approximately 1,200 chances to have a story you wrote published per year. Sounds pretty great, right? It is and it isn’t. It is not as easy as it may seem to have your story selected for one of their titles. But if/when that happens, then yes, it’s pretty great!

This year’s Christmas themed book titled, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, will have a story in it written by me.

Chicken Soup Christmas book

This is the fourth story I have had selected for Chicken Soup. While that’s exciting and an honor, I must share an insight that I have in their selection process. This is just my opinion and others may disagree with me, but it seems to me that it is harder to have your first story chosen by them than subsequent stories. At least that is my experience.

I am a prolific freelance writer. I have submitted many, many short pieces (articles, devotions, short stories) to many different publications since I began sending submissions in 2009. After over ten years of freelance writing, I have had a lot of acceptances but also a lot of rejections. However, my rejection percentage with Chicken Soup for the Soul was 100% for the first few years. That was definitely not the norm for me with other publications. I sent several stories a year and never received even a notice that it was being considered for one of their books. Finally, in 2014, after about four years of rejections, I got an e-mail telling me one of my stories had made it to the final round of selection. I danced with joy when I read that email!

Since then I have had four stories selected. This experience has made me conclude that it is harder to get a first story chosen but slightly easier after that. My experience may only be coincidental, but it prompts me to encourage writers to keep sending Chicken Soup stories. Keep on keeping on!

Chicken Soup publishes inspirational true stories from ordinary people. They want stories under 1200 words (with 1,000 being closer to their sweet spot) written to one of their book topics or themes. If your story is chosen, you will first get an email telling you that your story has made it to the final round. This email will include a publishing contract that will be discarded if your story is not chosen for the actual book. Most stories that reach this round make it to the book, but a few don’t. I have never had one dropped after this stage, but my sister has. Then, the fun part—you receive 10 free copies of the book about a month before its release date and a check for $200 about a month after the release date.

And because I’m a stickler about writer’s rights, I asked them when the rights would return to me. The contract states that they are buying 1st rights but does not say when the rights revert back to the author. Most of my freelance contracts contain this information. Chicken Soup replied that I owned the rights again as soon as the book releases, or one day afterward, I suppose, since 1st rights mean they have the right to be the first to publish it.

Writing for Chicken Soup is fun and rewarding. I highly recommend giving it a try and like the old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

And make sure to join us in September as we tackle a fun topic: Cooking for Writers…


Writing prompt / Exercise: Go to https://www.chickensoup.com/ and click on “Submit your story” at the bottom of the page. That will take you to a site that has book titles/themes, guidelines, and the online submission form. Familiarize yourself with these and then, if inspired, write a story for one of their Book topics.

Click-to-Tweet: Chicken Soup for the Soul publishes around a dozen books a year, each with 101 stories in it. That’s approximately 1,200 chances to have a story you wrote published per year.–Harriet E. Michael via @inspiredprompt #amwriting #freelance

Writing for Devotional Sites

by Diana C. Derringer

A roller-coaster ride, newlywed misunderstandings, fishing adventures, middle-of-the-night foster care placements, family health miracles, and talking fruit trees have all weaved their way into my online devotional submissions.

At first, I wrote devotions solely for print magazines, both freelance and assigned. I knew devotional websites existed and read a few. However, I never seriously considered submitting to them. As I learned more about online opportunities, that gradually changed.

Possibilities

Some magazines publish both online and hard copy. The Upper Room Magazine’s online version maintains a massive community of followers, who not only leave frequent comments for writers but also for one another.

In addition to the devotion, Upper Room invites writers to join a larger online conversation by writing a blog post and sharing a photo the same day their devotions appear. The post may or may not relate to the devotion. It allows readers to learn a bit more about writers’ personal or professional lives. Links to writer websites or blogs often lead to new followers and friends. Other devotional sites, such as Christian Devotions appear exclusively online. Many are non-paying markets. However, their devotions offer a word of encouragement or moment of ministry to a diverse audience. Regular appearances also add to a writer’s platform. I recall walking into The Kentucky Christian Writers Conference one year, and a woman greeted me with, “Oh, I hoped I would meet you here.” She had read my work and seen my picture on the Christian Devotions site. Well-known non-paying sites may lead to writing assignments within the paying market.

I typically offer first rights to paying markets and reprint rights to non-paying.

Preparation

In order to point people to Jesus, many devotional sites suggest writers:

  • Begin with prayer.
  • Study the Bible verse(s) to accompany the devotion.
  • Write on less well-known verses to offer readers a new perspective and increase the likelihood of an editor’s acceptance.
  • Never underestimate the power of personal stories.

What initially appears inconsequential may lead to the most significant devotions. Who would have thought tiny crocheted elephants could have much impact? Yet, they did when first crocheted and later through a devotion about them.

Neither should unpublished writers feel inconsequential. Many devotional sites welcome them along with established and multi-published writers and authors. The sites encourage new writers to follow God’s leadership and take advantage of opportunities to learn and strengthen their craft.

Guidelines

Although details such as word count or preferred Bible version vary, most print or online devotional sites have similar guidelines. Most want a:

  • Short catchy title
  • Bible verse (Some also desire a longer suggested Bible passage.)
  • Devotion related to the verse

Many conclude with a thought for the day and/or a prayer.

Regardless of the subject, editors want writers to stick to one main point. From the title to the closing prayer, everything must tie together. A devotion’s limited word count (often 100-400 words) allows no room for digression. Although it does not offer intense theological study, it does seek to increase the reader’s understanding of the Bible and relationship with God.

Other helpful reminders for online writers:

  • Write simple sentences and short paragraphs.
  • Cut the clutter and write tight.
  • Use active rather than passive verbs.
  • Lead readers to hear, feel, taste, see, or touch the devotional content.
  • Always adhere to the site’s guidelines.

Outlines

Editors expect writers to immediately capture the readers’ attention, tie their introduction to the Bible verse and devotional theme, and relate their summary and application to God’s truth for daily life.

Christian Devotions uses the following format:

  • HOOK: Catch the reader’s interest with a brief story or shocking statement.
  • BOOK: Declare your key point and your interpretation of the passage.
  • LOOK: Present the big picture and offer practical life application lessons and tips.
  • TOOK: Lead to a decision; close with an action statement and challenge the reader to change.

Submissions

Sites vary on the submission method. Some have an online submission page. Others request email submissions with the devotion included either as an attachment or in the body of the email. Those who use attachments typically favor:

  • Word documents
  • Single spacing with a double space between paragraphs and no indents
  • Times New Roman, 12-point font

Writing for devotional sights offer limited financial rewards. However, their eternal worth cannot be measured this side of heaven.

Writing Prompt: Think of a recent event in your life. Use the hook, book, look, and took method to write a brief devotion.

Click to Tweet: A roller-coaster ride, newlywed misunderstandings…middle-of-the-night foster care placements, family health #miracles, and talking fruit trees have all weaved their way into my online #devotional submissions. Story via @InspiredPrompt @DianaDerringer


Diana Derringer is an award-winning writer and author of Beyond Bethlehem and Calvary: 12 Dramas for Christmas, Easter, and More! Hundreds of her devotions, articles, dramas, planning guides, Bible studies, and poems appear in 40-plus publications, including The Upper Room, The Christian Communicator, Clubhouse, Kentucky Monthly, Seek, and Missions Mosaic, plus several anthologies. She also writes radio drama for Christ to the World Ministries. Her adventures as a social worker, adjunct professor, youth Sunday school teacher, and friendship family for international university students supply a constant flow of writing ideas. Visit her at dianaderringer.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Goodreads, Pinterest, and her Amazon page.


Beyond Bethlehem and Calvary

12 Dramas for Christmas, Easter and More!

Flexibility, ease of production, and themes that meet us where we live make this drama collection suitable for large or small groups, whether in a church setting or on the most rugged mission trip.

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.

In Conclusion, All Things Told

Other Ways to Break into Publication

July has been such an exciting month! We’ve hosted several authors on 3 Questions Wednesday and on our Saturday interviews.

In order to best address this month’s topic, we’ve welcomed a couple of guests to our regular Monday & Friday posts, as well as our own crew, who work so hard to bring you relevant, timely information. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading our content and will return on a regular basis to find out what’s happening here at Inspired Prompt.

If you’re a writer, learning the craft can be daunting, especially if you’re uncertain of your specialty and/or preferred genre. You must decide what and where you want to write. Then, you’ll need to learn how to write what you want to write. It’s not easy, but there’s help to be found, for whatever you’re interested in.

This month, we’ve talked about ghostwriting, collaborative writing, travel writing, journalism, technical writing, and screenwriting. We’ve shared our ideas and talked to the experts so they can share theirs. As you may already know, writers are amazingly helpful to other writers. We’re so thankful to our crew and guests for giving their time and knowledge to help others.

Reaping the Benefits

This is for you. That’s why we do what we do. It’s a lot of work to keep this blog up and running, but we’re happy to do it. It’s a ministry for us and a safe place for our readers. A place where you can come and learn, comment, and ask questions. We’ll do our best to help you. If you need answers, just ask. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll check with the experts. That’s why we’re here.

August is Coming

Next month’s topic will help answer a “who” question. “Who do you want to write for?” So, stop back by during the month of August for more valuable information to help you find the “Write Road” to publication.

A prompt for you: After witnessing the aftermath of an earthquake, you’re inspired to write an article for your neighborhood paper. Compose an opening line that will hook your readers.

On the Inspired Prompt blog, we hope to create a safe place where you can come and learn, comment, and ask questions. – Click to Tweet – Thanks!

How to Evaluate Story Ideas in Journalism

By Kristy Horine

I sat at the back table of the women’s ministry organizational meeting. The Christian in me focused on loving my sisters. The writer in me did a constant sweep for story.

And there it was, at the very end of the meeting. A prayer request for a young woman named Morgan who was going on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. She had worked so hard to raise funds. Had even learned how to sew to do it.

My story radar pinged and pinged hard.

After the meeting, I approached Morgan and gathered a little more information. “Would you mind if I pitched the idea of writing an article about your mission trip to the local paper?”

After she assented, I made notes of all her contact information, promised to pitch it to the local editor in the morning, and made sure I could schedule a future interview to get more in-depth information if the editor accepted the pitch.

The next morning, I shot off an email in which I pitched a human interest story, with pictures, in 800 words or less. Within two hours I had a reply: Yes.

How did this work so easily? Because the story was appealing and fit in with the local paper’s flavor and audience.

But how do you make this work in your own writing life?

Pay attention.

  1. Pay attention to your local newspaper. Read the headlines. Look at the photos.

There are typically two kinds of newspapers left in the world: the large syndicated rags, and the small, hometown papers. I’ll be really honest here, larger papers are not so inclined to take freelance writers, and they tend to hoard the good stories for their regular reporters. Most other stories they typically pull ‘off the wire’ in a news service that they pay for. That being said, there is no harm in asking. If you don’t ask, you won’t know, so pitch that story!

For smaller papers, if you don’t subscribe, then subscribe. Walk in to the office and let them see your face. Meet one of the editors or the publisher and ask if they are interested in articles from freelance writers. Again, no harm done in asking. Then, read the paper. All of the paper. Read the articles, the opinion pieces, the obituaries, the homemakers having a good time, the local churches having fish fry dinners, the advertisements, the sports stories even if your favorite sport is reading, and the classifieds. Know what they publish, and think about the audience who is reading what they publish.

  1. Pay attention to the story itself. Evaluate each story on the following attributes: Newsworthiness, Prominence, Timeliness, Proximity, Method, and Human Interest.

A Nose for News in Action

Let’s evaluate the above story about Morgan in terms of what newspapers generally look for in publishable articles.

Newsworthiness

To determine Newsworthiness, ask yourself a few questions: Does this matter? Will it inform how people make decisions?

The answers are yes, and yes. It matters to Morgan. It matters on an international scale. Morgan is a difference maker. That’s important. People make decisions about where and how they will spend their money and their time every single day. If no one knows about Morgan’s fund raising sewing endeavors, they might make an alternate decision about their money. In addition, people like to pray for other people. Give them something worthy to pray about.

Prominence

To determine Prominence, ask yourself a few questions: Who is this article about? Who will be impacted by reading this article?

Morgan is not a community celebrity like a politician might be, but her name and her family members are well known and well loved. That makes a difference. When thinking in terms of impact, the story itself is just inspiring, right? It can impact anyone who is within hearing/reading range of the story.

Timeliness

To determine Timeliness, ask yourself a few questions: Is this something that happened yesterday? Is it happening today? Will it happen tomorrow?

In Morgan’s case, I determined to pitch the idea, write the story and have it published well before her mission trip so that people who read her story would have time to decide if they wanted to help her by ordering a hand-sewn item. I could have waited until after her trip and included pictures of the trip itself. However, by publishing pre-event, this enabled the community to be more actively involved. Since news travels fast and dies fairly young, offering a fresh, timely piece is wise.

Proximity

To determine Proximity, ask yourself a few questions: Is this a local event/person/place? If this is foreign, is there a local connection?

Morgan lives in my home town. She just completed her freshman year at college in the next county over. Her mother is a school teacher at one of the local middle schools. Her grandmother lives here. Her sister lives here. Even though the mission trip was outside the US borders, the local connection is strong and interesting.

Method

To determine Method, ask yourself a few questions: Is this article about the same old same old? Is there a new flavor/spin/approach in this story?

When most people fund raise, they think bake sale, car wash, GoFundMe. It takes more time and gumption to learn a new skill that adds value to people’s lives, like sewing. That’s what worked with Morgan’s story. In addition to interviewing Morgan, I also interviewed her sewing mentor, Sue Ellen. Sue Ellen also works at the local middle school. By adding a broader sweep to the story, I increase the Proximity, the Prominence and the Newsworthiness. Bam! We have a Titus 2 operation going here. (Hmmm … sounds like an article I could pitch in a local Women’s Missionary Union magazine or website. Double duty for paying attention here.)

Human Interest

To determine Human Interest, ask yourself a few questions: Does this help me connect/reconnect with people? Will it help my readers stop and remember that people are more important than things?

In Morgan’s story, again the answer is yes to both questions. It is a touching story that can encourage and inspire.

And one more thing –

The local newspaper is a secular paper. Yes, the owners call themselves Christians, but a secular newspaper is a secular newspaper is a secular newspaper. As a journalist, no matter the print outlet, I must maintain unbiased journalistic integrity in my writing. I do not interject opinion. I do not use gushing adjectives. But what I can do is sincerely and honestly quote subjects who speak freely about Jesus, which both Morgan and Sue Ellen did.

Before I go into any story – whether it is a story I have found and am pitching, or if it is a story that the newspaper or magazine has assigned to me – I know my boundaries.

I determined long ago:

  • that I would tell the truth,
  • that I would not write a story celebrating sin,
  • that I would not put myself in a situation where I am alone with a male,
  • that I would not change a direct quote unless I had a paper trail of permissions,
  • that I would be teachable in terms of writing and editing, and
  • that I would obey God before ANY publisher or editor, no matter how much they offered to pay me.

The world needs journalists who understand there are things we just don’t compromise. That’s the best evaluation after all.

A week after Morgan’s story ran in the local newspaper, I received an email from the newspaper asking me to call a woman at a phone number. I called. She was from a different church close to our area. She wanted to have Morgan come and speak to her women’s group about the mission trip. Through the article, God opened a door for a kind and generous young woman to tell more of her story.

Click-to-Tweet: Pay attention. Evaluate. Pitch. See what God can do with the words He has created for you to use.

Writing Prompt: Your small town is holding a craft fair next summer. Several area crafters have gained national attention with their art. Brainstorm a human-interest story idea for the local newspaper.