Learning the Business of Writing

Today is Tuesday March 19, 2013.

Today I was sitting back and reflecting on the writer’s life. It got me to thinking. How did I get that first sale? That first book review?

The first sale involved learning the system. I attended a Smokey Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference. I was a wanna be writer. I learned basics of magazine article writing. Maybe the most important happening at the conference was meeting editors and publishers. I talked to several publishers who expressed interest in working with new writers.

All the editors required that I write on speculation. That means I write on the subject they assign, but they have no obligation to buy my work. It allows them to see if I can follow their rules, meet their deadlines, write sale-able copy, etc.  It lets them see how thick-skinned you are and if you take things personal.

I had a kind editor who loved taking a few rookie writers under his wing each year and mentoring them. He called offering me an article on speculation. I had to rewrite six times before he bought the first article. My payment was 2 1/2 cents per word, that is a check for $12.50, three copies of the magazine – one for me, one for my parents, and one for my wife’s parents – plus my name was on the by-line.

The article appeared in a little magazine called “Sunday School Leadership” published by Lifeway Christian Resources. Its circulation in the early 1980s was over 250,000 paid subscribers. It’s audience was my church members, seminary classmates, and members of the 40,000 plus Southern Baptist Churches in the USA as well as most directors of Christian education of all denominations.

I wrote an article or two for this editor every year for the next 15 or 16 years. It took me over decade before I got a cover article. Once I did get a cover article I got one every year until he retired.  The first article is very basic. It’s title was: “Who Does What“. I wrote the article in the Emory University Library in Atlanta, Georgia. I lived close to the campus. It was a favorite place for me to hang out and study. The article is available by clicking on the link with the article title.

In 1986 I asked about reviewing books. At the time I would put a book review about once a month in my church’s newsletter. My editor was on the mailing list and said I wrote good reviews. He recommended me to a colleague. The thought of having someone give me a book for free to read was exciting to me. I was buying and reading about 100 books a year so free books were a good thing.  The review for the first book is available by clicking on the link with the article title: “Book Review“.

I wrote this article while sitting in my church bus. I had taken the senior adults from my church to an event in the Smokey Mountains. We had the afternoon free and had gone to the Vanderbilt Estate in Asheville, NC.

One lady refused to tour the house. She was protesting paying homage to the rich and decadent lifestyle I think. Even though the tour was prepaid, she refused to go on it. It was fall and cool in the mountains. I would not let her stay on the bus by herself. So, I sat out there all afternoon and wrote. I can write anywhere I think. The dear lady is still living and around 90 years old and still as stubborn. The picture is of the Vanderbilt Estate.

What is my point? My point is if you love to read and write you can probably leverage it into a paying gig.  You’ll never get rich. I learned at the DFWCon (the Dallas Fort Worth Writer’s Conference) last spring that less than one percent of all writers are able to support themselves writing full-time. So don’t quit your day job. If love writing why not go for it? Just write!

Encourage your friends, keep reading and write.
Jimmie A. Keple

Leave a Reply