Rewind: My First Pro Writing Sale

Vanderbilt MansionRemembering

Today I was sitting back and reflecting on the writer’s life. It got me to thinking.

How did I get my first professional magazine article sale? How did I get the first book review?

Go ahead refill your coffee cup, then take a seat in your favorite overstuffed recliner and I’ll share my story.

Learning the System

The first sale involved learning the system. I attended a Smokey Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference at a wonderful venue just east of Ashville, North Carolina. I wanted to be a writer. Both my ego and the desire to increase my influence as a Christian educator motivated me. At the meeting, I learned some of the basics of the 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.

Writing on Speculation

All the editors required that I write on speculation. That means I wrote an article as assigned, but they have no obligation to buy my work. It allows them to see if I can follow their rules, meet their deadlines, write usable copy, etc.  It lets them see how thick-skinned you are and if you take criticism too personal.


I had a kind editor who loved taking a few rookie writers under his wing each year and mentoring them. I had to rewrite six times before he bought the first article. My payment was 2 1/2 cents per word.  I received 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. Published by Lifeway Christian Resources in a little magazine called “Sunday School Leadership,” my article was in print. At the time, the magazine had a circulation of over 250,000 subscribers. 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, read the magazine.

Consistent Sales

I wrote an article or two for this editor every year for the next 15 years. It had taken me over a 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 is attached and titled: “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.

Reviewing Books

In 1989, I was approached 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. At the time, I bought and read about 100 books a year. The thought of having someone give me a book for free to read was exciting. The article for the first book I reviewed is attached with the simple 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 tour the Vanderbilt Estate in Asheville, NC.  One lady refuse to view the house. She was protesting paying homage to the rich and decadent lifestyle I think. Even though the cost of the tour was prepaid, she refused to go on it. It was autumn and cool in the mountains. I would not let her stay on the bus by herself. So, I sat out there on the bus all afternoon and wrote. I can write anywhere I think. The dear lady recently passed away. She left a legacy through the influence of her strong convictions. The picture is of the Vanderbilt Estate.

The Bottom Line

What is my point? My point is if you love to read and write you can probably leverage it into a paying gig.  I have had hundreds of articles published in trade journals, newsletters, and magazines through the years. I expanded my writing from Christian education to general nonfiction, speculative fiction, and novels. While you will never get rich, it is fun seeing your name in a table of contents and by-line.

I was reminded at the DFW Writers Workshop this spring that less than one percent of all writers can support themselves writing full time. So don’t quit your day job. If love writing why not go for it?

Go ahead, set down your coffee cup of coffee, move from your chair, get your laptop or paper and pencil and write!

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