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My Story: The First Professional Writing Sale

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 wanted to be a writer. 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.

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.

A Kind Editor

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, it had a 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. I wrote the first professional sale 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, read, write, and study.

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 titled: Who Does What? Click the link and read the article I wrote back in September 1981. It was published a year later.

Writing Book Reviews

In 1989, 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 bought and read about 100 books a year. The article for the first book I reviewed was titled “Book Review“.

I wrote this book review 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 woman refused 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 passed away just last year. She still had her strong convictions. The picture is of the Vanderbilt Estate.

Writing books reviews had started as a way for me to keep track of the books I read. The late Dr. Calvin Miller had suggested to me in the mid-1980s writing a one-page review each time you read a book. Some I included in the weekly church newsletter I edited. Others I filed for reference.  In June 2003 I started a book review blog, Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews, later renamed Kepler’s Book Reviews.  Military history started sending me books to read and review. They still do. By 2009 it was named a 100 Best Blog For History Buffs by onlineschools.org. From 2012 – 2014 the book reviews were syndicated. I was a featured book reviewer for Front Row Lit Magazine. I have received over 250 review copies of books and had offers for several hundred more I refused over the last decade. I have reviewed books for Casemate Publishing, Cladach Publishing, Naval Institute Press, Stackpole Press, Frontline Books, Pritzker Military Museum and Library, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster and a number of smaller presses as well as from publicists and directly from authors. I have also been an outside reader for several publishers.

What’s my point?

My point is if you love to read and write you can probably leverage it into a paying job.  You will never get rich. I was reminded at the DFW Writers Workshop this spring that less than one percent of all writers can support themselves writing full-time. In 2015 the average income for an author was between $5,000 and $30,000 a year. (source: thecreativepenn.com and authorearnings.com) So don’t quit your day job. If love writing why not go for it? Just write!


Jimmie Aaron Kepler 8/2016Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee-house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support engineer. He is a former Captain in the US Army. He holds BA, MA, MRE and EdD degrees. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. He is the author of seven books and collections available on Amazon. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.


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