Writer’s Life: Remembering My First 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 was a want to be writer. I learned some of the 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 saleable 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. The article was published in a little magazine called “Sunday School Leadership” published by Lifeway Christian Resources. Its circulation was over 250,000 subscribers. It was read by 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 years. It took 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.

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. 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 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 visit the house. She was protesting paying homage to the wealthy and decadent lifestyle I think. Even though the cost of the tour was prepaid, she refused to go on it. It was fall and cold 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 is still living and around 90 years old and still has strong convictions. 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 will never get rich. I was reminded at the DFW Writers Workshop 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!

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.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

“Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S.Elliot is a wonderful politically incorrect book of short poems about cats and their curious natures. I first encountered the book when a college student.

T.S. Elliot, a poet and an author, intriguingly found his supreme accomplishment calling himself “ol’ Possum” in a book written in the 1930’s of short poems about cats and their nosy natures. It is one of the most renowned books of poetry in history. “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” is successful because it’s fun. It is pure fun.

Each cat has his or her own behavior and misbehavior. Jenny Anydots, teaches the cockroaches manners and twists curtain strings. Rum Tum Tugger is unhappy with everything. They are an odd yet mysteriously familiar lot. We do not have to have ever been to a train station to know Skimbleshanks the railway cat, a cat whose job it is to watch and keep organized everything going on in his world.

Matched to these fantastic, creative characters is T.S. Elliot’s Nobel Prize winning control of the rhythm flow of the English language. Many of the poems seem to be songs in their own right, jumping lyrically as the cats, frolic, groom and caterwaul.

In case you did not it Andrew Lloyd Webber chose this book to translate into his musical “Cats.” There are a variety of rhyme schemes and literary devices at use making each poem fresh and lively in its own right.

Ol’ Possum’s may leave those unaccustomed with how poetic books work somewhat let down. The book has no central story or point. It is just a fun, playful examination of the lives and natures of cats.

In a note for the culturally sensitive, T.S. Elliot looks somewhat disapprovingly at non-white races particularly Asians. Those considering this book for a classroom or other settings for children should give it a look over first and be ready to explain the “non-politically correct” language.

This is the book that made me fall in love with poetry for life.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a writer of speculative fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and reviews books. He’s written for Poetry & Prose Magazine, vox poetica, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination Literary Magazine, Thinking About Suicide.com, Author Culture, FrontRowLit.com, The Baseball History Podcast, Writing After Fifty, Sunday School Leadership, Church Leadership, Motivators For Sunday School Workers, The Deacon, Preschool Leadership, Sunday School Leader, and The Baptist Program. For sixteen years, he wrote a weekly newspaper column. He has written five fiction and poetry books. All are available on Amazon.com. His blog “Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews” was named a 100 Best Blogs for History Buffs and has had over 750,000 visitors.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing is Stephen King’s book about his learning and living the craft of writing. It is an enjoyable book. It took me six days to read. He organizes the book in three sections.

The first section is an autobiography. It centers on King’s early exposure to fiction. We learn of his childhood attempts at writing. We learn of his writing for his brother’s newspaper that the published in the basement. We learn he was editor of his high school paper his sophomore year in high school. We learn how he was told to accept a job at the local newspaper by the school faculty after he wrote a satire newsletter about the school faculty. He tells of the nail on his bedroom wall where he placed his rejection slips. He shares how he learned from the rejections. He tells of his early tries to get published. We learn how his teaching high school English and his summer jobs played a role in his breakthrough success with the novel Carrie ($2,500 advance on the hard cover release and $400,000 for the paper back rights), and his later development as an author. King also discusses his problems with drugs and alcohol. He shares how his wife has played a major role in his personal and writing life. From the book you can tell he loves and respects her very much. She plays the key role in his life.

The second section is no-nonsense instruction on writing, from tips on grammar to ideas about developing plot and character. King explains it as a guide for how “a competent writer can become a good one.” He stresses his beliefs that a writer should edit out unnecessary details. He also points words ending in “ly”, adverbs, should be avoided with the use of unnecessary adverbs avoided. We learn how he writes first drafts and second drafts.

The third section is autobiographical. It is discusses the 1999 accident where King was struck by the driver of a van. The van driver was trying to keep his Rottweiler dog was getting into an ice chest of raw meat while not paying attention to his driving. King describes his brush with death. We learn about his painful recovery. He tells of his struggle to start writing again.

I highly recommend purchasing and reading the book.

Martian Mondays: The Martian Chronicles – Chapter Ten: The Locusts

Chapter Ten – “The Locusts” – This story first appeared in The Martian Chronicles. This vignette concerns the swift colonization of Mars. The title refers to the rockets and settlers that quickly spread across all of Mars.

A 1997 edition of the book advances all the dates by 31 years. This story is advanced from February 2002 to 2033.

Martian Mondays: The Martian Chronicles – Chapter Nine: The Green Morning

“The Green Morning” first appeared in The Martian Chronicles.

The next several chapters describe the transformation of Mars into another Earth. Small towns similar to those on Earth begin to grow.

In “The Green Morning”, one man, Benjamin Driscoll, makes it his mission to plant thousands of trees on the red plains so oxygen levels will increase. Due to some property of the Martian soil, the trees he plants grow into a mighty forest in a single night.

A 1997 edition of the book advances all the dates by 31 years. This story advances from 2001 to 2032.

Martian Mondays: The Martian Chronicles – Chapter Eight: The Settlers

In chapter eight, “The Settlers”, Spender returns to the rest of the expedition. He carries a gun and shoots six of his crew-mates, saying he is the last Martian. Captain Wilder approaches under a white flag and has a short discussion with Spender during which the archaeologist explains that if he manages to kill off the expedition it may delay human colonization of the planet for a few more years, possibly long enough that the expected nuclear war on Earth will protect Mars from human colonization completely.

Although he opposes Spender’s methods, Captain Wilder somewhat agrees with his attitude towards colonization and wishes for him a humane death. He returns to the others and joins them as they pursue Spender, and Wilder shoots Spender in the chest during the fight before he can be killed by anyone else. The captain later knocks out the teeth of Parkhill, another expedition member, when he disrespectfully damages some Martian glass structures while “target practicing.”

Many of the characters of the Fourth Expedition — Parkhill, Captain Wilder, and Hathaway — re-appear in later stories.

“The Settlers” is the first story that displays a central theme of The Martian Chronicles. It acts as a commentary on the Western frontier of the United States and its colonization, using the colonization of Mars as the analogy.

Like Spender, Bradbury’s message is that some types of colonization are right, and others are wrong. Trying to recreate Earth is viewed as wrong, but an approach that respects the fallen civilization that is being replaced is right.

In the before mentioned version, this short story describes the first settlers coming to Mars, the Lonely Ones, the ones that came to start over on the planet. It first appeared in The Martian Chronicles.

A 1997 edition of the book advances all the dates by 31 years. “The Settlers” date advances from 2001 to 2032.