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Put Your Faith on Paper
by Ellen Bailey
Editors of religious children's magazines are always on the lookout for well-written spiritual stories. You might be the one to supply them. After years of writing for children in religious contexts, I have a few suggestions to help you succeed.
First, knowing your market is doubly important when writing for a religious magazine. While you do not have to be a member of the denomination whose magazine you are writing for, you do need to know what the denomination believes. If you write something that contradicts the church’s doctrines, you have lost not only that sale but probably any possibility of ever making a sale to that publication.
When you are writing for a non-denominational publication, you need to keep doctrinal points very general.
The magazine will probably require true stories, as opposed to true-to-life. Again, it is not necessary to write about people who are members of the denomination. A good spiritual application is what the editors are looking for.
However, you should write about children. And write positive stories. The child should be the hero of the story; celebrate the good things kids do. Of course, children do not always do the right thing, but let the child realize his or her own error. Do not shame or humiliate the child.
Make a clear spiritual application, but do not get preachy. Kids are intelligent. It is not necessary to hit them over the head to make the point. Some publications may want a more direct spiritual application than others; the guidelines and sample copy will help you here.
Traditionally, stories were about boys because of the belief that “Girls will read boys’ stories, but boys won’t read girls’ stories.” The fact is, any child will gladly read a well-written story.
Writers and editors now realize this, and the result is sometimes a glut of stories about girls. Do not leave the boys out! If you have a good spiritual story about a boy, by all means, write it. Boys need to identify with spiritual heroes, too.
The primary demand is for contemporary stories, dealing with today's issues at school, at home and in common children's activities such as sports. But this is not the only possibility. Historical stories are also welcome, especially if they involve the history of the religion you are writing for or if they have a modern application.
And do not neglect diversity. Write about children in other countries and cultures whenever you can. In one market, I have been successful in helping to change the focus of stories from "all Anglos all the time" to an attitude of “Jesus loves all the children of the world — and they are all pretty great."
Sometimes it is even important to tell stories about errors of the past — such as racial bigotry. This will help the children to understand their current world and how spiritual growth is working in all of us.
Above all, remain committed to your storytelling craft. Do not think that you can take it easy when writing for a religious audience. Write a good story; keep the readers glued to the page. Poorly written religious stories are a particular turnoff. Include drama and humor. Keep the story moving. You do not want to teach children to scorn religion as a result of sloppy or silly storytelling.
Finally, the writer's guidelines for the publication will tell you whether to query a story, but there is something to be said for submitting the initial story without a query. At least, this method worked for me. The story, an historical one, was turned down; they had already done it. But the editors were so impressed with the quality of my writing that they put me on the publication's "Author's List."
The editors periodically send out notices to everyone on the list, with abstracts of stories they want written, and I have a chance to request the story I want to do. As a result, I have become a regular contributor to this particular magazine. The request list is also how I got the opportunity to publish my first book.
I even took a trip to England—my first!—to interview the book's subject. And the entire trip was tax-deductible.
In general, the pay is higher for stories that have been queried and assigned.
Sometimes writer's guidelines are hard to find. I have listed a few online and print sources here. Have fun and make fun for kids while you share your faith with them.
General Guideline Sources —
Specific Guideline Sources —
© Copyright 2009, Ellen Bailey
My first career was journalism. I was a reporter, editor and humor columnist. Now I am an instructor in English as a Second Language at Kansas State University. For more than 20 years, I have been a nonfiction freelance writer, producing stories for religious children's magazine, scripts for a nondenominational children's religious radio broadcast, Bible correspondence lessons and a book. In addition, for about five years I wrote for an online educational database.