Weekly Readers: They Need Your Inspirational Tales!
They’re the Weekly Readers of the Sunday School classrooms–wispy, four-colored pages that barely seem substantial enough to be called “magazines.” In fact, most often they’re referred to as “take-home papers.”
For readers, the papers they receive in church or Sunday School classes are a means to reflecting on Christian values throughout the week. For writers, they represent a large market eager for personalized fiction, nonfiction, essays, poems, self-help and how-to. Several years ago my first personal experience article was accepted by Power for Living. Since then I’ve accumulated a stack of clips and check stubs.
These magazines may be small in page count, but the readerships may be quite large–some have circulations of more than 400,000. (All those Sunday school classes add up. And the variety, as well as each paper’s need for up to 175 manuscripts per year, offers many opportunities for writers.
But this need doesn’t make for easy sales. Editors, just like their secular counterparts, want well-written material. Beyond that requirement, articles and fiction in take-home papers must also touch or challenge readers’ emotions. The stories must be uplifting: A tragedy becomes a blessing, a lesson is learned, hope is renewed. Readers want to feel as if you are talking to them. You want them to understand how you reacted to a particular experience, or how your faith was challenged.
Ideas for Sunday school take-home papers are found everywhere: in a writer’s own life and experiences, and in others’ stories that inspire people to strengthen their faith, love and accept others, or overcome adversity. Both small daily events and major experiences that change our lives can be used for articles or short essays, or become fiction pieces.
Have you learned how to overcome feelings of failure, deal with a problem family member or had a prayer answered in an unexpected way? Have you gone through a health crisis that stretched your faith? Do you know someone who has overcome great challenges to come to the US? Has an experience caused your feelings to change toward others? These are just a few story lines you could turn into inspirational stories and articles. How-to articles on family, marriage, parenting, relationships with God and people around us are also needed. If you experience life, you have something to say to readers in this market.
For example, a parent once asked me, “How will my adopted son react if I become pregnant someday?” I turned that situation into the short story “Homemade or Store-bought” for HiCall (now Teen Life). When my husband forgot to thank me for staying up late typing a college paper for him (but remembered he’d failed. to tell me to triple-space), I wrote “Forgotten Gratitude” for Live.
Don’t think that you can’t write for a publication that’s outside your faith: Membership in a particular denomination isn’t as important as studying the papers, and noting their styles and the types, of articles they prefer. Read the guidelines, which list denominational beliefs as well as do’s and don’ts. One magazine may accept a certain topic, while another may reject the manuscript because it violates the beliefs or ideals of its readers. For instance, Halloween, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are almost always unacceptable in this market because of their nonreligious natures.
The principal guideline in writing fiction for these publications is the characters must reflect real-life problems that are solved in a nonpreachy or nonsimplistic way. As the story ends, readers should notice a change in the character’s attitude or understanding. In teen and juvenile take-home papers, it’s especially important to make the stories and problems realistic and relevant. The problem must be solved through faith, but not without inner or outer struggles.
Preachiness has no place in nonfiction either. Yet show-don’t-tell dialogue and action do. Show emotion whenever possible, especially if it’s a personal experience, inspirational, humor or self-help piece.
How-to articles are also popular. The best how-tos are more than lists of “Five Ways to Interest Children in Sunday School.” Show how you did it. Use anecdotes, or take an event and show how it made a difference.
After studying a few samples, make a list of the different types of stories you encountered: personal experience, how-to, self-help, humor, etc. Then write down under each topic anything you, your family or someone you know has experienced that readers could draw encouragement or ideas from. Does someone you know have an inspiring story? Interview that person and write it as an as-told-to piece.
There are several advantages to writing for take-home papers. Because they are published weekly, they need more freelance material than most magazines. Each issue has two to three short stories or articles, plus a back page often used for short essays or poetry.
Most pay on acceptance. And many purchase only one-time rights, enabling you to resell it to a noncompeting paper of another denomination (most papers are willing to buy second, or reprint, rights). By reselling a piece, you can generate payment for several years. Many of my personal experience and how-to articles have been published in up to six different take-home papers during the past three years. One event can become an article, short story, essay and a poem–four sales that can each be sold again and again as reprints.
And, like everywhere else in the publishing world, editors move, which can open more magazine doors for you. After I had sold several articles to Sunday Digest and developed a relationship with the editor, she left to edit 7he Quiet Hour, a devotional booklet by the same publisher. I continued to sell to Sunday Digest and its new editors. The previous editor soon contacted me to write for The Quiet Hour.
Perhaps the greatest reward, though, is receiving letters from readers who have been touched or challenged by what I’ve written. If you’re able to put your emotions into words, are comfortable with sharing your life in print and want your writing to impact others, consider writing for take-home papers. These magazines need your life-touching stories.