Because I’ll be on maternity leave from “Ask Wendy” for the rest of the year, I’m using the opportunity to share publishing advice from other authors. This column includes answers from Steve Burt, author of 13 books, including Activating Leadership in the Small Church, A Christmas Dozen: Christmas Stories to Warm the Heart, and the Stories to Chill the Heart series. (burtcreations.com)
Wendy: What was your first big break?
Steve: My first “break” was a triple-header week in the early 1980s. I was a seminarian and a student pastor and so submitted articles related to my field. That week’s mail brought three acceptances and much encouragement. Upper Room devotional guide took a daily meditation ($10 and a free subscription); Pulpit Digest ran a sermon of mine free (but it made my publish-or-perish professors jealous); Your Church magazine took a how-we-did-it article on small church planning retreats ($35). After that came Reader’s Digest, Family Circle, Chicken Soup for the Soul series pieces, and hundreds of articles, poems, stories, and books (non-fiction church leadership books as well as popular fiction), which earned me many awards including three Ray Bradbury prizes, a Benjamin Franklin Award (mystery/suspense), and the world’s top horror prize, the Bram Stoker (for young readers).
Wendy: What’s your best advice for beginning writers?
Steve: My advice to beginners goes against conventional wisdom. Try writing in a few different areas, and publish wherever you can, including no-pay and low-pay markets. My weird tales first appeared in small low-pay/no-pay ghost and horror magazines that were labors of love by their writer/editors who usually lost money publishing out of their garages. But those freebies of mine appeared in England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and the USA, usually earning me just a contributor’s copy.
However, because they only needed one-time rights, it meant I could publish a story in several non-competing magazines. Some won prizes or earned honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror anthologies. When it came time to produce my first collection, Odd Lot: Stories to Chill the Heart, I simply drew together reprints of those small-press stories—and the self-published book won the Publisher’s Marketing Association’s Benjamin Franklin Award (silver, mystery/suspense) as well as a Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Award (honorable mention, horror).
The sequel, Even Odder, was a mix of small-press reprints plus some new originals—and it was a runner-up to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the Bram Stoker Award, arguably the world’s top horror prize. The next, Oddest Yet, beat Dean Koontz and tied Clive Barker to actually win the Stoker. And the fourth, Wicked Odd, was an honorable mention for the Ippy (Independent Publisher) Award. The books have sold very well, but I wouldn’t have made much money or gotten the big awards if I had held out for only paying markets early on.
Articles, books, greeting cards, oh my! Wendy Burt is a successful full-time freelance writer and editor who has more than doubled her income since leaving her job as a newspaper editor just three years ago. With two women’s humor books for McGraw-Hill and more than 1,000 published pieces, Wendy’s typical day might including writing ad copy, greeting cards, health articles, personal profiles or her marketing column for Her Business magazine. Her work has appeared in such varied publications as Family Circle, The Writer, MSNBC.com, NewYorkTimes.com, Home Cooking Magazine and American Fitness. Wendy teaches “Breaking Into Freelance Writing” and still finds ample time to spend with her beautiful baby, Gracie. Visit www.BurtCreations.com to see books by Wendy and her award-winning dad. More info at www.WendyBurt-Thomas.com.