“Global” seems to be the latest buzz word. We’ve got to think, speak and act “globally.” No more the small-town mindset.
Global philosophy, unfortunately, has infiltrated the way we writers and speakers approach our work. We seem to think that if we aren’t published or if we don’t speak on a national—or global—level, we aren’t successful.
Too bad. Because opportunities abound close by to use your writing and speaking skills to make a difference in the world around you—in your little corner of the world. This is your “Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8), your immediate environment.
I, too, was once sucked into the global viewpoint. After finding some early success on the national level—I was published in Guideposts, The Upper Room and Teachers in Focus—I thought I was on my way—Not!
It was frustrating to submit a manuscript repeatedly to various appropriate markets and receive more rejections than acceptances. I did my homework and pored over the market guide, followed the guidelines and studied the publication, but still those rejection slips came. Oh, I sold a few poems here and there, but no consistent sales.
Everyone Has a Story
This is the nature of the freelance writing beast. I remember reading or hearing somewhere that it takes at least 10 years to get published consistently. Ten years of frustration and rejection slips? Uh-uh. I’m much too impatient.
While I devoured how-to magazines and books on the craft of writing, attended writers’ conferences to hone my skills and network with publishers, editors and other writers, I yearned for a regular byline—and knowing that my efforts were making a difference in someone’s life. And, at 40-something, I was more sensitive to time slipping by. I didn’t want to wait until I was nearing retirement age before I made an impact on the world.
So when I spied an ad in the local newspaper for a part-time writer, I applied—and, to my surprise, got the job. The publisher wanted three features a week—stories on local people, places and events.
My first feature was about a 90-year-old man that gardened, baked bread and went deep-sea fishing. My second article, which was picked up by the AP, was about a man who defied death a dozen times in his lifetime. Shortly after that, the AP picked up another article I wrote, this one about a Doberman who had a membership in a local gym.
Meeting people and listening to their stories thrilled me. Interviewing was not a chore, it was more like a visit with a friend. I found a purpose, a mission: Through these “good news” stories I could spread hope, encourage others and brighten their days.
The people features evolved into a weekly series, “People Who Make a Difference.” Readers nominated individuals in the community who made a positive difference in the lives of those around them. The series brought the community’s Good Samaritans out of the woodwork and shone a spotlight on those who worked selflessly behind the scenes, rarely receiving accolades and attention.
Devotionals Add Depth
I suggested a devotional column for the weekly religion page. “No.” The publisher was adamant. “I want you to focus on feature stories.”
But I didn’t give up. One day I walked into the publisher’s office where, with the day’s edition spread out on his desk, he was complaining about wasted space. I saw my chance.
“Wasted space? I’ll show you wasted space!” I said, flipping to the religion page and tapping the canned devotional reading. “Let me write something that’s fresh.”
“I won’t pay for it,” he said.
“That’s fine,” I said.
Minute Meditations ran weekly for three years until I left that paper for another, with three times the circulation. And because the publisher never paid for my column, he didn’t own any rights to it. I took it with me to the next newspaper, where it’s run for seven years, winning second place in the 2009 Pennsylvania Newspaper Association's Keystone Press Awards for columns.
Expanding into Radio
This column birthed a daily radio program, God, Me and a Cup of Tea (now also the name of the column), which airs on a local Christian stations two books of meditations, compilations of some of my favorite columns; and three CD recordings of radio programs. Readers order the books for friends and relatives who live out of the area and don’t get the newspaper—books are much more durable than newspaper clippings.
The radio program, by the way, was launched on a local secular station, which broadcast it twice a day. One listener told me he set his alarm five minutes earlier so he could hear it. Three years after it was dropped due to a change in management, I still get comments from former listeners who miss the program.
The column and the radio program led to opportunities to speak, where I sell books and CDs and interviews with local radio and television stations.
Finding my Purpose in Jerusalem
My articles in Guideposts, Upper Room and Teachers in Focus were one-shot deals. But writing week after week to a local audience gives consistency and continuity to an expanding ministry. I have found purpose, fulfillment and joy—much better than rejection and frustration any day.
In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man spent a lifetime ignoring the poor man, whom he saw daily at his own gate. Perhaps he had his eyes on the “bigger picture”—which he thought was more important and worthy of his time and effort. But he missed the most important chance of all to meet another’s needs—and it stared him in the face day after day.
My readers and listeners are my Lazaruses.
Who are yours?
Look for local opportunities:
* Radio stations
* TV stations
* Newsletters (church and business newsletters, Chamber of Commerce)
How to Approach the Publisher, Editor or Station Manager
1. Do your homework. Know the names—correct spelling—and official titles of the publisher, editor, or station manager. Know the circulation of the newspaper and the broadcast range of the radio or television station. Know the number of staff and their positions. Who is their projected audience? What social class? Age range? Take note of who the advertisers are and how frequently their ads are run. Read the newspaper, listen to the radio station or watch the television station to familiarize yourself with its slant, tone and personality. If you’re arch-conservative, a newspaper or station with a liberal slant will not be a good match. Also note any holes that you may be able to fill. What is needed? What do you have to offer that would be better than they have now?
2. Call first and set up an appointment to go in and talk to the person in charge, the one who makes the decisions. Ask to talk to the person directly. Be polite. Tell him or her you’d like to discuss an idea for the newspaper or station. Fit yourself into their schedule.
3. Be prepared. Go in armed with samples of your work, your publishing credits (if you have any), a prototype of the column, series or program you propose—and how it will benefit the newspaper or station. Their first thought will be “what’s in it for me?” In other words, will it sell papers, increase readership or listeners, add advertisers, make more money for them? If you propose an ongoing program, series or column, present enough ideas for several months’ worth. They want to know if you’re good for the long run.
4. Accept whatever is offered. Perhaps the editor needs someone to cover school board or township meetings. Accepting will get your foot in the door and may lead to the opportunity you’ve been waiting and working for.
5. Pray for guidance and wisdom—and an open door to God’s will—not only before you approach the publisher, editor or station manager, but every day of your writing career. Remember, if God calls you, He will enable you, open and close doors to guide you—and give you ideas. That’s how you survive in the long run.
(Published in Christian Communicator, May 2008)