Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV producer, playwright, and essayist. His work has appeared in a variety of places, from Haunts magazine to Zondervan's New Men's Devotional Bible. A three time winner of the American Christian Writers Association Writer of the Year award, he is also a speaker, musician, worship leader, ordained United Methodist minister, and a pretty fair banjo picker.

thomas Smith


Once upon a time a man made a birthday cake for his fiancée. It was the first thing he had ever baked for her. In fact, it was the only time he had ever cooked in his life. He emptied the contents of the box into a bowl, tossed the box into the trash compactor, and started mixing. First the eggs, then the . . . uh-oh . . . he had no milk to add to the mix. Of course, had he read the instructions on the box, he would have known he could use applesauce in place of the liquid and still have a great dessert.

Instead, he added a can of pork and beans, and instead of having a special treat for the love of his life, he had a lumpy orange cake that could blow out its own candles.

The sad thing is some writers approach the task of marketing their writing the same way. For example, you may have written the most amazing bit of Christian vampire erotica ever to hit the printed page, but regardless of how many times you send it to Field and Stream or Southern Living, they are not going to buy it. That’s why they print thousands of those little sheets called Submission Guidelines. Heck, they even post them on Web sites and send them out in e-mails just so folks like you and I will know what they want and what they don’t want.

But sadly, some folks who read the guidelines ignore them. They use the boiled okra line of reasoning: “Well, I know you say you don’t like boiled okra, but you’ve never tasted my boiled okra.” The writers’ equivalent is: “Well, I know it says you don’t buy humor pieces, but you haven’t read my humor piece.” It’s the same difference. For you northerners and other folks who have never been subjected to a bowl of boiled okra, it is the consistency of runny boogers, it leaves a slime trail, and it is just plain nasty. And unless Elvis cooks up a batch in my own kitchen, serves it for supper, and brings a note from Heaven stating that I have no choice, I will not eat it again.

And that is the same attitude an editor takes when a writer starts the I know, but you haven't read my . . . gambit. The register is going to ring up No Sale.

To be published regularly, some facts are an absolute necessity:

1. Study the markets: Invest in a good market guide (Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide and Writer’s Digest Writer’s Market are two of the best) or a reputable market list, and use them.

2. Write to the editor’s specifications: If the guideline says no fiction, it means no fiction. If they are looking for historical romance, a history-based action adventure piece will be cheerfully rejected. And if the word limit is 1,200–1,500 words, don’t send fewer than 1,200 or more than 1,500.

3. After you target your publications and study the guidelines, send query letters based on salable ideas. Then write the pieces once you have a contract. Too many authors write a story, article, essay, etc., and then spend countless weeks and months trying to find a home for it. So often the piece becomes an orphan.

Remember . . . a lot of competition is out there, and if you aren’t doing the market research, sending your work to the appropriate places, and following the specified guidelines, the nice editor you contacted is going to buy a piece from someone who did.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go explain to my mama why I put the word booger in a column.