As a freelancer, a career-determining decision will be whether you want to write for the Christian market or the secular market. Did you just give me a confused look and ask why it matters? The divide separating the two can sometimes be as wide and impassible as the chasm between Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 (or for you secular writers, as Mount Everest).
I chose to write for the Christian market after I lost my best friend to a drunk driver in 2001, only 10 days after 9/11. I was a Christian before her death, but I was one who rarely read her Bible or went to church. When she died, my faith in Christ came alive. I got my Master’s in Theological Studies and decided to spend my life helping others and serving the Lord. I couldn’t think of a better way to do it than by using the talent He’d given me with words.
What do you need to consider before making your choice?
What Are Your Long-Term Goals?
Calling it a “career-determining” decision might sound extreme, but credits don’t always transfer between the two sides of the writing world. An editor from Family Circle or MacLeans isn’t likely to have heard of most of the Christian magazines out there, and if they haven’t heard of them, they won’t take them seriously. If you switch to writing for Christian magazines, they’ll also want credits that prove not only that you can write but also that you can write for their faith-based audience. Switching markets often means starting over.
Why Are You Writing?
Do you consider your writing a calling? Are you writing as part of a ministry? Do you need to earn a living from your work? Do you have a “regular” job?
With my husband currently out of work, I’ve found myself in the new (and unwelcome) position as the family money-earner, and it’s caused me to re-evaluate my career choices. It’s not that I’m a full-time writer and editor that’s the problem. It’s that I’m a full-time writer and editor for the Christian market where I work full-time for part-time pay.
The Christian market, especially in Canada, is a small, niche marketplace. Potential clients are limited, and unfortunately most of them pay very little (between 10 to 20 cents/word compared to 50 cents and up in secular magazines) or ask writers to work for free. You don’t have to be a mercenary to consider income in your decision. The hydro company will turn off your power if you don’t pay your bills. Your dog will starve if you don’t feed it.
What Do You Want to Write?
Before making the decision whether to focus on writing for Christian magazines, brainstorm a list of topics you’d be interested in writing about.
When writing for Christian magazines, everything—from AIDS to parenting to entertainment—needs to have a faith tie-in, so if you come across a captivating story that doesn’t have a faith element, you won’t be able to write it for the Christian market. (For examples of how even unlikely topics can have a faith element, check out my article “The Secret Life of Soccer Moms” or Lisa’s “Christians and the GTAs War on Drugs.”) And you need to be aware that there are just some topics that Christian editors won’t touch. Ever.
For the secular market, you’ll have more latitude in what you cover, but you’ll need to keep mentions of God generic and watered-down. You’ll also be faced more often with tough decisions about what assignments you’ll accept. For example, do you accept an article covering a psychic fair? How about a profile on the next top female porn star?
Are you comfortable writing for a denomination whose doctrine you don’t entirely agree with?
If you want to succeed as a Christian writer, you’ll need to write for denominations other than your own. Between us, Lisa and I have written for Baptist, Pentecostal, Mennonite, Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic, and Salvation Army publications. We stay true to our own doctrinal beliefs by only writing about the common denominators that all Christians share, but I’ve had potential interview subjects turn me down because they attend a church of a different denomination from the magazine my article was slated to appear in.
Are You Willing to Divide Your Time?
If you still don’t know whether you want to concentrate on writing for Christian magazines or for secular magazines, you can write for both, you just need to be aware of the unique conditions you’ll face. You’ll need to build two separate networks of contacts and multiple areas of specialization. You’ll also need to decide how to divide your time between them.
Part of the reason I love being a freelancer and a writer is the freedom and variety it provides. When choosing whether to start writing for Christian magazines or secular magazines, see it as another chance to exercise your freedom and express your individuality.