I met Dana Wilkerson, editor of ENCOUNTER—The Magazine, at the 2011 Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. She taught the Magazine Articles workshop and shared valuable tips on formatting articles and submitting to magazines. The skills I learned in her class equipped me to submit and sell seven pieces after leaving Mount Hermon.
Dana has served as a full-time Independent Publishing Professional for over five years. Her commitment to building up the body of Christ is evident in her service as a writer and an editor. With a Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education and a Masters of Divinity in Christian Education, she currently offers valuable insight as the editor of ENCOUNTER-The Magazine and 252 Basics Family Experience. Her most recent published works, The Vow – The True Events that Inspired the Movie (Collaboration, B&H, 2012) and My First Hands-On Bible (Contributor, Group/Tyndale, 2011), are just two examples of how God is using Dana to reach readers of all ages.
I’m pleased to introduce Dana Wilkerson, author, editor, and encouraging teacher.
Thank you for taking time to join us on the Inspire blog, Dana.
Thanks for having me.
Why do you think it’s important that unpublished and published writers submit to magazines?
Submitting to magazines that accept unsolicited submissions is a great way for unpublished writers to break into the publishing industry.
I know it’s frustrating for new writers when they discover that most publications only accept submissions from published writers. After all, how can you ever get published if you have to already be published to get published?
One of the great things about ENCOUNTER—The Magazine is that we accept unsolicited submissions from anyone, published or not. To me, what’s important is the words within an article, not the list of the author’s previous published works.
I also think it’s good for published writers to keep submitting to magazines because it keeps them fresh and challenges them in different ways than writing a book or blog entries does. It also helps put authors’ names out there, because magazine circulation numbers are often much higher than book sales numbers or blog hits. It’s a great form of publicity.
What can writers do to make their work attractive to editors among the throngs of daily submissions?
First, follow the writing guidelines. I know that sounds simple and obvious, but you would be surprised how many submissions I get that are not appropriate for our magazine in either content or format.
Second, be creative while staying within those writing guidelines. At ENCOUNTER we use themes for each week, and it amazes me how many articles for a theme sound exactly the same. Find a new approach or a new angle for a topic.
Congratulations on your new book, The Vow: The True Events That Inspired the Movie, which hit the shelves and the theaters on February 10, 2012. What is the most rewarding and challenging aspect of writing a book based on a true story?
The most challenging aspect was making sure I was portraying the real people and events accurately while also writing in an engaging way. I worked very closely with Kim and Krickitt Carpenter as I wrote because I wanted to be certain what I wrote was what really happened.
And the great part was that they weren’t interested in making themselves look good; they wanted the reader to know them, for better and for worse, but most of all they wanted to make sure God was the focus.
The most rewarding aspect was the thanks I got from the Carpenters for doing what I just described.
What is the most rewarding and challenging aspect of collaborative writing?
The most rewarding aspect of collaborative writing is knowing I’m helping people get their stories out there for people to read. I don’t think the reading public should be deprived of hearing an inspiring story just because the person the events happened to isn’t an accomplished writer. I love helping those people share their stories with the world.
The most challenging aspect is communication. Some people I’ve worked with, like the Carpenters, have been great about being available and keeping in touch with me while I write.
Others (and I’m not going to name names here!) have been really hard to track down when I really need some input or answers. In those cases I just have to push ahead while hoping I’m headed in the right direction and won’t have to do extensive re-writes.
As an author and editor, you have a unique perspective on the publication process. What advice would you give authors who are intimidated by the process of pitching and submitting to an editor?
I know interacting with editors can be intimidating, but we’re people just like you. Many of us are also writers ourselves, and we’ve been (and still often are) where you are.
My advice is to do your homework. Take a look at sample pitches, cover letters, and so on from writing books and websites so that you can appear to be a professional even if you don’t feel like it!
Then do some research on the specific publication you’re pitching or submitting to. Resources like The Christian Writer’s Market Guide are a fantastic place to start, and almost all publications have a page on their website dedicated to writing FAQs and guidelines.
Don’t ask an editor a question that is answered in those places or do (or not do) something that our guidelines have told you not to do (or not do). It makes us think you’re not serious about writing for us.
And finally, be confident, but also be teachable and willing to adjust your writing according to editorial guidelines and suggestions.
What would you say to authors who have felt frustrated or discouraged when it comes to receiving a “no” from an editor?
We have all been there, so take comfort from the misery of others. Ha! I’m only partly kidding.
Seriously, though, the fact that you received a “no” doesn’t necessarily mean your work wasn’t of good quality (though it might; if an editor will give feedback, take advantage of that option). Some rejections might just mean that there were too many great pieces to print. That happens all the time with ENCOUNTER.
For example, I might get 20 submissions for one week’s theme, of which 7 are great articles. (See, I told you some rejected articles are great.) We print at most 4 freelance articles per theme, but usually it’s just 2 or 3. So what I have to do is choose just the right combination of articles for those 2-4 spots, based on length, genre, and subject matter.
I often have to send rejection letters for articles that I absolutely love just because there’s not enough room.
What final word of encouragement or advice would you like to share with published and unpublished authors?
Keep writing! You never know where God might take you and who He wants to reach through your words.
But keep in mind that His plans might be different than yours. The goal is for God to be glorified, not for us to make a name for ourselves.
Thank you for sharing insight from both sides of the fence in the publication world, Dana. We pray the Lord will continue to use you to equip and encourage your fellow authors as He blesses your personal writing ministry.
Thanks, Xochi. It’s been a pleasure.
ENCOUNTER – The Magazine is currently accepting unsolicited submissions. Check out their writer’s guidelines and read samples of the magazine. If, after all of your research, you feel your work fits the needs of ENCOUNTER, pray for God’s leading, polish that piece and send it in.