Can you make a living as a Christian writer?
Maybe you’re praying for new clients, wondering if you’re on the right path.
After all, the Christian market for freelance writers has a reputation of low pay or no pay which makes for an unlikely way to make a living.
Median annual salary for freelance writers fell to a historic low of $6,080 in 2017, down 42 percent from 2009, according to an Author’s Guild survey.
And if you’re trying to carve out a niche as a Christian writer, you might think there’s even more gloom and doom to come.
Why? Some Christian writers make even less because many of these publications have low pay for articles and expect you are doing it for “the ministry” instead of the money (which may be true and more about that later).
And it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ve successfully made a living as a Christian writer for many years, and I want to give you some of the “secrets” on how to become a freelance writer to help serve other Christians.
Meet Christian writer Terry Whalin
Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 books for traditional publishers including 10 Publishing Myths, Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams and Book Proposals That $ell.
He’s also an accomplished Christian writer and runs The Writing Life blog.
“While I have a journalism degree from one of the top 10 colleges in the U.S., Indiana University, I had a life-changing experience in college,”says Terry.
“Instead of working for a major newspaper, I went into linguistics for 10 years and worked 17 years at Wycliffe Bible Translators (raising my own financial support). Now, for many years, I have successfully made a living working in the Christian market.”
Want to make a living as a Christian writer? Here’s what you need to know:
1. Learn to write well in the print magazine area
Even if it is low pay, you’re gaining publishing experience. Book editors and literary agents are looking for authors who have publishing experience.
One of the best ways to gain that experience is writing for magazines. You learn to:
- Write for an audience
- Give the reader a solid takeaway or single point to remember
- Develop good storytelling and writing skills
These are critical skills for every writer—Christian or not.
2. Low-paying articles can lead to higher paying opportunities
While working on a magazine article assignment, I met the leading African American in Promise Keepers when it was the fastest growing faith-based men’s group in America.
No, the magazine assignment didn’t pay all that great. But…
- My new relationship led to writing a Christian book with Bishop Phillip Porter.
- That project paid a good fee, but it was also another stepping stone.
- I was able to work with a New York literary agent and get a six-figure book contract for the second book.
Before you blow off low-paying assignments, take a minute to consider the possibilities. Follow every open door. You never know where it will lead.
3. Meet your deadlines
From my years of working as an editor, I know many writers are terrible about meeting deadlines.
If you meet your deadlines with quality writing, it is a simple way to stand out from other writers and get even more writing work.
4. Diversity your writing and income streams
No one has a crystal ball to see the future of publishing. But I have learned the hard way the Christian writer needs to create multiple streams of income. For example:
- I’ve had full-time day jobs which have suddenly come to an end.
- I’ve had book contracts cancelled and other unexpected events.
The best protection for any writer is to earn from different places
There are many types of paid writing work. I have a list of possibilities in the first chapter of Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams.
It’s also helpful to know the going rate for different types of writing (Freelance Writing Rates: What Hard-Working Writers Earn in 2020).
5. Broaden your network and ask for work
The Bible verse James 4:2 says: “You have not because you ask not.”
No matter how much material you have published in the Christian market, you can’t sit and expect people will beat a path to your door.
Every writer has to continue to:
- Write book proposals
- Pitch editors and marketing directors
- Send query letters
- Leverage social media
Are you on LinkedIn? Editors and agents move around. But when they move, they take their LinkedIn account with them.
Continue to broaden your connections. When you meet someone new, ask if they know of any writing opportunities. You may not start with what you want to write, but just being available can open new doors for you.
6. Be willing to write ‘Work Made for Hire’
Many writers will turn down ‘Work Made For Hire,’ because they lose their rights and any future earnings on the project.
Fact: My literary attorney says I’ve signed more ‘work made for hire’ agreements than anyone she knows. It’s because for years I have been a working writer.
True story: Over 20 years ago, I wrote a 48,000 word book for a Christian publisher in eleven days. I finished the book two weeks early and got a two-week bonus. This particular book has sold over 100,000 copies and my name is on the cover in the small print “with W. Terry Whalin.” Because the publisher hired me, I’ve not made any more money on this project. But it’s been an excellent writing credit. And it’s helped me get additional work.
7. Fail, expect rejection, and keep going
Many people forget the Chicken Soup for the Soul books were rejected 144 times. Now this series of books is one of the bestselling in the English language.
Anyone who wants to earn a living in the Christian market (or any other market) will be rejected. It’s part of the publishing business, and your persistence as a writer is an important quality.
You need to keep going no matter what happens to you.
Take the attitude that you are an unstoppable force of nature, and you won’t give up until you’ve got your freelance writing biz earning what you need!
8. It’s not always about the money
While the bottom-line is important, sometimes in the Christian market. you write the article for a different reason than just money.
- Expand your network. I’ve written magazine profiles on people, not for the article pay, but for the opportunity to talk with them personally. An interview is an opportunity to form a relationship that could lead to a much larger opportunity such as a book project or some other writing.
- Break into a new niche. Other times I write the magazine article to reach a new audience and include a link to an appropriate free giveaway which builds my email list (and later those subscribers will buy something from me).
The reasons you write something for someone are much more complex than it appears on the surface.
9. WHO you know is as important as WHAT you know
The Christian publishing world may appear large, but in many ways it is a small, connected group of people. One day someone will be a new publicist, and in a few months they become the vice president of publicity.
- When someone has a writing need, you want to be the first person they think about. Many times I have saved a failed project and earned a living in the process.
I wrote Running On Ice by bobsled-gold-medalist Vonetta Flowers in six weeks. The Christian publisher received a poor manuscript and was already out selling the book to bookstores. I was hired as the replacement writer and completed this short deadline. Unfortunately this publisher was racing for the wrong deadline. They were trying to sell an Olympic book in a non-Olympic year.
Tip: Continue to reach out to editors and publishers to see if there is a writing project for you. A gentle question can reveal a profitable writing project.
10. Continue learning and trying new writing venues
I have collaborated on books with more than a dozen people. Some of these projects are ghostwritten, while others include my name on the cover of the book. Not every writer can handle collaboration writing, but it can be another income stream for you if you can do it.
Remember this: There will always be more stories and busy people who need help with their content. And that means there will always be work for willing writers.
The path to being a successful Christian writer
Making a living in the Christian marketplace takes persistence and consistency, as well as a continued good reputation. I have found my way—and believe you can follow the same path.
Need help carving out a niches as a Christian writer? Leave a comment and let’s discuss.
Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He’s also a Christian writer and author of more than 60 books.