Praying for Clients? Pro Tips to Earn Well as a Christian Writer
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Praying for Clients? Pro Tips for Christian Writers

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” to following this path…

Meet Christian writer Terry Whalin

Christian writer: Terry Whalin

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.

Carol Tice puts it this way:

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.

For example:

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.

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48 comments on “Praying for Clients? Pro Tips to Earn Well as a Christian Writer

  1. Katherine Swarts on

    You mention several times the value of building a long-term network. I’m all for it—even when asking about a specific advertised job, I favor exercising my creativity with an LOI rather than a formal application—but do you have any hints for systematizing the networking approach a bit, setting goals and tracking progress? (Not just “contact x people a week; in my experience the temptation is too great to turn that into a mere numbers game, dashing off x poorly thought-out notes and saying, Well, I did MY part.)
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…Context Is EverythingMy Profile

    Reply
    • Terry Whalin on

      Katherine,

      The relationship building to get these higher paying jobs begins on low levels–like writing for their publications, meeting them at conferences, and that sort of thing–then when they have a higher paying job, they will remember you, because you’ve built that relationship. It takes time and experience to get there, but it is possible. Relationship building is a long-term process–and something that I do every day–yes even today–and it will pay off sometime down the road.

      Reply
      • Carol Tice on

        Terry — really appreciate all the answers you’re providing for my readers! As a Jew, I’ve always been fascinated by this space, because Jewish publications pay well and promptly. We’re all ‘pay the laborer on the day of their labor’ Leviticus 19:13 and Deuteronomy 24:14. Literally, when I wrote for Aish.com, the day my piece went up, a check was in my mailbox.

        And they’re all ‘oh, you should do this out of Christian goodness.’ Have heard so much of that from my readers, over the years! Glad to hear SOME paying markets and ethical people who fulfill on contracts are out there, in the Christian world. I mean, Christianity is a BIG faith here in the U.S., Jews are 1% of the population… they should pay more than we can! Is my POV.

        Reply
        • Terry Whalin on

          Carol,

          I agree with you that the Christian world is a big market and some of them are paying. Writers forget that at the end of the day they also have control–and can walk away from someone who isn’t paying them properly. Our words do have value and if not properly compensated–then don’t submit there or agree to them publish it. Ultiamtely as a writer you are in control–if you take the control.

          This week I got an acceptance from a magazine that I sent a devotional 10 months ago. They pay $30 on publication (May-June 2021). So why did I do it? It’s the Upper Room Devotional–200 words on Isaiah 20 and a worldwide circulation of six million. That’s why. It is not always about the money.

          Reply
          • Allen Taylor on

            Great discussion. One of the reasons it’s taken me so long to get around to the Christian market is the common practice of expecting the writer to work for free. I do like the idea of writing for the audience reach. There are markets where low pay makes sense if you can reach a new audience or expand the audience you have. Thanks for the great perspective, Terry.

      • Katherine Swarts on

        In the meantime, you still need some source of regular income. The question of squeezing in freelance writing around an existing day job has been fairly well covered on this blog: I’ll assume that the same principles–especially “set specific hours for immediate-job hunting and specific hours for freelancing-related work”–apply also to those not currently employed.

        How about those whose immediate financial needs are covered (e. g., by extra savings or a working spouse) but who know that won’t last forever: any thoughts on devoting your full work hours to seeking freelance-writing jobs vs. “stop-gap” work that *might* be easier to find in a shorter time period?
        Katherine Swarts recently posted…Context Is EverythingMy Profile

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      • Katherine Swarts on

        In the meantime, you still need some source of regular income. The question of squeezing in freelance writing around an existing day job has been fairly well covered on this blog: I’ll assume that the same principles–especially “set specific hours for immediate-job hunting and specific hours for freelancing-related work”–apply also to those not currently employed.

        How about those whose immediate financial needs are covered (e. g., by extra savings or a working spouse) but who know that won’t last forever: any thoughts on devoting your full work hours to seeking freelance-writing jobs vs. “stop-gap” work that *might* be easier to find in a shorter time period?
        Katherine Swarts recently posted…Context Is EverythingMy Profile

        Reply
  2. Chris O. on

    Dear Terry,

    This is good to know. I have been looking and searching for this opportunity. I have great passion for writing Christian articles and would not mind if you would give me the necessary guidance to be great in this field. I just want to start from somewhere, adding this to one of my income earning streams.

    Looking forward to hearing from you soonest.

    Chris

    Reply
    • Terry Whalin on

      Chris,

      My blog (link above in the article) is a good place to begin with over 1500 entries. Also start in the magazine area of the Christian market to gain credibility and visibility. Plus it is easier to learn the skill with a short magazine piece than a longer book. I hope this helps you get moving forward.

      Terry

      Reply
  3. Allen Taylor on

    Terry,

    Excellent read. This is the first I’ve heard of a publishing company hiring ghostwriters. How do you find those gigs? I’m well beyond the point of writing for free, but I have recently taken an interest in the Christian market. I certainly have the resume you describe here for the best available work (including ghostwriting and editing books for clients), so I’m curious where you find publishers that work directly with ghostwriters. Off to check out your website now.

    Reply
    • Terry Whalin on

      Allen,

      Great question about the ghostwriting gigs. They come many different ways but mostly from having a reputation and relationships with agents and editors. Agents are often in touch with publishers who have a project which needs a rapid turnaround> other times I’ve gotten a call from an editor at a publishing house. It’s not a single source that I can point to but based on longevity in the market and relationships.

      Terry

      Reply
    • Terry Whalin on

      James,

      Begin with a magazine article not a book. Look at my blog link above and scroll down. In the right hand column there is a search tool. Search for the words “Sunday school take-home” and read those articles–best place to get started. Begin with a personal experience story–eeryone has one of those and get it published. Terry

      Reply
      • Lulu on

        Terry, I’ve not seen this kind of advice before without them urging us to pay for a string of trainings!
        I’m encouraged to try yet again and see if writing might provide an income in my retirement.
        Thank you.

        Reply
    • Carol Tice on

      I think the post offers lots of tips for you, James! Ultimately, it’s on each writer to go out, build their network, identify prospects, and start pitching.

      Reply
  4. Andrea on

    Thanks for your enlightening post, Terry. I am wondering if the a Jewish freelance writer would be welcome in the Christian market. I am Jewish and I have never entertained the idea of writing for Christians. But your post made me wonder about the faith of the writer, especially if you the writer had a “Jewish name.” Your thoughts?

    Reply
    • Terry Whalin on

      Andrea,

      Great question. Robert Bly who is Jewish is a good friend of mine (goes by Bob). It would depend on the publication and the type of article you are writing as to whether it would be a fit or not. Are you familiar with Joel C. Rosenberg who writes thrillers? He is Jewish but also a Christian and has dual citizenship (American and Israeli) living in Israel. His novels are page turners like the Last Jihiad–and have sold millions of copies.

      No one checks your religion–at least from my experience. It’s about the quality of the writing and the fit for the publication–not your last name. I hope I’ve answered your question and helped.

      Reply
      • Andrea on

        Dear Terry, thanks very much and good to know. I haven’t heard of Joel C. Rosenberg but I will check him out. Yes, you answered my question and it was helpful. 🙂

        Reply
      • Paddy on

        A writer who is not Christian would not get work from a Christian publication unless he/she was confirming Christian beliefs. Christians do not do self-criticism of their beliefs. Try it. As a former Christian who now studies Judaism I could probably earn a good living writing for Christian publications…. if I could get in, and I know these people too well so I know it´s extremely unlikely. I´m familiar with Joel Rosenberg. He´s in a fortunate time because there are many Christian publications which pretend to be Jewish and his surname is a boon for Christians trying to convert Jews who are ill-educated in their faith.

        Reply
    • Katherine Swarts on

      Christians–and Jews for that matter–come from every ethnic background. I’d hardly worry about whether your name “sounds right” to a potential client.

      As a Christian who once did business profiles for a Jewish community newspaper (and was never asked about my personal beliefs or my German-sounding last name), I can offer a few insights into the question of writing for the “other side”:

      Many Christian publications, and some book publishers, include a fair share of items about healthy living, influential people, and other things that don’t require touching on theological disagreements. Shared basic values may be enough.

      Many scholarly-minded Christian publishers welcome Jewish insights on the Jewish scriptural canon (which, as the Old Testament, also makes up a substantial part of the Christian canon) or Jewish history and culture.

      Even under the same faith umbrella, there will always be markets committed to theological concepts many people can’t accept for one reason or another. When considering any market, reading a few of their existing publications (a good market-research idea in any case) should clarify whether you would feel comfortable being associated with that publishing name.

      Very Important Note: Don’t go in with the idea of “converting” any publisher or its readership to YOUR point of view (it happens all the time, usually in the form of “I know you don’t normally publish fiction/eschatology/essays, but”), and don’t open a query with “God gave me this message to share” (publishers have long associated that with “This manuscript is sloppily written, but I’d consider it sacrilege to edit it”).
      Katherine Swarts recently posted…Context Is EverythingMy Profile

      Reply
  5. Magreth on

    Thank you for this Article
    My question – how does one get these ministries and faith-based organizations that request for book writing because what I have seen so far are mostly articles? I am really interested in Christian book Ghostwriting. Thanks

    Reply
    • Terry Whalin on

      Magreth,

      Great question. A lot of the higher paying opportunities come from doing the lower paying work–i.e. write magazine articles or other content and form a relationship with them–then you will be someone who has proven that you can do little things so you can do a bigger project. We work with people we know, like and trust. That relationshiop has to start someplace.

      Reply
  6. Yiraida on

    This is God’s sent!

    Bedn thinking about this since I was allowed to publish a couple of articles in a new christian page last week.
    Just, a couple of questions:

    1) What happenedto the blog link?

    2) If I got this right, apparently you have a better chance of making a living as a christian writer if you write books, not articles.

    3) Am I the only one who feels guilty about getting money for writing a christian article? I have issues putting together the “Freely you have received, freely give.” with “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

    Reply
    • Terry Whalin on

      Yiraida yes in general you will make more writing books than articles. As a writer you ultimately choose where you publish. If they aren’t paying or aren’t paying enough then you can not publish there. It’s a big world. Hope this helps. Terry

      Reply
  7. Kathy Widenhouse on

    Great points. Terry didn’t mention the tremendous opportunity of writing content for ministries and faith-based organizations. There are thousands of Christian organizations out there. Every single one needs content!

    Reply
    • Carol Tice on

      I know they do, Kathy… but I often get the feedback from Christian writers that the churches and organizations they reach out to want it done free, out of the Christian goodness of your heart, rather than paying. Interested to hear what Terry will say —

      Reply
      • Terry Whalin on

        Kathy and Carol, certainly some Christian nonprofits and ministries will try and get it for free but others have editorial budgets and will pay. It will be work made for hire or flat fee work but definitely pays. It’s a matter of having good negotiation skills and asking for payment. If the answer is no pay, then you can choose not to do that writing. Hope that helps.

        Reply
        • Katherine Swarts on

          The extreme version of ministries who prefer “donated” writing (and that’s fairly common among small nonprofits of all worldviews) is the one that agrees on a price, even signs a contract—and, when it comes time to pay, protests, “But I’ve been praying God would move you to turn your work into a gift.” That hasn’t happened to me, but it’s happened to more than one of my contacts (seems to be most common with individuals who want a freelance editor to make their self-published books marketable), and I wonder if they ever consider, not just the hardship inflicted on the professional writer, but the impression it gives others that “Christians” are stingy and untrustworthy.
          Katherine Swarts recently posted…Context Is EverythingMy Profile

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          • Terry Whalin on

            Katherine,

            I’ve not had that experience. When someone sends me a contract they don’t try to get the writing for free. If they did, I would not write for them again–and such actions basically destroys their credibility in the Christian world because it is small and we all speak with each other. My two cents on such actions.

      • Shernette on

        Thanks for this article. It’s good to here of your experience and the tips you gave. I’ll check out your blog and see how I can make my mark.

        Reply
        • Terry Whalin on

          Shernette,

          There is an endless supply of possible writing in the Christian market. I have an idea list in the first chapter of my Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams book–and the link is in the article above to help you. Your path will be different than mine but the path is definitely there.

          Terry

          Reply
        • Katherine Swarts on

          Terry,

          I’ve never heard of an established publisher pulling the “stiff ’em at the last minute and play on their guilt” move–but among small-ministry representatives who want to write and publish their own books, yes. Individuals or newly founded businesses often make risky clients for any freelancer because, in addition to having limited budgets and often existing “paycheck to paycheck” themselves, they haven’t grasped that others have concerns beyond helping a “surefire idea take off” (theoretically and eventually).

          It’s a bit off the “Christian market” subject, but the MALW archives have plenty of articles on content mills, “we pay in publicity” claims, and other bad-news writing work.
          Katherine Swarts recently posted…Context Is EverythingMy Profile

          Reply
  8. Terry Whalin on

    Thank you for the opportunity to write this article. I have one more resource for everyone. My latest book is 10 Publishing Myths and New York Times bestselling author Jerry B. Jenkins wrote the foreword. As a Christian writer, Jerry has sold over 70 million books. I wrote an 11th myth you can get this myth plus Jerry’s foreword at the website link for this comment.
    Terry Whalin recently posted…A Different Type of BiographyMy Profile

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