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The following material is provided by WRITERLIST a Free service providing marketing and other information to writers. This material is copyrighted by Allen Rolf, but permission is hereby given for reproduction and distribution for non-commercial purposes. For more information, email WRITERLIST

Theme Fiction Writing .... A Place To Learn Quickly!

by Allen Rolf

This short fiction market is virtually untouched!

While I was in college, I worked for a small rural market AM radio station. About two weeks before Christmas the station manager would bring in a large packet of printed material and the station would go Christmas-Insane! We had spots about Christmas, Christmas time and temperature breaks, Christmas stories, Christmas poems, Christmas recipes, Christmas jokes, Christmas tradition .... two weeks of nothing but Christmas. It was a real money maker for the station. The station's one salesman had a field day selling all this Christmas stuff to local merchants!

In the broadcast industry, this is called "themed continuity," seldom done in these days of top forties, goldy oldies, and talk radio, but the same idea can be adapted to short fiction writing. It can be developed into a sizable seasonal market where you can sell the same story over and over, year after year!

How It Works!

First, consider the dozens of magazines that publish family-oriented material. There are family magazines, religious magazines, kiddie magazines, juvenile magazines, fraternal magazines, company in-house magazines, along over a dozen other classifications. Some of these magazines publish short fiction, most do not. As a general fiction market they may appear to unpromising, but the one thing you'll probably find is that at Christmas, they publish Christmas themes; on Mother and Fathers' Day, they publish mother and father themes; and probably in July something patriotic. In other words, many of these magazines do not publish fiction in every issue, but they will buy a special fiction theme story or and, often, the reason they don't is that not many writers have pursued this market.

Timing Is Important!

Remember that writing any seasonal material, it should be in the editor's hands at least three months before the publication date. This means for Christmas material, you will make your placements in July and August; for Mothers'Day in December and January, etc. Be sure to allow an extra month for queries.

Because the sales window is so small, it is wise to consider simultaneous submissions to this market. Many writers do not feel comfortable sending the same manuscript to several editors at the same time, feeling that the editor will become angry. True, a very few might, but most editors these days realize the competitive market. If you should happen to end up with two editors offering to buy the same manuscript (a rare happening), simply place with the highest bidder!

How To Find 'Em!

Where do you find suitable magazines to contact? As with any research, including fiction marketing, the library is a very good place. Go the the reading area and scan the small periodicals that deal with family, kid, and juvenile markets. This will be enough to get a feel for the market, later you can expand your efforts into several other potentially lucrative areas.

Obviously, as with all magazine fiction writing, it is necessary to write the editor (include a SASE) for writer/submission guides, so get the mailing information from the editorial page of the magazines you want to write for.

Analyze each magazine while at the library, reading a few articles along the way to get a feel for what and how the magazine publishes. Note the length of feature articles. (To count words quickly in an article, take one inch of column copy and count the number of words in that one-column inch. Next, measure the total number of column inches in the article and multiply by the the number of words per inch.) Article length can be very important, since the editor will put his publication together in blocks and feature material will always run about the same number of words.

After you have looked at the mechanics of a magazine, go to the stacks and have the librarian bring you the November and December copies of the magazine for the past two years. This will give you a very good idea of how much space the editor devotes to Christmas each year. Note any fiction and how it is laid out.

How To Come Up With Story Ideas Quickly!

Go to the card catalog at the library and, in the case of Christmas, look under Christmas Stories. In researching this article, the two libraries in my area listed a total of 39 books of Christmas stories and traditions, 18 for Easter, and about a half-dozen on Independence Day and Mother's day.

There are two ways you can use this material; the obvious, if you are dealing with traditional material that has become public domain is to re-create the story in your own words. Some care is necessary here. When I do this, I generally have the by-line read:

How The Christmas Tree Got Its Lights!

An old traditional German tale
As told by Allen Rolf

For obvious reasons, this eliminates any possible confusion about the story being original. Generally, there is no problem handling a non-copyright public domain story in this manner. Your writing can actually enhance the original and fit it to the editor's needs!

The second is to come up with original stories of your own. I have always found this very hard to do. (You sit down at the keyboard and can think of every other kind of story but a Christmas story!) The answer is to read Christmas stories and see what other authors have done. You will find that nearly all the favorite Christmas stories are about the wonder of Christmas, sharing, hope, and trust. Look for plots other writers have used and then adapt them to your experience.

Let me give you a couple of examples that come quickly to mind. In The Gift of The Magi, a famous O'Henry story (, a poor couple seeks to buy each other Christmas gifts. The man has a pocket watch that he sells to buy the girl a comb for her beautiful flowing hair; the girl sells her hair to buy a chain for the watch. It is a beautiful story with a typical O'Henry ending (you'll have to read the ending yourself for full effect!) This story as written at the turn of the century, yet its theme is universal. Try and adapt it to today's world and use the same theme in a modern setting!

A second illustration is not even a Christmas story. Ever read The Piece of String. by Guy de Maupassant? In this story (in zip file at: a poor man is observed picking something up in the town square and putting it into his pocket. Later the Mayor's wife loses a valuable broach and the town-people accuse the old man of taking the broach. When they search the old man they find he had only picked up a piece of string that he intended to take home to use. For a long time, I have had the idea of re-creating this as a Christmas story where a poor woman, in order to keep her children warm on the Christmas Eve, collects pieces of coal along the way and puts them in her apron. She is observed by a rich man who accuses her of some imagined wrong and brings her before the constable where she is forced to open her apron. When she opens her apron, fragrant roses fall to the floor, symobolizing that is is not the value of the gift, but the intent that counts. (Incidentally, this story would just as well be written for Mothers' Day!)

Some links to Christmas Stories & Traditions on the Web:


Easter Stories & Traditions:

Mothers' Day & Fathers' Day

Links To Other Holidays:

Other Sales Opportunities

Several years ago had a storyteller friend who dressed up as a fairy Godmother before Christmas and told stories at schools, parties, and shopping centers in her community. Many writers fail to realize that there are many such opportunities to turn their writing and research skills into quick dollars by exploring new and seemingly unrelated markets.

There may be an adventurous radio station in your community that will sell Christmas Themes at Christmas time and many small newspapers will run 8=16 page special inserts at Christmas, or on other holidays that can offer a potential market. Where the newspaper coverage does not overlap, you can actually sell the same material several times during the same season. Of course, once you have an inventory of holiday material, it is a simple matter to market it again year after year!