What does it take to get published in The Banner? Why do we accept some articles and reject others?
First, there are generally two types of articles—solicited and unsolicited. We, as a team, plan most of the feature articles. We collectively decide on topics and seek out writers to write them. These are solicited articles. We often do this well in advance, usually about six months in advance of a publication date. We plan this far in advance partly because we are a small team tasked with a lot. We need to be wise in how we manage our time and resources. Hence, good advanced planning is crucial. It is common, therefore, for accepted articles to not see the light of day until many months later.
We also publish a lot of unsolicited articles. Unsolicited articles are the ones that hopeful writers submit to us without us asking. We get plenty of these, and a trio of us reads them and decides if we accept or reject it for publication. Many of our non-feature columns, like Faith Matters, Other Six, Vantage Point, and Still, are unsolicited.
If you are submitting a seasonally themed article, such as for Easter or Christmas, you need to submit it to us many months in advance. So often, writers send in Christmas-themed submissions in October or November, but that is already too late for our December print issue. As I said earlier, we plan about six months ahead.
So how do we evaluate and decide on unsolicited articles? Well, there are synodical mandate and guidelines that guide our overall editorial decisions and we, obviously, cannot deliberately go against those. But that will be the focus of a later post. For now, I want to highlight our Writer’s Guidelines.
For anyone interested in getting published in The Banner, our Writer’s Guidelines online are required reading. We have recently updated these guidelines. So many authors could have avoided rejection from us if they only took time to read and adhere to our guidelines.
First, our magazine is aimed at Christian Reformed and North American (U.S. and Canadian) readers. Obviously, our articles need to be relevant and interesting to them. Ideally, your article submission should not be too U.S.-centric or Canadian-centric that readers on both sides of the border cannot relate. And it probably goes without saying that it should be a Christian article, preferably from a Reformed perspective.
A huge factor for us is tone. The Banner strives to have a tone marked by humility, grace, and fairness. Hence, anything arrogant, strident, ungracious, and mean-spirited will not be accepted, even if we were sympathetic to the points made.
One tool we highly recommend for would-be writers is the content assessment form by Rise Up Writers. This tool asks five major questions to help you evaluate your article: Is it helpful? Is it honoring? Is it honest? Is it humble? Is it hopeful? The form explains in greater detail what each of those questions entails. It helpfully suggests sub-questions that get to the heart of those issues. For example, are you writing to help others or are you writing to show off or to attack? What kind of hope can a reader find in your article? If your article passes these questions, then we are more likely to accept it as it also likely passes our tone test.
Remember that we are a popular-styled magazine. The style of writing needs to be suitable for a popular audience, not for ministers, academics, or other professionals. We have rejected otherwise well-reasoned articles for being too academic for our audience. If you cite many authors, have many long quotations, and use many scholarly terms, especially without explaining them, your article is likely too academic. We do not do footnotes or endnotes.
This does not mean you can write anything unsupported by facts or research. A good popular Christian article balances research, especially biblical research, with clarity and readability. Make your points clearly and don’t ramble or repeat yourself too much.
It is always good to have personal anecdotes or stories that illustrate your points. Those are always more effective than long paragraphs of abstract arguments. Metaphors and examples are also welcome. But don’t be too flowery or ostentatious. Shorter sentences are better than long, convoluted ones.
Speaking of length, most of our articles vary from 600 to 1,200 words. If your article is longer, it will need trimming. If it cannot be reasonably trimmed without impacting its quality or argument, then we might have to reject it.
We have various standing columns that cater to a variety of themes. You can find their descriptions and their typical word lengths here. It is to your advantage if you customize your article to fit one or two of those columns, especially in length and focus.
We rarely publish poetry and fiction. We have published the occasional devotional poem, but short story fiction is much harder for us to fit into our plans.
We also rarely republish or reprint previously published articles. That includes being published on a personal blog or a church website or online only publication. If you are submitting an article from your personal blog post, we are not likely to accept it as it is previously published. It would have to be very good for us to consider republishing, although we have done so in the past.
If you are writing on a topic, especially a contentious one, remember that you are not writing to end all arguments on the subject. First of all, that’s rather arrogant if you think you can end all debates with one article! Rather, the nature of popular articles is to initiate or further conversations and discussions on the subject. None of our articles can ever be the last word on anything. So write to further discussions, not close them.
Not every article we have published meets all of these standards. But we strive daily to meet them. Hopefully this blog post will help to improve the quality of future unsolicited submissions. If you follow these suggestions, you will greatly improve your chances of getting published by The Banner.