Writing nonfiction for magazines is a good way to break into print. Editors get less article submissions than they do fiction.
Often editors tell you what they are looking for. For example, Highlights for Children posts their current needs on submittable. Their info was updated in November. Jack and Jill submission guidelines state: “We are especially interested in features or Q&As with regular kids (or groups of kids) in the Jack and Jill age group who are engaged in unusual, challenging, or interesting activities.” Root and Star is looking for nonfiction about water for their July/August 2019 issue (deadline end of March).
You may be familiar with big name magazines, but how do you find the smaller or lesser known ones? Via online sources such as Evelyn B. Christensen’s site. Or this resource, Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers that comes out annually. Check out libraries and bookstores to see physical copies of print magazines as well. Then you can search online for these magazines’ submission guidelines.
You’ve chosen a market, and even a topic, now what? Research. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t solely use internet sources. Editors will appreciate that you’ve used books, magazines, interviews, etc.
- Wikipedia is only useful in giving you an overview that may or may not be accurate, and when you use it to follow up with the sources listed at the bottom of an article.
- As you take notes, record where you got the information. You’ll send the bibliography of your sources with your article. There are now apps and software that can keep track of this information for you. This site lists some options.
- Using quotes in an article can really bring it to life. Copy these verbatim as you research.
- Be prepared that your research might take you in a different direction from your plan.
- Go deep with research and you may find some fascinating facts that will make your article pop.
Here’s a great resource on finding credible sources.
Before you write your article, ask yourself, “What is the main point I want to get across to my reader?” With that in mind you will create a more focused piece.
Next, get organized. Create a simple outline. It can be as basic as:
• Section one (be specific to your topic!)
• Section two
• Section three
Now write your first draft.
When finished, make sure each paragraph (or two) fits the topic of the outlined section. (It’s okay to adjust your outline, but paragraphs should have a mini-theme. Some magazines even use headers for sections and your simple outline can become those headers.)
Check the beginning. Is your title intriguing in some way? Does the opening draw a reader in? It could ask a question, be a short anecdote, make a provocative statement, etc.
Is the middle meaty? Full of good details? Interesting? More than what is general public knowledge.
Check the end. Does your article have a satisfying conclusion or just dribble to a stop? Sometimes, articles conclude with a statement that makes the piece feel it has come full circle–or in other words, the end ties back to the beginning.
Prepare your bibliography. There are many online resources on how to write one, but this website has links to how to include almost anything.
After setting your article aside for a week or two, come back and revise. If you have a critique group or beta readers, share and revise again.
Prepare to send…
Double check that:
• your article fits the required word count of the magazine.
• the accuracy of your quotes.
• the magazine’s deadline hasn’t passed.
• how to submit (electronically, through a form, via postal mail).
• write a query or cover letter, if necessary, and proofread carefully.
• read your article through one more time, checking for grammar and spelling errors.
• proof your bibliography.
Send. And make up a list of possible other places to send the article to if you get a rejection. (This may require further revisions or slanting.)
If you get an acceptance, celebrate! You’re a soon-to-be published (or republished) author.
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Some favorite articles/blog posts/essays about writing I’ve read recently along with appropriate quotes for each section.
WRITING IN GENERAL
“Forget all the rules. Forget about being published. Write for yourself and celebrate writing.” – Melinda Haynes
“25 Truths About the Work of Writing” by Greer Macallister
25 Truths About the Work of Writing
“3 Principles for Finding Time to Write” by Jane Friedman
3 Principles for Finding Time to Write
“Use your social media to create long-term connections with readers and authors alike. Engage with followers in an organic way without constantly peddling your wares.” – Saritza Hernandez
“Is Tweeting a Must for Authors?” by Dear Editor aka Deborah Halverson http://deareditor.com/2018/10/re-is-tweeting-a-must-for-authors/
Children’s Book Authors Are Selling More Than Books. They’re Taking a Stand.
by Maria Russo
“A picture book must have lots of potential for illustration. If nothing much changes visually in the story, then it may not be a good fit for a picture book.” – Kim Norman
Darcy Pattison and Leslie Helakoski-“How Do You Know If You’ve Written a Picture Book?”
Darcy Pattison & Leslie Helakoski: How Do You Know If You’ve Written a Picture Book?
Word Banks for Picture Books – “At a Loss for Words? Try Making a Word Bank by: Barb Rosenstock for Sherri Jones Rivers” https://groggorg.blogspot.com/2018/10/at-loss-for-words-try-making-word-bank.html
“Make your novel readable. Make it pleasant to read. This doesn’t mean flowery passages; it means strong, simple, natural sentences.” – Laurence D’Orsay
“The Process of Novel Writing: Transitions” by Jan Fields at the Institute for Writers – a newsletter you may want to subscribe to
“Use Theme to Determine Subplots, Supporting Characters, and Tension” by Becca Puglisi
Use Theme to Determine Subplots, Supporting Characters, and Tension
Do you have some favorite articles to share? Please put them in the comments.
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I’ve done it myself and seen other writers do it too–have characters look up, down, around, at someone or something, etc. Many, many, many times. And changing the words from look to gaze, stare, watch, or what other synonym you can find, doesn’t improve the writing much. On a discussion board a writer said, “Just did a search of ‘look’ on my main story, and I’ve used it 600 times across 200 pages.” That’s three per page! Unfortunately, the writer didn’t get much helpful advice. (You can read the conversation here if you’re interested.)
Deborah Halverson of DearEditor.com taught me, “Stop looking.” Instead we can show setting, character, etc. by using other actions.
What is something your main character does habitually? Or what nervous habit does he have? A character might play with the zipper pull of his jacket (indicates something about what he is wearing, jingle her keys or coins (which gives us a nice sensory detail), or twist his long hair and tuck it up under a beany (character description plus clothing item).
What can a character do besides look at what’s around them? React in some way. She might bark a cough in the dusty air (sensory and setting detail), run his thumbnail over the rough spot on the surface of the table (sensory and setting, plus possibly revealing the character’s attention to detail), or sniff at the fragrance of cinnamon and apple from the pie cooling on the counter (sensory that might indicate hunger and makes my mouth water versus someone simply looking at a pie cooling on the counter).
Writing a novel should not include stage direction. I suspect in screenplays that minor aspects such as “looking” are left to the actor to figure out. Your readers will figure this out, too. For example: My dog just asked to go out. I looked at her. I looked at the lock on the slider door to unlock it. When I opened the door to let her out, I looked outside. When I closed the door, I looked at the lock to lock it. Argghh. It’s all true, but painful reading. Instead I might write something like this: My dog whined to go out. I unlocked the slider and opened it for her. Cold air rushed into the house from the gray fall morning. I used some sensory details, so it is more interesting. You know I looked outside because I told you what it looked like, but I didn’t use the word look. I didn’t need to.
Avoid the mundane in our writing. When a character talks to someone, unless we point out that they can’t or aren’t doing so, they are probably looking at the other person. The assumption doesn’t need to be reinforced. It’s ordinary. And even if the character isn’t, is it important enough to say so? Similarly, in my last example, a reader will assume that the dog and I walked to the door without me stating it.
Does that mean a writer should never use the word look? Of course not. But like in many areas of our writing, we don’t want to be lazy. Use it where needed. But you’ll probably find on close examination (during revisions) that the verb isn’t needed near as many times as you have used it.
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Recently I was asked to judge a writing contest.
Some of the common problems I found were:
- The story didn’t fit the genre
- Confusing or awkward beginnings
- Unclear who the main character was
- Unclear how old the main character was (some hint would have been nice)
- Overuse of other dialogue tags besides “said” and “asked”
- Punctuation errors
- Telling, telling, telling (I’m not talking about transitions or other appropriate places to tell)
- Poor proofing
- Too much description
- Head hopping
- Large chunks of backstory
- Inconsistent verb tense
- No sense of setting
- Overuse of “as”
- Main character was only an observer
- Too many characters which caused confusion
- Dialogue punctuation errors
- Sentence fragments
- Unclear audience
- Not following directions
There was usually more than one of these problems. The result was I didn’t want to read on.
Here’s how I work at avoiding these kinds of issues:
1. Set my writing aside for several weeks. When I come back to it, I can read what it actually says, not what I think it says, and revise.
2. Know the rules of punctuation, point of view, verb tenses, etc.
3. Know what my weaknesses are. Whether it is overuse of words, not including enough introspection, etc., I search for them in my writing. I know I have trouble with some rules and refresh them periodically.
4. Read my writing out loud to my critique group. Sometimes I hear my own errors. Often, I find something I thought was perfectly clear in my writing is not clear to my critique partners.
5. Revise again.
6. Set it aside again. Edit again. Take back to critique group if necessary.
7. Do specific market research. (Have been doing general market search all along.)
8. Read the submission guidelines and make sure I’m sending appropriately. If my piece, story, or book doesn’t fit, I go back to market research.
Rushing to submit, whether it is to a contest, a magazine, an editor, or an agent, usually backfires. At the best, it is a waste of your time and the time of whoever is receiving your piece. At the worst, they may never want to look at what you send again.
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The right title feels so perfect. Delicious even. But if you don’t have a perfect title, maybe you’re struggling to have any title. (Yes, I know titles are often changed before publication, but you have to call your manuscript something before you can submit!) What do you do if you’re stuck?
Here are some ideas. If one idea alone doesn’t work, try a combination.
Think about the theme of your book or magazine piece. Can you narrow it down to a few words? Does rewording it work for a title? Is there one word that is especially strong in your theme? Maybe the main character’s name and that word (or a synonym for that word) would work as a title for fiction.
Summarize the plot in one sentence and see if you can pull a piece out of that for the title. Or what is some interesting action that happens in the story? Sometimes a single verb makes a good title. Or use the character’s name and an action verb.
Look at short quotes, sayings or clichés. Could one become a title with a slight twist? Once for an article about a science writing contest, I used “It’s Not Just Rocket Science.” Or could a partial saying work? A recent book I read was called What Goes Up (by Katie Kennedy). The end of that adage might be an interesting title as well.
Is there something special about the setting? Could that be part of your title? I think of the song Rocky Mountain High. It’d be a different piece replacing High with Low. My friend’s book combines setting, main character, and action–Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 by Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan is a picture book.
What about your main character? Does she have a nickname? It might be his own personal one for himself. Or your quick summary of that character. I once titled a story “Ice Princess” since the main character was hiding a weakness by trying to appear perfect. Does your character have a motto? Could that be the title? What’s the character’s main problem? Once a publisher sent a book to me for rewriting. It was called What’s that Smell? which sounded too much like nonfiction. I changed the title to The Smell of Trouble which hinted at the problem in the story and both the editor and I were happy.
Could your title ask a question? Once I called a short story “Who Do You Tell?” Or quote a line or piece of dialogue in your book or story. I’ve used this often. Some examples are “No Way!” and “Just a Minute.”
I like titles that are puns or have more than one meaning. A student titled a story “In the Dog House”–not only was the main character in trouble, but the story included a dog. Perfect.
Think about descriptions in your book. If you have an analogy or metaphor that might make an interesting title.
What have you been calling your book privately? Could you play with that?
What about your antagonist? Would his name or title or label make a good title?
Perhaps try rhyme or alliteration with some of the title ideas you do have. Does that freshen it up? Give it a twist? Or try assonance.
Make a list of as many ideas as you can come up with. If you don’t find one that you like, try taking half of one and putting it with half of another. If you’re still frustrated, I suggest sleeping on it. I often find my subconscious plays with ideas while I’m asleep.
Have other ideas for title brainstorming? Feel free to share in the comments.
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