Posted in Craft, It's Not Just Books, The Nitty Gritty of Writing for Children

Short Story Revision

Years ago a magazine editor responded to my initial submission with a letter requesting me to make changes and to resubmit the story on spec. Excited about her interest, I made the changes, cutting the manuscript from over 700 words to less than 500.

The editor wrote again: “You’ve done a great job on this revision! However…” and she went on to say how part of the story wasn’t realistic. I politely wrote back expressing why I thought it was realistic, but also offering to revise it.

The editor’s next letter began: “Sometimes the simplest stories are the trickiest to get right! We like this a lot, but…” She then pointed out a problem that made me say “OUCH!—I should have seen that.” I fixed it and sent the story again. This time my reply was an acceptance!

Of course, the editor could have sent a letter saying, “No, it still doesn’t work for us.” If that had happened, I’d have been disappointed, but still would have sent the improved manuscript off to another market.

Here are ten tips to help you with your next revision:

  1. Refresh. Set your manuscript aside for several weeks.Don’t look at it or even think about it. When you return to the manuscript, your goal is to read it as if you’ve never seen it before.
  2. Reformat. Change the font size or style, before rereading. Even simply changing margins will help you see the manuscript differently.
  3. Have someone else read it aloud. It’s amazing the mistakes I hear in a manuscript despite having silently read it over and over again. I also hear where the reader stumbles or doesn’t give my desired emphasis—both hints that I need to work on those sections. I may even realize I can’t decide who is talking without the visual cues of new paragraphs.
  4. Get your writing reviewed by other writers and listen to their critique with an open mind. Don’t automatically shut out ideas and suggestions. Even if they don’t work for you, looking through another’s eyes can stimulate your mind. However, if several point out a problem, you know you haven’t reached your target yet.
  5. Don’t stifle your own reactions. I don’t know how many times my inner voice responds to someone else’s comment with, “You knew that wasn’t quite right, didn’t you!” I also like asking myself if my story came full circle. If I can’t give myself an honest yes, I have more work to do.
  6. Request help. Sometimes, I know something isn’t working, but don’t know where to go next. Another writer may make a simple suggestion that turns the light on for me.
  7. Re-examine. Ask others what they think the theme or premise is. If you’re writing is working, their answer should be close to what you envision. Tell them what emotion you’re hoping to evoke in a scene and ask if you accomplished it. Ask them to state your story problem. If your reaction is “Wow, they didn’t get it,” it probably means you didn’t give it clearly.
  8. Renovate with viewpoint. Not just from 3rd to 1st person, although that can make a difference, too, but change who is telling the story. Make that boy a girl. Or see it through her best friend’s eyes instead of her own.
  9. Reshape. Changing the form sometimes purges the dross. Try writing poetry instead of prose, diary entries, or a newspaper report of the events. You may discover the story takes off on its own in another format.
  10. Rewrite. All the thought stirring usually motivates me to get to rewriting. Sometimes it’s with excitement; sometimes with frustration at how I’ve fallen short.

Whenever I feel like giving up, I remember how revision took my manuscript to published short story in Highlights for Children (April 2000). That makes it much easier for me to revise.

Posted in Craft, It's Not Just Books, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Article Writing for Kids’ Magazines

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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:
• Introduction
• Section one (be specific to your topic!)
• Section two
• Section three
• Conclusion
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.

Posted in Inspiration, It's Not Just Books, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

How Do You Choose?

light-bulbs-1822112_1920.jpegI’ve heard people say they have so many ideas they don’t know which one to write. Having a lot of ideas is great, but it can also be a form of procrastination or indetermination. Don’t get caught in a trap of endless idea generation that means you never write.
Here’s what works for me when choosing ideas. I’ll address different categories of writing.
Magazine Piece Ideas
I’ve sold over a hundred and fifty short stories and articles. If I’m in the midst of writing a story and another idea comes to mind, I open a file write down my ideas and save it in a folder labeled Story Starts or Article Ideas. Then I get back to the original story. When I finish my first draft of the piece, then I can move on to a new idea or an unfinished story or article.
But let’s say today I have no stories or articles in progress–just ideas. How do I choose? I look at my ideas. Some may feel “meh.” (At least at the moment.) Others may look interesting, but I’m missing something to make it compelling and I’m not sure what, so I set it aside. Another idea is intriguing, so I start writing. Why look for other ideas if this one looks good? Go ahead and write it. If no ideas grab me, I look at editorial calendars and theme lists. I may have something already written that fits or need minor adjusting, or this outside input may be the missing inspiration I need for an idea on file. Or it may inspire me to write something totally new.
It helps me to finish stories by knowing these things:
1. The main character’s problem
2. How he/she will solve the problem
3. Something of the character’s personality
4. Setting
For most articles, some research will be required. What information can I find? Are there books on the topic? Good internet sources? Good articles written for adults? Interviews? Diaries? While I’m looking at this material and taking notes, I ask myself, “What will be the focus on my article?” “What will be especially of interest to kid readers?” Sometimes the research will point at another idea, which goes in my idea file.
I’ve also done interviews for articles. That takes preparation too. Finding someone interesting to interview, arranging the interview, preparing intelligent questions, taking notes on their answers and taking pictures. If allowed, I tape the interview. My notes might include details about the person and setting and observations about what they do as well as direct quotes. Then I have to look over my notes, perhaps listen again to the interview, look at the pictures, and start organizing my article. I find it helpful to make a mini-outline after I’ve written a piece to see if it works or needs rearranging. (I’m not an outliner.)
When I’m done with the first draft of a story or article, I can move on to another idea. Giving the draft a week or more to settle while I work on other things helps me come back with fresh eyes to do editing. After that, I share with my critique group and do another rewrite (or two or three) before submitting.
TIP: If you never finish any stories or articles, you’ll never have the satisfaction of a complete piece. Nor sales.
Picture Book Ideas
Picture books are usually going to take a lot more work to get right than a short story. I have to be really motivated by the idea. Does that mean I jump in and write it? Often, not. I might look and see if there are similar books out there on the topic. If too many, then it’s not a good topic to write unless I have a fresh twist. I might abandon the idea or throw it in an idea file.
I may need to do some research on character or setting before I begin to write. What will work the best for this story idea? Who will be the right character for this story? I have to think of character names that fit. I might do research on objects or an experience I want to include in the story.
Sometimes ideas come almost full blown. I lie down at night and keep thinking of the story. I wake up in the morning and the story is nagging me. I may not want to get dressed, eat breakfast or do anything, but get to the keyboard. Does that mean the picture book comes out perfect first time? Absolutely not! But it usually means I’ll get a first draft written in a hurry.
Again, all my picture books go through revisions before my critique group sees them. They may go through several rounds with my group as well. Sometimes I get a professional critique, too.
TIP: Write to the end, even if you don’t like your first draft. You’ll learn something by doing so.
Novel Ideas
Novels are a big commitment–usually a number of years for me. I have to know the main problem, have a character, and have an idea how the problem might be solved before I write anything. I have a number of novel starts–a page or two or even a chapter–where I didn’t know enough and couldn’t get going because of it.
Ideas I’ll develop into a novel have to have a theme that resonates with me. I’ve discovered that many of my manuscripts deal with the theme of facing fears. Having a theme helps provide a partial roadmap for the story.
These story ideas may be inspired by past experiences, by the voice of a character, or by a predicament I’ve read about or imagined. I start with the one that is tugging me most.
I try to finish a draft of one novel manuscript before starting another. However, sometimes a new story is pressing me so much, I work on two projects. Of course, at any time, I may stop and make notes on a new idea that I’ll attack later. While writing that first draft, I spend a lot of time thinking about what my characters are doing, do any necessary research, and keep plugging away until I reach the end. Once I have a completed draft, I may let it “sit a spell” and work on something else so I can come back to it with fresh eyes for revisions.
Just like with the other forms of writing, my critique group gives me feedback.
TIP: As a pantser (versus an outliner), I find the use of a story timeline or story ladder helps me keep track of the who, where, and when of each of my scenes and chapters.
Assigned Writing
Sometimes writers are asked to write on a specific topic which means they didn’t have to find the initial idea. This often includes a deadline. But I’ll leave that discussion for another time.
Does It Matter Which Idea I Choose?
Eventually. But I’ve found all writing, helps develop my writing muscles and skills. I find the more I write, the more I want to write. Picking an idea and going with it will get you in the habit of writing. So, don’t agonize too long over which idea to develop–write!
I love this quote from John M. Cusick, “Writers, your job today is to sit down and start. Finishing, getting better, getting through it–that will happen on its own. Just start.”

Posted in It's Not Just Books, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Resources for Writing for Children’s Magazines

Resources for Writing for Children's Magazines
ARTICLES/BLOG ENTRIES/PODCASTS
“5 Reasons Novelists Should Write & Publish Short Stories” by Chuck Sambuchino
“7 Online Magazines for Kids That Are Worth a Read” by Saikat Basu
“Best Magazines for Kids Who Love Getting Mail as Much as We Do” by Mary Fetzer
“The Christian Children’s Market: A Place for Beginning Writers” by Marcia Laycock – although dated, it has good info
“Creating Characters for Children’s Magazines” – ICL Podcast
“Magazines for Kids” (online)
“Tips for Breaking Into Children’s Writing Through Magazines” by Mary Lou Carney
“Top 10 Kids Magazines” – these are the ones it will probably be more difficult to break into
“Top Ten Writing Mistakes Made By New Children’s Writers” by Suzanne Lieurance
“Writing Children’s Nonfiction for Magazines – Mistakes to Avoid”
“Writing for Children’s Magazines” by Eugie Foster
“Writing for Teen Magazines” (nonfiction) by Ursula Furi-Perry
“Writing for the Christian Children’s Market” – Guest Interview with Author Kathleen Muldoon
The following are links to relevant posts I wrote on this blog:
“Do You Remember?” (writing for teen magazines)
“Is That Right?” (magazine rights)
“Keeping Track” (of submissions)
“Magazine Story or Picture Book”
“Nonfiction Writing” – includes more resources
“On the Hunt for Ideas”
“Professional Problem Maker”
“Selling Photos to Magazines”
“Swift Fiction: The Short Story in Focus”
“Theme List Tactics”
MAGAZINE GUIDELINES (and THEME LISTS/EDITORIAL CALENDARS)
Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers – buy the current year here
Markets for Children’s Writers – databases separated into children and teens and paying and nonpaying
Writing for Children’s Magazines, An Ezine – quarterly – plus info about whether magazines are open or closed and links to guidelines

Posted in Before You Begin, Business Side of Writing, It's Not Just Books, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Answers to Questions about Writing for Children’s Magazines

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How do I get started writing for magazines?
1. First, read a variety of children’s magazines and determine which magazine(s) appeal to you and which age groups attracts you most.
2. Decide what you are drawn to most: fiction, articles, poetry, activities.
3. Read and analyze lots of those pieces–look at more than one issue of your chosen magazine(s).
4. Check out market books and get guidelines and, if available, theme lists/editorial calendars for the chosen magazine(s). Some guidelines are available on-line. Others you may need to write for, enclosing an SASE.
5. Write your piece in a similar tone as the pieces in the magazine. Make sure it fits the word length, etc. in the guidelines. When it’s the best you can make it, submit it. (Don’t start with the hard to get into magazines such as Highlights for Children and Cricket–get some publishing experience first.)
6. Move on to writing another manuscript.
Some people call articles stories, while others only refer to fiction as stories. How do I know what’s what?
I personally differentiate these two by nonfiction (article or essay) or fiction (story), and of course, each of those categories can be broken down more. That said, I will at times call a piece a “true story” versus an article. That usually happens in response to a magazine looking for “true stories about…” Sometimes these are also called true experiences.
When submitting a manuscript, I usually indicate “article” or “nonfiction” for those true stories and “fiction based on a true story” or “fiction” on those I’ve made up.
Should I always send a cover letter with my submission?
I don’t. The reasons I do are:
1. The magazine requests manuscripts with a cover letter.
2. I have more information I want them to know (e.g. why I wrote the piece, or my submission fits a theme, etc.).
3. It might be pertinent for them to know my other writing experience and I don’t think a full résumé is needed.
What do I say in a cover letter?
1. Grab the reader with something exciting – this may be a direct quote from the manuscript, or a catchy line or something about the theme of your piece.
2. Give a brief summary of your story, essay, article.
3. Tell title, genre, word count and rights you are offering. If reprint rights*, tell where and when it has appeared.
4. Mention anything special you are including: color slides, digital photos, sidebars, related websites, etc.
5. Include your writing credits: either “I’m enclosing my résumé” or a list of some magazines you’ve been published in. Don’t apologize for not having credits. Don’t say you’re a first time writer.
6. Bring up other issues that might be important. For example, if a story or article is set in a particular town and you lived there, tell the editor so. If you have experience in a particular job, craft, or hobby, and it relates to your piece, say so.
7. If sending a manuscript by snail mail, mention you’ve included a self-addressed stamped envelope. You may want to include an SASE for their reply instead of for the return of the manuscript. I found I was reprinting manuscripts all the time anyway, and can save postage by sending a smaller SASE. Some publishers are now only replying with acceptances, which in that case you can state something like, “I understand you only reply if interested. You may discard this copy of the manuscript.” This information is usually available through their guidelines.
Note: If sending a manuscript electronically, make sure you follow the directions of “pasted the manuscript into body of the email” or “attachment” as the guidelines say.
8. Close.
Overall, remember to be brief, professional and to the point.
Is writing for children’s magazines for everyone?
Of course not. But it might be for you!
*Want to know more about magazine rights? Read this post.
(image courtesy of pixabay.com and canva.com