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

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.
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Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Poor Man’s Copyright, a Myth

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file801246654450.jpgA number of years ago at a writer’s meeting the issue of “poor man’s copyright” was raised as a means to protect your works. Basically the idea is to put your work in an envelope, seal it, mail it and the postmark will “prove” when you wrote it protecting your copyright.
Recently, I heard chatter about this on a listserve, so I updated my research on this topic and am sharing it here.
One of the biggest flaws of this idea is that the postmark and seal prove something.

  • What is to prevent someone from mailing an UNsealed envelope to themselves? It has a postmark. But since it is unsealed, material can be placed in it at any time–2 months later, 2 years later, 10 years later, then sealed.
  • Sealed envelopes can be steamed open (and probably opened by many other methods that I don’t know), the material replaced with something else, then resealed.

Read what the copyright office itself has to say:

“When is my work protected?
“Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”

The Frequently Asked Questions page is very helpful resource. This page has “Copyright Registration of Books, Manuscripts, and Speeches.”
A book recommended by the Author’s Guild is The Writer’s Legal Guide by Tad Crawford & Kay Murray. It is in its fourth printing.
Here are some articles on this topic:
Poor Man’s Copyright” by Peter Clarke
Poor Man’s Copyright” by ©opyright
How To Copyright a Book” at begins with this sentence: “Before learning how to copyright a book, you need to learn how not to copyright book.”
Want to know more?
Some authors may want to consider an intellectual property rights lawyer. I found some information on copyrights here at Here’s an interesting post with a Literary Agent Attorney FAQ from
And here’s a column on copyright written by Linda Kattwinkel, who is an intellectual property rights lawyer.
So now you know–poor man’s copyright, only a myth.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process

Considering Self-Publishing?

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Pommes_à_cidreI’ve know authors who have done it well and many others who have not. You’ve heard that a bad apple can spoil a whole barrel–often in the self-publishing realm it’s the opposite. Finding the one good apple may be difficult.
The first impression for a self-published book is the cover. If the cover is not professional, it won’t matter about the rest of the book. There’s a snarky site called LOUSY BOOK COVERS that has a tag line that says “Just because you CAN design your own cover doesn’t mean you SHOULD.” The site shows what it claims–embarrassingly poor covers.
In the traditional publishing world, Art Directors often go through multiple cover designs for one book before everyone involved (including the marketing department) is happy. I suggest that authors self-publishing get honest opinions on their covers from booksellers, librarians, other authors, illustrators, etc.
When I open a book and see a typo, a misspelling or grammar error on the first page, it makes me doubt the overall quality of the book. Traditional publishers use copy editors as well as editors who work on content. If you want to self-publish, or the new term “indie publish,” please consider finding someone who can copy edit your book.
The biggest deal is content. I’ve found stories/books with these kinds of flaws:

Not Being Realistic
• It couldn’t happen like that
• It doesn’t make sense
• Where did that skill/ability/tool come from?

Main Character Not In Charge
• She is swayed by the winds of circumstances
• He doesn’t make any decisions

Problematic Word Choices
• Overuse of adverbs
• Week adjectives
• Weedy words
• Misplaced modifying clauses
• Passive verbs

• Intricate details of clothing probably don’t add much, unless it relates to the plot in a specific way
• Taking forever to get to the point of a scene
• Burying action with description
• Overdone dialogue tags/attributions
• Too many characters

And none of those issues deal with the overall storyline. Traditional editors and freelance editors help with both. If you’re self-publishing, you’ll probably want to hire a freelance editor.
The other thing I see is people who write books but don’t really understand the market. It could be a children’s book that either talks down to kids or covers information that children aren’t interested. One self-published writer told a friend of mine that she didn’t see why a children’s book had to be “all about the kids.” Um, because that’s who your audience is?
Here’s an article called “Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know” by David Carnoy.
So, say you write a great book, get it edited by a professional editor, get it copy edited, have a great cover, now what? Marketing!
It’s not easy. Several sources I saw listed an average of 100-150 books per year in sales for indie authors. Here’s one link.
Getting reviews is difficult. The Horn Book editor, Roger Sutton, wrote an article on why: “An open letter to the self-published author feeling dissed.” Now he’s opened a contest called “A challenge to self-publishers.” Deadline is December 15, 2014 and it is only open to printed books.
Self-published authors can pay for a review at Kirkus–that’s not paying for a positive review, but paying for the chance to BE reviewed.
Getting into bookstores can be difficult. Here are some helpful articles:
Getting your self-published book on the shelf (i.e. Bookstore Dating 101)”
How to get your Self-Published Books into Bookstores
How To Sell Your Self-Published Book in Bookstores
Selling books at conferences may not be allowed by the hosting organization.
Awards can help sales! Did you know there are specific awards administered by the Independent Book Publishers Association for indie published books? Go here to read about the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards. SCBWI has a Spark Award that recognizes excellence in a children’s book published through a non-traditional publishing route. James Minter posted an article called “Writing: 50 Book Awards Open to Self-publishers
I’ll end with a link to this article by someone who has done it: “Chris Eboch on Self-Publishing and Middle Grade Novels: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

Posted in Business Side of Writing, Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools


This phrase has so many meanings. “Back up” as in physically move backwards; we might tell someone to “back up” when they told us something we didn’t understand. We might ask someone if they had a “backup” – either a plan or duplicates of their computer files when it died. I say the Internet is “back up” after my connection has been down.

Back up is also an appropriate phrase to apply to writers.
Moving physically back is pretty obvious:
– we back up and reread for editing
– we go back to add necessary details or expand scenes
– we step back from our work to see it with a fresh eye.

Making “backups” is one we creative people often ignore.
We don’t like making backup plans. Can’t go to that event/conference after all? Agent A doesn’t like our story. What if the editor rejects the new book? What will we do next? Having a plan in place, makes it easier to keep moving forward.

Probably the scariest “backup” fault we have is not having duplicates of our computer files. Each time I heard of someone losing all their files due to a hard drive failure, I’d tell myself I’d work harder at backing up more often. Every time my goal of once a month quickly dissolved and I only backed up a couple times a year. If I was doing well.

In 2006, I decided to change that. For my birthday I asked for an automatic backup device. Attached to my computer, it backed up my files EVERY NIGHT. I wondered why I didn’t do it years ago…
But nothing is ever permanent in the world of computers. That device eventually failed. And I’d gotten a laptop, too. So I started saving everything from my desktop onto a usb thumb drive and copying it to my laptop. I did the reverse of copying any changes I made on the laptop back to the thumb drive and putting it back on my desktop.
file00043520561.jpgThat was great, but I worried about what would happen if my house burned down or someone broke in and stole all the electronics. For insurance, I got an online backup system–this was before people referred to storing items in “the cloud.” Again, that system eventually failed to work. (It saved files, but I couldn’t restore them anymore, so what was the point?)

Next, I was introduced to dropbox, which lets you store files online for free. Similarly to using a usb drive, it is a great way to transfer copies from one computer to another. Some people use dropbox as a way to backup their work. It’s great if and when you remember to save copies there.

Last year, I decided to pay for an automatic online backup again. After listening to some discussions about services, I chose Carbonite. One of the things I love is it saves versions of files. In other words, if I wished I’d kept a copy of last week’s file instead of overwriting it with this week’s–both are there. It’s really easy to use, too.

I know that was a long story, but partially I told it to show that there are different options and partially to show that you ALWAYS need to check that your backup method is still working and affective.

Okay, the last “back up” definition in my opening referred to being online. For me holiday preparations and activities take me off line for writing. Time is more limited. Focus is more difficult. Now that the holidays are over it is time for me to be “back up.” Back focused, back spending enough time, back making progress on projects, back to submitting. How about you? Are you “back up”?
Wishing you the best at getting back up to speed, if you’re not already, and to making those backups!
Cloud image courtesy of Doug Rivers on

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, You Are Not Alone

Are Listserves a Service or a Waste of Time?

It depends on you and on the listserve.
cat clockThere are usually several types of people on a listserve: posters and lurkers. Posters are the ones that keep a listserve alive. They ask questions. They share information of interest to the group. They answer other people’s questions. They encourage others. They share ideas. Lurkers are the people who are reading, but not participating in the conversation. They don’t comment, nor start new topics, nor share good and bad news. Does this mean they can’t get anything out of the posts? Of course not. They can glean lots of information from what others are saying. But…if they have a question and don’t ask it on the listserve, how will they get it answered?
One of my friends had been lurking on a listserve and because I “out”ed that she was there (she had invited me to it), she decided she’d better introduce herself. Nervously, she wrote a post of intro and commented on a topic that the group had been discussing. She asked me to look over her post before she sent it. “Is it okay?” she asked. “Definitely,” I told her. “Go ahead and post.” She did, and guess who commented?! Andy Boyles of Highlights. Just by making an intelligent comment on a listserve she had a short conversation with an editor.
By chatting with others, I’ve also made friends on listserves. This Saturday I get to meet one friend face-to-face for the first time. Is that cool or what?
Listserves come in a variety of kinds: regional, topic or genre, general writing, organizational. What’s the right group for me, may not be the right one for you. I like trying out a listserve. It’s like going to a club meeting. If you enjoy the people you meet and the topics of conversation, you’ll come back. If not, you won’t. If your focus changes, you may need a new listserve and may let an old one go.
They can become timewasters if you are involved either in ones that are very busy with many many conversations, or if you’re involved in too many listserves. I like getting my listserves in digest format versus individual emails. I can scan the topic headers and skip any that aren’t of interest to me. It also helps me limit the time spent.
So how do you find listserves? Most of the ones I participate in were by invitation or through a writing organization. But you can also find them by searching yahoo or google groups. Here are some I found that way:
childrensbookandarticlecritiquing – the title says it all
Childrens-FandSF-Writers – the F stands for fantasy and obviously SF is Science Fiction
childrens-writers – a discussion group
childrenswriterstoday – a forum for writers, poets, illustrators, editors and publishers of all genres in the juvenile to teen market to announce their latest news, reviews, columns, books and publication works
fantasyweavers – an online critique group for writers of middle-grade and young-adult fantasy and science fiction
internetchildrensstories – this is a club devoted to writers of children’s stories and their readers
Northwest Independent Writers Association – for writers of any kind
When searching make sure you check the statistics (latest activity; members; and if it is important to you, whether the group is moderated or not). Some groups will be open and others closed. Some groups may want to know something about you before adding you; others have no vetting process.
If you’ve never tried one, ask other writers or illustrators what listserves they like. Then join one or two. Lurking at first is okay, but remember you’ll get more out of it, if you post, too.

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