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.
(image courtesy of and

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

He Thought to Himself and Other Excesses

photo courtesy of typexnick on
“He thought to himself.” I’ve often seen this phrase in students’ writing. “To himself” is redundant. “Who else would he think to?” Now if he thought it and someone else heard it, that would be a very different story.
“She nodded yes” or “she nodded her head up and down.” Isn’t a nod inherently yes? Nodding, we know, is an up and down movement of the head. What else would you nod? I can’t think of anything. Simply write, “she nodded.” Similarly with “he shook his head no” or “he shook his head back and forth,” write, “he shook his head.” Or “she shrugged.” We know what she is shrugging. Another culture might have different meanings for these gestures, so specifying in that case would be important.
“He said to me” as a dialogue attribution. If only two of you are talking, whom else would he say it to? Simply cut “to me.” If there are more than two people in the room, is it critical that what was said was directed only at one person? If so, an action might be a better indicator. i.e. “He shielded his mouth from our teacher. ‘She’s gone loco.'”
“Mom said as she opened the front door.” If you have an action, there’s no need for the dialogue attribution. Dialogue next to “Mom opened the front door.” will indicate who is speaking.
He would walk; he would eat.” Using “would” with another verb is future-in-the past tense. Often writers use this when they want to say someone does something habitually. Or they use it before the real action to give back story. Instead make sure what you say is important now in the story and use straight past tense: “he walked; he ate.” You can still indicate habit, if needed. i.e. “Every day he ran to school.”
“There is/are” sentence construction. This is a form of passive writing. For example: “There are lots of kids sitting on the carpet squares.” Stronger would be: “Lots of kids sat on the carpet squares.”
The last excess I want to discuss is using more words than necessary. Sometimes we can get away with it, but if a short story is too long for the market, or someone says “it needs tightening,” then it’s time to cut. Here are suggestions for getting rid of flab:

  • Say it once, maybe twice, but not thrice. “He scratched his head in confusion.” The action of scratching his head shows he’s confused. Dialogue might show it as well. Definitely remove “in confusion.”
  • Make sure descriptions add to the setting. If not, get rid of them.
  • Don’t distance the reader from the action. “She noticed the cat jumping up on the couch.” Instead: “The cat jumped up on the couch.”
  • Check for words or phrases you use over and over. Are they necessary? Or merely a habit.
  • Look at individual sentences, especially long ones. Is there a way to say the same thing with less words? i.e. “After a couple of minutes…” could become: “After a few minutes…”
  • Use one strong adjective instead of several weak ones.
  • Use a specific verb instead of a weak verb and an adverb.

The best thing about removing excesses* is clearer sentences. This helps readers keep reading. And that’s our goal: to keep them reading.
*I’d love to hear your thoughts about excesses in writing… Just post in the comment section.

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

Theme List Tactics

magazines.jpgHave you had trouble following through on magazine theme lists or editorial calendars? If you’re like me, the answer is a big YES!
I’d request theme lists and, sometimes when they arrived, they’d spark an idea or fit a story I’d already written. But, too often I left them to look at later. By the time “later” came, I had missed deadlines. I’d wail, “but I had an idea for that topic!” Sometimes in my stack, I found editorial calendars and theme lists that were months or even a year out of date.
One day I decided I’d had enough. There had to be a better way. So I gathered together all my theme lists and began organizing. Here’s what I devised:
For each magazine/take home paper, I record the name of the magazine, audience age, word length, topic deadlines, and a summary of the topics. I use a table in my word processor and have the computer sort the information by deadline date, but it could also be done on 3×5 cards or on separate pages of a notebook. Each magazine in my table has an entry for every deadline date on the theme list. This could mean one topic per entry or many topics. The final entry for each magazine is a reminder to order the next theme list. (And, I still file my theme lists–I might need more detail than what’s in my table.)
Here’s a selection from my original chart:
Theme list info *those marked with an asterisk buy all rights
When a deadline is past, I delete the entry. And, of course, when new theme lists arrive, I add the new information and resort the table.
I knew organizing would help me focus on topics with earlier deadlines, but what I didn’t realize, was that looking at all the topics together would have other benefits.
First off, it was easy to see which magazines were looking for similar material. Ah ha, maybe that story on will work for two or three or four editors.
Secondly, I now have a reminder to write for a new theme list. It’s nice to get new theme lists before half of the deadlines are passed!
But perhaps most important was how it freed me up for inspiration. For at least a year, I’d had a note hanging around my desk that said “a story on mailbox bashing.” I knew I wanted to write something on this form of vandalism, but each time I looked at the note, it got reshuffled into the stack. But the day I organized my theme lists, one of the topic suggestions combined with my mailbox idea and immediately I wrote the first draft of the story. The very same day another theme list topic jumped out and I knew I could use my daughter’s recent fear for a springboard for that story.
I still don’t always meet theme list deadlines with this method, but now that lists don’t just gather dust on my desk–or stay in some forgotten directory in my computer–my chances have improved tremendously.
Anyone else have methods they’d like to share?

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

Do You Remember?

girl w pic of boyDo you remember? The agony of that boy or girl not “liking” you? Arguments with your parents about homework, or who you were going with, or curfew? Zits and feeling awkward? The joy of getting your driver’s license? If you answered yes to any of these questions, perhaps you should consider writing short stories for teens.

Teenagers still have the same basic problems: wanting acceptance, striving for independence, peer pressure, etc. The trappings may have changed, but it doesn’t take much to get up-to-date.

The first important thing to do is: hang around with some teens. teen coupleIf you have teenagers living in your home, this should be easy. But if you don’t, there are many places you can observe and listen to teenagers:
– Organizations such as clubs, associations and church youth groups
– A local middle school or high school
– The mall or a local fast food restaurant
– Sporting events
Making friends with teenagers, will get you an even closer look at the problems in their lives. In addition, talk to adults who have teens in their lives: your neighbor, a school counselor, a youth pastor, etc.
Next step, check out the magazines written for teens. There are high paying ones such as “Seventeen” and “Boys’ Life” and ones like “International Gymnast” and “Thrasher” aimed at a specific audience. Religious publications for teens vary from glossy magazines to skinny church take-home papers. Read the magazines, get their guidelines and, for some, request theme lists.
When you look at these magazines, notice the following:
– The audience.
Is this magazine for younger teens or older teens? For boys only? Or girls? Is it for sports enthusiasts?
– Does it do fiction? If so, how might you need to tailor a story for this market?
A teen magazine may want an inner city setting. Another wants no reference to dating. Let sample copies, the market book and guidelines be your guides.
– Morals.
Is this magazine avant-garde or conservative? In the religious market, be aware of how much “Godly living” or “religion” each magazine shows. In any case, don’t preach.
– Rights each one buys.
Some magazines purchase “all rights,” but many buy “first” or “reprint rights” and others buy “one-time rights” or “simultaneous rights.” A story written for one place may be salable to another and another depending on rights purchased.
– Themes and deadlines.
Some theme lists are very specific; others are more general. Either way they can kick off story ideas for you. Just remember, stories to fit an entry on a theme list must make the magazine’s deadline to be considered.
After you’ve finished your research, your mind will probably be brimming with story ideas. Choose one and get down to writing.
Keep focused on one problem per story. I have to ask myself, “what is the major issue I want to deal with in this story?” And then not let myself get side-tracked.
boy on tracksAs you write, think teenagers! Is this a problem a teen would have? Is this a place a teenager would be? Is this how they would say this? If you get stuck, ask a teen for help. Ask them what they would say or do. If you want to use slang, either use what’s current–and know what it means–or use something that sounds slangy but doesn’t come from any specific generation.
Also, as you write, think which youth magazines might like this story. Make yourself a list of the potential markets for each individual story.
A lot of work writing short stories for teens? Yes. But there are opportunities for sales and satisfaction in doing the job well. The ultimate reward though is teenagers reading your stories.

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

Keeping Track

notebook.jpgDo you ever have trouble keeping track of your submissions? Or wonder how to maintain an organized set of records? I’ve had problems, too. (Especially when I’ve had 30 plus submissions out at a time!)
Or are you a beginning writer wondering what records you should keep? To begin with you might not need all the following, but keeping accurate records now avoids a big job later.
Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years:
First, when I submit a piece I update my records before sealing the envelope or hitting send on the email. This way I don’t forget to enter the information and am less likely to make mistakes. I also have four ways submission data is recorded:
• by manuscript
• current submissions
• financial, and
• by market.
Each story or article has its own record. I prefer to do it on individual 3×5 cards, but obviously it could be done in a spread sheet or database. The information I enter here is basic: date and where I’ve sent the piece, what the expected report time is, what response I received and when I received the response. Other useful information is noted on the card as well. See below.
Title of Story
Date Sent to: Reports: Received: Date:
1/5/04 ABC Magazine 4-6 weeks personal rejection 2/28/04
3/1/04 Magazine DEF 2 months standard rejection 5/15/04
5/20/04 G’s Magazine 8-10 weeks — —
9/2/04 inquiry letter sent re: status (SASP included) note: didn’t receive – please resend 10/1/04
10/6/04 resent manuscript encouraging rejection 12/1/04
12/6/04 Magazine of HJ 12 weeks $125.00 3/13/05
SOLD all rights, will appear in the November ’05 issue
With this system it takes seconds for me to see how many times a manuscript has been out and what type of response it has had. I staple the 3×5 card or cards to a manila folder which holds a copy of the story or article and any research information, correspondence, photo releases, etc. These manila folders are filed in a drawer in alphabetical order. If I need to write to the editor regarding the status of the manuscript, I add a paper clip to the folder tab so at a glance I can locate pieces in that stage.
I also have a computer record of all manuscripts currently “out.” On the left are magazine/publisher names. Next I show what I’ve sent to each one. Besides a specific story title, the column could indicate a query letter about a proposed article, or a request for a sample copy, guidelines and theme list. The right columns are for “response time” and the expected response date based on when I sent the manuscript. It might also include a note that the manuscript is being “held for possible future use.” I use a symbol to show I’ve sent an inquiry letter (>) regarding status of the manuscript.
I also use symbols to indicate type of markets, i.e. religious (+), and to differentiate between magazine (*) and book publishers. Recently I’ve added color coding. Magazines for teens are highlighted in one color, middle grade another, etc.
A blank in the “manuscript” column indicates this publisher is “available” for me to submit something else. Though I might also put a note in italics reminding me that this house or magazine only takes queries.
In the same file I keep a list of pieces not sent out. Some may just be waiting for a specific market to open. Others may be marked “revise.” A word processor table is handy for keeping these records, though again it could be done in a database, spread sheet or on paper. Again, here’s what I keep:
When the market REPORTS
For example:
H , Inc. Granny and the Pet Warfare 1 month 4/10/05
checkbooksOf course, financial records of submissions are necessary, too. How much postage did it cost me to send that manuscript? Did I enclose an SASE for their “reply only” or an SASE for return of the complete submission? Paper and envelope costs, phone calls, mileage to writers’ meetings or speaking engagements, etc. are also recorded. I use a spreadsheet in Excel.
Besides the day to day account of money spent or money received, I also have a summary page broken down by month. I use a spreadsheet, which makes totals by month or by year very easy. But even if you record this information in a notebook, I suggest you total each month when it’s over, so tax time will be easier.
Here are my headings: Date, Expense Item (what it was), Publisher/Magazine, Manuscript, Miles, Car Expense, Postage, Supplies, Bank Fees, Utilities, Trip Expenses, Other. I also will include how I paid, i.e. check number, cash, debit. Of course, I keep copies of receipts in a file labeled Writing Expenses and the year.
In addition, I keep a record of each magazine or publisher. I have two separate files: one for magazine submissions and one for book submissions. I note what I’ve sent and when. This makes it easy to see what type of submissions I have been mailing to a particular market and how often those mailings have gone out. It can eliminate my accidentally resending something to an editor. It also shows me if a market frequently doesn’t respond. Here, I also note sales or other pertinent information, such as name changes or unsolicited manuscript moratoriums.
P___ Magazine
Stick ‘Em Up – 1/04 – sent inquiry letter re: status 5/04 – no response 8/04
Born in the Wrong Family – 2/03 – suspended publication
S___ L___ (formerly H_______)
sent for new sample copy and new guidelines – 11/04
Jesus Boy – 1/05
T_____ P_____
A Good Example Gone Bad – 4/03 – SOLD, will appear in sister publication F__W__
The Reluctant Helper – 11/03 – SOLD one-time rights 3/04
Space Case Luke – 8/04 – sent inquiry letter re: status 12/04
A Horse for Hallie – 3/05
sent for sample copy, guidelines and theme list/editorial calendar – 10/04
Whether you use my methods or some other, keeping accurate up-to-date records has a variety of benefits. It makes submitting easier; it’s encouraging to see how many pieces are “out;” it helps you be aware of lagging responses; and, it’s useful at tax time. But what I consider most important–an organized method induces me to get those submissions done and get back to writing.