Four years ago, I attended the Chautauqua Institute sponsored by the Highlights Foundation with the intent on learning about the children’s magazine market. Lucky for me at the first dinner, Kent Brown of Highlights seated me next to the editor of Cobblestone’s nonfiction magazines – Appleseeds, Faces, Cobblestone, Calliope, Odyssey, Dig and Muse. Each magazine has a different focus from American history to science to geography and culture. Each magazine also has a specific theme. I’ve had articles published about the dog’s unique sense of smell, monster snakes, big trees, unsolved mysteries, places in peril, the Library of Congress – to name a few.
I’m always anxious to see the theme list for the upcoming year and what topics excite me. Then I try to think about what a child would want to know and look for a unique angle. I suggested the ABCs of the LOC (Library of Congress) and it was accepted.When I submit a query to the editor for that issue’s theme, I send an outline, bibliography and suggested article length. Because I enjoy photography, I always try to include pictures that I’ve taken for a photo essay. Honestly, magazines pay more for photos than for words and neither pays well so it’s really an exercise in writing and impacting kids with great information.
You can imagine how thrilled I was when Appleseeds announced an issue dedicated to the rain forest theme. After all, whose family had taken a vacation to the Amazon rain forest? Mine! So it was time to dig out those old slides (way before digital images), journal entries and nature books and reaquaint myself with the 3-toed sloth, 110% humidity, adventures like piranha fishing and canoeing in a dugout. The result was a four-page spread including 18 images in the January 2012 issue. I had to convert my slides into jpegs and convince my now adult daughters that it was OK for the world to see them as pre-teens “roughing it” in the Amazon. A year later, I received a big surprise. McGraw Hill sent me a contract requesting the use of my images for their PARCC testing. I hold the copyright on the photos (magazine owns the words) so now thousands of kids will be reading about my family’s adventure. My check was more than I’ve made on all my published articles - a nice perk of magazine writing.
The JulyAugust 2014 issue of Appleseeds has a desert theme and I took on a new role as contributing editor for the issue. It was a great learning experience to work with the editor and help choose the articles, check them for accuracy and involve a class at Laveen Elementary as the AppleCorps kids. In the issue, you’ll find three of my articles including a photo essay on the Prickly Pear Harvest.
Other children’s magazines including Highlights for Kids do not have themed issues so writers can submit articles that fit their guidelines and philosophy. If the editor shows an interest in my article (as in not a flat rejection), I will rewrite and revise to suit them. Highlights recently purchased an article on George Washington’s Christmas camel (George’s Christmas Surprise) and a photo essay on mushroom hunting in Slovakia (from a trip I took several years ago) for their world culture feature. Just remember that writing for children is not simple. It’s often more difficult to write for kids than adults!
Check out the website for Highlights guidelines. https://www.highlights.com/contributor-guidelines
For the Cobblestone magazines (fiction & nonfiction magazines) http://www.cricketmag.com/6-Submission-Guidelines
Here’s my TOP TEN OF WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT WRITING FOR CHILDREN’S MAGAZINES. I hope it helps you get published!
- Write in the present tense. Fiction for younger audiences works best in present tense so the reader can fit into the story. Switching tenses may confuse the reader.
- Look for the UNUSUAL slant on a usual topic. Take a different approach. Be fresh and original.
- There is a story line in non-fiction with drama, action and conflict. Facts will appear naturally and everything that does not support the story line is left out. Those facts can become sidebars or back matter. Setting is true to research.
- Get to know your audience. Kids today are different than when we grew up. Be an observer. Listen to their language. Read the “Dear Editor” and reader submissions in children’s magazines.
- Choose a story that you are passionate about so that you can find your voice. Give yourself permission to let go of the story that is within you.
- Tell me something that I don’t know. Seek out elusive details when doing your research. Get personal when researching for a biography. Look for uniqueness and anecdotes. Research is key.
- There are limits of space. Everything in a good piece of writing must be CHOSEN into it.
- Put kids into the mix with either real or historical characters.
- Study magazines, at least a year’s worth, and editorial needs. Analyze the content. Obtain write’s guidelines online. Create a drawer of magazines so you are ready to send your story to the proper magazine.
- Most magazine editors welcome new writers because of their new ideas, voices and passion.