by Laura Backes, Publisher, Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers
Getting published in a magazine requires more than just the ability to write well. Here are some tips for raising your chances at success:
Find Your Focus:
Magazines are extremely niche -oriented, and acceptable submissions need to fit that niche. Suppose you just returned from a snorkeling trip in Hawaii, and want to write a piece for kids on your experience. First, determine the age group you want to reach.If you're interested in detailing actual snorkeling techniques, the middle grade audience would be more appropriate than younger children. Next, go to a library and look at some recent issues of magazines for this age group, and also page through the Magazines section of Children's Writer's &Illustrator's Market. This step is vital for shaping the focus of your piece. Boys' Life is a possibility, and would probably appreciate a how-to focus. Dolphin Log might want you to emphasize the marine life you encountered. Did your nine-year-old-daughter accompany you on your trip? Do a profile of her snorkeling experience for American Girl.
You can also use your research and snorkeling know-how to write a short story. An adventure story, laced with scientific facts, might appeal to a general-interest magazine like Highlights. Or suppose your main character learned a valuable lesson about respecting the sacredness of all living things. Such a story might fit a non-denominational Christian magazine like Pockets.
Research the Magazines: Once you've determined the specific slant of your work, zero in on several magazines that look like possible markets. Try to read at least three recent back issues. Note the tone of the articles. See how much factual information is included in the body of each piece, and what's relegated to sidebars.
For fiction, notice whether the stories have an underlying
lesson, or they're vehicles for presenting facts. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the each magazine asking for writer's guidelines. Many magazines now have a web site with their guidelines posted online. You'll need to know the word limits of articles, whether or not there's a theme for each issue, and if the material needs to be geared toward boys or girls, or if either is fine.
Research Your Topic:
Now's the time to do any additional research on your subject. Don't rely exclusively on secondhand sources, such as encyclopedias. Always gather more information than you think you'll need. Even if you're writing fiction, it's a good idea to gather some facts about the setting and any skills or knowledge your main character possesses that factor into the story.
Put Together the Package:
If you've already sent for writer's guidelines, then you know what the editor requires as far as a proposal. For articles, this often consists of a query letter (with a synopsis of the article, a bibliography of resources and brief information on your expertise on the topic). The query will tell the editor how you plan to approach the subject and convey the information to your audience. Often a query is enough for an editor to assign an article. For fiction, the author usually has to submit the complete story. In either case, be sure your submission carefully follows the magazine's requirements as far as word length, subject matter, and what needs to be included in the package. A sloppy presentation will be automatically rejected.
Writers often turn specific research and expertise into several magazine pieces, targeting different markets with each one. If you learn how to create exactly what an editor wants, that snorkeling trip could result in several bylines.